The Whisky Tasting Club

Day 3: Caol Ila

Caol Ila dont have any parking on site, so they set up parking in Ballygrant and ran buses down. Because we have the dog with us, we decided to park at ballygrant and walk down past some lochs. A lovely walk, see next post. We had booked a tasting master class with Caol Ila and I was worried what we could do with arby. Couldnt leave him in the car that far away, didnt want to leave him in the cottage, so gambled on them letting us taking him into the tasting. The whole island is really dog friendly, so I was confident they would succumb to his fluffy charms. However, get down to the distillery and am told firstly that the dont allow dogs and secondly they had mistakenly cancelled my booking due to confusion over our lagavulin booking. Not to worry, I was not that fussed tbh. The sun came out, they were liberally dishing out the cask strength and we went and sat on the grass above a beach looking at a stunning view of Jura and ate a bacon sandwhich. Strong whisky, bacon butty, sunshine and by the sea. Can you ask for more?

We stayed for a couple of hours, drinking and chilling. We watched some fishermen bring in some huge lobsters which they were selling for £10-£15, which is reasonable as they were huge. We were tempted, but they were alive and we dont really have the equipment to do it (and how do you carry them home?).

There were limited events on here, a single food stall raising money for a local charity doing excellent bacon rolls for £2 (have I mentioned them already?) and some music in the square. It was a nice atmosphere though, and I’m glad we went. I like caol ila, I always have a bottle of JW black label in, I often drink the 12 and occasionally the 18. Its a solid, middle of the road whisky that fits right into my preferred taste profile (i.e. peaty but balanced with some spice and a bit of salt), but it doesnt set my pulse racing like port charlotte or supernova.  

The festival bottling is an 11 year old european oak sherry cask bottled at

Caol Ila festival bottling

61.9%. We are tasting it with the cask strength caol ila only available at the distillery (no age statement).  For the Feis Ile bottling, there is sherry on the nose, but tempered. A pleasant unassuming nose. Its very strong at 62%, so you get a blast of alcohol, but after that there is a nice balance of peat and sherry. There is ..oh no!  just knocked over my cask strength glass! Managed to save most, but spilling whisky is wrong. Oh dear, its only 6pm, could get messy tonight.  Anyway, the festival whisky has a alcohol hit, fades with a nice delicate sherry with some peat, and strangely I thought I detected a japanese style mushroom taste, but I’m probably wrong. Michelle says the nose makes her mouth water, is it salty? Quite possibly.   Long finish with a bit of tannin on the tongue.  Overall the feis ile is much more ‘south coast’ islay than an typical caol ila might be, almost laphroaig like. We like it! Water brings out much more pepper. I look forward to our final tasting with all the bottlings.

The cask strength is much sweeter and softer, very different nose, much more traditional caol ila. Not much more to say because I just drank something with traces of washing up liquid in it, so cant really taste anything. Gross. Michelle says its got a peppery start, a nice mild peat in the middle then some wood in the end. Good length.

p.s. please remember I warned you we dont do elaborate tasting notes, I’m sure others will give you more descriptive taste profiles e.g. burnt asparagus, cats pee on a gooseberry bush, car tyres dipped in icecream etc.

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Day 2: Laphroaig gathering

blimey sunday was busy, no wonder we are all knackered today. Michelle and Arby had a nap after Bruichladdich, then it was off down to Laphroaig for the gathering. The weather had turned, it was overcast with a light soft rain, which seemed appropriate since we were going to stand in a peat field.

Got to Laphroaig and picked up our pack, which contained a pair of green wellies (branded with the gathering 2010), three minatures (10, 10 cask strength and quarter cask), a mini tasting glass and a certificate. Everyone put on their wellies and after some instructions we ambled up to the field. We were then arranged to spell out the letters FOL and our picture was taken from above toasting and raising mini flags. They liberally dished out the festival Carchais, which was quite light and peppery and went down very well (more on this on tuesday, which is the laphroaig open day). Touchingly, they then scattered someones ashes on the field and we toasted those who could not be there (to my shame I cant remember the mans name). The idea was we would then all find our own plot and get another photo. However, the crowd was getting rowdy and it we raining, so instead we all just spread out and had another photo taken. Arby was now being noisy, so we put him in the car and headed off to the barn dance. Hmm, barn dances not really our thing, so we went straight for some food. There were of course several Germans already ahead of us, but we got in quick and had some seafood chowder and more scallops (the ones at Bruichladdich were better). All in all an excellent event and pretty good value at £25, I would recommend it to anyone going to the festival next year

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Day 2 Walk: Bridgend Woods

I always wake up early, so this blogging lark gives me something to do whilst waiting for michelle to wake up. However, we are doing so much I’m going to get left behind!

Sunday started with glorious sunshine. We chose the walk closest to us, which is a 2 hour walk through some lovely woods near bridgend. Its approximately a three mile round trip with easy walking, I did it in shorts and sandals! The woodlands were carpetted in bluebells (which Michelle says are my favorite flower, apparently) and the book says it is also good for snowdrops and daffodils at other times of the year. Park next to the small shop in Bridgend. Opposite the shop, to the left of the pub, is a pair of gates and a path. Go up the path, down a small hill in the woods, then across a bridge over the river Sorn. Its very scenic there. After the bridge turn right (eastwards) at the drive that runs parallel with the river.

Continue for about 2km. About half way along this path, after the turn to the islay square (which you dont take) there is a path down to the river, ideal for the dog. You then get to another wooden bridge. This is particularly scenic and has a seat which we occupied for a while :) After the bridge take the left hand fork and continue up a gentle hill (ignoring the turn off  strangely sign posted to Bridgend). Keep straight on this path, crossing another path or two, coming out of the woods and eventually meeting the main road from askaig to bridgend. Turn left onto the road and walk back for about 800m, then turn left and go down to the 19th century Woollen Mill, where they make all sorts of crafts. Leaving the mill, continue up the hill to rejoin the path through the woods. Turn right and retrace your steps back to bridgend for a well earnt pint at the very nice boozer there.

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Day 2: Bruichladdich Day

Bruichladdich festivities were from 12 to 6 pm.

There were some entertainments for children, many different food stalls, a beer tent run by the Islay brewery, a cocktail bar run very efficiently by some Germans and of course a whisky bar. It was a fiver to get in, but this included two free drams (of Rocks, apparently no choice of what you had, they just dished them out). The food was excellent. We had some gorgeous scallops (fried in a bruichladdich based sauce, 3 for a fiver) and I scoffed half a dozen oysters (also a fiver). Michelle had a strawberry cocktail and I had a dram of the 3D peat proposal (which both cost, you guessed it, a fiver). There was dancing and music and it had a really nice village fayre atmosphere.

There was an amazingly cosmopolitan crowd. This was our first official festival event so I guess this is the norm, but I would say 60% of the people there were not British. Fantastic to see so many whisky lovers willing to make the journey here. We did not stay to the end as we have the Laphroaig gathering tonight and I need to sober up, so this meant we unfortunately missed Robin Laing (only found out he was playing after we left). Robin came down to Norwich to play at one of Dom’s tastings a couple of years ago, and he plays some fantastic whisky songs. “I love you A’bunah” comes to mind (especially after tasting the festival bottling). He also has a few Bruichladdich songs, including “Weapons of Mass Distraction” about the whole CIA incident. Last time we came to islay we stayed in port charlotte and every time we went past Bruichladdich we played it :) For anyone interested you can find out more here:

So all in all a fantastic event which you should not miss if you come to the festival, it was really well run and the people were lovely. Now, despite all that, I generally have a bit of a problem with Bruichladdich. I love what they do and everything about their set up, the artisan feel, the local produce, the general funkiness and islay-ness of it, means I really want to love it. But I just dont get on with their whisky. Apart from PC (which I absolutely love, I’ve bought 5 bottles of it) the rest leaves me a bit cold. I find it a bit one dimensional. My personal opinion is that I’m not keen on the pre closure whisky and the new brew is overpriced and needs a bit longer (note these are NOT the opinions of all WTC people, just Tony and Michelle’s).  They erode my inate goodwill by charging me too much. Anyway, that leads to the Festival bottling which has just reinforced my opinion.

Bruichladdich Festival bottling is a 2004, 57.5 vol Fresh Sherry butt. There are 1060 bottles so presumably its a single cask. Its very sherry with a harsh young kick. It tastes like A’Bunadh with a slightly metallic edge. Its nice enough, but it comes in a 500 ml bottle. I was not really paying attention (I’m in financial denial) but I’ve just checked my credit card bill. A rug (£45) plus a 6 glasses (approx £15) + two bottles cost £172! Did I really pay £112 for 1 litre of 6 year old whisky? Was I overcharged? seems an incredible amount to charge to me.

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Day 1 Walk: on the beach at Bridgend

We are staying at a lovely cottage 1 mile out of bridgend called cross house west

its done up really well and is a lovely place, I would recommend it to anyone. It has direct access to the beach, which seemed like a huge advantage for the dog. However, sheep roam freely all around the cottage and the person who dropped off the keys warned us the farmer has no compunction about shooting dogs who worry his sheep. Despite the comedy element of the viz like nature of the warning, it was still a bit shocking that some bloke could shoot my dog for scaring one of his sheep on what seems to be public land. This was bought home when the 6 month old border terrier staying next door escaped and went yapping at the sheep. Thankfully they caught it, but 10 mins later there was the farmer driving down to check it out. I’ve no problem with him protecting his livestock, but surely if my dog did escape and harm his property he would prefer me to re-emburse him rather than killing my dog? So be warned if you bring your dog, the policy is shoot first and ask questions later.

Beach sheep at Bridgend

Anyway, with that warning in mind we set off around 8 pm to walk along the beach of loch indaal, hoping we could make it to bridgend. After negotiating the bogs we made it to the beach, and it was like being back in Norfolk!

Huge expanse of open beaches, I’m in shorts and t-shirt at 8:30 pm and the dog is far enough away from the sheep to be off lead and loving it. Great walk, but check the tides because the beach is so shallow the range from high to low is massive. We walked about 3 miles in total but we did not make it  to bridgend because there was no clear route through the water and bog bordering the beach and it was not apparent from the beach where the village actually was. Fantastic walk in this weather, the whole of the UK is having a heatwave at the moment, but protect yourself from midges whilst crossing the bog, I was fully deeted up but still got a few small bites, we had a small swarm following us, testing out defences despite the insect repellent. We were told that you could walk clear to Bowmore at low tide. It stayed light until about 10 pm which with such great weather was a treat.  The dog is going to get very fit on this holiday as there are so many fantastic walks to do. (I’m writing this sunday afternoon with both michelle and arby fast asleep, I’ll have to wake them in 2 hours to go to Laphroaig!)

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Day 1: Lagavulin day

Saturday 22nd is Lagavulin’s open day. Laga are doing a special bottling of 528 bottles. We were not arriving until 15:00 at port askaig. We raced from the ferry right accross the island, parked up and dashed to the shop. Turned out we were just in time and got the last two bottles! Happy happy joy joy. Tasting comments below.

The weather is absolutely fantastic, there was a good crowd at the distillery and arby had a paddle. All is good in the world. We did not go to any events at laga since we arrived so late, but we are going on a warehouse tour on weds.

Special bottling has a big spicy wood hit, oily, not as sweet as the 16 or the distillers. Nice warming length maybe a bit short, touch of sulphur on the nose which is not apparent elsewhere. Nose seaside/ozone with some peat. We are tasting it against the 12 (for cask strength comparison), which is peatier, more raar, but not as woody. Both excellent, 12 is one of my top 5 standard whiskies, we will enjoy comparing the bottling vs distillers and standard later in the year

lagavulin Festival Bottling surrounding a laga 12 year old

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And they are off…

Drive up from norwich to scotland, stopping off in various places  (Penrith is lovely) to walk the dog. We are overnighting in the Stagecoach Inn at Cairndow. Its absolutely gorgeous here (sunny weather helps). They have some new rooms overlooking loch fyne and they allow dogs. There is also a stunning woodland park 2 mins up the road, currently all the bluebells are out. I’ll post some pictures when I get a decent connection (i.e. after the festival, not sure how much I’ll be able to post on islay). Arriving 3pm Saturday, which is Lagavulin day, I was worried we may not be able to get a festival bottling, but apparently they dont usually sell out on the first day (they wouldnt reserve me a bottle which is fair enough). Ferry gets into Port Askaig driving straight to laga, should have gone to port ellen!

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Islay Walks

we will not just be drinking whisky, we will also be exploring the island with Arby. Last time we went to islay we found it very hard to find information about walks, until the last day when we found a small pamphlet book with lots of excellent walks explained! e bought it anyway and miraculously still have it, so will try them out. We will post about each one we do so that in the future people like us you can find some info before they go!

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Festival Bottlings 1: Lagavulin and Caol Ila

So Diageo have annouced their festival bottlings, both priced at £75. Looks like they have gone up a fair amount in price?

Lagavulin there is a single European oak cask (528 bottles) filled in August 1994, bottled at 52.7% ABV. The cask was picked by Iain McArthur from the famous Port Ellen warehouse. The cost is £74.99 and bottles will go on sale at Lagavulin on Saturday 22 May – Laga’s open day.

From Caol Ila there is an ex-sherry European oak cask filled in August 1999, bottled at 61.9% ABV, consisting of 558 bottles. The cask was chosen by Billy Stitchell, long-standing Caol Ila manager. A bottle will also cost £74.99 but will go on sale on Monday 24 May.

Both releases will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis and will be limited to one bottle per visitor.

We only arrive on Saturday, what are the odds of it selling out before we get there?

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Could have travelled in class…

these guys are running seaplanes to islay. Without doubt my favorite way of travelling, shame we didnt see this before!

Islay to Campbeltown in 14 minutes

Islay Whiskey Festival
Loch Lomond Seaplanes has offered to put on service between Islay and Campbeltown Harbour and back during the Whisky Festival, in May.

What: Express flights
When: 25 -26 May
Where: Campbeltown Loch
Time: on the hour
Other: Takes up to 9 passengers
Price: £65 each way (min of 4)
Call: To book call 01436 675 030

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