Bowmore in a nutshell:
owner: Morrison Bowmore Distillers (Suntory)
location: 55° 45’ 25” N 06° 17’ 23” W
capacity: 2,000,000 litres
washbacks: 6 Oregon pine
source of water: Laggan river
The distillery’s foundation date, proudly sported on the labels, is 1779. The distillery, located at the shores of Loch Indaal on the island of Islay, bearing the name of the town acting as a kind of capital of the island, is one of the oldest whisky producing plant in Scotland. It is also the manufacturer of the arguably most legendary, most desired whisky expression in the history of Scotch whisky making, Black Bowmore, a 1964 vintage bottled in 1993 (later releases of Black Bowmore were launched in 1995 and 1996, as well as 2007).
Even if the official foundation date sometimes gets questioned, there is no doubt there was whisky production at Bowmore in 1816, when John Simpson, the then owner of the plant, applied for a license. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Bowmore’s ownership changed hands several times, until it was purchased by Stanley P. Morrison for the sum of 117 thousand pounds in 1963, and Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd was founded. In 1989 30% shares in the company were purchased by the Japanese Suntory corporation, and in 1994 the Japanese took over Morrison Bowmore altogether. In 2014 Suntory took over Beam Inc., which means that now the same corporation owns two legendary Islay distilleries – Bowmore and Laphroaig.
The distillery’s history books also mention the year 1941, when the royal family ordered a cask of whisky from Bowmore.
Bowmore is one of the very few Scotch whisky distilleries that still run their own maltings. However, because of the limited efficiency of the traditional malting floors (Bowmore has three of those) and an unprecedented scale of whisky production these days, the malt produced locally meets far less than half the needs of the distilleries, with the balance amount being purchased from industrial maltings. In the case of Bowmore, their own malt accounts for 30% of the plant’s production needs. Both Bowmore’s own malt and the one purchased from Port Ellen maltings are prepared so that they are peated at a level of 25 ppm, which in turn gets reflected in the peaty character of the whisky produced here. However, it is a rather far cry from the real peat monsters, the likes of Ardbeg or some expressions produced at Bruichladdich (Octomore). The malt from both sources is always mixed prior to milling and mashing.
Bowmore whisky matures in two traditional dunnage warehouses on site and one more modern, racked warehouse. One of the distillery’s most renowned buildings is, in fact, the warehouse right at the shore of Loch Indaal, referred to as No. 1 Vaults, a building from the 18th century, the oldest bonded whisky warehouse in Scotland. It was there, on the floor well below the sea level, that the most precious and most legendary whisky expressions matured, including the Black Bowmore. With the limited warehouse space, however, some of the spirit produced at Bowmore leaves the island in tankers and is put into oak casks for maturation in the company’s warehouses on the mainland.
At the turn of the centuries, Bowmore experimented intensively with wood finishing, using a variety of casks. It all started with Bowmore 15yo Darkest, a sherry oloroso cask finish, launched in 1999. A year and two years later, respectively, Bowmore Dusk (a Bordeaux wine finish) and Bowmore Dawn (a port wood finish) were released. In the next years, there was a multitude of Bowmore expressions hitting the market – all types of wood finishes, vintages, no age statement, limited editions, etc. In 2015 another batch of Devil’s Cask was released, as well as Bowmore Tempest and Mizunara Cask Finish, an expression matured additionally in Japanese oak. The travel retail market (mainly airports and ferries) offers a no age statement Bowmore Springtide (ex-oloroso sherry casks), Black Rock (mainly ex-sherry casks), Gold Reef (ex-bourbon casks) and 17yo White Sands.
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