Day 5, Wednesday, Lagavulin & Laphroaig (again)
Up bright an breezy on the Wednesday we set sail for Lagavulin. This was a windy old morning so we hoisted up the sails, knocked off the engines and sailed round. In preparation for a warehouse tasting with Ian McArthur (aka Pinky) who has worked at Lagavulin for 45 years.
This warehouse tasting is the stuff of legend and being able to reach it from the sea and Irene is just immense. If you’re ever on Islay make sure you get this tasting on your hit list. The cask on the left was an old Dewars cask and contained 33yo Lagavulin. The cask on the right was an old Port Ellen transport cask. If any of you out there that have tried any Port Ellen there’s a good chance it was once in this cask, an amazing piece of whisky history. To think it was nearly scrapped, luckily it was saved by Pinky, and later filled and laid down in this warehouse. What a guy!
Up next Kilchoman…
After a big hit of cask strength whisky we rounded up the troops and quickly shot over to Kilchoman for a tour and tasting. As always we were well looked after by the Wills boys and the distillery ladies.
After a whirlwind visit and a few goes on their core range and the 10th Anniversary we dived back down to the south of the Island to Laphroaig.
Here we had the excellent Mark showing us round, who has been working at Lahproaig since the 70s. As we were no longer up against the clock this was a more detailed run round compared to earlier in the week. We also got stuck into a dynamite tasting at the end featuring some absolute gems.
That 25yo, pictured with Connors, was just awesome, we also had a go on the port cask Feis bottling release from a couple of years back. The comedy release as it’s known in this office. Pink Laphroaig! Ha, what were they thinking. It does actually taste very good though. Peat, smoke and raspberry jam. A good combo in my opinion.
Laphroaig conquered we all made our way back to base.
The ship team also had another advantage over the house team other than sailing. We were of course near pubs in PE. That night after dinner we went and checked out some music in the Islay Hotel. Also ran into Dave Broom and Micky from Ardbeg and had a dram of Alligator with them. Music, Micky and the Broom. Take that house team!
Day 6, Thursday , Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Ardbeg…
After a three distillery day and a couple of hours in the pub getting to Caol Ila for 10am was proving a bit tricky. Not helped by a slow puncture in the front tyre of our bus! Which would later turn into a full blown nightmare for Jonny.
Anyhow we made it, just as well as we were being taken round by David Woods distillery manager. Distillery managers are generally busy people especially if you have c6.5,million litres of spirit to make a year like they do at Caol Ila!
Here we got stuck into a tasting of the Caol Ila range after a quick run round the distillery. The scale of production at Caol Ila compared to its neighbours is simply jaw dropping, you could pretty much fit Ardbeg in there 6 times over.
This was also the point that most folk with us realised that if ever there was ever an Islay whisky to help shake off the night before. Then Caol Ila was it. We tasted through the 12yo, Distillers Edition, the 2013 and 2014 Feis bottlings, 25yo and finished up on the 30yo which was part of the 2014 special releases. All were on good form, especially the 25yo. That is fantastic Caol Ila and has that subtle tropical fruit, banana thing that I love in aged Caol Ila.
Alas not all of us could join in… Eddie was quite taken with birds snaffling spilt grain from the malt truck and jonny, well, it’s worth clicking HERE to see the video.
As we leave the warehouse grinning and making our way over to the buses, we see the bus has been fitted with a shiny new front tyre. Well played guys.
After a quick stop at Finlaggan for the largest chicken ceaser salad you’ve ever seen (feeding 20+ folk) It was onto Bruichladdich!
Here we once again met the lovely Kate Hannett, (who has kindly put up with us and shown us around numerous times now) We had a good run round the distillery with Kate dipping into a bit of Laddie new make and also some incredibly nerdy mash tun chat. I won’t go into that here, as most of you (hopefully) have lives!
We all wondered up to the warehouses and Kate popped a few bungs, we tasted a few gems, lost half the group amongst the casks (literally like trying to herd cats) and also learnt that during the Feis if you’re parked in a mini bus eventually random people will try to get on it!
After tasting a few gems and finally wrangling everyone together and onto the bus (including new random people we were dropping off on route) we shot back across the Island to Ardbeg.
Three distilleries in a day is hard going, honestly, don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. After all the drams a brisk walk was just what we all needed. At Ardbeg we met Neil who had a rucksack full of goodies and we took a stroll up to Loch Uigedail, stopping for a couple of drams on the way while Neil regaled us with old (and fairly grissly) tales of Islay and specifically an old village which once stood near the Loch Uigeadail and was wiped out by a plague many years ago. Thankfully we had some of the relatively recent Kildalton release to sip on throughout.
As if three distilleries in a day wasn’t enough that night on Irene we had a visit from John McCheyne from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. He hopped aboard and delivered and awesome tasting of some interesting bits and bobs, most of which weren’t off the charts peatey, so were a nice breath of fresh air after all that Ardbeg.
Day 7, Tall Ship Tasting 2 & Bowmore.
Up bright and breezy once again with more whisky on the cards, but this time we were holding the tasting on Irene.
The original plan was to run the tasting on Bessie but due to the extreme weather conditions on the Fri she was stuck on the other side of the Island. So plan B we brought everyone on the Irene while tried in at the Port Ellen pier. We dived into a pretty awesome collection of Islay bottlings that we had raided from our office. On the line up…
Laphroaig 10yo (90’s bottling)
Bowmore 17yo (90’s bottling)
SMWS Feis Ile Bottling (17yo Bowmore, Sherry cask)
Caol Ila 28yo, Bladnoch Forum bottling.
Caol Ila Cask Strength (early 00’s release)
After tasting this lovely lot we made our way to Bowmore for some lunch in preparation for a tour and warehouse tasting…
Here we have ???? drawing some pretty incredible Bowmore’s out of these casks! Utterly spoilt!
That evening we sat down to an incredible spread put together by the crew on Irene, a truly exceptional sea food bonanza. The sea food found on/around Islay really is some of the best I’ve ever tasted and has to be amongst some of the tastiest in the world.
As it was our guests last night on with us on Islay we thought it best to see them out with a bang. We hit the Port Ellen Hotel after dinner where we found an excellent Canadian band raising the roof with sea shanties and good foot stamping and dance enduceing folky melodies.
With the day done and with Saturday just around the corner we rose to the big finale of our 2015 Feis Ile mission. Ardbeg Day.