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Issue 6 - Lessons with the cask force (Bowmore)

Whisky Magazine Issue 6
October 1999


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Lessons with the cask force (Bowmore)

Making whisky is all about rolling up your sleeves and getting down among the peat as Dave Broom found out at Bowmore distillery

6 o'clock in the morning! God knows when I last went to work at the same time as the sparrows are breaking wind in the trees. Still, whisky doesn't wait for lazy journalists, so it was down the road into a bright Bowmore dawn.

I've been round my fair share of distilleries, seen their workings and enjoyed a leisurely dram at the end. But every time, there would be men quietly getting on with their job.

I knew the theory of whisky making, but what actually were they doing? Which is how I was there at 6am on the first of a five-day stay waiting for my indoctrination.

The new shift arrived looking surprisingly awake. It was straight into the malt barns for David McLean and me to get 21 tons of floor-malted barley into the kiln. The two fires, topped with peat, were lit; the blue smoke rising with the hot air, slowly swaddling the malt with its fragrant blue blanket.

Peat would have to be added at regular intervals throughout the next 15 hours, before the kilning would be completed with a long period of hot air drying. It takes time. "You don't want to dry it quickly," David explained. "The shell will crisp up, but the centre of the grain will remain soft so you can't mill it properly. It's all about time and patience."

That said, there was no rest for us. This is a non-stop process. There were floors to be turned, a new one to be laid, fires to be checked. It was the beginning of May. The rain had stopped and the landscape of subtle gradations of grey was suddenly lit up....

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