Bowmore distillery was the first recorded distillery on the island of Islay – the “Queen of the Hebrides”. It was founded in 1779 and has been producing single malt whisky ever since. Nothing more proudly Scottish than that, right? Well since 1994 the distillery has actually been owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd, who are in turned a company owned by Suntory, the Japanese drinks giants. Today it’s a serious operation, capable of producing 2,000,000 litres of alcohol per year. It was also one of those few distilleries that really marketed itself well in the 1990s, when single malts were being viewed by consumers as sexy once again. Back in the day, it could hype itself every bit as much as Ardbeg can today.

Bowmore, meaning great reef or sea rock, is located perhaps unsurprisingly in the town of Bowmore, on the shores of Loch Indaal. They produce a wide selection of whiskies and most of them, if not all, with a peated flavour. For the uninitiated, Islay is covered in peat, and a lot of the distilleries on the island use it as a method of drying the malted barely during the distillation process.

That brings me onto the Bowmore 12 Year Old, the core bottling of the distillery, which can be found in shops and bars across the world. According to the folk at Bowmore, their 12 Year Old “reflects the raw essence of Bowmore – thrashing waves, windswept landscapes and generations of tradition”. Well, let’s just see about that.

Colour: amber through to a more translucent, pumpkin orange, when you catch it in the right light. On the nose: wonderful strong malted barley and peat. Beautifully creamy. Sea spray (thrashing waves – they were right!). Still maintaining a floral and elegant edge though, despite the boldness.

In the mouth: the nose follows on perfectly into the mouth. Lovely weight, thick and oily, but yet not over the top. Every now and then either a waft of peat smoke or a tease of sweetness that fights with a citrus edge. It’s mellow, as if it’s controlling the power within. But it’s nothing too complicated, nothing hugely sophisticated – and that’s okay, because it’s a quiet, restrained beast. It’s really approachable. It’s something that those embarking upon their first peated whisky adventure should really enjoy before heading onto whiskies from Laphroaig or Ardbeg (which can put newcomers off peated whisky).

I’ve seen bottles of the Bowmore 12 Year Old in supermarkets for as little as £21 when they’re on special offers, but other than that around the £25 mark. I’d say that was quite simply astonishing value for money.


I've written about (and reviewed) whisky for Whisky Magazine, among other publications, and have been a whisky judge for competitions including the World Whiskies Awards. I've done other writing too: several mass market genre novels, a few short stories, including for BBC Radio 4. For my day job (I know, I don't get out much) I work in digital content. Follow me on or Generally, my tastes lean towards ex-sherry cask and ex-wine cask influences on the spirit, but I'm not so fussed as long as the whisky's gone into good wood.

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