Whisky Regions

Islay Series #2: Bowmore

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It’s time to return to my Islay whisky tour, dear readers, and since I reviewed a distillery (Bruichladdich) in my last post, I shall change things up a bit with today’s entry and focus instead – ever so briefly, should I be capable of it – on the town that we used as our base. We decided to stay in Bowmore, which is on the west side of the island (it’s only a wee place, though, so driving from one side to the other takes virtually no time at all – we arrived at Port Askaig, which is on the east side, and I think it took about 15-20 minutes to get across). Bowmore itself is a beautiful little town, as well as the capital of Islay. According to our bus driver (booked, if I may advertise for a second, through Timberbush, his name was Frasier, and he was fantastic) the population of the town is around the 1,000 mark, which I reckon is pretty much spot on. It’s right on the coast which means that many of the hotels and restaurants/pubs have stunning sea views.

Harbour Inn and Bowmore Guesthouse

As we were a fairly large group we had to be split between two hotels, with the majority staying at the Harbour Inn – as I didn’t stay there myself I shall only briefly mention that it was a lovely hotel with fantastic rooms (I did get to see a couple) and a lovely little restaurant that served the best food we had on the island. Oh, and the staff were all very friendly.

Myself and a few of the other guests stayed around the corner at the Bowmore Guesthouse, which  had only recently be acquired by two new owners – and I’m so, so sorry to say that I’m bad with names and theirs have slipped my mind – from England who had decided to move themselves and their daughters out to Islay. As a matter of fact, we were the first (or possibly second) group of people ever to stay with them, and they were visibly nervous upon our arrival and very worried about doing something wrong – bless them. They had absolutely nothing to worry about, however, as they were both absolutely lovely hosts, their rooms were large and well equipped, and the view from my window was outstanding. Add to that the fact that breakfast was cooked to order (if you order the night before, you can request to have it served at a specific time) and their black pudding (Stornoway – only the best) was cooked to perfection, as was the bacon.

Food and Drink

This, I’m sorry to say, is the one thing that disappointed me somewhat. The pubs in Bowmore were mediocre at best. We had lunch at the Lochsidehotel – who also have a pub called Duffies, which I will return to shortly – and I’m sorry to say that the quality was appalling. I ordered a burger and received a low quality pre-made beef patty in a shop bought bun with cheap cheese and poor quality bacon, served with absolutely no flair. Add to that that the staff were generally drowsy looking – plain rude in the case of one young man who worked behind the bar – and one of them walked around barefoot, and we weren’t happy campers. As for the pub, we waited for 5 minutes without getting served as the bartender was loitering about in the restaurant-side of the bar (there was a door between the pub and restaurant, both of which had a bar, and the one barman moved between both); he had greeted us when we arrived, yet ignored us completely.

Bowmore

A far better – though somewhat overpriced, with a bottle of Islay ale going for $5 and a pint for $3 – is the one run by the folk at Harbour Inn. I can’t remember the name of it, but they share an entrance. While small, the staff are friendly and the selection of ale and whisky is comparably good, so long as you don’t mind the former coming in a bottle. Worth mention is a friendly local chap who seems to visit quite regularly; he bought me a dram of whisky simply to show me the locals’ preferred drink (Black Bottle, which was surprisingly tasty) and by the sound of things he enjoys talking to tourist and buying them a drink!

As for food, I would recommend the restaurant in the Harbour Inn. I realize that I’m rather blowing their trumpet – though breakfast was better at the Bowmore Guesthouse – but rest assured that they aren’t paying me a penny to do so, nor do they know of it. The quality of their offering was simply higher than anywhere else we went, and the atmosphere was pleasant.

So would I recommend Bowmore? Absolutely, it was the nicest town we visited!

About Whisky Critic

My name is Martin and I live in Scotland. I love fine things in life, such as gourmet food, travelling around the world and, last but not least, whisky (naturally, I’m partial to a tipple of whiskey or bourbon as well). I have tasted hundreds of whiskies during the recent years and I finally decided to share my experience.

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