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Published: April 23rd 2009
Caol Ila overlooking the Pap's of Jura
Peter has put together his story of Islay and it comes with a warning.....it's VERY whisky focussed. For those of you, like me whose eyes glaze over when the topic of whisky becomes a long conversation please don't feel obliged to read on!
The adventure really started when we got to Inverary, where Richard Joynson's Loch Fyne Whiskies Shop is situated. I have been buying whisky by mail order from Richard for 10 years or so, thus was pleased to meet him. In typical Scotland fashion he took me through a range of whiskies, before I left clutching a bottle of Cask strength Peated Edradour one of 6000 especially made by Ian Henderson before he left for St George in Norfolk. That one is bound for QMWS. I also took away a bottle of his Loch Fyne Liquour, as I finally found a spirit that Sandy likes!.
Our Inverary B&B I can recommend, Mrs Campbell's Breatha Lodge.
The trip to Islay was easy and only 23 cars on the ferry. We disembarked at Port Askaig after a lovely trip between Islay and Jura. We fled the wharf and sped to Caol Ila, hoping to catch
Bunny was closed unfortunately
the 3.15 tour, and I made it. Caol Isla, the Diageo giant distillery was pleasant,even though it was more of a factory that any of the other Islay distilleries. The cost was 5 pounds and you were given a glass and a free tour of laguvulin! Following the tour, led by young Hazel, I had tastes of the cask strength, DE sherry finish and the cask strength only sold at the distillery, off we went to Bunnahabhain. Here we were out of luck as the distillery closes for two weeks after Easter and we were in that time. I took some photos and slowly headed back towards the main road,as Bunny is on a one lane road. Unfortunately while trying to get off the road on a passing spot, to allow a winnabego to pass, the little Citroen fell into a ditch, and we were stuck! A passing motorist went back to the nearest farm, and before we knew it, we were pulled out by a tractor using the rope from the Manager of Bunnahabhain! The only problem is the 600 pound excess on the damage.
Then off to Bowmore and the Lambeth Guest house in Jamieson Street. We
Our sad little Picasso in the burn!
can also recommend this one and Margaret and John were fine hosts. Dinner at the Lochindal Hotel was fine. Next day off to Bruichladdich at sparrows, and we were well welcomed by Paula, who had a son in Sydney and had been to Brisbane! She took me on a “mini tour” as the tours started at 10.30 and I had to be in Bowmore by then. This was one of many examples of the friendship expressed by these island folk. She gave me a dram of the cask strength Infinity, which was a great heart starter at 9.30am!
Then back to Bowmore, where the distillery is 200 yards from our guest house. I had booked into the “Craftsman's Tour” This is a one on one with a senior distillery worker, in my case the Chief Operations Officer and acting Manager David. The Manager has been off sick for 5 months! The 22 pounds I paid for this was great value. I tasted the water coming in from the loch, shoveled and raked the malting barley on the floor, and spent 3 hours examining the whole process. I came away much wiser about the whole process and my presentations will
Bruichladdich, note the boots sticking out of the still
be improved by this new knowledge! On the was I was presented with sample to taste of everything, from the fresh wort, the wash at all stages and in the warehouse dunnage cask strength cleriac, and samples from 3 casks. It didn't stop there,as in the tasting room I had the run of 13 offerings, but wishing to stay vertical only tried the 21yo, cask strength offering for this years Islay Festival next month and the 17yo. As a side note, every distillery produce3s a single cask bottling for each Islay Festival and the 500 odd bottles usually sell out on the first day!
Lunch was a rushed event at Port Ellen, where the Maltings site now occupies the old Port Ellen Distillery, closed in the 1980's. The pagodas and wharehouses are still evident. Then off to claim my square foot of Islay at Laphroaig. We found that I was in time for a tour, so with one other (a whisky novice from Tasmania) off I went with another David, who has been at the distillery all his life but after a hip replacement can only lead tours now. It was another great tour, and somehow they forgot to
Bowmore at Bowmore where I did the craftsman's tour
ask me to pay! They were too busy giving me a certificate for visiting my square foot, miniature and David rushing around getting me “special” drams to celebrate my knowledge! I had the 2008 festival offering and the 16yo. We actually held off visiting the square foot and fled to Laguvulin, 1 mile down the road. Again I just made a tour and Ruth took me and me alone) on the tour. I again found out new things and have another glass to add to my collection. Sandy classed Laguvulan as the best distillery for the wife of a whisky tragic to wait! They had a comfortable lounge, she was given a cup of tea and had interesting books to read. Again I was offered MORE whisky and this time it was the 12yo, 16yo and DE.
We returned to Bowmore amazed that somehow I had managed to actually tour four distilleries in one day, when I had planned for only two! That evening we dined in the Bengali Inn and had a fine meal.
Friday was my last day and we drove off to visit port Charlotte, which must be the coldest part of the west coast!
Me turning the germinating malt on the floor at Bowmore
Bloody freeing wind! Then slowly off to Kilchoman where I have 6 bottles maturing in a 2006 bourbon cask. I get them in 2011. I was lucky to run into Anthony Wills, the owner who I had met in Edinburgh at the SMWS Vaults in 2007. He gave me another “mini tour” at 10.15 am, giving me time to get to Laphroaig to see my Plot! However again I had a dram of his “Spirit” as it is only 2 years old and cannot be called whisky. It is coming along well and he will have whisky for sale in September. Visiting a small distillery like this is so different to the huge ones I had been to earlier. They have floor maltings, at a tiny scale (one tonne on the floor, compared to 14 tonnes at Bowmore) and tiny stills. The cleriac at Kilchoman is the best I have ever tasted!
So, off to the other side of the island to Port Ellen for Sandy to use the computer at the Cyber Cafe and then to Laphroaig. My plot is in a wetland/bog/marsh and I have to admit that I didn't actually get to the site, being just
Me with my square foot of Islay (actually someone else's dry spot, as mine was under water). Note that I am wearing my warm clothers, ie, hat, scaff, gloves and warm coat!
this side of Ardbeg! I did take a few photos and will try again. I found my name in the register, being no 173952 of 350000!
Finally Ardbeg, situated in a small town of the same name, current population 20, down from 160 in the 1950's! This visit was facilitated by Andrew Derbidge and the LVMH staff in Australia. Thanks to all of you for this courtesy. We started with lunch at the distillery, the only one to have a full lunch menu. Kilchoman has a coffee shop, the others little other than whisky! We finished early and Michael Heads, the distillery managed found me and we started on a wonderful tour. Our discussions ranged on all types of production and management issues and again I am a much wiser person after our 2 ½ hours together. He has been in the industry all his life and spent time at Port Ellen, Jura and Laphroaig. We met up with the Laphroaig Distillery Manager while I was with him and listened to their interesting conversation on spirit yields and the like. John offered me a stint as a tour leader there, based on the report David gave him about me
Sandy voted this one as the most welcoming to non drinking drivers. I just like the whiaky.
And of course, after seeing the whole production process, Michael took me to the wharehouses. We sampled 3 casks, one of the 2009 Festival offering, 10yo bourbon and sherry cask strength expressions and then he proceeded to blend them to produce a very acceptable offering. Finally we ended up in his showroom, where they have a fantastic range of spirit. I tasted unpeated Ardbeg, and the dram of the trip, a 1975 31 yo! The Lord of the Isles, which followed this was almost a let down (just joking)! I priced this in a local hotel at 25 pounds a nip!
I wrote this while we were on the ferry between Port Ellen and Kennacraig, on our way back south. This has been the whisky holiday of a lifetime and I thank all those who gave me information about their trips, (including Eric Berryman, Graham Wright and of course Andrew Derbidge), those who helped arrange my tours and of course those wonderful people of Islay. My long suffering wife Sandy deserves a medal for putting up with all this!
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Hi Pj. Thanks for your lovely account of your Islay Whisky trip. I hope you also had time to discover the non whisky part of Islay which is just as fascinating :-) Slàinthe Ron from Islayinfo
Peter, this sounds like a brilliant part of your holiday. Maybe Sandy could make an entry in the next whisky bible about the suitability of distillery visits to non drinkers and give them a rating!
Adam I'd actually given this some thought but it would be a very short entry! Sandy