Distillery visits on the Isle of Islay
For many years Single Malt Whisky has been an interest and passion for my dad. It has fortunately rubbed off on my brother and I. I gave my dad a ticket to Scotland as a birthday present and in February it was time to go. Here’s a video of the trip:
The two of us flew to Aberdeen, rented a car and drove to Kennacraig, where we boarded the ferry to the Isle of Islay (pronounced eye-lah). We made landfall in Port Ellen and drove straight to our rented humble abode in Lagavulin: . As the pictures show, it is an amazing building; a church that has been rebuilt to house visitors. We were lucky to have it all to ourselves as we were there just before the tourist season started. What is amazing about the location is that it is just 200 meters away from the . Depending on if you walk to the right or left when you walk out the gate, you’ll have a kilometer to the Laphroaig distillery on the right, or a kilometer to the Ardbeg distillery if you make a left. We were in a perfect location.
After an evening with home made cooking (dad showed some kitchen magic), we hit the sack early. the next morning started with a short breakfast, followed by a short walk to the Lagavulin distillery, where we were scheduled to take part in the Warehouse Demonstration. The Warehouse Demonstration was something quite spectacular, because we got to taste a wide selection of excellent Single Malts made by Lagavulin. My favorite was the 31 year old, which I was fortunate enough to be baptized in 🙂 We also got to taste a 44 year old Lagavulin, so we were not left wanting. What was really special about the Warehouse Demonstration was that it was hosted by Iain McArthur, a true Islay legend, who has worked at Lagavulin for over 40 years and is now in charge of all the warehouses. A man more knowledgeable about Single Malt Whisky will be tough to find. He gave us a warm and very friendly introduction to Lagavulin, which has now become my favorite Single Malt Whisky.
When the Warehouse Demonstration at Lagavulin was over, we hurried over to the Laphroaig Distillery, where we were doing the Water to Whisky Tour. The tour took us up to the Laphroaig water source. It was funny to think that the water in the little pond would one day become good single malt Whisky. We enjoyed a good lunch made up of local delicacies, before we headed out to the peat bogs, to cut some peat. When we got back to Laphroaig, we followed the water and the barley until we were able to siphon our own 2 bottles of excellent Whisky straight from a cask. We were very fortunate, because we were the only two on the tour, so we received excellent treatment and really felt like VIPs.
When we were done at Laphroaig, we hurried over to Ardbeg for a quick distillery tour. We were a bit overwhelmed after the great tours we had done at Lagavulin and Laphroaig, but were still happy to have seen Ardbeg. The rumor is that their cafe, the Old Kiln Cafe is supposed to be fantastic, but we were unfortunately unable to sample it’s cuisine. Next time it will be on our list. After Ardbeg we headed back to Lagavulin Hall, where we digested the day, along with a couple of excellent steaks and some local beer and single malt. Dad also showed his skill on the piano and even taught me a little piece.
The next day started bright and early with a good breakfast, before we packed up and drove over to Bowmore. In Bowmore we checked into Bowmore Guesthouse and strolled over to Bowmore Distillery. We joined a tour of the distillery, which was in essence a repeat of the last part of the Laphroaig Water to Whisky tour. It was interesting to see, because though it was the same, we got to see how they did it differently, which mostly boiled down to the angle of the top of the distillery tanks being different (I know there’s a technical term for the tanks, but right now … it eludes me). We were able to sample a quick dram in their gorgeous bar (where they have a bottle priced at £100,000 on display), before we headed over to Bruichladdich. There we took part in the quickest tour yet and got a small taste of their fantastic gin The Botanist and the Octomore, the World’s most peated whisky. It was surprisingly good, but more of a curiosity than something I would drink often. When we left Bruichladdich, our distillery visits were over, because it was now after noon on Saturday and none of the Islay distilleries would open before Monday, when we would be back in Aberdeen.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around in Bowmore, eating good food and “sampling” the menu at Duffies Whisky Bar, where they have over 350 Islay Single Malts on the menu.
Islay was a fantastic island. I’m already planning to sail here when I get a boat 🙂