So after finishing up at Bruichladdich and waiting for the bus at a little café called Debbie’s just up the road from the distillery I grabbed the bus back to Bowmore to drop off the distillery valinch I purchased and headed on over to Bowmore Distillery for their last tour of the day.
The Bowmore Distillery tour costs 10 pounds and comes with 3 drams and a glass to take home, which for the money is not too bad even though the whiskies given are the standard core range 15 and 18 year old Bowmores as well as the new travel retail 10 year. So I am definitely here more to see what Bowmore is all about and what makes it different from the other distilleries on Islay.
To start we go into the main courtyard of the distillery, just past the visitor center, where we stand outside of the malting floor which produces a limited amount of Bowmore’s malted barley capacity, all of which goes to mature in the No. 1 vaults. However, due to issues with the building a while ago it was put under renovation and has not quite finished on time so sadly we weren’t able to go inside and take pictures so instead we skip to the kiln.
The kiln used at Bowmore smoked all of their whisky with a predominant use of dry peat to make their more relaxed but well concentrated peaty essence in their single malt spirit. The barley is peat dried for 18 hours before a further 42 hours of direct heating before the barley is ready to be milled.
We now move to the malt bins and the malt mill used at Bowmore, which is a Porteus mill much like the one seen at Springbank Distillery. Speaking of Porteus, it was here that I learned that the current sole technician for Porteus mills is training an apprentice who will hopefully continue job up until his official retirement (as he is currently well into his 70s).
We then head to the mash tun, which is a massive beast of a mash tun that’s quite bigger then all the other distillery in Campbeltown, which was originally used at Jura Distillery before being purchased by Bowmore when they were under the ownership of Morrison Bowmore Distillers.
We then make it to the washbacks, which are wooden made from Oregon Pine, which are substantially taller then the tops seen in this picture so going in for a swim with the wash is probably not the best idea. In a separate room some of the old stainless steel washbacks used for a short stint during the 1980s can be seen.
Next we head into the stillhouse to see the 4 massive stills powering Bowmore’s production along with a brand new spirit safe which was recently installed after the old one, from around the 1960s, spent its last good days and had to be retired.
We concluded the tour with a quick walk into the Bowmore Warehouse No. 1, which unfortunately couldn’t take photos of, so all I can share is the door sadly.
In terms of the actual warehouse itself, it seems that the basic tour guests aren’t permitted to enter the warehouse past a dimly lit glass protected room filled with old distilling tools and photographs so you sadly can’t get a smell of the warehouse like you can at basically every other distillery I went to in Scotland. According to our guide, there was also a time when distillery workers had to fight to keep Suntory from ripping the built up yeasts from the warehouse walls (the stuff that essentially keeps the character of the warehouse conditions while whisky is maturing) so I think Suntory should take a hint about letting everyone who makes the journey to Islay at least take a second to actually enjoy the warehouse instead of being confined away from it when you should be going “in it” in the first place.
And that’s the end of the distillery tour. It concludes with a tasting glass, a dram of the new travel retail 10 Year and some samples of the 15 and 18 Year Old Bowmores. For 10 pounds it’s a very “normal” tour clearly designed for the average tourist but not so much for the whisky geeks who want to know everything about the distillery. In comparison to Laphroaig, the other Islay distillery owned by Beam Suntory, Bowmore feels a lot more lacking of quality and I hope they fix that a bit with their tours to match how enjoyable Laphroaig is for both new and seasoned whisky lovers.