Tag Archives: Islay
Bowmore – the last of my Islay distilleries – is a bit special. It is situated in the town of the same name; or at least what passes for a town on Islay. It has a tasting room with views to die for and malt whiskies to make your passing entirely painless. It is one of the oldest distilleries, not just on Islay but in all of Scotland. They even use the spare heat from the distillation process to heat the local swimming pool!
I wanted to go to the Caol Ila Distillery for two reasons. First, it would count towards my full set of Islay distilleries, and second, I was desperate to know how to pronounce it! For years, I have been going in pubs, seeing a bottle of Caol Ila behind the bar and being reluctant to ask for it for fear of pronouncing it wrong. So the first thing I asked the charming young lady in the Visitors Centre was for advice in pronunciation. She told me and then she served me with a complimentary dram to taste. Sadly, within a few hours I had forgotten how to achieve the precise lilt and lyricism: so I had to return to the distillery the next day and ask again. She very kindly repeated the lesson and the presented me with another free dram. I dare say that I could provide you with the phonetic spelling of the distillery name – but I am not going to do so. May I suggest you go to Islay yourself and ask the young lady concerned.
It was the kind of day where Mother Nature decides that colour is an optional extra. The road we drove along looked as if it was heading directly to the end of the world with no option to pass Go. The distillery had the look of a half-abandoned film set; brooding in a way that only granite can brood. You were surprised to find another human there, but there was a chap speaking in tongues about salt, sea and sherry casks. And then he would pass you a glass to sample. I am still not sure if it was a dream or not.
We’ve all played this game: you are alone in a leaking hot air balloon above a crocodile infested lake. The only way to keep it from crashing is to progressively jettison the cargo – which comprises of twelve bottles of single malt whisky. Some are easily thrown over the side, others take more careful thought. Which would be the last bottle you jettisoned? For me, the answer has always been a 16 year old Lagavulin, so my visit to that distillery was eagerly awaited. And it did not disappoint: despite the wind, despite the rain, the Dram Bar was like a tiny corner of heaven.
It was a bit of a black and white day when we visited the Ardbeg Distillery: the buildings were Islay white, but most other things including the clouds were black. Nevertheless the distillery complex managed to maintain the refined dignity of a maiden aunt, completely in keeping with an organisation owned by the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton group. There is a fine cafe where you can take lunch or have tea and scones … and then work your way through a tray full of sample single malts. Delicious.
If Distillery No. 2 – opened in 1881 – was a young Islay distillery, the third in my series is positively neonatal. Kilchoman Farm Distillery only began production in 2005 and its first single malt whisky didn’t go on sale until September 2009. New it may be, but it is a bit of a gem: surrounded by fields of growing barley, continuing to use the traditional floor-malting process, and distilling, maturing and bottling on the island itself. As far as I can remember, the product was a bit of a gem as well, but for some reason my memories of the visit became a little hazy.
The second of the nine distilleries was Bruichladdich on the Rhinns of Islay. Built in 1881 – comparatively recently in Islay terms – it was the creation of the Harvey Brothers of Glasgow. It was designed by brother John, engineered by brother Robert, and financed by brother William. Despite its “modern” design, the fortunes of the distillery have reflected those of the wider whisky industry, and it has been mothballed four times: 1907-18, 1929-35, 1941-45, and 1994-2000. Today it is thriving under the ownership of the Remy-Cointreau Group.