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Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the isle of Islay, officially founded in 1779. Given its position at the forefront of the village built a decade earlier by Daniel Campbell however, it is entirely possible that it existed in some form or other prior to that date.
The distillery was built by David Simpson of Bridgend and later run by his relation Hector Simpson. In 1837, Hector sold to Glasgow merchants James and William Mutter who proceeded to expand the site and even went so far as to buy their own steamboat with which to transfer the spirit to Glasgow, where it would lie in bond under the railway arches of Central Station.
The distillery remained with the Mutter family until it was bought by Duncan MacLeod of J.B. Sheriff & Co in 1925. Shortly thereafter it was forced to cease production when the buildings were requisitioned by the RAF Coastal Command to use in their efforts to support Atlantic convoys during WWII.
Perhaps the most famous of the distillery’s owners came along in 1963. Glasgow-based whisky broker Stanley P. Morrison bought the distillery for £117,000 and undertook extensive modernisation works. By the early 1980s he had installed an innovative waste heat recovery system that used warm water from the condensers to pre-heat the wash, heat the kiln and warm the water of a swimming pool which had been created inside a disused warehouse donated to the community in 1983.
In 1989 Japanese distilling giant Suntory purchased a 35% stake in the company, before taking full ownership in 1994. The distillery remains under their stewardship today and still stands proudly on the shores of Lochindaal, as it has for 240 years.
During my own visits to the island I have always preferred to make the village of Bowmore my base. Partly because it is in a convenient central location, with an array of options for both dinner and drinks of an evening, but also because the distillery is right at the heart of things. I often stay in a lovely little house on Shore Street that overlooks Lochindaal and there is nothing I love more than to get up in the morning, make myself a cup of tea and sit in the garden looking out at the water. If I’m lucky the kiln will be burning and the unmistakable scent of peat smoke will be mingling with the salt and seaweed coming from the pebble beach below.
Bowmore is a dram occasionally overlooked in favour of seemingly more ‘exciting’ offerings from neighbouring distilleries but I can assure you that whilst present in the village, the scent of smoke hanging in the air, the Bowmore malt in your glass will seem like the greatest whisky in the world.
This particular 14 year old was bottled by Murray McDavid as part of their ‘Benchmark’ range. Matured first in Bourbon, it was then finished in a Red Wine cask before bottling at 46% and retailing for around £99 a bottle.
Smell: Fantastic mix of berries and smoke… Raspberry, strawberry, cherry. Plums. Orange. Honey & lemon. Sticky toffee pudding. Bonfire smoke and ash – strong at first but softens over time.
Taste: Toffee. Caramel. Honey. Vanilla. Pepper and smoke. Raspberry and blackcurrant. Red apples. Subtle smoke grows in strength towards the finish.
Value for Money: Pushes the budget a little but I can honestly say it is one of the tastiest drams I’ve come across over the last few months. Would I pay £99 for a bottle though?
I’ve said it before; when Bowmore is good, it’s very, very good and this one is an absolute corker. The price may fall at the upper end of what I’d consider acceptable, (had it been bottled at cask strength I would have no qualms whatsoever), as it stands, I suspect I would still be willing to pay the asking price, albeit a little grudgingly. Especially having now tasted it, it’s just so damn good that I don’t think I’d be able to resist.
Visit Murray McDavid here.
Visit Bowmore here.