Islay Report

Well it seems an age since i returned from my brief week in Islay, and my feet haven’t touched the ground since. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip, mixed weather (of course) but some fantastic scenery, a close encounter with a seal, loads of time of the beach at Loch Gruinart and of course, a load of whisky.

Here’s the highlights form my visits to Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Kilchoman, Laphroaig, Bruichaladdich and Port Ellen

Ardbeg
Always worth a visit to this picturesque distillery – even if just for the Kiln cafe, or to take pictures of the kids on the barrels around the back.
We didn’t sample at Ardbeg, but I had a good look around and noticed they are still selling Alligator (standard bottling).

Kilchoman
This was a ‘nice’ distillery tour for a rainy day, but unfortunately Kilchoman doesn’t have the sea-front locations and white-washed walls which the others do on Islay.
Unfortunately, it was a quite production day, so nothing on the malting floor, the kiln was cold – however the still house was welcomingly warm and cosy – and gleamingly clean!
Where Kilchoman lacks in history, it tries to makes up for in compactness!
On to the drams; we tasted 2 of the standard range. Not my favourite Islay whisky – but i did prefer the peated expression. Again, Kilchoman doesn’t compare here to say Bowmore whose tasting room overlooks Lochindaal.

Bruichlladdich
Again, a flying visit for a few photos. However fleeting though, you cant help but be impressed (or overwhelmed?) by the amount of different bottlings in their shop. It just goes on and on – I spent an age wandering, looking, pricing up (as you do..)..
This was days after the announced purchase of the distillery (£58m??) which, according to local sources, hasn’t made everyone’s day.
I cant help but think that Bruichladdich is stretched too finely as a brand. I wouldn’t know where to start purchasing…..

Lagavulin
Now we’re talking. If you ever go here, and have chance (or a few extra £’s) for the VIP tasting tour, then do it. This could well be my new favourite distillery. Informative, impressive, honest tour followed by the most amazing tasting session – ranging from 8to spirit to (if i recall correctly) 35 yo. Wow.
Measures were generous, but more importantly, the tasting was held by a stalwart of the distillery, Ian MacArthur (who we saw about an hour later moving his cows from one field to another!). The tasting was divine – a real treat, and gave me much more insight into what can be an elusive brand in Uk shops – and demonstrated a much wider breadth than i would have previously given credit for.
Full marks here.

Laphroaig
Again, a fleeting visit. Laphroaig is large and feels like it sits somewhere between industrial warehousing and quaint distillery. To be fair, i only had time to visit the shop and take some pics outside as we left it too late, but i will return. The staff i met very very friendly and offered a quick dram to see me on my way.

Port Ellen Maltings
Yep, that’s right. Sat behind the old distillery is the huge barn-like industrial housing for the maltings. This isnt a public tour.
What i expected was sanitised run through of the mechanics of the process. What i got was a personal and passionate tour on an impressive scale of the inner workings of the Islay whisky industry today.
I was wowed by the scale and the passion and the knowledge. It was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. This place is the lifeblood of much of Islay’s production and contrary to my thoughts, it leaves more than ample space for distilleries to do things their way. A fascinating insight.

Well, that’s it for now. Short but sweet, much like the week i spent on the Island. Roll on 2014 when i return. Pictures coming soon…

 

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