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Bowmore Distillery | Islay’s Oldest Licensed Distillery

Last Updated: May 15, 2024

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.

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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bottle of bowmore 15 yo whisky with its gift box

Bowmore 15 year old is a distillery bottling that spends its final three years in oloroso sherry casks. The nose is all about the sherry casks, with hints of raisins, spices and dates. The palate is rich, and syrupy with hints of pine oil, creamy toffee and smoked malt. The finish is a spicy sherry toffee.

a bottle of 18 year old Bowmore whisky (straw coloured) next to it's packaging cylinder. The whisky is a single cask release from the Character of Islay Whisky Company for its Stories of Wind & Wave series

An 18 year old single malt from the Bowmore Distillery independently bottled up by the Character of Islay Whisky Company for its Stories of Wind & Wave series. The series is all about highlighting the glory of Islay's distilleries and the whiskies they produce. In this release you'll find ruby red grapefruits on the nose, with a background of custard and soft smoke. On the palate there's an earthy sweetness and soft smoke wrapped in liquorice, lemon, and black currant, followed by a lasting finish of sea salt, soft fruit, and forest pine. Natural coloured.

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

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

Bowmore Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

The Bowmore Distillery Visitor Centre / Gift Shop is open Monday to Saturday, but tours run only from Tuesday to Saturday.

To book for groups larger than those normally permitted on each tour and tasting experience, or to book a private session, email mbd.bowmoredistillery@beamsuntory.com

Bowmore Distillery Tour and Signature Cask Tasting

Available twice daily Tuesday to Friday, enjoy a guided tour of Bowmore Distillery, followed by a tasting of three (3) Bowmore whiskies (two cask strength) whilst enjoying the spectacular views over Loch Indaal. Advanced bookings are highly recommended as the maximum tour group size is 12 persons. £25 per person, 75 minutes duration. Drivers drams are available on request.

Vaults Warehouse Tasting

Available once daily Tuesday to Saturday, 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 8 persons. £65 per person, 90 minutes duration. Drivers drams are available on request, though as this event is a cask strength tasting and not a tour, we highly recommend you get a taxi for this one.

Vaults Secrets Tour and Tasting

As above, but this one does include a tour. Available once daily Tuesday to Friday. Advanced bookings are highly recommended as the maximum group size is only 8 persons. £85 per person, 2.5 hours duration. Drivers drams are available on request.

Old and Rare Tasting and Tour

The ultimate experience for lovers of Bowmore Whisky. An in-depth distillery tour, followed by a tasting of five rare and exclusive Bowmore whiskies, one of which has matured for over 5 decades. Available once a month, maximum 8 persons. Advanced bookings are essential. £500 per person, 2.5 hours 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

Gallery of images taken at Bowmore Distillery - click on an image below to view full size image, with captions.

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.

For our recommendations on where to Stay on Islay near Bowmore Distillery, see our guide to Islay Accommodation: The Best Hotels, B&Bs and Holiday Cottages.

Islay Accommodation: The Best Hotels, B&Bs and Holiday Cottages

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. 

malt whisky yearbook 2023

Ingvar Ronde's annual guide to all things Scotch whisky, The Malt Whisky Yearbook is your go-to guide for distillery facts and stats. With comprehensive and up-to-date distillery summaries, editorials on the state of world whisky, profiles on global whisky trail blazers (the people having the most impact on the industry), the Malt Whisky Yearbook packs in a lot of facts and figures and is an essential Almanac for whisky fans.

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.

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.



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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