For me, visiting a distillery is like a child going to Disneyland, I just cannot wait to get there. At the end of my Ultimate Adventure courtesy of Bowmore, my colleague Lucas and I were treated to a grand tour led by none other than Eddie MacAffer, the Distillery (and legendary) manager. If you have done a distillery tour, or several, you know the progression, malted barley, drying floor, washbacks, and then stills. It’s a great lesson if you are passionate about whisky as I am. This tour was more like a back stage pass though. Not only did I turn the malt on the malting floor, I got to go into the fire pit underneath the drying floor, drink from the #2 Washback and then drink the new spirit from the whole process (if I didn’t know, I thought I’d been drinking a light gin). Eddie went through great pains at each station to explain the significance of each part of the process. He is a dear man and passionate about making his whisky and that is enough for me.
So during the process I found that I’m not meant for the malting floor (too aggressive) but I did seem eager enough to prompt Eddie to let me drink from the #2 Washback. I have to say, one may be hesitant to drink something that doesn’t look all that attractive, but, when else would I be given the opportunity!? It wasn’t bad really, basically an unfinished beer but not something you’d want to taste all the time.
The distillery itself is polished and clean, well-organized, and run by people who move with a purpose. I like that. I also like Eddie’s candor about the whole process. He doesn’t hide anything, doesn’t dodge any question, and wants to make sure you understand everything.
What came at the end of the manufacturing process really had me excited. We approached the famed No. 1 Vaults and all I could think is how long I have waited to see behind this door. The No.1 Vault is the oldest holding area for aging casks on Islay, and for that matter almost all of Scotland. There is a rich history in this vault, it was originally part of the distillery and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten the details and history of the vault, I do apologize.
Walking into this area is walking into the area where the most valuable and cherished whisky lies maturing. It is from this vault the most valuable and desired Bowmore products age. It is here where Eddie educated us on their operations, and then, he opened a cask. Not just any cask, but a 13 yr aged cask. It was a bourbon cask from America. I will keep some of the secrets to whence it came from in America. Eddie extracted the whisky and poured it into a tulip glass. We passed it around, nosed and drank. It was simply marvelous. But then it got better.
Sitting next to the bourbon cask was a sherry butt that had been resting for 18 years. We drank, we swooned. Just a simply amazing product.
I wondered around the No.1 vault and marveled at the numerous resting casks that were producing some of the most desired whisky in the world. I secretly wondered, if I just hide, would they notice?
So like most things in life, the tour had to come to an end. The experience was amazing though! I do hope to visit No.1 again, and maybe this time, I will hide.
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