There is some debate over the birth of Bowmore. A gentleman by the name of John Simpson took out a license to distill whisky in 1816 but there are claims that it was being made on the site as far back as 1779. Whatever the case, the distillery came under the ownership of Glasgow blenders Wm. & Jas. Mutter in 1837 and from there it began to gain a significant reputation – even Windsor Castle were requesting casks in 1841.
Like many of Scotland’s distilleries, Bowmore ceased production during World War II but went on to have a role in the proceedings when it’s buildings housed the RAF Coastal Command. The command’s primary function was to protect allied convoys in the Atlantic against attack from German U-Boats below and the Luftwaffe. They saw regular action throughout the war and completed over one million flying hours, destroying some 200 U-Boats along the way. A high toll was paid for their success though – 5,866 Coastal Command personnel were killed in action.
One particularly tragic event took place on the evening of 24th January 1943. The Sunderland flying-boat MK111 DV of 246 Squadron was returning to Bowmore from patrol over the north Atlantic. A gale was blowing and an order was sent to divert the plane to Oban. However, due to a communication fault, this order went unheeded and the plane attempted to land, as originally planned, on Loch Indaal. Exactly what happened is unclear but the plane undershot the Loch and crashed into the coast at Blackrock. Of the 12 crew on board, 11 men walked away from the crash only to realise that the rear gunner was still trapped in the turret. 8 of the crew were uninjured and returned to free him but arrived just as the depth charges on board exploded. The 8 rescuers and rear gunner were all killed, leaving the captain and two other walking wounded the only survivors.
It’s just one of so many tragic stories from those dark years. Peace (of a sort) would return to the world in 1945 and distillation soon began again at Bowmore. Later, in 1963 it was bought by one Stanley P. Morrison who went on to create Morrison Bowmore Ltd which in turn was acquired by Japanese owned Beam-Suntory in 2014. Today their core range comprises of a Non Age Statement ‘Small Batch’, a 12 Year Old, the 15 Year Old ‘Darkest’, an 18 Year Old and a 25 Year Old.
I’m going to be reviewing the 12 Year Old, one of the most available and affordable in the range. It’s bottled at 40% and usually comes in somewhere between £30 and £35. On the nose there’s Biscuit and Vanilla with Orange and Lemon and gentle wafts of Bonfire Smoke and Ash. There’s also an interesting Floral note in the Peat Smoke. On the palate meanwhile is Honey and Vanilla with Lemon, Sea Salt and wispy Peat Smoke drifting in the background. I confess it’s been a while since I last tasted Bowmore but I have to say – it’s better than I remember.
Smell: Very well balanced – Bowmore whisky isn’t as heavily peated as some of it’s neighbours and the subtlety of the trademark Islay reek is really effective here, allowing other characteristics to shine.
Taste: Light bodied but with a silky texture, full flavoured yet subtle.
Value for Money: In these days of non age statement whiskies it’s nice that Bowmore’s 12 year old is still available at a low price.
Scores: 43 / 50.
In many ways there’s nothing fancy going on here. No cask finishes, no gimmicky marketing… Just well made, characterful whisky at a good price. It’s worth trying if you think you don’t like peated whisky as this is a different beast entirely from some of the other Islay’s.
For a more detailed account of the Tragedy at Blackrock see the link below…