Not 30 minutes after I left Bruichladdich, I was having a dram at Bowmore whilst Distillery Manager Eddie MacAffer went to find Wellies for me and my fellow tourists, Barb and Brad. Speaking of them, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note what wonderful tour partners these two Canadians turned out to be: you couldn’t ask for a more amiable and laid back couple to join you in touring a distillery. And I loved that Brad couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire afternoon. But then again, it was a gorgeous day, and we were on Islay…
With all due respect to Speyside and Campbeltown, Islay is simply and undeniably Whisky Heaven. And the Bowmore Distillery is located in what might be properly called Heaven Central: it occupies a prominent spot right on Loch Indaal, but is also just across the street from the Bowmore town center (even though Bowmore is the main town on Islay, it is, by most standards, a quaint village).
On to highlights:
–Bowmore Distillery offers a top-notch tour. And you don’t have to take my word for it: VisitScotland gives it 5 stars.
–Bowmore malts some of its own barley on-site (but the majority of the barley Bowmore uses comes already malted from the mainland). The malting floor is a key aspect of what makes the Bowmore Distillery–and the distillery tour–so great.
–Bowmore uses its heat exchange system to heat the public swimming pool next door to the distillery.
–If you ever get a chance to try turning malted barley with the traditional wooden paddle, do it. You’ll suck at it, but do it anyway. (Eddie, however, will not suck at it).
–And if you ever get a chance to stand within a peat-fired kiln, under the deflector plates, do that, too. No suck of any sort involved there.
–Julie Torrance and all of the other people working in the Visitor Centre are tremendous. And so is Brand Manager Cara Laing. In other words, 5 stars is no accident.
–If you get a chance to cut peat, do that, too. Suck or not, you will walk away with a whole new appreciation of that traditional component of the distilling process on Islay (and elsewhere).
As I mentioned above, my first interaction with Distillery Manager Eddie MacAffer involved his asking me my shoe size so he could fit me with Wellies. Intentional or not, that move was completely disarming: I would have never expected a distillery manager to get boots for me. But that move was also, as I soon learned, characteristic of the man: Eddie is simply disarmingly personable and charming (not to mention patient and generous with his time). And though one would expect him to be incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of the distilling process (which he certainly is), Eddie also has the uncanny ability to explain each step of that process in a way that is engaging and accessible to schlubs off the street like myself. But again, you don’t have to take my word for it: take a look at the Bowmore site and check out the distillery tour video clips featuring Eddie.
Tasting Bowmore whisky straight from casks in the warehouse was nothing short of revelatory. The peatiness is more pronounced, of course, but big spiciness comes through, too. But tasting it that way was like tasting Bowmore for the first time all over again–and by that, I mean that the more concentrated notes in the cask-strength whisky reminded me of how taken I was with the unique flavor profile of Bowmore when I first tried it, now so many years ago. In other words, the Bowmore Distillery tour reawakened my initial attraction to Bowmore whisky. This, it seems to me, is the ultimate measure of a distillery tour.
Stay tuned for some “revisited” tasting notes on some specific Bowmore expressions in the coming days. Since Bowmore minis were some of the easiest to come by in the early days of this site, most of the Bowmore “tasting notes” we’ve done date back to a time when our notes were less detailed, albeit punchier, but also nearly wholly detached from reality. In light of that, Bowmore expressions surely warrant some revisiting on this site…