Wine & Spirits

A Tale of Two Whiskeys: Charting the History of Bowmore and Buffalo Trace Distilleries

By Sotheby's
Whiskeys from the Bowmore and Buffalo Trace distilleries are highlights of the online auction Distilled | The Macallan Fine & Rare Collection from Wing Hop Fung + More (closes 19 April 2020, New York).

I n the late 18th century, two particular distilleries on opposing sides of the Atlantic were built.

Old Fashioned Copper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 90 proof 1994 (1 BT75cl). Estimate $4,500–6,500.

The first, established in 1779, is Bowmore, a coastal distillery from the Scottish Island of Islay, famous for its saline, smoky spirit, that looks across the choppy waters of the Sound to the Mull of Kintyre.

The second, is Buffalo Trace, an American whiskey producer from the landlocked state of Kentucky, which has been renowned for its rich, sweet Bourbon since 1792.

Sitting pride of place in the center of Islay's biggest town, Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the island. The town of Bowmore was founded by Daniel Campbell, also known as Great Daniel, in 1768.

Great Daniel had been a politician in Glasgow in the years following the Act of Union in 1707, sitting for both the Scottish and British parliament. Daniel fell foul of his constituents when he voted in favor of the malt tax in 1713, an imposition which led to the Malt riots, otherwise known as the Shawfield riots, in 1725.

The rioters set upon Shawfield House, Daniel’s Glasgow residence, and the extent of the damage was such that Great Daniel received a payout of £9,000 in compensation. With this payment, he decided to purchase the island of Islay where Bowmore was subsequently founded.

Black Bowmore and Bowmore Trinity Set (7 BT70cl). Estimate $140,000–220,000.

Bowmore’s bottlings are among the most collectible whiskeys in the world with whiskey drinkers the world over lusting after its iconic smoky character and tropical notes. In its 240 year history, no distillation period has been so iconic as that of the 1960s. This is the decade in which such venerable bottlings as the Bicentenary, Samaroli Bouquet and White, Gold, and Black Bowmore, were distilled. Famous for its light, Islay peat, unmistakably fruity character and ability to take oak for decades, 1960s Bowmore is truly an unrepeatable phenomenon in the history of Scotch Whisky Distillation. In 2019 Sotheby’s set a record for the highest value ever achieved for an Islay Whisky when Bottle number 1 of the Bowmore 54-Year-old from 1957 sold for £363,000.

Discover Whiskey from the Buffalo Trace Distillery

From Kintyre to Kentucky, Buffalo Trace’s output could not be more different in profile to Bowmore’s. While Islay whiskeys tend to display bold peated smoke, this Kentucky whiskey is known for its rich, velvety butterscotch and vanilla character. While Buffalo trace differs from Bowmore in flavor, it is consistent on quality thanks to centuries of uninterrupted distilling experience. Indeed, Buffalo trace was one of the very few distilleries that continued to produce its spirit during prohibition for “medicinal purposes”.

Having been conceived by the Lee brothers, Hancock and Willis, in the late 1700s, Buffalo Trace went on to change hands and see multiple ownerships throughout the years. Its owners at one time or another included Harrison Blanton, Edmund H Taylor, and George T Stagg and for a long time operated under the name O.F.C. Distillery (Old Fire Copper).

Buffalo Trace is now famous for the brands that commemorate these key players in its history, but of all the whiskeys it produces, Pappy Van Winkle is surely the most acclaimed and the most in-demand. Van Winkle himself was a distillery who is remembered for his work at Stitzel-Weller distillery and most notably for developing a mash bill for his spirit that substituted rye for wheat. Now produced by Buffalo Trace, the Van Winkle series is renowned as the most unobtainable bottles and the cornerstone of any American whiskey collection.

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