The pandemic has forced us to reorganise not only our social habits, but also our memories, to the extent that everything we have experienced up to the spring of last year can ideally be labelled with an BC (Before Covid).
In hopeful anticipation of a AC, we happily return with our memories to the summer of 2018 and our days on Islay.
Leaving Ardbeg, in the south of the island, we head for Bowmore.
Well in advance of the tour (it’s always advisable to book visits, as there are many requests and the groups are not so large), we stop at the Port Ellen warehouses, the historic distillery closed in 1983, whose whiskies have earned an aura of sacredness over time. The inescapable sense of general abandonment makes us sad, but we are heartened today by the news that Port Ellen’s stills will soon be distilling again.
The village of Bowmore, overlooking the Lochindaal, is the ‘capital’ of Islay. It’s a bit of a shock to use this term for what is little more than a hamlet, but Bowmore has everything you need: private houses, a school, shops, a church, the harbour… and a distillery, so well integrated into the context that you run the risk of not seeing it (or confusing it with the school next door, which has decorative pagodas).
In the early afternoon light, a breath of fresh air from the sea accompanies us to the entrance, the starting and finishing point of every tour.
Preceded by a brief historical introduction and structured in a rather traditional way, the distillery tour lives in our memory three important moments.
The first is the initial stop: a visit to the malting room. Bowmore produces, in terms of malt, about a third of its own requirements (the rest comes from a malting plant on the mainland) and is in any case one of the very few Scottish distilleries to have a malting room. Those who are fascinated not only by the end result but by the whole process of creating whisky can well understand the emotion felt when stroking the warm barley, picked up from the floor and heated to promote germination. We like to imagine that this barley, run through our fingers, will become the Bowmore we will one day taste.
The second highlight is a visit to the Nº 1 Vaults.
The entrance to this legendary warehouse located below sea level, on whose outer walls the waves of the Atlantic break, is generally closed to visitors (at least in the basic version of the tour) who have to be content with peeking through glass. Yet, even if you just imagine what a walk among the barrels might mean, it’s impossible not to be seduced by a place where the combination of the different elements in play, marked by the slow course of time, seems to be governed by a mysterious superior design.
The third moment is the conclusion of the tour in the distillery bar, overlooking the ocean.
While the view from the huge glass window opens our eyes to a landscape of wild beauty, we can admire some historic bottlings, taste at least two expressions of Bowmore’s core range, the 15yo and 18yo, and exchange a few impressions with the guide, who is animated by a truly contagious passion and willing to satisfy further curiosity (and advise us on any purchases in the adjacent shop).
We close with a photo taken of a curious sign placed at the exit of the still house, in the hope that the number of days has grown over time and can continue to grow in the future without interruption.