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Islay’s Oldest Distillery
Bowmore is the oldest distillery in Islay. It stands on the shores of Loch Indaal, near the centre of the island. 1779 is often quoted as the year of the distillery’s birth but it wasn’t until 1816 that John Simpson applied for a license to distil on the site. Though of course, that doesn’t mean distilling wasn’t going on beforehand.
In many ways, the town of Bowmore is an odd place to build a distillery, what with the lack of freshwater. The distillery takes its water from the River Laggan, some five miles away. The water is diverted via a complicated lade that zig-zags across awkward terrain for a total of nine miles before it reaches the distillery.
This setup has not been without its problems. In 2008 for example, rain levels on the island were unusually low. According to the Met Office, just 16% of the average rainfall for the month of May had fallen. The outcome of this was a complete halt in production for a number of weeks until, finally, the rain came again. Fortunately, such low levels of rainfall aren’t something experienced very often in Scotland and Bowmore is able to get on with producing its spirit unhindered.
In 1963 Bowmore was bought by Stanley P. Morrison who would go on to acquire Glen Garioch and Auchentoshan distilleries before his Morrison Bowmore company was purchased by the Japanese distiller, Suntory.
Smell: Floral Peat Smoke mingles with Berries and Tangerine, Vanilla, Barbecued Meat and a touch of Menthol.
Taste: Salty and Beefy with Blackcurrant Jam and Red Grapes. Wisps of Peat Smoke are noticeable but not overpowering.
Thoughts: It will cost you around £80. Given the popularity and escalating prices of Islay single malts that seems quite reasonable. Though I have to say, for me to spend that kind of money on a bottle of whisky, I’d prefer to get something un-chill-filtered and possibly a little higher strength. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, though. I last tried the Bowmore 18 a few years back and I found it little more than average on that occasion. This time my experience was very different. £80 is still a lot of money to pay for a whisky that’s been diluted to 43% but having spent a little time with it, I have to say that I’ve come round to it.
I often think of Bowmore as the peated whisky for those who aren’t sure about peated whisky as the smoky influence is less in your face than some of its Islay cousins. Here, instead of assaulting the senses the way a Laphroaig would, for example, the smoke is just one element of a well-balanced whole. It doesn’t perhaps deliver the intensity of flavour that I’d personally look for but those who like their whisky a little gentler may find a lot to appreciate here.
If the whisky featured in this review 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 should you make a purchase after following a link from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.