He grew up on Islay, worked at the distillery for over 30 years, and is partial to a spot of whisky collecting. Who better to spend five minutes with than David Turner, Bowmore distillery manager?
What has a delectable mix of history, peat, and a fabulous seaside outlook? Islay’s Bowmore distillery! We take five minutes (well, more like 20) to have a chat over the phone with distillery manager David Turner. Why not pour a dram, sit back and enjoy?
MoM: Bowmore is a truly historic distillery. What sets it apart from other producers?
David Turner: I think the location sets us apart. We’re on Islay, right in the middle of the Island. Islay is well-known for the peated whiskies. The north is very lightly peated, the south is very heavily peated, and we’re in between. We sit between on peating level, and geography. We call ourselves the perfectly balanced Islay whisky.
MoM: Tell us about your career at Bowmore. You’ve done almost every job at the distillery over the years!
DT: I came here when I was 16 years old, straight from school, on 4 June 1990. I started in the warehouses, and I worked there until April 1992. When I was 18 years old I went on shifts in the malt barns, and I covered the stillhouse as a relief operator as well until April 2000. And from the malt barns I went to the mash house for 3, 4 years. Then I moved to the stillhouse in 2006, permanently, and became head distiller in 2007. Eddie [MacAffer, the former Bowmore distillery manager] was here as distillery manager; he did the visitor centre, tourism side. On 1 August 2016 I became the distillery manager. I like both production, and visitor-facing sides, to be fair. I like hands on. The malt barns are really special. For Bowmore, that’s where the tropical fruit notes come from. But I like speaking to visitors too, and travelling around the world.
MoM: You recently added Bowmore 30 Year Old to the core line-up. Why was it released, and what’s it like?!
DT: We’ve got good aged stocks dating back to 1970 maturing in our warehouses, so we’ve always looked at the single malt side, we’ve got aged stock. It’s an annual release, and we do have the stock for a release of that age every year. It’s 45.3% ABV, distilled in 1989, with sherry hogsheads and bourbon barrels in it. The number of bottles will vary from year to year, just depends on what casks are used and how many. It’ll be what the casks yield, to be honest.
MoM: Bowmore recently started rolling out its The Art of Time campaign. What does time, and the luxury of it, mean to you, and what does it mean in whisky-making?
DT: Well it really is about the art of time. We’ve got our own malt barn. It takes a wee bit longer to produce, our own spirit – other distilleries will buy in the commercial malt. We don’t rush things, and we leave the whisky to mature for as long as we need to and keep an eye on it. And it speaks to the ageing stocks we’ve got. And, of course, we’re the oldest on Islay, and the second oldest distillery in Scotland. We just see ourselves as caretakers of time. We do what the generation before us has done, and you just hope the next generation will do what we do.
MoM: What’s coming up for Bowmore in 2021? Are there any cask experiments, distillery developments, or anything else you can share?
DT: Well, honestly, with the Covid situation… We’ll have distillery exclusives next year. We’ve also got the DB5 getting released at the end of Q1 2021, the 1964 31 year old. There are only 25 bottles going on sale. Beyond that, we need to see what the situation is. We’ve not got expansion plans just now. We’re a single malt specialist. We work 24/7, but we aren’t pushed. We’ve still got room to increase production for future growth in sales. And we have been putting extra stock down. We’ve got a lot of good stuff to come.
MoM: 2020’s been quite the year! There have been lots of negatives, but also lots of opportunities to share drams and chat in the virtual space. What have been highlights for you?
DT: I think it’s been doing the online tastings. We’ve probably reached… I don’t know how many people! I probably do three weeks at shows throughout the year. I haven’t lost out of time engaged with consumers. I’ve been doing online virtual tastings and chats with people. It opens it up for the future as well – stuff we weren’t doing in the past. We know we can do things virtually now. It works really well. People have video on their laptops, iPads, it’s really good.
MoM: You grew up on Islay. How does it feel to be managing such an iconic Islay distillery
DT: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing to be fair. It’s amazing to see how many people from around the world appreciate Bowmore. We’re on a small island off the west coast of Scotland. It’s amazing to see people from all around the world and that they know us. I didn’t think I’d ever do this job.
MoM: Peated whisky continues to grow in popularity. Why do you think it holds such appeal?
DT: I think drinking whisky is part of a journey. Many years ago, people started drinking blends and moving on to single malts. People are educated to start drinking a Lowland, Highland, Speyside, then Islay. I think it’s part of the journey. But peated whisky can be totally accessible, for all genders as well. Some people’s palates prefer sweeter bourbon, some people who’ve never drunk whisky before like Bowmore 15 Year Old with the sherry influence. Every palate is different.
MoM: Tell us a little bit about your life outside whisky. What excites and inspires you?
DT: I like to travel on holiday, I like to play golf, I like to walk on the beach on the weekends, I like to drink and collect old whisky. Distillery exclusives are good, small numbers. And, most importantly, it’s good if you get the opportunity to try it; the quality matters as well.
MoM: What dram will be in your tasting glass this Christmas?
DT: I’m going to have a Bowmore 15 Year Old. I think it’s perfect – the sherry gives off the rich Christmas cake flavours, the dark caramel toffee. It’s a good winter dram, a good Christmas dram, and great value for money as well.
Enter our Laphroaig and Bowmore competition to win a VIP trip to Islay here until 31 December 2020.