The Whisky Tasting Club

Day 8. Sat 28th. Ardbeg

Last day on Islay for all of us, Pat and Bex caught an early flight and we were booked on the 6pm ferry. We were reticent about today. The forecast was grim and it felt like we would have to hang around waiting for the ferry, the earlier sailings being fully booked. As it turned out we had one of our best days. We head off to Ardbeg (our fourth visit there!) and joined the festival bottling queue. Arbeg had once more made a big effort, this year with a spanish theme, because their festival bottling is sherry matured. This was the best queue yet because they were dishing out free samples to those waiting. There were double the bottles to last year and enough to meet demand, so it was all very relaxed.

The sun was now shining, and although not balmy it was turning out much better than expected. They were selling drams of their current expressions (£3 for a double supernova or corryvreckan), the seafood guys were there with excellent oysters (go well with blasda) and scallops, and there was a bucking bronco ride. They also did some boat trips and a barbeque on thursday. So we spent a few hours milling around, chatted to the CaskStrength.net duo (who seem like very nice blokes) and sampled the wares. Unfortunately didnt get a chance to chat much with our reader Martin who was booked on a boat trip. Shame that martin, maybe next time.

Michelle maintained I was a bit squiffy at this point, so we proceeded slowly to Laphroaig where they offer free coffee. I manfully resisted the free dram readily offered, and drank water and coffee. Sobering up from excess Ardbeg whilst lounging on the seafront at Laphroaig topped off an excellent morning.

In the afternoon we went for a circular walk at the American monument on the Oa. Really spectacular views, definitely worth while, takes about an hour. Then a quick stop at Finlaggan before the ferry. Actually the third time we had been here, but on both previous occasions it was too grim to get out of the car! Ferry to the mainland, and our Islay trip was over. Really enjoyed the week, not sure if we will make it next year but will definitely be back again at some point.

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Day 7. Fri 27th. Bunnahabain

Last full day, and our plan was to visit Bunna before heading off to Jura for the rest of the day. Their open day was thursday, but unfortunately the ferry could not run.

The drive to Bunnahabain is possibly the most scenic on the island: a constant panorama of the Paps of Jura and the sound on one side, intermintent lochs and hills on the other. This is in contrast to the scene approaching the distillery, where grey communist style houses squat in clusters on the approach. The distillery itself is not the most attractive, although it has its charms and the setting more than makes up for it. They have a row of rental cottages overlooking the sounds. Great views, but you would need to be a big bunna fan or have a boat, takes ages to get anywhere. The Bunna festival bottling is a 14 year old cognac finish (59.6% abv), 472 bottles. Not tried it yet, look forward to it.

 We didnt have any events booked for Bunna distillery so after buying the festival bottlings and a wander about we set off.

Jura is reached by a short shuttle ferry. Port Askaig is currently taking all the traffic to islay whilst port ellen port is being rebuilt. This presents an additional risk to trips here, ferries from Askaig have been cancelled twice this week. I think its the wind that does it, the currents in the sounds are strong and there is not a massive amount of leeway. We have no contingency plan, so hopefully they will run today!

Jura is about 25 miles long and has a population of 200, but it seemed busy today. The festival and a weekend fell run meant there were scores of cyclists and campers. All we could say is, these people must be insane. The thought of camping through these gales and cycling up and down the only single track road in the sheeting rain does not appeal. There were many families, some with young children. You can just imagine them in twenty years telling there friends about their horrible family hoildays where they had to cycle 20 miles in the rain.

We stopped off in Craighouse and looked into the distillery shop. They are also doing a festival bottling which they kindly let us taste. Its a very interesting french oak expression, not as astringent as many of the virgin oak whiskies  we have tried. £100 a bottle though, and given we have more whiskies than we can fit in a pack, we gave it a miss for the club. I picked up a bottle of Prophesy for myself, be rude not to.  

 

 

 

We then went on a lovely short walk 2.5miles outside of Craighouse. Drive out on the only road. After a cattlegrid you will see the peninsula ahead and a right turn onto the beach. Ahead you will see a house that is a converted chruch (apparently a holiday let, quite fancy staying there!). Walk along the road to the house, down a valley with a pine forest on your right, until you get to a bridge. On the right there is a path that follows the stream down to the beach. You can then walk back up the beach to your car. Takes about an hour and is well worth it. We managed to do the walk in the one hour it was not raining. smug!

 

We then continued on to the end of the public road and stopped off at the beach. Lovely location, same about the weather. It has tipped down both times we have come to jura, this time we at least avoided getting soaked ourselves. Coming back to Islay felt like returning to civilization, strange how your perceptions shift.

I’ve bought a lot of whisky. We now have all eight festival bottlings for the tasting pack and a diverse range it is too. The festival bottlings cost on average £70. Whilst shopping in the Bowmore co-op I noticed that you can buy Black Bottle for £12.30. So thursday night we drank whisky cocktails with black bottle (whisky sours my favorite) and gin and tonics with Bruichladdich gin thumbs up for that). On a boozing holiday you need to mix it up!

 

 

 

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Day 6. Thurs 26th. Kilchoman

so today we discovered the true story of Ardbeg’s shorty the dog, went bog trotting, got some of the Ardbeg festival bottling and tasted Port Charlotte 5.

But to start, it is the Kilchoman open day. After last years miserable experience  we could not tempt our better halves out to queue for a festival bottle, so Pat and I set off. They had double the number of bottles this year and the queue was shorter, so we got out by 11:30 with our two bottles. They stamped our hands when we left, presumably to stop us joining the queue again! We bought a minature of the spring 2011 for contrast.

Kilchoman Festival bottling:
Nose:
 creamy with late pepper very peaty, quite chunky 
Taste: Earthy, early pepper that fades a bit.
Finish: spice remains but the rest is not that long.

Overall: An honest, peaty whisky. In my opinion Kilchoman is  improving with age, the early expressions had the “old” peat ammonia I dont like.  That seems to have gone now. This has more pepper than earlier ones, which were closer to Bruichladdich peat than say ardbeg. Its a bridge between Talisker and Islay says Pat. Thats a very long bridge.

Kilchoman Spring 2011:

Nose: Germaline and plasters says pat, not sure about that. Green fruits. Soft peaty nose.
Taste: Softer peat than the Feis bottling, no real pepper, but then its  not as strong. Getting a slight alcohol burn. Dry peat.
Finish: Licorice. quite short though,

Overall: I think I may have preferred the winter 2010 (thats in our islay pack), but its definitely better than the earlier ones, its maturing and I could happily quaff either of them. Pat likes it a lot, more than the Feis bottling. I prefer the Feis.

Next up we set off to the south coast for the rest of the day. Lunch at Ardbeg, and because pat and bex are  flying out early saturday morning they let us get their festival bottles early. What lovely people they are there. We have not tasted it yet, I’m pretty wary really, sherry matured ardbeg sounds just wrong! I’ll blog about it on saturday. It costs £90, There are 1000 bottles available of saturday, so should be plenty for everyone.  

After a lunch of scallops Pat and Bex went on the distillery tour, michelle and I set off to find the plague village of Solem. It was hard work, wellies essential and the wind was picking up. The dog enjoyed getting in touch with his irish routes by bounding around in the mud. Its a rough and rugged landscape, it felt like a mini adventure as we stumbled up and down hills not knowing where we were. I dont think we actually found the village, but we did get some stunning views back over the coast to Ardbeg.

2 hours later we crawled back to ardbeg, where a supernova from the bar (£2.50 for 25ml! Bargain) restored some life into me. Pat and Bex had just finished a tasting after the tour in Ardbeg’s store where they keep examples of all the expressions they have released. Apparently they have loads of unlabelled bottled whiskies that they dont know what it is!

Time then for clothes shopping for pat, who wanted a new jacket. The laga offerings did not suit, so it was back to Laphroaig for the third time this week. There we were chatting to Briony behind the counter who it turns out owns the Ardbeg mascot Shorty the dog! Apparently just happened to be down at Ardbeg when the marketing chaps visited, and they fell in love with her dog. Ironic she now works for Laphroaig. Shorty is now 14 and not as lively as  he was. They had him down for a photo shoot for the Ardbeg website and wanted him to frantically scratch a door trying to get out. Apparently this is not in his nature, so they had to tape lumps of lamb to the frame of the door to evoke the required response.

Anyway, with pat suitably attired in his new Laphroaig jacket, we headed home and I soaked in the huge bath at cross house with a large Lagavulin. For supper we went to the Bridgend hotel. Nice place, food about £10-£18 for a main, friendly staff. We were however surrounded by posh folk. Behind me were four people clearly off the three mast ship moored at port ellen who were discussing the relative merits of shooting vs golf. two my left were two seemingly prepubescent lawyers talking loudly about million pound deals. Still, the main event for me was their whisky list. Now by islay standards it wass nothing special, except for the fact they have Port Charlotte 5 for sale for £7 per measure. Given it is on sale for £500 a bottle in the whisky spar this is a bargain, and I have always wanted to try it. My verdict: its very peaty! I liked it, a simple peaty dram that I now no longer have to think about buying to complete my PC set, phew.

Another great islay day, tomorrow we are off to Jura via Bunna.

So we have done bugger all to promote WTC whilst here, we are not really cut out for PR. I read on cask strength our competitors masters of malt were dishing out free samples of their “drinks by the dram” minatures, and the wt company have sets on sale in the whisky spar in bowmore, although who will buy them is a mystery, when you compare their offering to the rest of the cabinet. Its a hobby business for us, we will rely on “organic growth”, but we should do at least some self promotion.

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Day 5. Weds 25th. Bowmore

Our plan had been to go to Colonsay today, but its not the weather for a boat trip, so it we stayed closer to home and after a walk in bridgend curtailed by a fallen tree, we went to the Bowmore and Islay Ale events.

The (affordable and obtainable) Bowmore festival bottling is a 15 year old cask strength sherry finish called Laimrig 

apparently it has been a special release before in two batches. The Feis Ile edition is a run of 500. Its too sherried for my palate, prefer the Tempest.

Bowmore have not always got their festival bottling strategy correct. You can still buy the 2008 and 2009 Feis Ile bottlings in their shop. They are 9 and 8 year old bottlings priced at £90 and £80. Clearly they were overpriced at the time, (or the run was too big). I remember thinking this was too expensive last year, but now I’m actually tempted to buy one! This year and last they have done two special bottlings, one short run, highly collectable older expression, one a relabelling of one of their “standard” limited editions (last year it was tempest). People queue at 2 am for the former and they appear on ebay at double the price the following day. The latter does not seem to generate much interest.

They seem to have the same strategy for their festival events: very expensive luxury tastings or standard tastings of their normal expressions. We cant afford the former and the latter does not really appeal, so we have not booked a formal event with them. However, we went along to see what they got up to.

For their open day Bowmore have a band and dram tent outside and a cocktail bar in their visitor centre. They give you a token for a dram and cocktail when you come in, but you have to pay for any more. The visitor centre is a nice space and taking a dram whilst looking over lochndal is one of the iconic islay experiences.

so a couple of drams later and we head off to islay square for the islay ale beer tent. It just a couple of tents with a bar in one and a folk band in the other, but it makes a change and the islay ales are pretty good. In addition to the brewery there are a range of craft shops based here.

A quieter day then, but fun all round. So the real issue of the day is the amount I am drinking! Michelle had a day off today, but I just cannot resist a free dram, so its Bowmore’s fault. Its made worse this year by the fact I dont have to drive and the weather not being good enough to go for long walks. I’m feeling the pace a bit, but feel it my duty to keep going. I will console myself with hollow promises to go on the wagon and diet when I get home. A likely story … whats up next?

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Day 4. Tues 24th. Laphraoig

the biblical weather eased up a bit on tuesday and the forecast promised sunshine with occasional blustery squals (not that occasional, as it turned out), so we head off to the south coast for the day.

After filling up with petrol (HOW MUCH?!?) we headed for the south coast to Kildalton cross and then, after almost running a cyclist over and having a mexican stand off with a camper van who didnt really seem to understand how single track roads work, we went to the beach further along the road to Ardtalla.

Its a lovely drive and coastline, although I think I prefer the Rhinns, it felt positively busy down south, there were four cars at Kildalton! Back to Ardbeg for lunch, only to find it rammed (as always). Another downside of the south coast is there is nowhere to eat appart from Ardbeg. Port Ellen has a “cybercafe” straight from the early 90s and thats it. So not to worry, Laphroaig were doing some sarnies for their festival day, along with some haggis soup.

So to Laphroaig. What an absolutely marvelous distillery and brand they are. Now I’m obviously a bit biased because they have offered us some hospitality but its hard to not be impressed with with this place. Their open day is fairly low key and doesnt have the scale of Bruichladdich, but they do a lot of different tours and had a few local things on, including an islay museum. We had booked onto John Cambell’s special tasting.

This was an amazing tasting, the best yet. In 2003 John pursuaded the owners to make a large batch of spirit in the traditional way, using only the Laphroaig floor malted barley and the original three small stills. This was all put into first fill Jim Beam casks and stored at the distillery warehouses. He now has 20,000 litres of nearly 8 year old whisky to play with, and this tasting was of 5 different casks. And how different! Its amazing that exactly the same spirit put into identical casks and stored at the same place can vary so much.

These are a summary of John’s tasting notes, I assume you would rather read his than mine!

Cask 5386: Vanilla, sweet nose. Dry initially, some apple blossom, damp wood and finally minty.

Cask 5421: Nose is creamy/butterscotch. Light in the mouth, lemon, flavour of the beach.

Cask 5417: Nose: Hessian sack, pea pods. Very peaty which grows in time. A more traditional Laphroaig.

Cask 5416: Nose: Grass, monkey nuts. Taste: salty, creamy, dry that fills the lingers.

Cask 5424: Toffy, fruity and palma violets. Huge mouth feel, becomes sweeter.

we had this plate of stuff infront of us to help us interpret the tastes. At the end of the tasting we chose our favourite and got a 50ml sample to take home.

Apparently these casks will be bottled for Laphroaigs aniversary in 2015. John runs an excellent tasting, he is not a showman but it is articulate and clearly knows his stuff.

After the event the sun was still shining, so we hung around for a bit, Arby getting lots of fuss. Laphroaig have a dram bar that is if anything better than Caol Ila. Not only do the dish out the stuff without quibbles, they had the full range including the festival bottle (Cairdais again) and the 18 year old, one of my favorites.

They finally dragged me away from the dram bar, we stopped off for a short walk at the singing sands before stopping in Bowmore for an early supper at the Lochside Hotel, home to an amazing whisky bar. I’ve just read on cask strength blog that the nosing competition was last night, would probably have gone if we had realised. Another example of lack of information, it was not mentioned on the website (or if it was I couldnt see it). We went last year and it was fun, but we were not very good at it. Last year the Japanese swept the board. We saw the winners this year on the ferry from the mainland. It was a 7 am sailing and they were all practicing nosing! Serious dedication, they even had the coloured glasses. We saw them again at the Laphroaig tasting, they were nosing more than drinking, most of them didnt finish their whisky! I just dont understand …

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Day 3: Monday 23rd. Caol Ila

windy windy windy. So windy you can hardly walk. Raining a fair amount too. We didnt do much today, went to Bowmore for some shopping then went to Caol Ila in the afternoon for a tasting. There is no parking at Caol Ila, this year we had to park in a field in Kellis and a mini bus took us down. The farmer who sat in his tracker all day at the car park didnt seem to bothered by the weather, but we found it hard to actually get from the car to the bus.

Unsurprisingly there were not that many people at Caol Ila, and those that were there were huddled under the limited cover. Good news was there were plenty of festival bottles left, plus they had some of the new Moch (more on this later). Having bought our quota  of all these, we retired to the dram tent to wait for our masterclass. Caol Ila are the most generous of the distilleries with their whisky. The guys in the tent basically keep filling glasses and you can take your fill. No tickets, no cost, just generous drams! This is how it should be, it doesnt cost them much and creates a great atmosphere. Whats more, they were dishing out the distillery only bottling, which is the remains of one of the distillers editions (as with Laga).

So we then went to our master class with distillery manager Bill Stichell who has been working at Caol Ila all his life. He is cut from the same cloth as Lagavulun’s Iain McArthur and part of a dying breed. Even though they are not polished public speakers, I’d much rather do a tasting with one of these than with young sales people who dont actually know much about whisky.

 The tasting was in the old filling room underneath 5000 casks of Lagavulin (no Caol Ila is stored here any more, its all on the main land). The whiskies were

1. Caol Ila 12 year old. Standard expression, oily, peaty and very drinkable.

2. Caol Ila Distillers. 12 year old finished in Muscatel for 6 months.  I’m never a big fan of wine finishes, but this one worked ok. Pat liked this a lot.

3. Moch. The Moch is a new NAS offering. We bought three bottles which will appear in one of our tastings soon. More on this below.

4. Feis Ile. 600 numbered bottles drawn from a Bodega cask (Cask Number 301696!) filled in February 2000 at a meaty 64.3%. So as far as I know Bodega is a sherry cask and the press release implies its spent its whole life in sherry. It certainly tastes lightly sherried, but it is very lightly coloured and I would have thought it was a finish. Very interesting.

5. Unpeated 12 year old. This was very nice, fruity and like a light highlander, reminded us of Balblair. Impressed with this, wasnt expecting much.

We also had samples of peated and unpeated new make, which we did the aftershave effect with. So a short and sweet tasting, I thought the measures were a bit small, the Feis sample in particular was tiny. Still, that was rather churlish of me given their generousity at the dram tent.

Caol Ila have stopped offering their 18 year, apparently because of the demands of Johnny Walker for the spirit. This is a great shame as I am a fan of the 18, I might buy a bottle for later. Bill reckoned they would bring it back in time once stock levels equalize.

They are soon undergoing a major renovation and will be out of action for a while. This will but extra pressure on their stock levels, so maybe buy Caol Ila as an investment?

Made it back home through wind, rain and hail, only to drop one of our bags in the kitchen.

it was one of the three Moch bottles I bought for the club :( Still, we managed to rescue about 500 ml of it, and of course there was nothing for it but to drink it. At this point the power also went off, so we threw logs on the fire, lit a load of candles and tucked into the Moch.

First reaction was, this is a good session whisky. Its clearly young, particularly evident on the nose which is quite barley. Its lightly peated (Bill said it was the same spirit as usual Caol Ila peated at 40ppm, and who am I to argue, but it does not taste as peaty as the usual CI).

Pat’s notes:

Nose: like a peaty lemsip, lemon and green apple skins, floral. A bit sweaty.

Taste: More lemon, coconut, sweet.

Finish:  Rum and raisen ice cream

I have no idea  what Diageo are doing with this expression. The distillery has very limited stocks and none of them thought it was going on general sale. Maybe its aimed at the european market, maybe its just an experiment, but whatever it is, they have botched the release big time. Caol Ila fans were up in arms because they cant buy it even though tasting notes are on line. I’m told it was sold through their friends scheme in limited numbers, but there is very little information available about it. Its not an exclusive release, its an entry level islay, so what are they playing at?

 Big weather today. All ferries and flights cancelled. Hopefully it will get better, although there are worse places to be stranded.

p.s. Promise more Arby pictures tomorrow Martin :)

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day 2: Sunday 22nd. Bruichladdich day

What promises to be a rare glimpse of the sun made us rush out at 8 am to take advantage. We started with a short walk close to Bridgend to the site of an old fort at Dun Nosebridge. We have a new walks book this year, which is more comprehensive than the one we used last year.

This is a pleasant walk through woods and fields leading to a hill that offers good views across the is island from the location of an old Danish fort (of which nothing remains). It is about 2 miles there and back and easy going. It is quite muddy and there are sheep and cows around, so wellies and lead are required.  After this walk the weather seemed to be holding, so we went for a drive round the Rhinns. First stop Portnhaven. This is a lovely village on the tip of the Rhinns which has a distinct Cornish and Artisianal feel. Neat white painted cottages line the cliff surrounding a small harbour, where a few small fishing boats ply their trade. The dogs roam free and are very friendly. There is a short promenade around the headland where four years ago we saw basking sharks.

The book has three walks in this area, but we just mooched around a bit and had a coffee and cake at a nice little place at the top of the hill. There is a small island with a lighthouse just off the village and according to the walk book you can ask at the shop or bar and someone will row you over for a small fee.

Still making hay, we took the northern loop road back to port charlotte. There are several beaches on this north coast, but unfortunately they are only accessible via fields populated by livestock and Arby does like to worry sheep. Its still a great scenic drive that gets one thinking about what it would be like to live here. A very poetic lifestyle, but we think it might drive us nuts!

The Bruichladdich event doesn’t start until 12, so we decided to continue our Rhinns tour up to our favourite place on Islay: Ardnave. It’s a fairly short drive north of Bruichladdich and on the way there is a national heritage woodland. We have always gone past it before in our rush to the beach, but this time we stopped and investigated. It’s a really lovely short woodland walk through bluebells and the like with lovely views over Guinart and great for twitchers. From there it’s a short, bumpy drive up to Ardnave. Perhaps we like it so much because it reminds us of home; the wide expanse of shallow sea is very reminiscent of Norfolk.

The place is packed with rabbits and Arby was in heaven ineptly chasing them. I swear he would have no idea what to do if he ever caught one, not that there is much chance of that.

So after our greatest hits tour of the Rhinns, we finally made it to the Bruichladdich festival day. This is without doubt the best festival event of the week. There is a beer tent by Islay ales (why are they not at all the events?), a stage with local kids dancing/bands etc, a craft fair inside a hall, burger and seafood stalls in addition to the whisky events. It is also the best attended event, and it feels like that at least half the people there are locals. If any other distilleries wanted to improve their offering, they could do worse than copy Bruichladdich. However, laddie does have the advantage of being close to where people live. Bunnahabhain tried really hard last year, but its so remote that not that many people turned up. Bowmore should definitely have a look though, no excuse for them.

Bruichladdich have two festival bottlings this year to celebrate 10 years under new ownership. The “ancient regime” 1998 is the last whisky made by white and mackay, apparently made as a small batch after the distillery had been mothballed  by the Jura team. The second, “Renaissance” is the first made under Jim McEwan’s stewardship. These were the first two whiskies in the masterclass. This event was held in warehouse 12 at the back of the distillery, and its hard to imagine a better venue for a tasting. It was a big event, with 100-150 people and after Jim McEwan introduced it he handed over to Bruichladdich’s three sales reps.

The whisky selection was first class. Real effort and thought had gone into it. The whiskies  were

  1. Renaissance Feis Ile 2011: 10 year old since reopening called Renaissance. Sound familiar? This is not in the same league  as the Ardbeg offering (which it has to be said is one of my all time favourites) but it’s a decent, honest whisky. There is a big wood hit, reminiscent of the organic laddie but not quite as mental and a slight peat hit (its peated at 10ppm).
  2. Ancien Regime Feis Ile 2011: this is a more traditional whisky, and we actually preferred it to the “Renaissance”.
  3. 19 year old Pedro Ximinez finish. This is not on sale and was done specially for the tasting. A bit two track.
  4. Black Art 3. New release of the black art, Jim McEwan’s secret mixture. Not really my kind of thing, but clearly well crafted.
  5. Port Charlotte 9. I’m a big PC fan and have tried  them all, so was quite excited to be getting a sample of this. However, I have a strange relationship with peated whiskies. In my taste world, there are two types of peated whisky: old style and new style. The old style, typified by Uigedail and older Ardbegs, has a dirtier taste which to me comes over as ammonia. I really don’t like it. The new style, has a cleaner, often sweet, peat effect and is evident in the new Ardbegs. This I love. For me, PC 5-8 and An Tura Mor were all firmly in the new class and hence rank amoungst my all time favourites. However, this PC9 was definitely old peat. All I can taste is Uigedail. Being a peat freak I have struggled with this issue for years, it seems its personal to me,  but it there you go. I really hope they release this whisky, not least to find out if anyone else thinks the same.
  6. Octomore. And finally, a new Octomore. Conversely, and possibly perversely, whilst I’ve not liked the earlier bottlings, I really liked this one! Not quite as mental/ash tray like as the previous expressions.

 

Overall an excellent tasting. It’s a stuggle to do this big a tasting in a warehouse with terrible acoustics, but the sales staff stuggled on despite the inevitable decent into general chatter. It got a bit like a evangelical rally near the end, with the sales people eulogising about how great Bruichladdich are a bit too much. One of them had a deep voice with a strong Scottish accent which was hard for us to understand, and we were guilty of chatting as the next. There was lots of shushing directed at the Swedes at the back, to the point that one german stood up and proclaimed that we should all be quiet, much to our amusement.

So hurrah for Bruichladdich, its always sunny on bruichladdich day. Time to quickly sober up and make it back to the cottage in time to meet Pat and Bex and to cook a roast Lamb dinner whilst we sit around revisiting the 12 bottles purchased so far. What a marvellous start to the holiday.

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Day 1: Lagavulin Distillery Manager tasting

our first official tasting event was at Lagavulin. Originally billed as Women “nose” best due to the gender of the distillery manager Georgie Cranford who was running the event, it was changed to a “masterclass” for reasons unknown, probably corporate.

There were about 50 people at the tasting held in a hall behind the distillery I had not seen before. There were 5 whiskies and a sample of new make. These were, in the order tasted
1) standard 16
2) distillers edition (current one I think)
3) distillery only bottling
4) 12 year old
5) Feis Ila bottling

the new make was one of the nicer raw spirits I’ve tasted, very peaty and smoky. I’ll only talk further about the distillery only and Feis Ila bottling. The distillery only is the left over whisky from the 1991 distillers edition, stored in old wood since bottling in 2007. Its been bottled at 52.5 abv. Funnily enough, the 1991 distillers is one of michelle’s all time favorites, and this did not disppoint. More rounded by more time in wood but with a better kick because of the cask strength. Definitely one for your traditional Laphroaig fan. The 2011 Feis Ila is a single cask (no.1715) 13 year old, distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2011. The cask was selected by lagavulin legend Iain Macarthur, and bottled at 51% abv. Each bottle is numbered.

This was the first time I’ve done a vertical tasting of Lagavulin and I can recommend it, although if you can only do one event here, go for the warehouse tasting, nothing beats supping laga straight from the cask. Georgie’s talk was interesting, although she was clearly trying not to say anything too controversial. One chap asked the question of why, given people have travelled all round the world to be here, do the distillery did not make more effort for the festival by involving local people and companies to make it a true celebration. It is a good point, although I don’t think the fault lies just with Diageo. The trouble the festival has in this respect is that the island is very big and there is no obvious centre. If you drive through Bowmore you would see no evidence of the festival, and in my opinion the week lacks clear central planning. At least this year there is a functional website, but it is not updated. If I was in charge I would have a travelling tent and stage which went to each distillery on the open day, much better bus services running free across the island and a week long craft fair/stage in the centre of Bowmore or even at Islay house. Still, since I’m no fan of craft fairs and drive, I’m not that worried!

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Day 1: Saturday 21st. Lagavulin

So last year we arrived about 3pm in glorious sunshine, raced down to Lagavulin, bought the last two festival bottlings then went for a walk on the beach in shorts and sandals feeling particularly smug. This year we had to catch the 7:00am ferry (due to our incompetence), left the boat to be met by in a howling gale in which we had to stand for an hour and a half to get our laga festival bottlings, feeling windswept and vaguely foolish for not retreating to somewhere more clement. Still, this is Scotland, so rain is to be expected, and its great to be back. The island is so familiar now (this is our third visit to Islay, now equal top in the list of our most visited holiday destination), even the dog seems to remember the cottage.

We chose the bumpy road to laga, and it seems that the tradition of waving at all passing cars has gone, although one old fella gave us the Islay finger. Still, I will persist with my Norfolk wave to encourage them. After buying two festival and two distillery only bottles (tastings later) we went for coffee at Ardbeg, popped into Laphroaig on the way back before coming back up to Bowmore. So we have visited my four favourite distilleries in the world before lunch time! News on the Festival bottlings

Lagavulin: 13 yo Single cask (51%), 588 bottles. We arrived at 10am and the queue was long. When we passed it again the queue was much shorter. Given we bought the last one at 4pm last year, I think the best strategy with this many bottles would be to go around 12:30-13:00. The queue moves so slowly

Ardbeg: This years bottling has spent its life in a Pedro Ximes sherry cask! Pure sherried Ardbeg. Not something I have tried. Best thing is, it is going to be priced at £90. Now, this is still not cheap, but better than last year, when the 10 year old offering was first priced at £220 before being reduced to £120 the day before release (without my knowing). I will definitely be getting some this year. Not sure how many there are, I would guess either one or two casks (600 or 1200 bottles?)

Laphroaig: Cairdais again, £45, 1400 available at the shop, more online (not sure how many, iirc it was 4000 last year). Had a small taste, very nice, we will write notes on Tuesday. Also picked up a bottle of the new cask strength.

Bowmore: As with last year, Bowmore have two festival offerings. The first is 500 bottles of a 15 year old sherry finish called Laimrig bottled at 54.4%. This is actually on sale today, but this doesn’t seem to be generally known as there is no queue. I’ve got mine in, notes on this on Tuesday. The second is 100 bottles of I think 28 year old for £350, which will go on sale on weds and will probably sell out at 2 am like last year. Don’t think I will try, not in this weather.

So finally checked into the cross house cottage at 2pm having already bought 10 bottles of whisky. Now we go off to Lagavulin for a master class tasting at 4pm. That’s my idea of how to start a holiday, who cares about the weather? Photos to follow.

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Islay festival 2011

WTC are off to the festival for 2011.

Tony, Michelle and Arby are driving up on friday, Pat and Bex are flying in on sunday. Unless otherwise stated, Tony is writing this. (sorry the formatting is a bit off, I’ll try and sort it over the weekend if I can be arsed).

So we blogged our trip last year, here is our 2010 islay blog. We had forgotten how fluffy arby was last year :)

I’m not sure how much we will blog this year, lets see how it goes. I’ll try to pursuade pat and michelle to write tasting notes, they are much better at it than me. We have bought tastings at Lagavulin (sun), Bruichladdich (sun), Caol Ila (mon) and Laphroaig (tues). We hope to go to Colonsay on weds (for our non distillery day) and jura on thurs, weather and energy levels permitting. Friday not sure, sat to ardbeg then drive over to Pitlochry for two nights after islay (my brother has a taken a cottage for a week there).

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