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The history of Bowmore Distillery
There is some debate over the origins of the Bowmore distillery. A gentleman by the name of John Simpson purchased a distilling license in 1816 but there are claims that whisky was produced on the site as early as 1779.
It was under the ownership of Glasgow blending house, Wm. & Jas. Mutter, who bought the distillery in 1837, that the Bowmore spirit began to gain a reputation for its quality, a fact borne out by a written request from Windsor Castle for a selection of casks in 1841.
Like many of Scotland’s distilleries, Bowmore halted production during the Second World War and its buildings were used to house the RAF Coastal Command. Coastal Command’s primary function was the protection of Allied convoys in the Atlantic from U-Boat or Luftwaffe attack. They saw regular action throughout the conflict and completed over one million flying hours, destroying some 200 U-Boats along the way. A high toll was paid for their success, however, with some 5,866 Coastal Command personnel killed in action.
One particularly tragic incident took place on the evening of 24th January 1943. Sunderland ‘flying-boat MK111 DV of 246 Squadron was returning to Bowmore from a patrol over the North Atlantic. Weather conditions took a turn for the worse and an order was sent to divert the plane to Oban. Due to a communication fault, however, the 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. 11 of the 12 crew walked away from the crash only to realise that the rear gunner was still trapped in the turret. 8 men returned to free him but upon their arrival, the depth charges onboard detonated, killing the gunner and all 8 of his rescuers. Only the injured captain and two wounded men left a safe distance away, survived the ordeal.
This is but one of so many tragic stories from those darkest of times. Peace (of a sort) would return to the world in 1945 and distillation recommenced at Bowmore shortly after.
In 1963, the distillery was bought by Stanley P. Morrison who went on to create Morrison Bowmore Ltd, which in turn was acquired by Japanese distiller Suntory. Today the core range comprises of a No Age Statement ‘Small Batch’, a 12-Year-Old, 15-Year-Old ‘Darkest’, 18-Year-Old and 25-Year-Old expressions.
I’ll be reviewing the standard 12-Year-Old, one of the most available and affordable of the range. It’s bottled at 40% and usually comes in somewhere between £30 and £35.
Smell: Biscuit and Vanilla with Orange and Lemon and gentle wafts of Bonfire Smoke. There’s also an interesting Floral note in the Peat Smoke.
Taste: Honey and Vanilla with Lemon, Sea Salt and wispy Peat Smoke drifting in the background.
Thoughts: In the days of no age statement whiskies it’s nice to see Bowmore stand by their 12-year-old expression and maintain its relatively low price. In many ways, there’s nothing fancy about their whisky. There are no flashy cask finishes. Just well made, characterful whisky at a good price. Bowmore also makes for an appropriate introduction to the whiskies of Islay. It’s smoky but lacks the intensity of some of the malts produced there. Bowmore doesn’t seem to inspire the same cultish following as the likes of Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, if anything, its popularity lies in the over-inflated collectors market. The 12-year-old remains a pretty solid whisky though. It’s not one I reach for regularly but whenever it crosses my path, I really enjoy it. A bottling strength of 40% no doubt hinders the intensity of the experience but if you’re looking for a bit of smoke without having your taste buds invaded for several days, Bowmore’s 12-year-old is a solid place to begin.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.
For a more detailed account of the Tragedy at Blackrock see the link below…