Bowmore

Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the famous Scotch whisky island of Islay. It was established in 1779 and only Glenturret (1775) from the Highlands beats it in terms of age for the entirety of Scotland.  Known as 'The Grand Dame of Islay' Bowmore battles with Lagavulin for second place in terms of Islay single malt sales, behind Laphroaig. Bowmore produces some of the world's finest single malt whiskies.

Bowmore's white distillery building with its name painted on the side wall viewed from the bay
Bowmore Distillery - Islay, Scotland

style

Bowmore is known for its peated smoky style of single malt. The distillery produces a mid-range level of peated spirit, which sits around the 30ppm mark. PPM (Phenol Parts per Million) is the measurement for smokiness in the malted barley and spirit. Phenols are produced when peat is burned in a kiln. In comparison, this is similar to other Islay malts such as Caol Ila and Lagavulin but lower than Ardbeg and Laphroaig. They both produce spirit around 55-60ppm.

Younger expressions show a fresh and vibrant style with charcoal, ash and seaweed-like flavours. Older whiskies settle to give an elegance and finesse to the spirit. These can display floral and earthy notes with a mellow and subtle smoky quality. The core range features the no age statement No.1 Vaults plus the 12, 15, 18 and 25 year olds. There are numerous limited editions and older expressions also, some for specific regions such as Asia and America.

Seaweed on a white background
Grey smoke in front of a white background
Jute sack containing salt
Glass of sherry

production

Bowmore is one of the few distilleries in Scotland to produce some of their own malted barley. This time consuming traditional practice involves soaking barley in water, laying it out on a concrete floor to germinate and drying it over a peat fire in a kiln. The whole process takes a week from beginning to end. Bowmore produces 30% of all the malt needed with the remainder coming from commercial maltster Simpson's.

Each mash is eight tonnes of malted barley. This is made up of 2.5 tonnes of Bowmore's own malt and 5.5 tonnes from Simpson's. The mash tun has a traditional copper lid and is fed by two unusual copper water tanks. They do 15 mashes per week. There are six wooden fermentation washbacks and these are named after previous owners of the distillery. The fermentation time is 48 hours. There are two wash stills and two spirit stills that work in pairs. Heat generated from Bowmore's condensers is used to heat the village swimming pool, which is located next to the distillery. The annual capacity of Bowmore is two million litres.


history

Bowmore was founded in 1779 by David Simpson and is located in the village of Bowmore, Islay's largest settlement. It sits on the shores of Loch Indaal, the large sea loch around which Islay wraps itself. One of the original buildings that remain from this time is the now legendary No.1 Vaults. This is the oldest registered maturation warehouse in the UK and sits just below sea level. It is home to some of Bowmore's rarest and oldest casks.

Old Bowmore casks stored in two rows on top of each other in the dunnage warehouse
Inside Bowmore's dunnage warehouse

In 1963 Stanley Morrison purchased the distillery and created Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd. in the process. Morrison Bowmore continued to operate the distillery until the late 1980s. This is when the Japanese company of Suntory gained a 35% share in Morrison Bowmore. This became full ownership in 1994. Morrison Bowmore were retained and operated as a separate area of Suntory's business.

Suntory is now part of the larger Beam Suntory group, but remain owners of Bowmore. Their ownership has been responsible for some of Bowmore's most legendary whisky releases. These include Black Bowmore, which was first released in 1993, White Bowmore from 2008 and Gold Bowmore from 2009. More recently in 2020 there has been the Black Bowmore DBS, a collaboration with super premium car manufacturer Aston Martin. They have also built the award winning visitor centre complete with a tasting room that offers stunning views across Loch Indaal.