Bowmore: A Whisky of People, Place and Purpose

Words by
Joel Harrison

21st December 2022

Bowmore is as much about place as it is about craft, and history. SPHERE explores what makes Bowmore so unique in the world today.

In Partnership with Bowmore

In essence, single malt Scotch whisky is a simple product. The result of an age-old process, where a basic beer is made from malted barley, distilled into a spirit, and matured in oak casks. Yet single malt whisky is so much more than this. It is greater than the sum of its parts, and defined and refined by a sense of place, the distillery location, as well as time.

From the rolling hills of the Lowlands, to the rugged mountains and Munros of the Highlands, Scotch whisky is product of its place, as much as it is of malted barley and hand-crafted oak casks.

Perhaps the most characterful of all of Scotland’s regions is the whisky made on the Isle of Islay. A remote island nestled in the Atlantic Ocean off the western coast of Scotland, this elemental isle is famed for its distinct smoky, peaty whisky style.

This signature style of the island has become highly sought after, and one of the best examples is that which is captured in a Bowmore single malt.

The famous Bowmore distillery, located in the islands main town of the same name, has sat stoically on the shore since 1779, watching the waves crash onto the walls of the distillerys ‘No.1 Vaults’ warehouse, Scotland’s oldest and most indomitable whisky storehouse.

Bowmore's distillery on Islay
The No. 1 Vaults warehouse is home to Bowmore’s rarest stocks of whisky

The No. 1 Vaults warehouse is home to Bowmore’s rarest stocks of whisky, which are not just historical mementos of a time gone-by but are examples of some of Scotland’s oldest single malts, from one of her longest serving distilleries. This liquid library acts as a guide for future distilling, as Bowmore is one of only a handful of single malt distilleries to actively employ ancient techniques, such as floor-malting barley, a painstaking, time consuming and expensive craft, mostly lost now to industrialisation. Floor malting is one element that keeps alive old-style flavours of richness and texture that the team at Bowmore strive for in their single malt.

Bowmore is also famed for producing a style of lighter, soft, floral peat smoked whisky, the gentle ying to the bolder yang of other smoky whiskies, those that carry a more medicinal note, with sea spray and tar. The lightness of the floral style smoke within Bowmore’s whiskies is underpinned with a rich texture to the spirit, created by slow distillation and long ageing in the highest quality oak casks. These techniques are a postcard from the past of a style nearly forgotten, almost lost to efficiency and industry, but kept alive in this most remote of places, in a unique single malt.

As Islays most historic distillery and boasting the oldest stocks of single malt in existence from the island, Bowmore is uniquely placed to collaborate with other heritage craft brands. Their relationship with celebrated British car manufacturer Aston Martin, is one such example.

Their first outing together was the re-release of an iconic spirit: Black Bowmore 1964. First released in 1995 as part of the distillery’s ‘Black Bowmore’ range, these whiskies built themselves a phenomenal reputation; a rare mix of single malt distilled in the early 1960s, and matured in high quality first fill sherry casks, they went on to become some of the most collectable single malts ever released, often fetching £20,000 a go at auction. Quite the return for a whisky initially released in 1995, at under £100.

The partnership between Bowmore and Aston Martin allowed both teams to re-think the original packaging for this sought-after whisky, bottling some rare stock held back in the distillery’s archives. The teams worked a new design around the mechanics of an original DB5 piston, with each bottle taking up to a week to be completed and presented in a handmade presentation box. Only 25 were made available for sale, with a price tag of £50,000, all of which sold out.

Each bottle in the Bowmore and Aston Martin partnership took up to a week to be completed and is presented in a handmade presentation box.

The partnership with Aston Martin also saw the release of  ‘ARC-52’, a ground-breaking bottle design to house the oldest ever Bowmore whiskies. The futuristic bottle was designed to explore the ideals of balance; at once a stable arc, yet perched on a rounded, delicate base it cradled a 52-year-old single malt drawn from Bowmore’s rarest stocks. 100 decanters were made, retailing at £75,000 in mid-2022, again a complete sell out.

To stand the test of time, as Bowmore has done, there has to be a base of real quality. Throughout Bowmore’s range of single malts, quality is the key essence. This quality is the result of old-style whisky-making and produces a dram that is both easy to drink, yet complex and flavoursome. This unique style can be seen in the distillery’s Masters’ Selection, where Bowmore’s Master Blender Ron Welsh worked with Aston Martin Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Marek Reichman to release a series of whiskies. The first release in the series was a 21-year-old single malt, followed recently by a 22-year-old, showcasing some of best flavours from the distillery.

Bowmore Aston Martin
Bowmore Aston Martin 21 Masters' Selection
Bowmore Aston Martin
Bowmore Aston Martin 22 Masters' Selection

It is not just for limited editions and collaborations that Bowmore reserves its rare whiskies. The core range from Bowmore has been aged for over a decade, with a 12-year-old showing off notes of honey, delicate smoke and red apples. A 15-year-old release pushes the dial on rich sherry notes with hints of raisins and chocolate orange alongside their signature floral smoke, while their 18-year-old expression showcases a masterful combination of ripe stone fruits, dark chocolate and soft peat smoke.

Whichever Bowmore expression you choose to drink, from the 12-year-old through to an extra aged limited edition, it should be a considered moment. Bowmore is a single malt deliberately made with more flavour, soul and character. As such, drinking a dram of Bowmore should be a signal to enjoy the moment; to take some time and consider what it is about the things around you that means they are well-made, complex and thoughtful.

It is a moment to reflect on how to spend your own time, the most precious commodity any of us have. Bowmore single malt is something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Not just grain distilled into a glass, but a measure of craft, expertise and time, a true distillation of time well spent.