Islay is one of the most recognizable names in the world of whisky. Waves crashing on the rugged coastlines are characteristic of this island of the Inner-Hebrides. With Canada as the next landfall, Islay stands at the edge of the world. The seclusion and serenity of this island leaves no questions as to why Irish monks would visit this island as a retreat. The art of distillation though, would not be brought to this chilly island of the Hebrides by the Irish, as would be expected. That did not happen till the arrival of the MacBeatha family.
Here, nestled on the banks of Loch Indaal, bracing its waves, stands the Bowmore Distillery. It comes as no surprise that Bowmore translates to ‘Great Reef’ in Gaelic. Black letters on a white wall announce its presence to the world beyond.
Bowmore is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. It was built by Daniel Campbell the Younger, who was at that time the laird of Islay. Although records vary, it can be said with some certainty that in 1779, John P. Simpson, a local merchant began the distillation process at Bowmore. He ran the distillery from 1779 to 1837. But the Bowmore name began spreading when it was taken over by Glasgow blenders Wm & Jas. Mutter. The then owner, James Mutter was a farmer and distiller, who understood the symbiotic relation the distillery had with the community. He expanded the Bowmore name and, in 1841, at a time when Scotch Whisky was considered too bold for the English palate, there was a request for a Bowmore cask from Windsor Castle. The Mutters were responsible for the distillery till as late as 1963 when it was sold to Stanley P. Morrison, and this marked the beginning of Bowmore’s legendary bottling era of the 1960s. The distillery has been substantially modernised, but what hasn’t changed is the Bowmore character.
The Bowmore Connection
Bowmore is more than just a distillery placed conveniently on the banks of Loch Indaal. It is placed at the very heart of the small town of Bowmore. The clear peat essence that is characteristic to Bowmore is a reflection of the land and water that has borne witness of this distillery through the years. Such is the connection between the distillery and the Bowmore community that it can be closely resembled to a symbiotic relationship. The walls of the Bowmore distillery guards the banks of Loch Indaal and acts as the town’s flood defence. The excess heat from the distillery warms then town’s swimming pool: an old warehouse.
Originally founded as a farming distillery, Bowmore has maintained its own malting floors, and 40% of the malt used in their production is harvested from within the island. This of course, has a solid reason for being. The distillery can continue to run even if the malt from the mainland is held up due bad weather as is often the case with the ravishing seas around this small island.
The Bowmore Single Malt Scotch has a very unique character. Although all of the Islay scotch have a peaty flavour, none are as overtly smoky as Bowmore. The smell of the peat is rarely ever so distinct as is in a dram of Bowmore. In a single sip, you can taste the salty sea water, the smoke from the kilns, and remind you of beach bonfires.
The secret to the retention of this Scotch character is perhaps the coveted No. 1 Vaults. Built with as part of the original building in 1779, this is the oldest Scotch maturation warehouse in the world, and has seen very little change since the first barrel was laid down. The casks are stored here for upto 54 years and has a variety of wood that turns spirit to whisky.
Bowmore is as far back as you can go into the memories of the Islay Malts. It has maintained its traditions and welcomed change while perfecting the balance in between. This is what makes a dram of Bowmore taste like history.