Islay Visits…… Go West to Toronto ! Pt2

The Touristy Bit…..

Now that the serious side of the trip was over with the Completion of the Whisky show it was time to relax and do a bit of serious sight seeing . When we’d been originally invited Melanie and Myself had discussed things we’d like to see in Ontario and one thing came top of our list……. Niagara Falls ! So at the Hotel we asked the Concierge what trip to Niagara she recommended and she said the Gray Line one , So we booked it for the Sunday……

Sunday 4th May

Normally we would have been picked up at the Hotel for the tour but due to the Toronto Marathon being on and road closures we had to make our way to the Bay Street Bus Station which was no bother as the Subway went from outside the Hotel to about a Block along from the Station . The Subway is excellent , $3 to go anywhere on the System in nice , clean trains . There weren’t many on the bus , 15 , 6 of whom came from England ! Our guide for the tour was Grant .

We set off West along Queen Street West seeing quite a bit more of the City we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise before joining the Expressways to Niagara . On the way we got asked if we wanted to do an optional extra on the tour….. A Helicopter ride over Niagara . Seeing we thought we’d never have this chance to do it again even though Melanie has a fear of heights , So we were dropped off at Niagara Helicopters paid our fares and headed to the pad……

(Click on Photos to see full size)

Ready for Boarding

Ready for Boarding

Here we go !

Here we go !

So off we went ! 
Swinging west first stop was the Whirlpool then along the Gorge……

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool

Along the Gorge

Along the Gorge

Then it was the Falls them selves before heading back along the Gorge

The Falls

The Falls

Back along the Gorge

Back along the Gorge

then it was back to the Whirlpool taking in views across the area

Out across the area

Out across the area

Back to the Whirlpool

Back to the Whirlpool

Then it was back to the Heliport to disembark…..

Melanie exiting the Helicopter

Melanie exiting the Helicopter

What an Experience ! The photos can’t do the journey justice , we had a perfect day weatherwise and i was so proud of my wife for doing it knowing her fear of heights , she was so glad she’d done it ! After buying a few souvenirs (we were tourists after all !) we headed back to the coach to head into Niagara Falls itself ! We were dropped at the Visitors Centre Car Park for a bit of a wander outside……  

The Top of the Falls

The Top of the Falls

Melanie at the Falls

Melanie at the Falls

Myself !

Myself !

The American Falls

The American Falls

Closer View

Closer View

The Horseshoe Falls !

The Horseshoe Falls !

Awesome ! as our American friends say....

Awesome ! as our American friends say….

My Special Woman in front of the Falls !

My Special Woman in front of the Falls !

At this point we were supposed to go on the boat to the falls but they weren’t running yet due to ice still being around , that’s the ice to the side of the falls in the Pictures above and on one of the viewing platforms below . So they took us behind the falls instead . This involved going down an elevator and along a tunnel cut in the rock . The portals are normally used to monitor the water going over the falls , it’s pretty impressive seeing the water from the footpaths but you don’t realise the full force until you go down below !   

A view from the Portals

A view from the Portals

From the Side

From the Side

From the Upper Viewing Platform

From the Upper Viewing Platform , the lower platform still Ice Bound

Now it was off to The Sheraton on the Falls for lunch in the aptly named Fallsview Restaurant….

Now thats what i call a Fallsview !

Now thats what i call a Fallsview !

It was a very nice Buffet , a good choice and as you can see above we had a stunning view ! Afterwards we returned to bus to carry on with the tour , stopping to look at various views along the way including the American Hydro Electric Station below…..

 

Hydro Electric Power Station

Hydro Electric Power Station

After passing the Flower Clock and Fort George we made our way to Niagara on the Lake for a short stay . As tour buses aren’t allowed to stop in the town itself we were dropped in a car park and caught a shuttle bus in . It was a very pretty town that has been well preserved and has a lovely view across the lake .

 

Niagara on the Lake

Niagara on the Lake

Old Fort Niagara , USA

Old Fort Niagara , USA

We had one last stop to make on the way back to Toronto , at a winery . The Niagara area is absolutely crawling with wineries and they produce some stunning wines (as you’ll have gathered from these postings !) . We stopped at the Pillitteri Winery just outside of Niagara on the Lake . We got offered a tasting of one White (Riesling) and one Red ( Cabernet Merlot ) and the legendary Ice Wine ! To say the Ice Wine is sweet is an understatement ! We were told it is 25 on the wine scale….. Both the Red and White were nice but not to our taste And we asked if we could try the Pinot Grigio , this was to our liking and two bottles were purchased ! Boarding the bus for the final time we headed back to Toronto spotting Forty Creek Distillery on the way at Grimsby .

What a stunning day it had been ! Never to be forgotten especially the fantastic Helicopter flight . We freshened up once back at the Hotel and headed for the Epic Restaurant downstairs .We had the Lobster Tagliatelle (Butter Poached Lobster, Double Smoked Bacon, Blistered Asparagus,Parmigiano Reggiano, Chipotle Spiked Lobster Cream ) and of course some local wine ! Once again the food and service were exceptional . We headed off for another drink in the Library Bar before returning to the room for the night .

Monday 5th May 

Our last day in Toronto ! After a slight lie in i headed off to the Queens Quay LCBO to pick up some more wines and Canadian Whisky . On return we packed up our belongings checked out (leaving our cases to be picked up later ) and headed to the Watefront to meet up with Johanna and Charles for one last time and have lunch in the Pearl . Another first for us both , Dim Sum , what a great way to spend lunch ! Fantastic company and Great food , was well impressed with the offerings . We bid our farewells to Johanna and Charles , had a wander around the Shore and then hit the Subway up to Queens Park…..  

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

Melanie on the Shore

Melanie on the Shore

The Buildings around the Park were very interesting , first thing that sprung to mind seeing this one was ‘Ghostbusters’ ! 

Who ya gonna Call ?

Who ya gonna Call ?

There was a reason for the visit to this area , not to look at the building which has been in the news since we arrived on Friday , not to admire the home of the Provincial Government (now dissolved for an election ) but to pay homage to the building that is featured on the cover of my favourite Album by Canadian Rock Gods Rush , Moving Pictures ! 

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

There was one more thing to do before departing the city for the airport , i’d been told to try a Canadian Legend while here by a few people and i finally got around to it and boy i’m glad i did , Tim Hortons Coffee !

Tim Hortons !

Tim Hortons !

It was one of the best Coffees i’ve ever had and it went down well with the Chocolate Donut ! We headed back to the Hotel , picked up our cases and got a Town Car to the Airport . Remember the earlier story about the security check at Manchester ? Well Toronto was exactly the opposite , joking and laughing , good hearted banter – take note Manchester, even when i set off the Alarm with my belt (Stop laughing Ashok !) We settled down in the Bar / Restaurant next to our gate and had a bite to eat and a drink . Interesting Concept at this place , ordering everything through the iPads mounted on the Table , just a shame in the land of Blackberry they weren’t Playbooks !

Our Plan awaits....

Our Plane awaits….

So at 20 to Midnight we departed Toronto for our overnight flight back to Manchester…….

Once again many thanks to Johanna and Charles for the invite and their fantastic Hospitality and welcome , you made this a special 5 Days for us ! And of course the City and People of Toronto for giving us a great , great time , Slainte !  

All the Photos are available to view at Flickr
Melanie has Photos available to view on her own Flickr Page

Islay Visits…… Go West to Toronto ! Pt1

Last September we were just starting to plan our 2014 visits to Islay when a rather intriguing e-mail popped into our inbox from Johanna Ngoh inviting us to take part in the 2014 Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala , needless to say we accepted and this is our little adventure……..

The first thing i needed to do was get a passport as i have never had one (never been out of the UK ) and that was an experience and a half ! I had to go down to the local office in Durham for an “interview” (not an interrogation as they said at arrival…..) , it is a weird interview , a friendly , nicey nicey interrogation , basically trying to catch you out for being not what you say you are .

So to the trip , our flight was from Manchester , so after work on the 30th April we drove down to spend a night in a hotel beside the Airport .

Thursday 1st May 

The day of departure , my first flight ! I have to say departing from an Airport is not as good as fun as departing from Kennacraig ! Checking in was ok but the people at the security security check really need to lighten up ! (check out the end…..) Why so surly ? We were flying with Air Transat so headed off to our gate to await departure , on the way we stopped off at World of Whiskies and wasn’t impressed with selection or price , i can pick up The Signet for £110 at my local Tesco !

So to my first flight…… I wasn’t too nervous but any nerves i did have vanished as soon as we got into the air , i really enjoyed the take off (i did love roller coasters as a kid…..) and seeing the world from up in the air was fantastic . The Cabin crew on Air Transat were Fantastic and even though the flight was over 7 hours it (excuse the pun….) flew over…..

We arrived at Pearson Mid afternoon and headed for the customs clutching our Declaration form , i thought this bit would be fun , (a) seeing if our bottles had made it through baggage handling and (b) seeing how customs would react to 10 bottles of Single Malt Whisky ? (a) they did and (b) they weren’t particularly bothered or interested ! Just one question for seasoned travellers , is it always such a long walk from the arrival gate to exit  of the airport ? We decided to get a limo from the Airport to the Hotel as it was only $5 more and you may as well arrive in style ! The first view of Toronto are stunning , the Skyscrapers along the Lake Shore , our driver was great , pointing things out and giving us tips for the trip .

We arrived at our Hotel for the stay and we have to say photos don’t do it justice , we were staying at the Fairmont Royal York opposite Union Station……

(Click on photos to see full size )

Fairmont Royal York

We were both trying to think of a way to describe it , sort of ‘Pretty Woman’ meets 1930’s glamourous Hollywood movie hotel  place , Amazing is a pretty good word as well !

Fairmont ReceptionYou get the most beautiful of people stopping here as well…….

Melanie in the Reception area

We were originally staying on the 2nd floor but due to a lack of hot water in the room got moved to the 13th floor on the Friday , it was a bit of a shame as we had a nice view out of the window…..

2014_05_01_View-from-the-Window 

After we freshened up we headed down to one of the many bars in the Hotel to have a drink and a bite to eat , we ended up in The Piper’s Gastropub , Melanie got to try her first Ontario wine ( Crush Pinot Grigio ) and i got to try my first Canadian Whisky (Collingwoods) , Melanie went for the Royal York’s Signature ½ Pound Beef Burger and i went for the Bison Burger , they were , as our American friends would say , Awesome . It was at this point we realised that we were effectively eating after midnight UK time . We have to say the service was fantastic here , the waitress went beyond the call of duty , when she asked us if we wanted dessert Melanie asked about one she’d dropped off at the next table , it was a special the chef done for that regular customer , we decided to pass but 10 minutes later she returned with one……

Pudding   

It was a Chocolate Moose in a Chocolate Cup , Chocolate Ice Cream in a Chocolate Shell served with fresh fruit and a chocolate sauce , How good was it ?

10 mins later

A Few mins Later…..

We then headed up to Library Bar for a drink , while sitting there we got a text from Johanna saying her and Charles were meeting Angus Macraild in the Library bar for a drink…. They were just next to us ! After a good old natter and a few more drinks we called it a night , it was actually the next morning for us (4am UK) and headed back to our room .

Friday 2nd May

Our first full day in Toronto , after a bit of a leisurely lie in we went off for a bit of an  exploration , first off down to the Shore then slightly west via the CN Tower to the Theatre District and finally caught a cab to the Distillery District .

CN Tower

CN Tower

Sculpture at the Rogers Centre

Sculpture at the Rogers Centre

The Distillery District was a beautiful area , lots of great shops and places to eat .

Melanie at the Distillery District Distillery District

In the Distillery District

In the Distillery District

A Spot of Lunch in Pure Spirit

A Spot of Lunch in Pure Spirit

We had Lunch in the Pure Spirit Oyster House and Grill, a very nice bar , luckily we just managed to order lunch before the electricity went off in the District , they did still managed to serve us , we both went for the Pure Spirits Pappardelle (lobster, wild mushrooms, black truffle cream sauce ) and a glass of the Local wine .

Melanie two drinks !

Don’t know where she got this idea from ?

Lunch !

Lunch !

Lunch was superb and the service was excellent (this seems to be the standard in Toronto , maybe most of the UK hospitality trade should take note…..) . After another wander around the area we headed back to the Hotel to change rooms and get ready for a meal out with Johanna and Charles . Not only were we moved it appeared we’d been upgraded room wise……

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

The Lounge Area

The Lounge Area

The Bedroom and Lounge area were now separate and we now had two bathrooms ! After a freshen up we met up with Johanna and Charles who took us to The Keg for a bite to eat with Angus and our old friend Ashok . I went for a 10oz Prime Rib and Melanie went for the Grilled Shrimp , i was surprised how rare looking it was even though i’d asked for medium but it was pure melt in the mouth steak . After much drinking and talking we all headed back to our hotels for ‘Show Day’ .

Saturday 3rd May – Showtime ! 

I’d had a bit of a restless night worrying about my first ever presentation in front of an audience so to relax we done a bit of exploration to the north of the hotel via Osgoode House and the City Hall – where there appeared to be some filming going on and preparations for the next days Marathon .

Melanie at Osgoode House

Melanie at Osgoode House

An LCBO Brown Paper bag

An LCBO Brown Paper bag

After a visit to one of the Legendary LCBO shops We hit a Red Lobster for a spot of lunch , Melanie went for the Ultimate Feast and i went for the Fire-Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Scallops , We love our seafood and this place is the ‘clachan a choin’ ! We headed back to our hotel to prepare for the Whisky Gala……

header1

So it was time ! We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the Roy Thomson Hall , i have to say it is a pretty impressive place to have a Whisky Festival ! First up Johanna gave us a tour of the venue showing us where the Islay Lounge would be and then took us down to the room where our Masterclass would be . We spent an hour setting up and then we were ready !

Waiting for the Masterclass

Waiting for the Masterclass

Melanie surveying the scene

Melanie surveying the scene

The Line up !

The Line up !

Gordon at SoT 2014

 

(Photo Courtesy of Johanna Ngoh © Spirit of Toronto )

Johanna introduced us to the Room  and then the First Dram she’d sneaked in , I actually thought it was a Bowmore but it turned out to be a 1950’s White Horse Blend ! No one got it ! We then went onto the Drams i’d fetched across for the tasting , the first 4 were known but i kept the 5th Blind , The format was Johanna introduced each one , then i talked a little about what each dram meant to me and why i’d included it , Melanie interjected with a few personal stories of what different places meant to her on Islay . One person got the blind bottle but we’re not including him as he is a Malt Maniac ! you little cheat Nabil , LOL !

The full line up for the Masterclass was….

  • 1950’s White Horse Blend
  • SMOS 1979 28yo Bunnahabhain
  • Signatory 1978 23yo Port Ellen
  • Ardbeg 1976 27yo Sherry cask 2398
  • My own 4yo Port Charlotte Bloodtub R23

I have to say the hour absolutely flew over ! I thoroughly enjoyed it in the end , i think having Johanna and Melanie at my side helped an awful lot ! The room seemed to enjoy it as well !! We moved upstairs into the Islay Lounge with the remains of these bottles and added a few more……

  • Ardbeg ‘Very Young’ Committee Release
  • Bruichladdich ‘Drambusters’ Valinch 1990 16yo
  • Whiskybroker ‘Islay Malt’ 1990 21yo (Bunnahabhain)
  • Bladnoch Forum Caol Ila 1980 30yo
  • Laphroaig 10yo Caskstrength Batch 005

To say they went down well was an understatement ! We met lots of people from the social media sites including a long time friend from the SOI days , Wendy Harker , glad to finally see you in person Wendy ! We were looking after half the Islay Lounge so i didn’t get a chance to look at the other half , there was also a Whisky and Oyster bar and they seemed to be doing a roaring trade serving fresh oysters with Islay Malts .

Our Supplies ran out with over an hour to go so we got a chance to explore the show and have a bite to eat (great food Johanna !) , we met up with Ashok as well and had a dram with him and Wendy and also got a small gift off Wendy , Some Canadian Bacon for a post show snack (was delicious ) and some Maple Syrup to take home , many thanks Wendy .

Ashok at the show

Ashok at the Show

Relaxing

Relaxing at the show

The Geordie Nation at Spirit of Toronto

The Geordie Nation at Spirit of Toronto

Friends of Amrut !

Friends of Amrut with our Leader !

Thanks to Ashok for the photo !

Though i didn’t manage to try many drams i have to say the Gibsons 18yo was outstanding (a bottle was later purchased….) , well worth hunting down . After the show we headed back to the Fairmont for a post show drink with Johanna , Charles and Angus then headed off to bed for a well earned rest !

I have to thank Johanna and Charles for inviting us over for their excellent Whisky Gala and giving us the chance to share our love of Islay , you have a fantastic show Guys !!!! Also thanks to everyone one at the show for making us feel so welcome and all the kind words expressed to us during the show and later on Facebook and Twitter , i’m glad i didn’t balls it up !

More photos may be published here when i scrounge or pinch them (kidding about the latter !)

To Part Two, the touristy bit  

Christmas 2013 Visit Photographs

Here are the Photographs from the Christmas 2013 Visit…….

(Click on photo to see larger version)

Laphroaig Laphroaig2

Two views of Laphroaig on the Saturday including the new larger Warehouse “name” .

Heron at Bruichladdich Geese

A Heron across the way from Bruichladdich Distillery and the obligatory “Geese” photo .

Buzzard Buzzard2

A Buzzard seen at Bridgend .
Alpaca
One of the Native Animals of Islay……

Heilan Coo Waves

One of my favourites , a Heilan Coo and waves down at Portnahaven .

Cottage Cottage2

The interiors of our place of residence , The Stillmans Cottage , Bowmore Distillery .

Cottage3 Cottage4

Melanie
Melanie looking gorgeous as ever on her way out to the Bridgend Hotel for a meal !

Christmas 2013 Visit Part 3

Sunday 29th December

Woke up to a bit of non-windy non-rainy weather ! Still a bit chilly though……

Went back to the Bridgend Hotel for lunch and had a wee natter to Lorna , Melanie went for the Poached smoke Haddock with Mustard Mash and I went for the Venison Casserole with Sautee Potatoes , very nice it was too ! The afternoon was spent driving around the Rhinns  trying to get the hang of my new Camera , there was plenty of wildlife around today (probably due to the lack of wind) , loads of Buzzards and Geese , the wind did pick up later and the temperature seemed to drop considerably .

We returned to the Cottage to pack up our stuff and settled down for a night in with a few drinks .

Think we might do this again next year , we’ve both really enjoyed it , the islands pretty quiet , an extra night would be most agreeable !

The Photographs….

Christmas 2013 Visit Part 2

Saturday 28th December

A Nice lie in this morning (that’s what holidays are for !) , seeing it was raining when we decided to go for a wander we took a drive down to the South Side of the Island . We went along as far as Kildalton , stopping at a favourite haunt of ours for a wee while (Seal Bay) , you could tell it’s been rough of late , seaweed on any roads close to the shore and the fence has collapsed into the bay just along from Dower House . Not much in the way of wild life , just ducks and geese in seal bay . On the way back we bumped into Mickey (Heads) at Ardbeg Road ends , had a good wee natter with him , the distillery is in silent season and the stillhouse is in bits , repair work going on to the actual stills .

We then stopped off at Laphroaig (only them , Kilchoman and Bruichladdich are open full time) , James kindly let me try the 2013 25yo , absolutely stunning ! While we were in there was a wedding going on , looked like Phil (Gray) was doing the photography , Joanne ( ex-Ardbeg now Bruichladdich) was one of the guests and we managed to catch up with her when she wandered by . When we got back to Bowmore we headed over to Roys for a Coffee/Tea and Cakes . It was so good we had second helpings ! The Lemon Drizzle cake was superb , lovely and moist , luckily we did as Duncan and his wife came in and it was nice to catch up with them !

In the Evening Melanie treated me to a meal out at The Bridgend Hotel , we love eating out here and we weren’t going to be disappointed . We decided to leave the car at home and got a taxi there and back , meant I could have a drink or two……..

For Starters Melanie had the Islay Crab Salad and I went for the Chicken Liver Parfait , for the mains we both went for the same , Pan fried fillet of Sea bass with Smoked Scallops . Absolutely wonderful ! We were both so stuffed that we skipped the desserts and retired to the lounge for Coffee and more drinks . Then it was back to the cottage to loosen the belts and chill out……..

Part Three of the Visit
The Photographs….

Christmas 2013

In the Bleak Mid-Winter…..

Friday 27th December

So we set off for an extra Islay visit this year – we won’t be having our usual Spring trip and won’t be back till summer 2014 , there’s a very good reason which we can’t go into right now…… so we decided to squeeze an extra visit in when we’re both on holiday – staying in the Excellent Bowmore Cottages , this time the Stillmans . Once again it was a 4.30am start , this time in atrocious weather , the forecast wasn’t too good and after the recent spate of ferry cancellations we didn’t hold much hope of getting onto the isle . Fortunately on the way up we got as text saying after the cancellation of the 7am ferry the rest would run to timetable……..

Some say we are creatures of habit , we say we just have traditions on trips to Islay we stick to…… So it was Breakfast in Balloch and Coffee and cakes in Tarbert ! It did get sunny on the way up at one point but we soon got over that when the rain started again . Our ferry would be the aging ‘Isle of Arran’ and it seemed to be having some difficulty with the weather , it’s ramps wouldn’t lie at the right angle in the very high sea (combination of a large swell and the westerly wind I would guess) , they had a go with the rear one , then turned around and had a go with the front one . They eventually decided to put some extra ballast in the nose (they said) and bingo ! We were on !

Assuming our usual positions in the bar , we settled down to a nice smooth crossing ( Melanie  wishes…..) , we also got to say hello to Jim McEwan who is on the ferry , hope the cold gets better soon !

I was going to have a ‘Malt of the Month’  but it was Bowmore 12 , Sooooo went for a Laddie 10 instead .

We eventually got on to the Isle at 4.30pm and headed for our place of residency , the Stillmans Cottage Bowmore Distillery , very nice it is too , probably the best of the 3 Distillery Cottages we’ve stayed in . After sorting out our stuff , getting a few supplies , having a Chinese Takeaway from across the road  and giving the Spa Bath a try , we hit the Lochside Hotel for a few drinks to end the night . Tonights Delights were Caol Ila 12 , Bunnahabhain 18 , Bowmore 15yo Darkest and ‘The Devils cask’ , I was very surprised about the last one as I was expecting to hate it after the recent hype .

We returned to the Cottage to have some well deserved rest after a long day……..

Part Two of the Visit
The Photographs….

Islay Summer Visit 2013

Saturday 10th August
So once again we head off to Islay for our summer fortnight . Setting off at the crack of dawn the journey up was in decent weather , it was even sunny at Inverary ! After the now traditional Coffee and cake break at Tarbert , we set off for Kennacraig catching our first glimpse of wildlife on the outskirts of Tarbert……
Tarbert_deer
The Journey over on Finlaggan wasn’t the smoothest for a summer trip , odd bit of sway and a bit of wind but the Malt of the Month was Bunnahabhain ! After a stopover at Bowmore to pick a few supplies we headed off for Maol Buidhe . After unpacking and having a bite to eat we went out for an evening walk along the Kildalton Road stopping just before the dip down to Dower House . We did manage to get caught in a shower before arriving back at the Cottage . Once we’d dried off we settled down for a drink , The Maol Buidhe bar for our visit was opened…….

the_bar

Tonights pleasures were A 1973 O.b. Ardbeg , A Laddie 1972 Valinch and a Whiskybroker 29yo Tormore (tasting notes to follow at some point) .

Sunday 11th August

The first full day on Islay , bit of a lie in after yesterdays early rise then off to Ardbeg for Sunday lunch . We both went for the same food , Ardbeg Crab chowder for starters and Pan-fried Duck Breast for mains , both were superb (as usual) , after a natter to Jackie it was off for another walk along the Kildalton Road , this time along to the bay just past Dower House .

Cat_in_bay melanie1
melanie2 melanie3

On the way back we had an interesting experience , after just missing what appeared to be an Eagle (it screeched like an Eagle) we were heading back approaching Seal Bay when an otter bounced across the road , we were gobsmacked ! We weren’t near any visible water and it happened so fast i couldn’t get my camera off my shoulder , there was a guy parked in a car and he didn’t seem to see it .

An enjoyable afternoon walk carried on with a good evening dramming with my 3 own bottlings , the two PC casks and the Bladtub , and an appearance on the front lawn by a herd of 5 deers , gotta love Islay for wildlife !

Monday 12th August

A bit of a mixed day weather wise and a bit of an easy day for us , a drive over the other side of the Island to catch up with Paul and Joan at An Taigh Osda and pick up a cask sample at Bruichladdich . Then it was off to Bowmore to get some supplies and a coffee and cake at the Coffee Shop in Roys Celtic Shop . Then it was back off to the cottage calling in at Laphroaig to pick up some Cheese for nibbles , bumped into Christine (Logan) who was dropping off a Japanese couple , always nice to see Christine and catch up . Was good to see James (Deane) as well who’d just returned from a tour up to the Laphroaig water source .

(Click on Images to see full size )

Port Ellen Port Ellen

After tea i left Melanie in the cottage and took a walk along to Seal Bay , it turned into a beautiful evening on this side of the isle .

Seal Bay Panorama

Ardbeg Pagodas in the evening Sunshine

Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength Batch 005

laph_10cs_005

57.2% Bottled Feb 13 , initially very smoky on the nose then sea shore – sea weed , sea air – , nettles and a touch of farmyard , quite relaxed as well . It definitely isn’t relaxed on the palate , wow , intense medicinalness , peat smoke and nettles . The finish is long, peaty and iodiney . Another cracking batch of 10yo Cask Strength , like i said the nose is quite relaxed but the palate more than makes up for it !

Tuesday 13th August

Not a bad morning when we got up so we packed a picnic and headed off to the west side of the Island and Saligo Bay . Was busier than we expected but had a nice little walk

Saligo Bay Panorama

Melanie at Saligo Bay

On the way back we stopped off at The Bridgend Hotel for a coffee , they’ve done a real nice job of the recent refurbishments , looking forward to having a meal there on saturday night . Then it was back to the cottage for a few drams in the beautiful late afternoon/early evening sunshine…….

Bruichladdich 2008 SOI II Sample

Still quite pale for a 5yo from a fresh bourbon cask , The nose is still a little bit spirity at first but then malt , lemon and green fruits (gooseberries and apples) appear . The palate shows more of the youth , very spirity but after a while the laddie traits are slightly noticeable (fruits , malt, hint of caramel toffee) .

With water the palate cools a bit but still quite youthful .

Half Term Report – Progressing nicely !

Bruichladdich Valinch 1972

laddie_72Val

From cask #9 , bottled 8th May 2002 at 48.8% .

The Colour of Orange Marmalade , The first actual thing that grabs you on the nose is Orange ! Then Vanilla and oak spices , the palate is slightly overwhelming with the vanilla and oak spices but after a short while you get a slight hint of some laddie notes but not many .

Nowhere near as good as the 1970 valinch i opened on my 50th birthday but it will be interesting to see if it opens up a lot more when it’s had a bit exposure to air .

SMOS 1979 28yo Bunnahabhain

SMOS_Bunna_1979

Distilled 31st October 1979 , Bottled 22nd April 2008 from cask # 18831 at 46%

The colour of ripe straw , straight away you get the Bunnahabhain Sweetness ( Edinburgh Rock / Confectioners Sugar) on the nose , then a slight maltiness , an absolutely beautiful nose . This dram glides across the palate , again the Bunnahabhain sweetness is out in force , it is just such an easy dramming and relaxed malt . It actually brings back so many memories of the Feis ile Warehouse tours with John the former manager . The Finish is so long and smooth .

A superb dram , probably my favourite bunnahabhain , ideal for sitting out in the Maol Buidhe Garden on a sunny summers evening !

Ardbeg Single Cask #1143

ardbeg_1143

Distilled 16th March 1973 , Bottled 22nd December 2004 at 49.3%

Bright Gold in colour , straight away you know what you’ve got here from the nose , an early 70’s Beg loaded with the Ardbeg-dine ! It catches the nasal hairs , then you get Creamy Coffee , orange and peat smoke…… Ardbeg Heaven !!!

The palate pretty much carries on the fine tradition , the Ardbeg-dine is so distinctive , silky smooth over the tongue , seducing it into submission , Wonderful ! The finish is long , smoky-iodine and as smooth as a babies bum !

There are Ardbeg casks and there is cask # 1143 !!!!!! You just have to drink Ardbegs like this……..

So after our drams we headed off for a walk in the sunshine along to Seal Bay…….

seal_seal_bay

geese_seal_bay yacht_seal_bay

and then along to Ardbeg to admire the evening views from the pier before returning to the cottage .

Wednesday 14th August

A pretty lazy day today (we’re on holiday we can !) , headed off to Ardbeg for lunch , once again the crab chowder was on (Nom – Nom !) so we both went for it ! Then Melanie went for the baked Tattie Prawn Marie Rose and i went for the Pan Fried Halibut . Tried the Islay Ales Single Malt Ale which i have to say was very good . After a natter to Mickey , we booked up a couple of tours to do during the holidays . Then it was a relaxing afternoon at the cottage before heading off for a drive along the coast .

Thursday 15th August

Probably the worst morning of the week , chucking it down , so it was lucky that we’d decided to go to Ardbeg this afternoon and i was going on the “Decades” tour . After a lunch of Cajun chicken with fluffy rice and Strawberries and cream , Melanie headed back to the cottage and Dougie took us off on the Decades tour . The first dram was at the start of the Distillery tour while Dougie told us the history of Ardbeg .

Decades-1

I’ve had this one a couple of times before , it’s a very good 1974 but lacks the oomph of the Provenance . We then proceeded through the distillery going through the production procedure .
We then went in to the chairmans study for an informal tasting of four other Cask samples

Decades-2 Decades-3

First up was a 1975 38yo , where do they keep finding these casks from ? Not a bad little Ardbeg from a Refill sherry cask but has probably seen better days (not in a bad sort of way , just an observation) , they have a few 75’s apparently , if they ever do release them i’ll put good money on it i can’t afford a bottle…….

Warewolf , Minotaur , Fairies at the bottom of the garden……

In the normal world there are lots of Myths and legends , in the Ardbeg world a 1989 Distillation was the big one , bottles had been doubted , no one confirmed that such a thing had happened . Today in my eyes it became the truth , a 1989 Cask Sample ! Taken from one of several casks ( NOW where did they find these casks ?) from a run of about 600 in late 1989 (Oct – Nov) this 24yo was stunning ! Everything you could ask for from an Ardbeg , Flows across the palate wonderfully and smells like a dream , this was definitely my holiday treat !

Decades-4 Decades-5

Number three was a 1994 and another rumour was finally confirmed , apparently in 1994/5 the purifier wasn’t working properly , it had a split – Now it wasn’t said if it was turned off completely but the stories were always that it was during the allied ownership – this was a lot heavier spirit than the others and a lovely dram . The last Sample was a 2003 , this one was to show what the TEN is like at cask strength and from a single cask . Yet another cracking dram !

I thoroughly enjoyed this tour , Dougie was an excellent , knowledgeable host , The drams on this tour were superb and well worth the cost above a normal tour (£35 for this one) especially if you want to taste the Mythical 1989 !

So after returning to the Cottage and having a bite to eat , we headed off for an evening walk along to Seal Bay , by now the rain had passed (for the time being) and the sun had come out . On the way back we got a couple of surprises , first up my mobile decided to spring into life about 100 metres from the cottages (there is no signal at the cottage but a slight one jus about 100 metres towards Ardbeg) and then a Young Stag appeared in the bushes just behind the cottages ……..

(Click on Images to see full size )

hello deer

Friday 16th August

Another Dreary Morning so we went off for a drive up to Bunnahahbain , we went over the Mulindry Road , a beautiful wild scenic route . When we got to Bunnahabhain there was a mountain of casks at the entrance , probably the most i’ve seen piled high outside of a cooperage ! Andrew was manning the shop as everyone was out on tours and Lillian was away on holidays . Soon got to the bottom of the cask mountain (not literally) , they’ve just spent a wee bit of time reracking some of their casks , 600 Bourbon and 200 sherry ! No news on what’s happening with the new owners but they have had several visits . After making a few purchases and enjoying a dram we bid our farewells and headed back to “Other Places” .
As usual on islay the weather completely changed and we were now in bright sunshine ! We stopped off at Bridgend to have Coffee and Scones at the Hotel . To think up until recently there was a slight lack of Coffee machines on the Isle and you struggled to get a cappuccino now they are all over the place ! When we left Bridgend we got a beautiful view over Loch indaal…..

Loch indaal Stitch

After a drive back to the cottage we headed back to Port Ellen to enjoy one our favourite holiday treats , a fish supper from the Nippy Chippy ! Always a joy , we went along to the tables just beside the Port ellen warehouses to enjoy ours in the late afternoon sunshine watching the Finlaggan set sail back to the mainland , a perfect way to end the day !
Revisiting 1976 Ardbeg Single casks……

Cask 2398 27yo 24-11-76 / 05-05-04 51.4% …… A bright amber in colour , unmistakeably an Oloroso cask , beautifully balanced on the nose between the sherry and the Ardbeg spirit . Glace Cherries , coffee , Dark chocolate and a waft of peat smoke on the nose . The palate is silky smooth and pretty much the same as the nose but with a delightful peatiness . The Finish is long , smooth dry sherry and Cherry Liqueur….. WOW !!!
Cask 2390 25yo 24-11-76 / 27-04-02 53.1%……. Bright amber in colour again , Cheery liqueur on the nose with Ardbeg-dine , Cola cube sweets , peat smoke , coffee and cream . Again the palate is silky smooth , really nice dark chocolate and cherry liqueur leading to a long , sweet , iodiney , sherried finish . Another stunnins single cask Ardbeg …… Enough said !

Saturday 17th August

The really good thing about the summer visit is that when you hit the middle Saturday you know you’ve still got another week to go ! So we headed into our second week , starting off with a trip to Bowmore to get some supplies in ! After a visit to the Co-op and the butchers a refreshment break was needed so we went to Roys for a coffee and cake ! Todays treat was dinner in Katies Bar at the Bridgend Hotel , We both went for the same things , A Crab Salad with a chilli and Lime dressing with Pancetta and dried chillies for starters and a Lamb Burger with Mozzarella and salad and chips . Absolutely Delicious !!! After a few coffees and drinks and a natter to Lorna we headed off stopping in Bowmore to catch up with Phil (Gray) at The Lochside , always good to see Phil at work behind the bar , always good patter and i always try and catch him out with a couple of drams , did this time with the Amrut Greedy Angels and the Beg 1973 , he was very impressed with the Amrut and stunned by the Beg . Then it was back off to Maol Buidhe for bed……

Sunday 18th August

Another lazy sunday at Maol Buidhe , Melanie sat out in the Garden , i went for a walk down the road to try out the video part of the 7D , eventually i cooked us two of the hugest , tenderest , sirloin steaks i’ve ever seen from the Butchers in Bowmore , melt in the mouth stuff ! We need our evening walk down to Seal Bay to help start digesting these beauts !

Monday 19th August

The second Week commences….. We had the Deconstruction tour booked at Ardbeg this afternoon so we had lunch before , Melanie went for the Crab and Salmon Chowder to start with followed by the Roast Beef Dinner , i went for the Smoked Salmon and Halibut Fish cakes followed by the Beef . We went off for a walk to the pier before the tasting……

(Click on Images to see full size )

Melanie on the Pier Melanie at Ardbeg

Then at 2pm it was off on the tour , Heather was our guide today (this was only the 2nd time she’d done this particular tour but you couldn’t tell) . It was a tour of the distillery before we headed off to the Warehouse to try 4 cask samples that were used to make up the 3 standard bottlings – The Ten , Uigeadail and Corryvreckan…..

Ardbeg Deconstruction tour

First up was a 2003 Refill Bourbon Cask 2337 at 56.5% , not a bad start , a bit strong for some on the tour . Next was 2003 Fresh Bourbon Cask 2783 at 58.1% , A lovely sweet Ardbeg , i do like fresh bourbon casks ! Third was Melanies favourite , A sherry cask #2340 from 2007 at 61.4% , at 6yo’s it was dangerously drinkable ! Last was the Virgin French Oak Cask #4586 from 2004 at 57.5% , totally different from the previous 3 casks but still enjoyable . We also got to play a little game , we were given 8 little bottles containing smells that are found in Ardbeg tasting notes , to say we failed miserably is an understatement , we got 1 out of the 8 . We headed back to the Old Kiln for one final dram , the 1974 that i’d had on the previous tour . Heather done a great job on the tour and as i previously said we couldn’t tell it was only the 2nd time she’d done this one !
So which tour is for you ? If you are new to Ardbeg i would say the deconstruction one – you get to understand what makes up the bottlings and the notes you should be looking for , if you are a connoisseur the Decades – you get to try stuff only seen in your dreams !
A quiet night in the cottage finished the day off……

Tuesday 20th August

A bit of a dull day again when we woke up , we drove off to the other side of the Island for a wee walk . Todays destination was the Loch Gruinart Reserve , on the way we got to see our first Buzzard (there seemed to be a slight lack of them on the island )

Buzzard

We’d never actually walked around the reserve , first off we did the Woodland walk then The Moorland section , a very enjoyable way to spend an afternoon…….

Graylags at Loch Gruinart Dragonfly
Painted Lady Butterfly Peacock Butterfly

Young Chaffinch-

On the way back we stopped off at The Bridgend Hotel again for Tea , Coffee and cakes , They do a lovely Cappuccino ! By now the rain had returned and we headed back to the Cottage via a drive along to the Cross .

Wednesday 21st August

Not a very nice morning to wake up to , we had intended doing a walk today but by the time we got to our destination it was quite wet so we headed off for a drive , first stop was Caol Ila Distillery to see if they had any of the Feis Ile bottling left , they did so after trying it 2 were duly purchased ! They thought Lagavulin had some left as well……
We then headed off for a drive on the Rhinns Circular route , down through Port Charlotte to Portnahaven then back up the West Coast to Port Charlotte . A lovely little scenic drive when you’ve got nothing to do . Then it was into Bowmore for Coffee and Cakes at Roys , before driving back to the Cottage stopping at Lagavulin to pick up another feis ile bottling .

(Click on Images to see full size )

Melanie_meal

After freshening up it was off to Port Ellen for our annual Dinner out with Ella and Mary at The Islay Hotel . Things didn’t get off to a good start as my first drink ( an Islay Ales Angus Og) didn’t taste right , it was flat and yeasty out of the bottle , now i’ve drunk quite a bit Angus Og – it is my Favourite from the brewery – and it’s not often i complain but to be made feel the guilty party in this wasn’t too clever . Did you pour it right ? have you had it before ? What happened to customer service and the customer is always right ???? Eventually i got another which was a whole lot better but still feel like i was the bad one in all this !

It’s always really nice to spend an evening in the company of Ella and Mary , the craic was exceptional and the food superb , For starters Mary , Ella and myself went for the Islay Scallops in Garlic Butter and Melanie went for the Ham Hock terrene with Chutney and ciabatta bread. First Scallops of the holiday and they were superb ! For the mains , Ella , Mary and Melanie went for the Corn Fed Chicken with Sauteed Potatoes , asparagus and hollandaise sauce . I went for the Argyll Lamb Cutlets with Ratatouille and Mashed Pots . Not being suitably stuffed we all went for a pudding as well , the girls had Strawberries shortcake with cream and i went for Cranachan . The food in the Islay was excellent tonight but not as good as the company !!!! We bit our Farewells and headed off to the Cottage .

Thursday 22nd August

We awoke to Bright sunshine so we headed off for a walk , our original destination was Loch Uigeadail , the ground was quite soggy underfoot and when we reached Solam the Hills up ahead were covered in low cloud so we decided to halt our walk there . After a picnic we headed back down the hills and returned to the Cottage where i sit writing this in bright sunshine in the garden , totally different to the past few days !

Solams Plaque

Solams Plaque

One of the Remains

One of the Remains

Uigeadails up there.... Somewhere!

Uigeadails up there…. Somewhere!

Across to Loch Iarnan

Across to Loch Iarnan

rouge-5

A wee Butterfly , need to find out what.....

A wee Butterfly , A Small Copper

It was such a nice night that after tea we headed off for a drive in the Car up to Bunnahabhain , It’s still a special place for us , where Melanie decided it would be a good idea to have a fortnights holiday on Islay rather than a week and it’s always sad to see the Cottages in such a sad state of decay But there still is something special about the place !

Some of the previously mentioned casks at Bunnahabhain…….

casks1 casks3
casks4 casks2

On the drive back we made the mistake of going through Bowmore , a portion of chips from the Nippy Chippy was called for…….

Clouds coming into Kilnaughton Bay

Clouds coming into Kilnaughton Bay

Friday 23rd August

Our final day of this stay and yesterdays good weather had vanished ! In between packing our stuff away we managed to fit in a couple of Meals ! First up was Lunch at the Old Kiln , what a delight it was ! Pan Fried Halibut on a bed of Sweet Potato and Spring onion mash with a creamy prawn sauce topped with a langoustine , this photo by Melanie doesn’t do it justice !

lunch

It was delicious and if it had been at a hotel (on the Isle) would have been twice the price ! Our second meal was from The Nippy Chippy , must say their Fish Supper is rather good and worth hunting out , then it was back to the Cottage to finish off the packing and tidy up……

The View i'll miss most......

The View i’ll miss most……

Saturday 24th August

So we packed the car and bid our Goodbyes to Maol Buidhe for this year, off to Port Ellen to Catch the Finlaggan back to the Mainland . Of course there was one last treat , Calmacs legendary Traditional Scottish Breakfast ! Sets you up for the day ! The drive home was pretty good , did notice there was no Roadworks on ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ , the first time for many a year !

Finlaggan approaching Port Ellen

Finlaggan approaching Port Ellen

This years Spoils……..

Spoils

Rouges Gallery…….

rouge-1 rouge-2
rouge-3 rouge-4