Bowmore Distillery – Islay’s Oldest Licensed Distillery

​Bowmore Distillery is Islay's oldest licensed distillery (1816) however, it was established around 1779, which also makes it one of Scotland's oldest distilleries. Bowmore Distillery is one of few distilleries in Scotland that continues to malt some of their barley on-site (Laphroaig and Kilchoman are ​the other two on Islay that do 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!

A tour of Bowmore Distillery is a fantastic experience, and I highly recommend it if you get the opportunity (seeing inside ​a working kiln was an absolute highlight for me).

Bowmore distillery viewed from Bowmore Pier

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

How to Pronounce ​Bowmore

​Pronounced '​boh-moor'

Where is ​​Bowmore Distillery?

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

​Bowmore Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

For bookings Tel: ​​+44 (0)1496 810 441 ​or fill out the online enquiry form. Bookings are ​essential. I recommend you book tours at least several days (ideally more than a week) in advance​. Call the distillery directly for bookings less than 24 hours in advance or for bookings of six or more people.

Unlock Hidden Depths Tasting and Tour : £10 per person, approximately 1 hour duration
Take a guided tour guided through Bowmore Distillery, see the malt floors, and end the tour back in the beautiful Visitor Centre Bar with a tasting of three Bowmore whisky whilst enjoying the view over Loch Indaal. Includes a Bowmore tasting glass to take home.

Time Savoured Tasting (no tour):  £30 per person, 12:30 pm Monday - Saturday
​Join one of ​Bowmore's guides on this tasting experience and explore a range of Bowmore single malts alongside some tasty treats.

The Vault's Secrets Tasting and Tour: £70 per person, 10:15 am most days (check the Bowmore Distillery website for further details). **This is my ​recommended tour​ if you want to see all the workings of the distillery and taste ​cask samples of Bowmore whisky.** The Vault's Secrets Tasting Tour begins with a taste of Bowmore limited release Vaults Edition, served in your very own Bowmore glass. This tour gives you unlimited behind the scenes access to Bowmore Distillery, from the old fashioned floor maltings to the deep dark Vault No. 1 warehouse and a special tasting straight from the cask. This tour includes a unique Bowmore tasting set including a 100ml cask sample for you to take home.

The Laggan, The Lade, and The Legendary No.1 Vaults: £130 per person, approximately 4 hours duration, 10.30am most Wednesdays and Fridays (check the Bowmore Distillery website for ​actual dates). The ultimate Bowmore Distillery Tour + Whisky Experience. Join one of Bowmore's guides and go off the beaten track into the heart of Islay to visit Bowmore's water source, the River Laggan. Learn the story of their 9-mile long meandering water-way, the Bowmore Lade. After a morning taking in the magnificent scenery around Islay you will visit Cafaidh Blasda based at the local Gaelic college where you will enjoy a traditional ploughman’s platter lunch. Thereafter you will return to the Bowmore Visitor Centre to embark on an in-depth tour of Bowmore distillery which includes a warehouse tasting in the legendary No.1 Vaults.  A moderate level of fitness is required for this tour, and bring appropriate outer clothing as the weather on Islay can turn awful even on the sunniest of days. Maximum of six people. ​

​Click here forr more information or to book a tour​.

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 Whisky

Unfortunately, Bowmore have gone down the path of adding E150a caramel colouring to their bottles, and they chill-filter many of their releases (generally anything under cask strength).  As someone who was once a fan of Bowmore, this saddens me, and I dearly wish they'd refrain from messing about with the whisky!

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

Ralfy has reviewed the Bowmore 15-year-old "Darkest" (below) - I agree with him it's not a bad dram, but it would be a lot nicer if they'd skip the caramel (the dark colour is not natural) and leave it unchillfiltered.

​What ​Else ​Is ​Nearby

​References & ​Further ​Reading

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