Two friends on an Islay whisky tour (video)

Islay on Video

It’s Saturday evening, a good time to watch a nice video from an Islay visit. Neil and Precarious Dave visited four distilleries, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. They had lots of fun, drank a lot of whisky (and some Guinness) and bought quite a few bottles. Enjoy the video:

15 minutes visiting Islay distilleries

I hope you enjoyed the video, I thought it was very nicely done.

Islay whisky, smoked salmon and the Vienna New Year’s Concert

Islay Whisky News & Links

Happy New Year! Regular readers might remember that I kind of have a New Year’s tradition, listening to the New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna with a wee dram of Islay single malt whisky. Last years I had some whisky chocolate nibs, this year I decided to have some smoked salmon on fresh home made bread. Earlier today I made some fresh bread (a hemp hearts and walnuts wholemeal bread) which I’m now eating with some smoked salmon:

Picture of Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky, smoked salmon and homemade bread
Laphroaig Islay single malt whisky, smoked salmon and homemade bread

The whisky is the Laphroaig 10yo cask strength batch 04, which I had opened for my 10 years Twitter milestone (with New Year’s Day in mind). A rather lovely dram, going down very nicely while the Radetzky-Marsch is playing as I type this.

Have a great 2019 everyone!

Celebrating a decade of @islayblog on Twitter

Islay Fun

Earlier today a wee blue bird told me (not sure if this qualifies as a bad pun?) it’s 10 years ago today that I joined Twitter, of course using the handle @islayblog (although my name shows as Armin, as I tweet as me, a human being). A decade of squeezing a post into 140 characters (or more recently writing 280 characters). Naturally I sent out a quick tweet, promising a celebratory dram later on:

Now it’s time for said dram, I decided to open a special bottle (also keeping in mind that New Year is approaching rapidly and I need something nice for that): From my Islay shelf I picked a Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 004, Jan.12. Here’s the proof:

Picture of a bottle of Laphroaig 10yo CS next to a laptop showing Twitter and Tweetdeck screens
Sometimes don’t drink and blog needs to be ignored, especially when a 10yo Laphroaig cask strength batch 04 is to hand on your 10th Twitter anniversary

A lot has happened in those 10 years. According to Twitter I’ve posted 33,838 tweets so far (probably a few more by the time you read this). Apparently I have just under 3,000 people following me now (I hope not too many of them are bots). Quite a few of you I’ve met personally, others I only know from Twitter (and sometimes other social networks), but we’ve still had many helpful, interesting, funny and more exchanges. Others I don’t really know yet, but I hope we’ll bump into each other one day. I’ve learned quite a few things on Twitter, found out information, had a lot of fun and more. I hope I could give some of that back, give those who follow me or communicate with me something to enjoy, something they found helpful or something that inspired them. Or just something to laugh.

With that I’ll finish for now, time for another dram. And another tweet.

Christmas Islay dram: Port Charlotte cask exploration Eolas An Deididh 07

Islay Whisky News & Links

It’s Christmas eve, as good excuse as any to open a very nice bottle of Islay single malt whisky for Christmas. After the Gorag 02 a few months ago I decided to open another bottle of the cask exploration series, the Eolas An Deididh 07. Bottle #356 of 393:

Picture of a bottle and glass of the Port Charlotte cask exploration: Eolas An Deididh 07
Port Charlotte cask exploration: Eolas An Deididh 07

It was aged for 9 years and finished in a Rivesaltes wine cask from the far south of France. 2 years younger than the Gorag 02. Very nice with some 85% dark chocolate after the venison burger I had this evening.

Gaelic map of Islay, Jura and Colonsay

Islay NewsFrom my recent Islay visit I returned with a quite large souvenir which is now hanging on one of my walls. A few weeks ago Pat Farrington announced on Facebook that she had some maps of Islay, Jura and Colonsay in Gaelic for sale. I contacted her that I was interested and if I could pick one up during my Islay visit in November (they were sold pick up / delivery on Islay only).

Picture of a map of Islay, Jura and Colonsay in Gaelic
A closer look at the map, framed by Islay Studios

We agreed to meet in Bowmore, where £10 and in return the map changed hands. From Bowmore I drove over to Islay House Square, where I dropped it off at Islay Studios to be framed. Mark had mentioned that they had framed another copy, I decided to do the same to keep it in prime condition and make it easier to hang up. I picked a light coloured wood as most of my furniture is pine and I wanted them to go together.

Here’s how it looks with the map hanging above my ‘Islay Shelf’ (where I keep my Islay single malts, my Islay books and various souvenirs):

Picture of a shelf with whisky and books with a map in Gaelic hanging above it
The map looking nice above my Islay shelf

I’m very happy how it turned out, I think it fits very well above the shelf. The map looks very nice in the frame, it covers many places including villages, hills, mountains, lochs and more. Of course all in Gaelic, as that’s the whole point of the map. The speech bubble is a lamp (hence the cable), but it didn’t look very nice switched on for a picture, so I turned it off (it looks very nice otherwise and is lit while I’m typing this).

Tonight’s Islay dram: Port Charlotte cask exploration Gorag 02

Islay Whisky News & LinksLast night on Twitter Bruichladdich asked what our Friday night dram was. My honest answer was that it was their southern competitor Laphroaig with their 10yo cask strength batch 010. And that if I was good on Saturday and got stuff done I would reward myself with one of my Bruichladdich Port Charlotte valinches. Well, I did get a sufficient amount done, so I picked this one from my shelf:

Picture of a bottle and a dram of the Port Charlotte cask exploration Gorag 02
A lovely Islay dram, the Port Charlotte cask exploration Gorag 02

This is bottle #267 of 360 of the Port Charlotte cask exploration o2, Gorag. Aged 11 years in a Pessac-Leognan cask (I must admit, I have no idea what that means apart from that it is a wine cask. But it tastes wonderful).

Islay at the British Birdfair 2018

Islay EventsIt’s that time of year again. It’s August, not long after the Islay Show (some people say the end of summer), the British Birdfair in Rutland is on. And just like last year and many years before there will be an Islay stand. From the 17th to the 19th of August 2018 the Islay team will be ready for visitors and their questions at the stand. With some Islay refreshments of course.

Where is the stand? In Marquee 7 on Stand 14/15. Here’s their description:

The islands of Islay and Jura lie off the west coast of Scotland and form part of the Southern Hebrides. Accessible only by plane or ferry these beautiful islands provide a haven for birds and wildlife all year round. Autumn and winter are spectacular times to visit when Islay’s population of just 3000 people are joined by 40,0000 Barnacle Geese and 5,000 Greenland White Fronted Geese. Their October arrival heralds a true birding spectacular and one not to be missed. Throughout the year both islands are home to golden and white-tailed sea eagles, hen harriers and chough – all of which can easily be sighted during a week long stay. Corncrakes can be heard in our late spring and summer evenings along with the unworldly sounds of drumming snipe. Islay and Jura are famous throughout the world for their whisky. Home to 9 and soon be to 10 whisky distilleries. Our stand at the Birdfair celebrates this great island produce with tastings throughout the three days. Just follow your nose and you’ll find us at Marquee 7 Stand 14/15. Visit us and plan your next island escape!

I believe visitors to the stand can win a week on Islay, but it’s even better than that, there is also an online competition. Visit the Islay and Jura marketing group website for more:

Win a wildlife holiday for 4 to the Isle of Islay

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.

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.