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.

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.

Laphroaig Islay distillery storyboards

Islay FunIs it art? Or is it just some computer generated images? Back in December I came across Google’s Storyboard app for Android (don’t know if there’s an iPhone equivalent), it turns videos into short comics. There are no settings, all you can do is to refresh to generate a new image. You can do this until you get one you like, which you can then save. Of course I had to test it with some of my Islay videos. Here are some of Laphroaig distillery I liked:

Laphroaig Islay distillery storyboard 1
Laphroaig Islay distillery storyboard in black and white

It can also do colour:

Laphroaig Islay distillery storyboard 2
Laphroaig Islay distillery storyboard in colour

What do you think? Worth experimenting a bit more or a waste of time?

Very cool Laphroaig 360° Islay distillery tour video

Islay Whisky News & LinksSomething rather cool tonight: Laphroaig invites us to a 360° video tour of the bay, the peat bogs and of course the distillery on Islay. While watching the video you can move the viewing angle (either with the dial on the top right or by just ‘grabbing’ the video with the mouse pointer and moving it around) and look into all directions. Left, right, up, down, whatever you like. And all the while you are flying over Loch Laphroaig, the peat bogs, through the still house and more. Quite amazing technology, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did:

PS: If you don’t like the 3D 360° video there’s also an old fashioned 2D version available:

I prefer the 3D version. Which one do you prefer?

Updates from the Great Islay Swim

Islay NewsBack in May I wrote about Swimming around Islay (for science and charity), Justin Fornal and Chad Anderson planning to swim around Islay this summer. Well, the Great Islay Swim is now well under way and you can find various updates online:

From Laphroaig John Campbell gives them his support:

Several blogs and distillery websites write about them:

Taking a rest at the end of a swim:

Islay Sea-Adventures has a few posts with video and pictures:

And I’m sure there’s more out there. If you have or spot any further pictures, videos or reports from the swim please post them in the comments so that everyone can see them.

An Islay whisky tour video

Islay on VideoThe Adventure Bound Bumpkins visited Islay this year and among other things went on the Laphroaig Water to Whisky tour. They documented their visit and in particular the tour on video (and wrote about it on their website), first pour yourself a wee dram and enjoy the video:

To read more here are three posts about their Islay visit:

For even more you can also read about On the Way to Islay: A Scenic Drive From Edinburgh to Kennacraig.

Cantilena Festival 2017 on Islay starts today

Islay MusicSorry I’m a bit late, I got my dates mixed up and for some reason thought it’s in a week. But then again it’s not too late yet. The annual Cantilena Festival on Islay officially starts today (there were a few warmup events this week already). Beautiful music played in various venues across Islay, here’s an overview of the programme starting tonight:

The Festival opens at the Columba Centre in Bowmore with a programme of chamber music including Mozart’s Piano trio in G major and Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Players involved in this concert are Scott Mitchell (piano), Angus Ramsay (violin), Michelle Dieux (violin), Stephen Shakeshaft (viola), Sarah Harrington (cello) and Ben Burnley (bass).

Picture of the Cantilena musicians

The Festival continues on Monday in Laphroaig when our students from the Royal Conservatoire of Music have the opportunity to showcase their talents individually and then as part of the whole ensemble.

Tuesday will see the group at Lagavulin when the programme will include Mozart, Mendelssohn, Bach (double violin concerto) and Rossini. This concert will also feature our guest artist – Tobias Ringborg. He is a renowned Swedish violinist and conductor and Cantilena are pleased to welcome him to Islay which he has never visited.

Picture of the Cantilena musicians taking the bow after a performance at Lagavulin

On Wednesday Tobias will feature as soloist as will Havilland Willshire. The programme includes a Frank Violin Sonata and also piano music by Chopin and Beethoven.

Viennese Evening at Ardbeg. This will be the programme for Thursday and is a new addition to Cantilena’s repertoire. Music will include waltzes and polkas with composers Strauss and Kreisler.

The Festival concludes on Friday 14 July at Bruichladdich, in the Village Hall and will feature soloists and all the players in Mendelssohn’s famous Octet and our usual ‘Classical Ceilidh’

Some general information:

Cantilena is very generously supported by distilleries across the island. Come along and enjoy the music; sample the various malt whiskies; and have the chance to chat to our professional players and students throughout the evening. All concerts start at 7.30 pm and ticket £12/£10 may be purchased at Celtic House in Bowmore or at the door on the venue on the various evenings. There is no charge for school age young people.

And that’s not all, there will also be some whisky and music:

Whisky and Music afternoon

Martine Nouet celebrated whisky expert presents a Whisky and Music afternoon on Wednesday 12 July in Islay House. Martine will guide you through several Islay malts which will match with music which Cantilena will play.

Further information at www.martinenouet.com

For further information also visit the 2017 Cantilena Festival page. I’m sure it will be yet another successful festival and everyone will enjoy the music.