A glass of single malt — Photo courtesy of cyclonebill Single malt whisky is usually made by one distillery using barley mash. It is normally associated with Scotland, although both Ireland and Scotland have been distilling whisky since the early 15th century. Bowmore Distillery is just one of 8 distilleries on the isle of Islay, 'Queen of the Hebrides' of the west coast of Scotland. And, it's one of the oldest on the island, since it started distilling single malts in 1779.
Bowmore Distillery, Islay — Photo courtesy of Jack Shainsky About 150 miles from Glasgow, the island has a population of 3000 inhabitants, and a mild climate with rich peaty soil. Water is no problem here, which is lucky, as a lot of it is used in whisky production. The islands have been inhabited since before Christ, and were once the seat of all power in the West of Scotland, hence the name 'Queen of the Hebrides.' Bowmore, 'capital' of the island, was the first planned village in the country, and the distillery followed soon after.
Port Ellen, Islay — Photo courtesy of Jack Shainsky The distillery is situated on a sea-facing loch, so the salty sea air gives the whisky its distinctive character, allowing it to breathe in the sea air whilst its maturing. Water in the production process comes from the Laggan river, the barley is malted on the floor and the whisky matured in oak casks. Not only does the whisky breath the sea air, it also matures in vaults below sea level. The malted barley is still hand-turned by their craftsmen who tend to spend their whole working lives at the distillery.
Tasting single malts — Photo courtesy of DaGoaty Although its been produced in Scotland for centuries, whisky was heavily taxed from the 15th century onwards, to the point that most of the spirit was produced illegally. This was finally broken in 1823, when Parliament passed an act giving commercial distillers more chance of turning a profit and started punishing unlicensed distilleries.
Whisky tasting — Photo courtesy of libraryrachel By the early 19th century, the single malts became more of a luxury product, as the process of producing blended malts allowed for more efficient production methods and greater quantities. The old 'pot distilling' method evolved into a 'continuous stills' method. Although this was less expensive to produce, it had a stronger flavour. The blended whiskies proved more popular on the international market, and both blended and single malts are now produced all around the world.
The Isle of Islay is pronounced 'EYE-LA' and is a beautiful destination in and of itself, even if you weren't a whisky enthusiast. Once you've had a tasting session, you probably will want to take home a bottle of their famous single malt. As well as the Bowmore distillery at Bowmore on Islay, there is the famous round church at Killarow and Port Ellen to see. The island is the fifth largest of the Scottish Islands and is full of archeology, history and norse legends.
The island's economy is dependent on agriculture, fishing and, of course, whisky distilling. It's one of the five protected areas for distilling in Scotland, and is also home to Laphroaig distillery which produces a strong peaty flavour, being made on the south of the Island. Bowmore, made in the north of the Islands like several other names, has a lighter taste. The island attracts about 56,000 visitors every year, most arriving by ferry, and some by air.
Bird watching is another popular pastime here, as is walking the hills, rivers and burns from the top of the peaks, down to the lochs and the sea. And after you've exhausted yourself with nature during the day, what better way to unwind, than with a glass of single malt by a cozy fire, whilst looking out across the Atlantic Ocean?