Updated 14 August 2020

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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 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).

Bowmore 15 Year Old Bowmore 15 Year Old

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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Our Pick
Bw8 - Islay Elements Bw8 - Islay Elements

Bw8 is an independent bottling made with Bowmore whiskies from 2001 and 2003, aged in ex-bourbon barrels and sherry butts for at least 16 years. Bottled at cask strength; tastes of dark chocolate, sea salt, and tropical fruit.

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Bowmore Distillery Tours, Pricing & Bookings

Due to COVID-19, Bowmore distillery are not currently offering tours. For more information please see https://www.bowmore.com/distillery-tours/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 (see map below). 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.

Distillery Accommodation
Harbour Inn Bowmore Harbour Inn Bowmore
from £100 per night

Bowmore Distillery has its own accommodation with the Harbour Inn (7 rooms) and five distillery cottages (various sizes; one to four bedrooms). The Harbour Inn is one of our favourite places for a wee dram, or a hearty lunch. We've spent many an enjoyable afternoon in their dining room, looking out over Loch Indaal.

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Grand Historical House
Islay House Hotel Islay House Hotel
from £150 per night

Islay House is a beautiful historical home that was converted into a 5* hotel in 2016; the original building dates back to 1677.. There is a restaurant and bar on site. Islay House is located in Bridgend, at the junction of two main roads leading to Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Caol Ila, Ardnahoe and Bunnahabhain.

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References & Further Reading

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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