John Simpson founded Bowmore in 1779 on the wide eastern beaches of Loch Indaal. It is Islay’s oldest legal distillery and the twelfth oldest distillery in Scotland. John Simpson was a jack-of-all-trades and also managed Tallant Distillery in the near vicinity, which is closed now. In 1852 Bowmore was inherited by W & J Mutters whom expanded the distillery premises with e.g. more kilns and additional warehouses. When the journalist and author Alfred Barnard visited Bowmore during the 1880’s it was the second most productive distillery in Islay after Ardbeg among the 12 legal distilleries that existed on the island at that time. Bowmore was sold in 1890 to a group of London businessmen who formed the company Bowmore Distillery Limited.
During the 1930’s and WW2 Bowmore was forced to close, like so many other distilleries in Scotland. After another four rounds of owners the whisky dealer Stanley P. Morrison bought the distillery in 1963. He made several upgrades to the site and also restored the mash tun which still is in use. In the middle of the 1960’s a man named Jim McEvan was employed who made a quick career at Bowmore. He became the Distillery Manager in 1984 and was a main contributor to the distillery’s successes during 1980’s and 1990’s. The title was inherited by Ian McPherson in 2000 when Jim McEvan was handpicked to manage the neighbour distillery Bruichladdich Distillery.
The Japanese company Suntory bought Bowmore in 1994. The distillery lies in the town Bowmore, the largest town on Islay with approximately 1000 inhabitants. One of the distillery’s ware houses has been converted into a swimming pool for appreciative Islay inhabitants. It is heated by secondary heat from the distillery which has awarded them several environmental prizes. Bowmore is known for its vast variety of whiskies.
Production at Bowmore
Bowmore use water from the largest river on the island, the river Laggan which lies approximately 10 km from the distillery. The water has a defined peaty flavour and it is considered to contribute to the character of the finished whisky. Bowmore is one of the remaining few distilleries that still malt parts their own barley. The peat that is used to dry the barley is taken from local peat bogs. Three malting floors are in active use and provide Bowmore with about 40% of their malted barley; the rest is bought from Port Ellen Maltings. The barley is peated to approximately 20 ppm. It is dried for 18 hours with peat and another 42 hours with hot air.
The wooden-clad stainless steel mash tun holds eight tons. The six fir/pinewood washbacks holds 40 000 litres each and are named after the six previous owners. The distillery has two wash stills that hold 31 000 litres each but are run with only 20 000 litres. The two onion shaped spirit stills are internally steam heated and each hold 14 500 litres although they are filled to only 13 500 litres while distilling. The stills are six meters high. The heart of the run which takes about 2.5 -3 hours to make starts at 74% alcohol by volume and stops at 61,5%.
As the vast variety of editions offered by Bowmore suggest, the whisky is stored in many different casks. The majority is stored in used sherry and bourbon casks, but port and Bordeaux casks as also used on occasion. The distillery uses three warehouses, of which two are located just outside of Bowmore town. The bottling facilities are on the mainland in Springburn, Glasgow. The annual production at Bowmore varies between 1,5 – 2 million litres.
School street, Bowmore,
Isle of Islay,
Argyllshire, PA43 7JS
Phone: +44 (0) 1496 810671
Manager: Ian McPherson
Visitors: Visitors accepted all year round. Opening hours are Monday – Friday 9:00 – 17:00, Saturdays 10:00 – 12:30. There are two guided tours in the winter and four in the summer. The tour is priced at £2 which is refundable on purchase in the gift shop. Bowmore has a fully equipped store with clothes, whisky, books, glassware etc. Bowmore has received the “Visitor Centre Manager of the Year” award by the Whisky Magazine. Approximately 10.000 people visits Bowmore Distillery every year.
Owner: Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd / Suntory