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    Bowmore Single Malt Whisky

    Bowmore Distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland, having been founded in 1779, and is certainly the oldest surviving distillery on the ‘whisky island’ of Islay. It is located in the centre of the island capital of Bowmore, fronting the western shore of Loch Indaal, a sea loch opening into the Atlantic Ocean. The distillery was established by local postmaster and ferry operator David Simson, who had previously distilled at Killarow, near Bridgend, three miles from the village of Bowmore. Simpson operated Bowmore until 1837, when he sold it to Glasgow-based W& J Mutter, previously proprietors of Jura distillery. Later notable Bowmore owners were JB Sherriff & Co, who ran it from 1925 to 1950. 

    Bowmore distillery ultimately came into the hands of whisky-brokers Stanley P Morrison Ltd in 1963, and in 1987 the firm, which also operates Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch distilleries, changed its trading name to Morrison Bowmore Ltd. Two years later, Japanese distilling giant Suntory acquired a 35 per cent stake in the company, and in 1994 took full control. 2014 saw Suntory Holdings Ltd acquire the shares of Beam Inc, which brought Bowmore and Laphroaig Islay single malt brands into the same ownership. This does not however raise issues of the whiskies competing against each other, as Hannah Fisher, Senior Brand Manager, explains. 
    “Bowmore and Laphroaig are very different whiskies and are not seen as competitors. Laphroaig is known for its strong, peaty notes, giving it a particularly rich tone. In contrast, Bowmore is a very balanced whisky, reflecting its location in the heart of Islay. Notes of vanilla, citrus, peat and salt can all be enjoyed in a dram of Bowmore, offering consumers a very different liquid.” 

    Today, despite being the second-best-selling Islay single malt after Laphroaig, Bowmore is one of the smaller Islay distilleries in terms of capacity, with a maximum annual output just in excess of two million litres. However, when the great distillery chronicler Alfred Barnard visited the island during the mid-1880s he noted that Bowmore was producing 200,000 gallons of spirit per annum (909,000 litres), making it second in size only to Ardbeg.

    There are five malting floors at Bowmore, and while on-site malting no longer takes place virtually anywhere, Bowmore remains one of a handful where it does, along with new ‘stable mate’ Laphroaig. Around 40% of Bowmore’s malt requirements are obtained from its three operational malting floors, with the remainder being sourced from maltsters on the mainland and peated to the same level of 25 phenol parts per million (or ppm). This places Bowmore in the middle of Islay single malts in terms of peating levels, although it is sometimes described as the ‘smokiest’ of all the Islays. 

    So does the use of distillery floor maltings really make any difference to the character of spirit produced? One man who certainly thinks so is distillery manager David Turner, who started work at Bowmore as a warehouseman 25 years ago. David declares that “I think using our own floor maltings is very important, as I believe some of the fruity flavours, especially in the older Bowmores, are well known for coming from the malt barns. Bowmore is the oldest and the original Islay distillery and one of very few that still has floor maltings. The traditional production methods have been handed down from generation to generation.” 

    All spirit produced at Bowmore is destined for single malt bottling, rather than use in blends and it is filled into a mixture of cask types, with the distillery using around 20% ex-sherry casks and 80 per cent former Bourbon barrels. If the use of floor maltings is a distinctive feature of Bowmore as a distillery and a whisky, then the maturation regime is equally worthy of note. There are three on-site warehouses, holding a total of some 27,000 casks, and the maritime climate plays an important role in the character of Bowmore whisky during maturation. 

    Indeed, the distillery’s famous old Number 1 warehouse is partly below sea level. ‘No 1’ experiences very minor temperature changes compared to other warehouses, and the prevailing damp salt air means that evaporation is less than in many cases, while that air also shapes the style of the ageing spirit. Some of the truly great Bowmores have silently matured in that venerable warehouse, and there is no greater expression for many aficionados than the famous ‘Black Bowmore.’ The initial release of this 1964 spirit, filled into Oloroso sherry casks, took place in 1993, with further releases during the succeeding two years, and the notably dark colour imparted during maturation led to the expression’s name. Soon considered a classic, bottles have been known to change hands for four figure sums, having initially sold for £100 each. 

    Black Bowmore made another appearance in 2006, as the first in a trilogy of expressions distilled in the same year, but which had undergone diverse maturation experiences. Eddie MacAffer has worked at Bowmore since the 1960s, and was appointed Master Distiller at Bowmore in August 2013, having progressed from distillery operator to head maltman, distillery brewer, head distiller and finally distillery manager from 2008, before taking up his present role.  

    When it comes to ‘iconic’ drams Bowmore boasts something of an embarrassment of riches, with a 50-year-old variant having been released in 2013, with another 50 bottles following last year. Various vintages are also on offer, with the oldest currently being a 54-year-old, distilled in 1957. More affordable for the average consumer are the ongoing Devil’s Casks and Tempest series, with the former being 10-year-old cask strength small-batch releases matured in first-fill sherry casks, while the latter are similarly 10 years old, bottled at cash strength in small batches, but having been aged in first-fill Bourbon casks. 

    The core Bowmore range itself offers a diverse range of styles and ages, starting with the no-age-statement Legend expression, and progressing through Bowmore Small Batch Reserve, matured in first and second fill ex-Bourbon casks, 12 Years Old and 15 Years Old Darkest, matured in a combination of ex- Bourbon and former sherry casks, before a final three-year period ageing in Oloroso sherry casks. The line-up concludes with an 18 Years Old and a 25 Years Old. Additionally, and exclusive to The Whisky Shop in the UK, is Laimrig, a 15-year-old expression bottled at 53.7%abv after a period of ‘finishing’ in Spanish sherry butts. 

    During the last few years, Bowmore distillery’s ‘empire’ has expanded, from the distillery itself to embrace six holiday cottages and, most recently, The Harbour Inn, located in the centre of Bowmore, a stone’s throw from the distillery. These provide the perfect accommodation for visitors to the distillery, who number around 18,000 each year. If there is one thing better than savouring your favourite expression of Bowmore at home, it is savouring it on the balcony of the visitor centre after watching the maltmen working the malt floors, feeling the heat from the hissing copper stills and the serene, salty dampness of the warehouses, while looking out across the waters of Loch Indaal, glass in hand. 

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