A wonderful Islay dram, Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18

Islay Whisky News & LinksThought I’ll make you (well, some of you) jealous tonight. Enjoying a wonderful dram (or two, or three) of this wonderful Islay single malt and single cask whisky tonight, a Bruichladdich Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18:

Picture of a bottle and a dram of the Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18
A lovely Islay dram, the Port Charlotte cask exploration Cubaireachd 18

There’s only one problem with it: The bottle will be empty far far too quickly.

How not to discover Islay (and how to do it better)

Islay LinksYesterday I came across what I thought was a rather strange article about Islay. Having spent two weeks on Jura Alexander from South Africa thought he could visit and get to know five (yes, 5) Islay distilleries in two (yes, 2) hours. It wasn’t very successful for him, as he writes in A whisky without peat is like soup without salt, but Islay visit is bland.

Assuming I read it correctly he crammed driving from Port Askaig to Bowmore, visiting Bowmore distillery, driving on to the south coast, visiting Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, driving all the way back to Caol Ila, visiting Caol Ila and then driving back to Port Askaig into two hours. 2 hours. I estimate driving from Port Askaig to Ardbeg via Bowmore takes approx 45 minutes. Returning via the High Road should be slightly faster, may be 40 minutes. That’s a total of almost 1.5 hours. Which leaves just over half an hour for five distilleries. Or in other words about 6-7 minutes for each distillery. Where it seems he expected they just drop everything for him as soon as he arrived without any warning or preparation (otherwise he would have known that Ardbeg gets rather busy at lunchtime).

Seriously?

Do you turn up at Johannesburg’s busy top restaurants without a reservation and then expect them to serve you a five course menu over 15 minutes and enjoy that experience?

Here are my (personal, others might differ) suggestions on how to discover Islay: Spend a little time on preparation, plenty of websites and travel guides out there to learn about Islay. Allow yourself a few days to immerse yourself in the island, I’d say at least two full days excluding arrival and departure. Restrict yourself to may be 2-3 distilleries. That’s plenty enough. Get out of the car, walk around a bit, experience the peace and quiet directly, not through the windows of a car. Feel, view, hear and smell the wild and rugged landscape. Spend an hour or two walking along one of Islay’s beautiful beaches. Go out to one of the pubs/bars in the evening, especially if there’s live music on. Good chance you meet a distillery worker there. Visit some other places like Finlaggan or the Woollen Mill, get a feel for the rich history. And most importantly, don’t rush it, you’re on Islay time.

Rough Guides I think do it much better in their video, they take their time to really discover Islay, the multiple facets and what it is about:

Of course there are many more reasons to visit and discover Islay, but these five are already pretty good.

Do you have anything to add, any further thoughts on how to best discover Islay? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

Dan visits the wild north west of Islay

Islay on VideoTime for a nice Islay video again. Today Dan Bell takes us out to the far north west of Islay. I think he pitched his tent just south of Mala Bholsa, I believe I recognise some of the caves and arches as well as the waterfall. But now over to the video:

PS: I’m not so sure about some of his hacks though. Freezer bags to ‘waterproof’ your boots?

Interesting read about Orwell writing 1984 at Barnhill on Jura

Jura ExcursionsA quick excursion to Islay’s neighbour Jura today. James Shaw visited Barnhill where George Orwell wrote his famous book ‘1984’. He writes about his visit and Orwell on Jura in The Scottish island where George Orwell created 1984 on the BBC website.

I walked past Barnhill on the way to see the Corryvreckan whirlpool on a stunning day in April 2015, a fascinating but very remote location:

Picture of an farmhouse in a remote location on an island
A view of Barnhill on the Isle of Jura, taken from the track to the north of the island. The mainland visible in the background.

In case you need a refresher of the book:

The Great Islay Whisky Bubble?

Islay Whisky News & LinksIt’s been rumoured for a while, now it’s official: Yet another whisky distillery is being planned to be built on Islay. Assuming it obtains all the necessary permissions it will be built just outside of Port Ellen. Including this latest project there will be 12 distilleries on Islay in operation, under construction or are planned (and I wouldn’t be surprised if that list isn’t the last word. Port Charlotte seems to be gone off the radar, but never say never):

  1. Ardbeg
  2. Lagavulin
  3. Laphroaig
  4. To be named new distillery by Elixir Distillers outside of Port Ellen, rumoured to be ‘Farkin Distillery’
  5. Port Ellen (to be rebuilt and reopened by Diageo)
  6. Bowmore
  7. Gartbreck (planned)
  8. Bruichladdich
  9. Kilchoman
  10. Caol Ila
  11. Ardnahoe (under construction)
  12. Bunnahabhain

That’s a lot of distilleries.

Many say that’s good. More Islay whisky to enjoy and there’s still growing demand around the world. More jobs. More distilleries to visit. More visitors to Islay. Islay becoming an ‘industrial powerhouse’.

I’m not so convinced.

To start with there’s the problem of the infrastructure. Same as everywhere else in the UK (I live in the south east of England and it’s bad even here, potholes even on major roads not repaired for ages) the roads on Islay are crumbling, at least in part because of the heavy distillery lorries for which they were never designed pounding them. I don’t see that improving any time soon, the council simply hasn’t got the money with the ongoing austerity and funding cuts. Then the ferry situation (remember that a lot of the whisky is ferried off the island in tankers for maturation or bottling, and if matured and bottled on Islay the bottles have to be ‘imported’ and the filled bottles transported off), again I don’t see that improving any time soon. Even if new ferries are funded for Calmac it will take many years until they are all fully in service, not to forget that the ones in service will be aging and starting to break down as well.

But more importantly: I see a monoculture. I see a potential bubble.

In my eyes more distilleries mean more dependency on whisky (and gin). More distilleries don’t make Islay an industrial powerhouse, it makes Islay a powerhouse for just one thing, whisky. And if whisky (and in particular peaty whisky) ever runs into trouble it will hit Islay badly.

I remember my first visits to Islay 20 years ago. Ardbeg was only just reopening. Bruichladdich was still closed, I remember driving past the locked gates. I remember reading about workers being laid off when Bruichladdich closed. Port Ellen had been closed over a decade ago. Sure, at the moment whisky and in particular Islay whisky is booming, sales and demand are soaring. But fashions change, consumer preferences change, who is to say that Islay single malts won’t fall out of favour at some point sooner or later? I remember the dot com bubble. I remember the housing bubble. I remember reading the only way is up. Until the bubbles burst.

And I’m concerned that Islay could be badly hit then, as it doesn’t have an awful lot else to fall back on. It’s not an ‘industrial powerhouse’ where people can move to alternatives. I have to openly admit I don’t know how this could be achieved, but I feel it would be better for Islay to diversify, to have other options. May be renewable energy is an option that could be pursued. There was a lot of hype about tidal energy the last few years, but that seems to have gone rather quiet unless I have missed something. May be the roll out of fibre broadband internet could be restarted (from what I’ve heard it seems to have faltered?), opening up opportunities for people to properly ‘telecommute’ from Islay?

Those are just my thoughts when hearing of yet another distillery on Islay. I’m sure many will disagree, I think some might think along similar lines as me. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Two interesting Islay whisky links

Islay Whisky News & LinksI need to share more links and web findings of Islay things I come across again. After all that’s what blogging originally was all about. So today I give you two interesting Islay whisky related links:

If I’m honest I’m not very impressed with a lot of the articles about Islay in the travel sections of many newspapers. Apart from a few exceptions they are usually written by someone who flew in for 2-3 days, did a distillery tour or two and had a few nice meals. But as I said, there are exceptions. Liza Weisstuch knows what she’s writing about. She’s been to Islay many times, I met her back in June 2011 (when she was on Islay for some real whisky experience at Bruichladdich) during one of her visits. And now she’s a got a big feature in the New York Times, online and if I understand it correctly on the cover of the travel section in the print edition next weekend. It’s called The Whisky Chronicles.

I’m not sure I can fully grasp the point of the second link for today. In my mind Islay is about slowing down, taking your time to enjoy. However, in July there will be a rather extreme whisky distillery tour on Islay and Jura:

A new ‘extreme’ whisky tour will take participants by foot, bicycle and kayak to visit 10 island distilleries over 60 miles, in just three days.

Apparently you won’t get much time to actually tour the distilleries or enjoy the samples (although you can collect the miniatures to saviour later). But if you’re still interested you can read more in WORLD’S ‘MOST EXTREME’ WHISKY TOUR LAUNCHES.

20 years Friend of Laphroaig

Islay Whisky News & LinksThis is a post I wanted to write almost a month ago, unfortunately then my leg injury got in the way. Recovery is now well under way (this morning I walked 3 kilometres in I think just over half an hour) and I think I can allow myself a wee dram tonight. With that over to the real topic, one of the many factors which brought me to Islay and made me fall in love with it:

Scan of Armin Grewe's Friends of Laphroaig certificate
My original Friends of Laphroaig certificate from March 1998, a few months before I first set foot on Islay in August 1998

Earlier this year I came across my original Friends of Laphroaig certificate. I bought my first bottle of Laphroaig whisky (the standard 10yo, an expression I still enjoy regularly) in early 1998 and duly sent in my claim for my square foot of Islay. A few weeks later my certificate arrived. Iain Henderson was the distillery manager back then (he retired in 2002), so it is signed by him.

A few months later, on a rather wet August morning, I arrived on Islay for my first visit. The first distillery I visited was of course Laphroaig. There was no visitor centre back then, as far as I can remember I found the way to the reception where someone welcomed me and found a miniature bottle for my annual rent for me.

All of this is now 20 years ago (or will soon be), so with a month delay I’m going to open a bottle of Laphroaig Cairdeas tonight for a wee dram to celebrate being a Friend of Laphroaig for 20 years.

Islayschki Vodka to be launched

Islay NewsWhisky and gin are already well established on Islay and Jura, there are also plans to distil rum on Islay. Not to forget Islay Ales being brewed in Bridgend. Now efforts are underway to add another spirit to this portfolio, vodka to be precise:

Label for Islayschki Vodka

Following Roman Abramovich’s Islay visit a few years ago there will now also be Islay vodka, to be called Islayschki Vodka. The vodka will be distilled in a new purpose-built distillery near Port Ellen. From what I understand the distillery will be a joint venture by a Russian conglomerate and a Scottish spirit merchant.

Not much is known about the taste profile yet, but I understand it will be a fusion of continental freshness and Islay’s maritime salty influences. While it is mainly to be enjoyed neat it can also be used in cocktails and mixed with other drinks.

Will you try the new Islayschki Vodka?

Sadly no Islay walking week 2018 for me

Islay EventsEarlier today I posted the first picture on my Islay photo blog for almost three weeks. The reason for that is that almost three weeks ago I badly injured my right leg and spent the first two weeks almost entirely in bed as I was unable to walk. Last weekend I started to take my first tentative steps again, well, let’s call it some very bad limping.

While there has been improvement over the last week I’m still limping and expect it will take at least another week or two until I can walk normally again, let alone drive. Going on long and strenuous walks will probably take me several more weeks if not months. With this year’s Islay walking week only a week away now it became painfully (pun intended) clear to me over a week ago that I would not be able to participate.

I’m very disappointed that I will not be able to join this year’s walks and meet old and new friends. It is also frustrating as to my knowledge I am the only person who has completed at least one walk on every single Islay walking week since they started 15 years ago. Obviously this run will now come to an end. I wish those able to go fantastic walks, great weather and a wonderful week. Depending on how my recovery goes I’m hoping to be back on Islay in June or later during the summer.

PS: I’m still very pleased with the speech recognition software I installed some time ago. As I’m still having to elevate my leg as much as possible to reduce the swelling it is very helpful to be able to just lean back, put my leg up and dictate this blog entry.

Two nice nature videos from Islay’s neighbour Jura

Jura ExcursionsTaking you to Islay’s neighbour Jura today for not one but two videos, showing some of Jura’s beautiful remote nature, wildlife and landscape. The first one is a longer video taking us on a walk to Cruib Bothy, showing what they saw during the walk and the stay at the bothy:

The second one is a bit shorter and takes us on a drone flight over Ruantallain Estate. Some brilliant views and scenery:

I hope you enjoyed the two videos, Jura is definitely worth an excursion from Islay.