Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Holiday in Scotland and Visit The Bowmore Distillery

By Rachel Wilson

If you are a Scotch Whisky enthusiast, planning to visit Scotland in the near future, Islay could be just the place for you.. Islay (pronounced eye-la) is the Hebridean island home to eight whisky distilleries producing some of the most sought after single malt whiskies in the world, the industry providing an important source of income to the island along with farming and fishing.

In total there are eight distilleries on Islay (pronounced eye-la) with seven of them dotted around 130 miles of scenic coastline. If you are planning a stay on the island there is plenty of excellent accommodation and whisky enthusiasts will be pleased to know that there is holiday accommodation at the Bowmore Distillery in the town of Bowmore. Guests are treated to a complementary tour of the distillery and the chance to relax with a wee dram!

The first people to set up stills and produce whisky on Islay are thought to have been Irish monks in the 14th century The monks found the island so suited to the production of what was known as Uisage Beathe (water of life) because of the unlimited supply of peat and pure soft water in the lochs and rivers, and an early strain of barley was grown by the crofters known as Bere.

Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay where it has stood on the shores of Loch Indaal in the town of Bowmore since 1779. It was started by a local merchant David Simpson who built the distillery and began producing the whisky which, in years to come would be sought after the world over. The distillery has changed hands four times in the last two hundred years and is now owned by Morrison Bowmore distillers who have owned it since 1994 and who carry on the traditional methods of production.

A single malt whisky is the product of a single distillery and no two distilleries produce the same flavour and body. The distilleries to the south of Islay produce the most powerful medium bodied flavours with the use of the islands peat water for every stage of production, and those to the north produce much milder flavours since they use clear spring water. Bowmore is in the middle of the island and the flavour it produces comes between the two extremes having a warm smoky character with peaty, toffee flavours and some floral scents and traces of linseed oil.

During the winter gales sea spray carried on the wind soaks into the peat which covers the island and this adds to the distinctive quality of Islay malt whisky. Bowmore distillery uses the uncontaminated, peat laden water from the Laggan River, the peat is infused with the richness of the heather and other flora which grow on it and this enriches the flavour and colour of the whisky.

The traditional practice of floor malting the barley is dying out and Bowmore distillery is one of only a few left where this is still carried out. The malt is first soaked for up to 72 hours to allow it to germinate and then drained, spread out over the malting floor and turned regularly by the Maltman with a traditional wooden shovel to release the heat. The malt is then transferred to the kiln which is fired by the Islay peat, for drying and roasting.

At Bowmore distillery the traditional methods are still used and passed down by word of mouth. There is a very low turnover in the men who work at the distillery and most of them have worked there for many years, with the three stills men alone having thirty years of experience each. Five high quality and often prize winning single malt whiskies are produced and exported around the world. The famous Bowmore vaults are below sea level and are especially suitable for storing the whiskies in the damp atmosphere which stays at a constant temperature all year round. The whisky is stored in casks of Spanish and American oak which means that fully matured whiskies can be stored for many years. The men of Bowmore distillery see themselves as caretakers of the distillery so that the knowledge can be handed down for the generations to come.

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