Bowmore Distillery Tour by Planet Whiskies | Bowmore Single Malt Islay Whisky
It was Saturday morning on Islay and the Planet Whiskies team were up early to visit the famous Islay Distillery of Bowmore. We left our B&B called "The Grange" which is situated on a hill overlooking Port Ellen. From the B&B you could see in the distance the Irish coast which is around 27 miles away. There was four of us in the Planet Whiskies party this morning as we drove the 10 miles from Port Ellen to Bowmore we passed Islay airport and the "peat fields" of Islay.
With this the first time we had been on Islay we did not know what to expect on our travels around the island. As we approached the Bowmore area we could see it was larger than Port Ellen (the main entrance point on Islay) and was a busy seaside town. The main street went all the way down to the coast and as you travelled down you could see on your left the main square and behind this the Bowmore Distillery.
As we travelled down the main road past the square looking for a parking spot for the car we saw the famous Harbour Inn which is now owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers. We all got out and of course our first port of call was to go onto the pier as we knew there would be a great view of the famous Bowmore sea wall with the famous Bowmore lettering on the wall. We were not to be disappointed with the view and everyone got their cameras out to take the iconic photos and the shore line of Loch Indaal. Loch Indaal is a sea loch which leads to the Atlantic Ocean.
After the photos were taken on the pier we all strolled the short distance back up the road and turned right onto the main square and then through to the entrance gates of Bowmore Distillery. It was a setting that made your hair stand on the back of your neck as the excitement was building about seeing one of the most famous distilleries in the world. It was now my turn to introduce Planet Whiskies to the reception team inside the visitor shop at Bowmore. We were all welcomed very warmly and as we strolled around the reception area and the Bowmore shop looking at all the different malts available I asked a few questions relating to the malts on offer and of course had to ask about the two releases of the Devil's Cask bottle that was going down a treat world-wide. I knew it was not available, but had to ask just in case they had found a bottle by chance earlier in the morning. Sorry to say they had not.
I did try a dram of the Devil's Cask for the first time 12 hours earlier at the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen. The cost of the dram was £13 and had to be sampled. While talking to the ladies in reception and Devil's Cask I told them about my dram the night before and they said it was going for £43.50 a dram in the pub across the road. As the retail price for the whole bottle was £60 it just shows you all about supply and demand for special whiskies. The ladies then went on to tell the story how it sold out in a couple of hours in their shop as word spread around Islay that Bowmore were selling their stock of Devils Cask and the rest is history.
After another 10 minutes of chatting about Bowmore our 10am tour guide called Tracey joined us and we were about to start our adventure about the distillery. First Tracey told us that there was no production going on at the distillery this morning as there was a shortage of their natural source of water which runs from the hill behind Bowmore. She went on to say the last few months had been very dry on Islay and as a result production had to be stop at time recently because of lack of water from the Laggan River. With this being the case it was good for us as we would see parts of the distillery that we would not normally see and also we could take photos anyway in the distillery because production was not going on and there was not a health and safely issue.
As we were shown about The Bowmore distillery we were told stories about days gone by and how nearly everyone around Bowmore had something to do with the whisky it produced. It was fascinating hearing all the stories about the olden days. Our guide then went onto tell us about Bowmore history and how it was the first distillery on Islay to produce whisky, dating back to 1779 and how the Bowmore Distillery was widely acknowledged around the whisky community and beyond to having one of the finest and perfectly balanced single malts the world has ever had the pressure to consume.
As we walked about the distillery we were brought into the room where the malts is turned. This only happens in a few distilleries now (Bowmore is one of only six distilleries to still produce its own floor malted barley), but Bowmore want to keep the traditions alive and also this method keep the locally community in work. There are three floors at Bowmore that this malt is kept during this process and each floor can hold 14 tonnes of barley. This method of turning the barley happens every four hours during the five to seven days it is kept here and is done by the Maltmen of Bowmore using the traditional tool that have been handed down through the generations. It does cost more than the modern method of using computers, but it is just one of the traditions the management of Bowmore of keen to keep as the results are their for everyone to see with the exceptional malts the distillery produces over the years. After this process has been completed the malt is called by Bowmore the 'green malt'.
Once the barley is ready it is taken to be carefully smoked over the peat-fired kiln. This dries the barley out completely. Planet Whiskies team were taken into the kiln to see what it was like and you could feel the heat coming from the "room". The temperature above the kiln when this is happening is around 65°C-70°C. It was amazing just to be standing in this area of the distillery and seeing "first hand" how everything came together and how the barley was heated by peat to give it the amazing "Bowmore" taste. We than got to see how the peat was added to the kiln. The peat is burned for 15 hours which is enough time to dry the barley and give Bowmore products the distinctive smokiness that we all know so well. The peat Bowmore Distillery use is from Laggan Moss peat bank. The whole process was fascinating and truly worth the visit to Islay by itself.
After this we were taken to the mill room where the process continues. The process is called from Grain to Grist and turns the barley into a grist to be used in the Mash Tun in the next step in producing the Bowmore malts. The Grist Bin can hold up to eight tonnes of grist are added to 40,000 litres of water. In the Mash Tun water is added at different temperatures three times to ensure all the sugars are dissolved. This produces a sugary liquid called "wort" and is put into the washback with 100kg of yeast were fermentation takes place. The wash has a alcohol around 8% by volume. There are six Oregon Pine washbacks at Bowmore. As each washback can hold 40,000 litres of wort there is a maximum of 240,000 litres of wort at any one time. Interestingly each washback is named after a previous distillery owner, starting with Mr Simson who established Bowmore back in 1779. Once fermentation has been completed after 48 hours the liquid that we have is called "wash" with an ABV of between 7.5-8% the tour guide went on to say.
This is when the Bowmore stills come into play and the wash is heated to make the alcohol start to evaporate through the stills. At Bowmore double distillation happens with their two large Wash Stills and two smaller Spirit Stills. The 'Middle Cut' with an alcohol level of between 69-72% is what the Bowmore distillery want to be used for their casks and that is what they use in producing the world famous Bowmore Malts. Final stop of the tour was to see inside the Bowmore warehouses where we could see the malts maturing in their casks. All the casks were dated and with the famous logo on the side. The sea air was flowing freely inside the warehouse we were in and this of course was adding to the flavours that were been produced inside the casks over the years of maturing.
We were again outside the distillery and the tour was coming to an end. We had a final "photo shoot" of the Bowmore sign on the sea wall, but this time at a much closer angle with us standing underneath this incredible "landmark"
The tour guide Tracey was excellent in her knowledge of Bowmore and we all gained priceless information from her. It was now time for the tasting and they had a special surprise in store for us as David the distillery manager wanted to see us. We were all taken away to the Bowmore warehouse again, but this time instead of just looking at the casks, David started to pour whiskies from two of the casks. In these casks were two lovely malts - one being from a Bourbon Barrel from the year 2000 and the other a Sherry Butt from 1997.
We were in the warehouse were David told us all about his past and how he has been working at the distillery for 24 years. He also said his favourite Bowmore malt was Bowmore 17 year old as it is perfectly balanced. If you would like to read David Turners full Questions and Answers during the tasting at Bowmore please click here.
Finally after an hour long tasting in the warehouse David took us back into the reception area of the distillery and then through to the Visitor Centre . To our surprise the tasting was not over and David become the bartender for an hour while he server up some of the most amazing Bowmore malts for us to try and coffee for the driver with shortbread. These malts included the core Bowmore range of 12, 15, 18 and 25 and the Small Batch Release Tempest 4 and 5. Also samples was the new Travel Retail / Duty Free Exclusives, Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands. It was amazing tasting all the different malts that are available at Bowmore. Once this tasting had been completed and we said our goodbyes to David we went back to the Bowmore shop were we bought some memories of the Bowmore experience including tasting glasses, a bottle of Bowmore Tempest which is a 10 year old and other tourist items which were in stock in the shop. Please note all the tasting was in small measures as Bowmore promote responsible drinking.
Planet Whiskies would like to thank everyone from Bowmore for our tasting trip to their distillery. This includes the ladies at reception, to the Marketing Assistant Yuh Miyazaki at the Morrison Bowmore Distillers headquarters in Glasgow who organized the tour. The tour brought a great insight into Bowmore and seeing the full process behind the famous brand in person. It was a pleasure tasting numerous malts after the tour from the distillery manager David and a special thanks has to go to him for his time he spent with us. It was very interesting talking to David and finding out his thoughts about Bowmore and his time at Bowmore from a young men to present day. With his whole working life being based at the distillery his stories and information was remarkable it really made our trip to Bowmore Distillery a special occasion for all of us in the Planet Whiskies team. Thanks again Bowmore... Your tour was excellent and a must for all whisky drinkers visiting Islay.
Distillery tours available at the Bowmore Distillery (taken from the Bowmore website)
Bowmore Tour Times & Opening Hours - Visitor Centre Opening
October 2013 - March 2014
Monday - Friday 9am - 5pm; Tours 10.30am and 3pm
Saturday 9am - 12pm; Tour at 10am (Open for bookings only in Jan/Feb)
April - September
Mon - Sat 9am - 5pm; Tours 10am, 11am, 2pm and 3pm
Sun 12pm - 4pm; Tours 1pm and 2pm
Bowmore Tasting Session; Mon - Fri; 12.15pm
October - March
Mon - Fri 9am - 5pm; Tours 10.30am and 3pm
Sat 9am - 12.30pm; Tour 09.30am
Bowmore Tasting Session; Mon - Fri; 12.15pm
Prices for the Bowmore Distillery Tour
Tours - £6 per person
Bowmore Tasting Session - £18 per person
Private tours (subject to availability) - £10 per person
Craftman's Tours £50 per person - Available Monday - Thursday when distillery is in production by prior appointment
If you'd like to book a tour, please call our Visitor Centre on +44 (0)1496 810441 or email email@example.com