Islay Visits Part XXXVII – A Tale of Two Distilleries…..

Tuesday 29th July 2014

It was a bit of an overcast morning when we emerged from the cottage , So after a rather late breakfast we decided to head up to a favourite spot of ours in the north-east of the Isle , Bunnahabhain . I love going up that part of the isle , the drive up the road makes you feel as though you are somewhere else , it was also quite sunny when we arrived there ! There was quite a lot going on around the distillery as they were transferring stock to new casks , mainly sherry butts by the looks of it , Long John was busy on the fork lift and there was bodies flying in and out of various warehouse doors ! We made our way up to the shop and were greeted by a very enthusiastic guide who no sooner were we in the door was offering us a dram and making pleasant conversation . Sorry i didn’t take her name but she did say you’d just started recently at the distillery and she is thoroughly enjoying her job , she was a lovely lass ! After a natter with Lillian we went for a bit of a walk along the pier , said hello to Long John and made our way back to “Other Places” .

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We had a drive up the Mulindry Road which these days is remarkably quiet , especially of pigs ! Once reaching the High Road we headed into Bowmore to pick up a few Post Cards and try out the new “Taste of Islay” Bistro in the former distillery warehouse  . We’d heard mixed reports about it but decided to give it a go , you can get anything from a Sandwich (£8) to various dishes ( from £8 for Seafood ) , tea , coffee , cakes , wine , whisky , beer….

We went for a couple of Cream Scones and a Tea and Coffee . Things didn’t get off to a good start when one of the paper menus we were given had the remains of someone elses meal on it and for some reason the Scones took a good 10-15mins to arrive after the drinks . The other thing that spoiled it was the fruit scones were hot and the Jam and cream just melted and rolled off it….. The scones weren’t a patch on the ones we had at The Bridgend Hotel last week and the bill came to £3.30 more than the same drinks and cakes we have at The Celtic House Coffee shop . I’ll let you draw your own conclusion……

To finish the afternoon off we popped into the Distillery Visitors Centre , where the reception was the exact opposite of the Bunnahabhain one ! Now before anyone thinks we’ve got a downer on the Bowmore Distillery , we love the place , done loads of tours here , have stayed at their wonderful Cottages quite a lot recently (they are well recommended!) , it’s just that the Customer Service at the VC could do with improving , it’s always nice to get a friendly greeting when you walk in the door or some kind of acknowledgement ! (and this is not a new thing)

Anyway we headed back to the Cottage for a tea of Islay Venison Burgers and a few drams to finish the night……..   

 

The continuing Islay Visit Part XXXVII

Tuesday 22nd July

Turned into a bit of a quiet day activity wise (it’s allowed to , we’re on holiday!) , first off we drove across to Machir Bay where it was a bit blowy off the Atlantic , then we headed across to Bruichladdich to say hello to our good friend Mary (McGregor) and pick up some cask samples . After a bit of a blether we headed down to Ardbeg for a bite to eat but decided to give it a miss when we saw the crowd that was there ! So it was back to Bowmore for a coffee at Roys with a slice of possibly the best Lemon Drizzle Cake i’ve ever had ! Wherever we go for coffee/tea and cakes we have to say the home baking is exceptional on Islay ! Then it was a visit to the Islay Whisky Shop next door and i actually purchased a bottle there ! I’m a bit of a sucker for an aged Bunnahabhain so when i saw this 1991 22yo from a sherry cask at £65 i was sold (even though it’s only 46%)…..

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Then it was back to the Cottage for an afternoon and evening of whisky drinking and messing around with the 400mm lens on the 6D…….

bowmorethe same previous view of Bowmore with the 400 lens 

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One of the farm breed Heilan Ponies

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What i think are the new Kilchoman Warehouses in Bruichladdich

Tasting Notes……

Lagavulin 2014 Feis Ile

lagfeis

54.7% Distilled 1995 Bottled 2014

Burnished Gold / Orange Marmalade in Colour , a wonderful sherried Lagavulin nose , smoky as you’d expect , touch of red and dried fruits , Christmas cake dough and bonfires on the beach .A delight on the palate again lots of smoke and Christmas cake . Also Cola Cubes sweets and dry sherry . The finish is long and smoky sherry .

Once again Iain has excelled at what he does best , finding the perfect Lagavulin Sherry casks to go into a Feis Ile bottling , at £99 it is good value for a 19yo Islay . Very recommended !!!

Ardbeg 1978 O.b.

1978 was a bit of a significant year in our lives , we both left school in the summer of this year (36 years ago !) and we both started work not long after , it was also a pretty good year for Ardbeg…….

ard78

A beautiful gold colour in the glass with lovely oily legs , loads of oak on the nose at first , then the Ardbeg-dine (as in Iodine but Ardbegs own special version) with a slight hint of peat and creamy coffee . On the palate again there’s creamy coffee , oak , touch of peat and the ‘dine . The finish is quite long with a lovely sweetness mingling with the peat and ‘dine  . It’s good to bring a special Beg ‘Home’ 16 years after it left  ! Beg as it used to be !

SOS 1978 22yo Casks 1999/2000

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A slightly lighter gold in colour than the O.b. , not as much oak on the nose as the O.b. more farm yardie than anything else and very vegetal . Eventually you get Creamy Coffee and Chocolate coming through , not much peat or Ardbeg-dine . Very relaxed on the palate at first for Cask Strength but it does eventually kick in , more peat here with the ‘dine , it does resemble a beg but not one as in the 74’s , 75’s and 76’s , not even the beautiful monster that is the 77 O.b. . The Finish is long and….. well peaty , vegetal but definitely Beg !

Not ya standard Beg but I love it ! It does make you wonder if this is what it’s like at CS (56.9%) what would all the watered down Connoisseur Choices have been like if they’d left them like this ? An absolutely yummy Beg that I’m glad I bought to Islay !

Two Cask Samples……

 

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Port Charlotte 2002 Spirit of Islay Cask

OMG! This has progressed so much since I last tried it, there is now a strong hint of the Sherry Cask, there wasn’t before. The nose is of a dying bonfire on a beach mixing in with the sherry , it has all the hallmarks of the PC spirit , the palate is very chewy but the bonfire / ashes theme continues, the finish is very long. To me Port Charlotte has been the success of the distillery , i’ve bottled to excellent casks so far and this third one looks like it will be the same ! Jim had a sniff of this at the distillery and his eyes nearly popped out ! He remarked on a boot polish smell and what a cracking spirit it was . 3 more years to go…..

Bruichladdich 2008 Spirit of Islay II Cask

Still quite young (drawn days before its 6th birthday) but it has the Laddie characteristics, on the nose it smells wonderful, creamy toffee, green fruits, vanilla and coffee (?). On the palate it is still very spirity, he’ll of a kick (guess it’s still in the high 60 s ABV Wise) but it’s getting there! Addition of water calms the palate down a bit. Another 4 years for this should see the palate loose it’s spiritiness and it develope into a cracking Laddie .

Islay Visits goes West……. Even More Further West Than Usual !

Since last September we’ve been hiding a big secret !

Let me explain….. As everyone knows we spend every possible holiday on Islay , usually a weeks break in the Spring around about May time , our two week Summer vacation and sometimes a long weekend in the autumn/winter .Our friends who know this have been puzzled by the fact when we’ve been asked when we’re back we’ve been saying not until summer (a long time no visit for us !) and when they’ve wondered why we haven’t been able to tell them causing more bewilderment ! And what perplexed them even more was when i said i’d applied for my first passport , 2 and 2 were put together and 5 was arrived at . So lets go back to September…….

We were about to book our two stays , the Spring one at the start of May and the Summer one slightly earlier than normal in the middle of July , We couldn’t get our normal summer place – Maol Buidhe – as the owners take it then so we went for a new place Lyrabus Croft Cottage just outside of Bridgend . We were about to Book a place in Port Ellen for the spring trip when an interesting e-mail arrived in my inbox from a distant land .

It was from the organiser of a Whisky Festival , She’d really enjoyed reading about our adventures on Islay over the years , 2014 was the 10th Anniversary of their Whisky Festival and they were planning on having an Islay theme , She was wondering if Melanie and myself would be interested in being Special Guests at the event and host an Islay Whisky Lounge ?

Now to say we were slightly shocked was an understatement , this type of thing never happens to us , people offering to fly us half way round the world and have us as Special Guests . We’re not Whisky Icons like a few i could name !

So after letting it sink in for a while , we replied to Johanna taking up her terrific offer of being guests at The 10th Anniversary of the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala in Canada !

So a few firsts in May for me , First trip out of mainland UK , First Flight , First time using a Passport , First time being a Special Guest at a Whisky Festival ! Good job i’ve got Melanie to keep me right !!!!  

So the next “Islay Visit” will be from Toronto , i’m still classing it as an Islay Visit as it’s about Islay and it’s Whisky ! We’ll be taking some Classic Islay Whisky along with us to sample In the Islay Whisky Lounge as we talk about all things Islay and tell the good people about the wonderful piece of Heaven we love off the West Coast of Scotland ! 

We’ve also found out since that a good friend of ours will be there exhibiting , so it’ll be good to see Ashok there !  

A Link to the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala Site

That was the Year that was……. A Review !

So once again another year draws to a close , Just where do they go to ?

It’s been a traumatic last half of the year for me personally after loosing my job when the company i’d worked for for over 35 years shut down but i did manage to get another one straight away ! So lets look at things that have happened Islay and Whisky Wise !

Islay Visits

We’ve had 3 great visits this year….. so far ! Back in February / March we had our flying / quiet visit to Bowmore staying in the excellent Distillery Cottages . The weather was perfect , as was the company !

The Japanese Garden

The View down the garden (our cottage is the one with the patio doors)

We returned in early May for our spring visit and stayed in Port Ellen this time in a lovely little cottage on Frederick Crescent .

Port Ellen StitchAs well as a great encounter with an Otter we managed to fit in another tour with Iain at Lagavulin amongst other things !

For the Summer trip we once again returned to Maol Buidhe where we managed to do most of the usual things…… Relaxing , Walking , Eating and Drinking ! A good time was had by all on every trip !

Islay Distillery Bottling of the Year

So down to the nitty gritty , i haven’t tried as many as i’d hoped but the one’s i have i have to say have been excellent . This years runner up is a worthy winner any other time , the Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength Batch 005 , these batches just keep getting better and better IMHO . The winner is a special which came out in September and is an absolute stunner of a bottling , even though i don’t think it’s a perfect example of what a Lagavulin should be but it is perfect in pretty much every way and it’s dangerously drinkable ! So my Distillery bottling of the year is the Lagavulin Jazz Festival Bottling !

Non-Islay Distillery Bottling of the Year

I think the one that has stood out this year (even though it isn’t in the shops yet !) Is the Amrut Peated Port Single Cask ! Superb stuff !!!! This distillery has kept up it’s very high standard of bottlings , this is , from memory , the peatiest Amrut i can remember .

Islay Independent Bottling of the Year

This one goes to an independent bottler who has produced some very good bottlings , this one was a 20 year old from my Favourite Islay distillery , Ardbeg ! Whiskybroker has released two Begs this year , the last been a 21yo but the 20yo edges it m a bit more oompth than it’s elder brother . And it was very reasonably priced as well !

Non-Islay Independent Bottling of the Year

This one goes to another Whiskybroker bottling , i first tased this at the Newcastle Whisky Lounge Fest and knew straight away i had to get a bottle . The 29yo Tormore had something different about it , nice and refreshing ! Just can’t figure out why it didn’t fly off the shelf !

Best Meal on Islay

This goes to the Islay Hotel for the one we had there in August , they had been a bit up and down with their quality since we’ve been eating there  but this one was superb ! Just please keep it up !!!!

Tasting / Tour of the Year

A close run thing this year between two tours we took at Ardbeg this summer , The deconstruction one was great , if you don’t know how Begs standard bottlings are made up this is the one for you but the Decades tour did it for me ! The surprised was the absolutely stunning 1989 that was on it , it even beat the 1974 in my eyes !

On the whole it hasn’t been too bad of a year , the alarming rise in the cost of some bottlings has been very disturbing , it’ll not be long before us drinkers won’t be able to afford the stuff ! That’s if we can get our hands on it…… it seems to be flying straight off the shelf and on to a rapidly rising number of Online Auctions that seem to be appearing everyday . Not good for us drinkers at all !!!! That is until the bubble bursts….. and it will…….

So what does 2014 hold ? We’ll have to wait and see , watch this space !

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…….

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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 .

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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 .

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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

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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…….

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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 ……..

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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……

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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

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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…….

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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…….

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Otter Country

I’ve just finished reading a book recommended by my good friend James Deane , Otter Country: In search of Wild Otters by Miriam Darlington (ISBN: 9781847084859) , James knew we always went out on the ‘hunt’ for otters whenever we are over on Islay and thought i’d be interested in the read . He was right , an excellent book which just shows what a hold these animals can take on you , i haven’t been as far as Miriam (Devon , Cornwall , Somerset , South East England , Cumbria , Northumberland , Highlands of Scotland , Skye…..) but i’ve been to a few places looking for them…..

Normally an obsession with Otters starts in one of two places or should i say books , Tarka the Otter or Ring of Bright Water , mine started i suppose with the Film Ring of Bright Water (wasn’t a big reader as a kid….)  . It took me a while to see a real live Otter , not a wild one , a captive one at the Bowes Otter Sanctuary – which unfortunately is now closed – it was a pretty good introduction to them in the flesh . Before we settled on going to Islay every holiday we did tour around Scotland , we visited the Bright Water Visitors Centre in Kyleakin and walked down to the Kylerhea Otter Haven Hide , a wonderful walk that ended in no otters…… For the first few years of visiting Islay the count remained at zero , always been told stories by visitors who ‘stumbled’ upon otters .

Look no Camera…….

Our first real live Otter encounter happened at Seal Bay when we didn’t have a camera handy….. we’d left the hotel early to have a drive down to one of our favourite places on the isle Seal Bay . admiring the seals Mel casually said “oh look there’s a small seal swimming past us…..” it wasn’t , it was an otter ! And just to kick sand in our faces seeing i didn’t have a camera to hand it came out of the water with a fish , sat down less than 20 yards from us and proceeded to have its breakfast in front of us , an unbelieveable experience . 

You don’t have to go that far to see an Otter…..

Now just to make matters worse on our return home there was a programme on the telly hosted by a certain ex-goodie , Bill Oddie , watching Otters swim in the Nature Reserve a quarter of a mile across the field in front of our home…… It was also backed up a few years later by another Comedic Bill (Bailey) doing a Wild Thing….. I Love You episode about Otters from the same Big Waters Reserve . Still haven’t seen one there BTW . 

Our First Photo…..

The first Otter i managed to catch on film wasn’t on Islay , it was on Jura ! If you are a regular visitor here you will have seen it on the header at the top of the Blog , but if you haven’t here it is…….

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This was just along from the ferry terminal at Feolin , there were actually two Otters and they were having great fun in the kelp ! We could have stayed for ages watching them but we had to get the ferry back to Islay.

It’s Behind you…..

Our next close encounter of the Otter kind actually happened on the mainland , for the 2003 Feis Ile we had to get the early morning ferry (7am) as the later ones were fully booked , arriving at Kennacraig early in the morning (about 2.30am) we tried to get our heads down for a few hours , after failing miserably several times there was a splash on the Loch behind us , there was an Otter swimming along towards the ferry , a lovely sight at about 5.30 in the morning…….

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition !

We stayed up at the old Bunnahabhain Distillery Cottages for a few years and heard many a story from the workers about the Otters activities around there (including a Mother bringing her cubs into the yard in front of the distillery) , It wasn’t till our last year there that we actually saw one . We were the last people to stay at the cottages in 2010 , the first week there were others there who had seen a dog otter swimming around the pier , we didn’t see anything in the first week . Not at Bunnahabhain anyway….. Bunnahabhain has a non-existant mobile signal , so to take part in the weekly whisky chats we used to drive down to Loch Indaal to get a signal . We used to always park in the same spot just along from where the Carrabus Burn flows into the Loch . This night we’d just started on the chat when an Otter swam past  ! Could not believe it , no camera again (it was dark this time…..) , totally unexpected !

Back at Bunnahabhain , for our second week we were the only occupants , no joy all week until our very last night then the Otter appeared , it swam from around the wreck and along the front of the distillery heading towards the Margadale . 

Otter 1A wonderful ending to our last night of our last stay at Bunnahabhain !

We haven’t had anymore close encounters of the Otter kind since then , though on the first night of last summer we did see one in the distance towards Seal Bay . We will be resuming the hunt in a couple of weeks time hopefully capturing some good shots and this time it’s personal !

Bring out the comfy chairs……

Best of the Year 2012

Once again we’ve reached the end of a year , so time to hand out a few plaudits ! It’s been a pretty good year , we had 3 excellent trips to Islay including one for the bottling of a Port Charlotte Cask .

Islay Distillery Bottling of the Year - I actually struggled at first to think of any new Owner bottlings i’d tried this year ! I suppose our 10yo Port Charlotte is officially a Distillery bottling but for Private owners but it would seem a biased to declare it the best of the year……. So i started thinking of the special distillery bottlings i’d tried , the Feis Ile ones , the Cairdeas Origin (the best Cairdeas so far in my humble opinion) , The “Ardbeg Day” release (an excellent Ardbeg) , then i thought of the two little bottles from the Laphroaig “Distillers Wares” tour , the 15yo was an exceptional Laphroaig . Then it dawned on me , there was a rather special one…… So this years Islay Distillery Bottling of the Year is…… The Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength Batch 004 ! My notes were……… 

Another of the wonderful Laphroaig 10yo CS Batches , on the nose you initially get quite a strong Farmyard / nettles smell then the seashore / iodine comes sweeping in . The palate is very old school Laphroaig , it actually took me back to when i first tried Laphroaig back in the 80’s , Very intense medicinal (iodine) with a lovely touch of creaminess to it . The finish is long with a lovely creamy medicinalness . A stunning Laphroaig Cask Strength , probably my favourite batch so far , may have to think about getting another one…….

i didn’t get another one , i got another 3 ! The best 10yo CS……. So far !!!

The Laphroaig Haul

The winner with other Laphroaigs

   

Islay Independent Bottling - A few more to choose from in this category . We’ve had a few from the Armstrong family in one guise or another , the forum bottled an excellent 22yo Bunnahabhain , Whiskybroker hit us a few more Bunnas , as did Berrys . Cadenheads release a couple of 21yo Begs , the stronger of which was up there with the legendary 21yo Committee bottling but my Favourite was from Bunnahabhain . I’ve had a fair few aged Bunnas in my time including a few stunners that never seemed to make it out of their warehouses , Cadenheads released a 22yo that was up there with the best i’ve ever had a 1989 at 48.1% . Fantastic !

Non-Islay Distillery Bottling of the YearAnother one i struggled with (especially since the end of my SMWS membership…..) , the one i have tried that made me sit up and take notice didn’t even come from Scotland , from the Far East , I had this at one of Eddies Whisky and Seafood meals , I hadn’t had a Kavalan before and this was superb , The Kavalan Classic at 40% , just wish we could buy some ! For a 3yo it’s as smooth as a babys bum and goes down well !

Non-Islay Independent BottlingFor the second year in a row this goes to a Longmorn , the whiskybrokers 20yo release from Hogshead 71752 . A truly amazing Longmorn that was different to all the other aged expressions i’d tried this year .

Best Meal on IslayWe’ve had a very good year of eating out in 2012, Only a couple of meals let us down . The Old Kiln kept it’s standards high , as did the Bridgend Hotel , The Lochside improved beyond belief from it’s lows in 2011 . The best meal of the year goes to An Taigh Osda , Mels 50th Birthday meal to be exact , Paul and Joan served up a treat for my wife !

Tasting of the Year - Eddies Islay Blind Fury ! Another Islay treat from the Whisky Lounge!

Event of the Year (outside a normal tour) - Could only be the 4th Annual Whisky Lounge Newcastle Festival ! Any event that is attended by Raymond and Florence from Bladnoch has to be special !

Islay Distillery of the year This year it goes to Laphroaig ! The Distillers Wares tour was excellent , the two bottles filled on it were superb and this years Cask Strength and Feis Ile releases were outstanding .

Laphroaig Tour 6