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.

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?

Nice video about the Museum of Islay Life

Islay on VideoWell, I had planned to share a short video from the Islay Sessions tonight, together with a mention that the artists in said video will soon be visiting the south of England. But then I spotted an error in the video, so it will have to wait for another day. Meaning I’m going to pull forward a video I had saved for another day, a very nice video about the Museum of Islay Life:

I hope you enjoyed the video and if you haven’t been yet (or even if you have been) it encouraged you to visit the museum (again).

Vienna New Year’s Day concert and Islay Whisky Nibs

Islay Whisky News & LinksHappy New Year! As usual on New Year’s Day I’m listening to the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna while sipping an Islay single malt whisky (a Bruichladdich Port Charlotte valinch to be precise). Again as usual the waltzes and polkas, this year conducted by Riccardo Muti, are excellent, as is the whisky. What’s unusual this year is the chocolate I’m enjoying with it:

This year I’m having some Whisky Nibs from Chocolate Tree in Edinburgh. I can’t remember where exactly I came across them, I think it was some food or whisky blog. As the whisky they use is from Islay I of course had to order some.

Picture of a bar of whisky chocolate nibs next to a dram of Islay single malt whisky

Islay Whisky Chocolate Nibs. And some Islay whisky.The chocolate is very nice, a dark chocolate with 69% cocoa content from the Marañón canyon in Peru. The nibs make it nice and crunchy. With the whisky content in the single digit percentage the whisky taste for me was quite faint but detectable. I’m sure connoisseurs with better developed and trained taste buds will detect much more. I think well worth giving it a try (once available again, when I was writing this it was out of stock. I’m hoping they’re going to produce more).

And with that I’m returning to the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, where as I’m typing this they’re playing An der schönen blauen Donau.