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.
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 …