Updated 12 August 2022

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Bowmore Distillery | Islay’s Oldest Licensed Distillery

Bowmore Distillery is Islay's oldest licensed distillery (1816); however, Bowmore Distillery was established around 1779, making it one of Scotland's oldest distilleries. Bowmore Distillery is also one of few distilleries in Scotland that continues to malt some of their barley on-site (Laphroaig and Kilchoman are the other two distilleries on Islay that use floor maltings). A visit to Bowmore Distillery is an excellent opportunity to witness malt floors in action, and if you're lucky, you might even get to see inside the kiln!

colour photograph of Bowmore distillery viewed from Bowmore pier

Bowmore Distillery, viewed from Bowmore Pier. Bowmore Distillery is Islay's oldest licensed distillery (1816) however, it was established around 1779.


How Do You Pronounce Bowmore?

Pronounced 'boh-moor'. The name "Bowmore" is thought to be derive from "bogha mor" or '"bodha mor" meaning large hidden or tidal rock, possibly due to a black reef located just outside Lochindaal.

Where is Bowmore Distillery?

Bowmore Distillery is in the town of Bowmore, on the Isle of Islay, Scotland.

Google Map of Bowmore Distillery

Bowmore Whisky

Bowmore Distillery is known for its rich, subtly sweet, peated whisky (though I consider it lightly peated compared to some of the other Islay distilleries!). There are usually tropical fruit and/or citrus flavours, often with spice notes and/or raisins. When I think of Bowmore whisky, I think of the fruit cakes my mum used to make when we were kids - rich and raisiny. Bowmore was one of the first whiskies that got me into whisky. It is very approachable. My only gripe is that nowadays, the distillery tends to add E150a (spirit caramel) to make the colour darker (note the colour difference in the two whiskies below) and they often chill filter.

Independent bottlings can be an excellent way of tasting Bowmore whisky at its finest (un-chill filtered and no E150a added). You can find independent bottlings of Bowmore at The Whisky Exchange and occasionally via The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (distillery code 3).

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photograph of a bottle of bowmore 15yo whisky next to its outer packaging box - dark amber liquid

Bowmore 15 year old is a distillery bottling that spends its final three years in oloroso sherry casks. The whisky has a rich sweetness that blends well with the peaty elements. Colouring (E150a) added.

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photograph of quarter-bottle each of the Bowmore 12yo, 15yo Darkest and 18yo whisky

A quarter-bottle each of the Bowmore 12yo, 15yo Darkest and 18yo. A fantastic introductory tasting set to Bowmore whisky, and a great gift idea.

Bowmore Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

The Art of Time Tour and Tasting Experience

Guided tour of Bowmore Distillery and a tasting of three (3) Bowmore whiskies whilst enjoying the spectacular views over Loch Indaal. Includes a Bowmore tasting glass to take home. Advanced bookings are highly recommended as the maximum tour group size is 10 persons. £18 per person, 75 minutes duration.

Vaults Secrets Warehouse Tasting

Enjoy a selection of cask strength whiskies while in the Legendary No.1 Vault. Two of the whiskies will be pulled straight from the cask in the warehouse, and you will also take home a special 100ml cask sample. This experience does not include a distillery tour, however, a walk round the distillery to take pictures will be included whenever possible. Advanced bookings are highly recommended as the maximum tasting group size is 5 persons. £55 per person, 90 minutes duration. 

For more information please see https://www.bowmore.com/experiences.

Whisky and whisky-related merchandise available to purchase inside the gift shop at Bowmore Distillery.

Whisky and whisky-related merchandise available to purchase inside the gift shop at Bowmore Distillery.

Merchandise including Bowmore Distillery jackets and scarves in the gift shop, inside the Bowmore Distillery visitor centre.

Merchandise including Bowmore Distillery jackets and scarves in the gift shop, inside the Bowmore Distillery visitor centre.

Bowmore Distillery Images

Barley grains malting on the floors at Bowmore Distillery.

Barley grains malting on the floor at Bowmore Distillery. There are three levels for malting, with each level divided into two floors - Bowmore count six malt floors in total. Each floor section contains seven tonnes of barley, on rotation (not every floor will be full at once - different floor sections will have barley malting at a different stage ). If you visit on a Monday or Wednesday, you might be lucky enough to see how they lay down the barley onto the floor with chariots. The barley will be turned every 4 hours for six or seven days.

Malt Chariots at Bowmore Distillery

These malt chariots are used to distribute the freshly steeped and drained barley onto the malt floor.

Malt hoppers and two of the four steeps at Bowmore Distillery.

Malt hoppers and two of the four steeps at Bowmore Distillery.

Malt conveyor built into the floor of the steep room at Bowmore Distillery to move drained barley from the steeps to the malt floor.

Malt blower in the kiln at Bowmore distillery

This device blows malted barley around the kiln, making it a lot easier to distribute a large amount of barley than it would by hand! Bowmore Distillery kilns 221 tonnes of barley every week.

Inside the Kiln at Bowmore Distillery

Inside the Kiln at Bowmore Distillery

Inside the Kiln at Bowmore Distillery

Inside the Kiln at Bowmore Distillery

Peated Kiln Fire Bowmore

After malting, the barley is dried in the kiln for 18 hours using peat smoke, then dried using only hot air for a further 42 hours, until the grains reach a moisture content of less than 5.5%. The hot air used is recycled energy captured by Bowmore Distillery's waste heat recovery system. The same system is also used to heat the local swimming pool.

Five of the six malt bins at Bowmore Distillery.

Five of the six malt bins at Bowmore Distillery. The barley malted on site is kept in a separate bin to the malt brought in from Simpsons' Malt. Bowmore malt roughly 38% of their barley on-site.

Porteus Patent Mill Bowmore Distillery

The Porteus Patent Mill at Bowmore Distillery. The mill is capable of grinding 20kg of barley into grist at a time.

The Porteus Patent Mill at Bowmore Distillery, machine number MMRB-45, was installed on 7-4-1966.

Close up of the Porteus Patent Mill at Bowmore Distillery.

Mash Tun and Malt Hopper Bowmore Distillery

The malt hopper (underneath the grist bin, not pictured) connecting to the copper topped Mash Tun at Bowmore Distillery. Bowmore Distillery runs 12 mashes a week. Each mash run uses eight tonnes of grist, involves three mash cycles and uses a total 67,000 litres of water to produce 40,000 litres of wort.

The two copper kettles (rear), the grist bin (top) and the copper topped mash tun (bottom) at Bowmore Distillery.

The two copper kettles (rear), the grist bin (top) and the copper topped mash tun (bottom) at Bowmore Distillery.

The control panel for the mash tun, underback, heat exchanger and filling the washbacks at Bowmore Distillery

A copper kettle at Bowmore Distillery

The copper kettles at Bowmore Distillery are over 100 years old. They are used to heat the water that is added to the mash tun.

Close up of the rivets securing the copper kettles at Bowmore Distillery.

Close up of the rivets securing the copper kettles at Bowmore Distillery.

The underback and refrigerator at Bowmore Distillery.

The underback and refrigerator at Bowmore Distillery. Wort drained from the mash tun is stored in the underback before being cooled in the refrigerator (heat exchanger) and transferred to a washback.

Washbacks Bowmore Distillery

Wort from the mash tun is cooled via the heat exchanger to 17 C before being added to a washback. It takes 6 hours to fill a washback. The washbacks are filled to their capacity (40,000 litres) as they have spinners built into the lids to prevent foam and overflowing. Wet cultured yeast is added, and allowed to ferment with the sugars in the wort for 52 hours. The contents of one washback feeds two wash stills (40,000 L -->> 20,000 L x2)

Wet cultured yeast (like putty) in a bag at Bowmore Distillery

Wet cultured yeast (like putty) arrives at Bowmore Distillery in 25kg bags. It is shipped from Holland, and arrives at Bowmore every Tuesday.

The two wash stills and their shell and tube condensers, connected by straight lyne arms at Bowmore Distillery.

Wash Still No. 1 (right) Capacity 20,940 litres and Spirits Still No. 1 (left) capacity 14,750 litres, at Bowmore Distillery.

One of the wash stills (foreground) and both spirit stills. The wash stills are charged with 20,000 litres of wort, and after 8 hours, they each produce 8,000 litres of low wines. The spirit stills are each charged with 12,000 L (8,000 L low wines + 4,000 L from the last spirit still run, out of the feints receiver) to produce 4,800-5000 L of hearts / middle-cut.

Three rows of Makers Mark Casks awaiting filling at Bowmore Distillery.

Close up of the No. 1 Vault Door at Bowmore Distillery

Cask in the No.1 Vaults at Bowmore Distillery, branded with a graphic representation of the distillery's profile.

Bowmore Accommodation

There are a number of hotel options in Bowmore (and nearby Bridgend), as it is one of the main towns on Islay, though you'll find the largest range of options via Airbnb. Bowmore is easy to get around on foot, and there are several restaurants and cafes. There is also a supermarket, a bank and a post office, which makes it an especially convenient spot for families or for those reliant on public transport to get around.

What Else Is Nearby

References & Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries. This is a wonderful step back in time and a must have book for a whisky history geek. 

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Front cover image of the book Whiskies Galore : A Tour of Scotland's Island Distilleries by Ian Buxton

Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not simply a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland's islands, combining his expert knowledge of whisky with his fondness for anecdote, as he provides a special treat for all who love Scotland's islands and their drams.

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Book cover of Whisky Island by Andrew Jefford

In Whisky Island, by Andrew Jefford, Islay's fascinating story is uncovered: from its history and stories of the many shipwrecks which litter its shores, to the beautiful wildlife, landscape and topography of the island revealed through intimate descriptions of the austerely beautiful and remote countryside. Interleaved through these different narrative strands comes the story of the whiskies themselves, traced from a distant past of bothies and illegal stills to present-day legality and prosperity. The flavour of each spirit is analysed and the differences between them teased out, as are the stories of the notable men and women who have played such a integral part in their creation.

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Cover image of the book The Island Whisky Trail: Scotland's Hebridean and West Coast Malt Whisky Distilleries by Neil Wilson

Island Whisky Trail by Neil Wilson, features Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Jura, Mull, Talisker and Oban. There is also a thorough look at the major role that women played in the history of illicit distilling in the County of Argyll with maps of known sites of distilling and appendices of the distillers and where and when they lived. I found it to be a very informative read.


About the author

Amanda

Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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