Scotland 2014 Day 3: Islay and the Bruichladdich Whisky Tour
Today I was up a little early, presumably due to the jet lag, but generally slept pretty well. I watched some BBC1 Scotland news while Matt got ready for the day. It was fun, local stories about rugby and cricket, and a young girl who is a weight-lifting champion. Good times. :)
|Wow, I forgot about this. Instead of playing junk or repeats, some BBC channels have hours of operation instead|
|Now here's some British weather!|
|The silly old telephone-shaped showerhead!|
|Heev psyched for an epic local breakfast|
|Loch Fyne Salmon: This was quite literally the best (or "fynest"?!) Salmon I've ever tasted|
|Ferry to Islay|
|This lady on the left was SO excited, it was very sweet and funny. She seemed to be on a "birder" trip with another couple or two. She was SO happy for this trip, you could see it on her face the entire journey. It was awesome.|
|The UK also is better at making biscuits than any other country ever.|
|Goodbye Kintyre, onwards to Islay!|
At some point the man, whose name was - I'm not kidding - Robin Mackenzie, perhaps the most Scottish name of all time, said something particularly hilarious. We were talking about driving the car around and I think we mentioned something about being happy that it wasn't a convertible, or something about the weather being unpredictable or something like that. He said a very sidelined comment and grinned like a cheshire cat, something about going around Scotland with our "taps aff". I wasn't entirely sure as he said it in the most British dry-humour way possible, and also he said it right in front of his wife, so I wasn't sure, though she was super chill and funny too so I think she grinned too... but I had a good feeling it was a hilariously cheeky comment and a Gaelic double-entendre. Sure enough, we found out later that it was. He was talking about driving with the "top down" on the car, and had referenced a Gaelic term for taking one's shirt off ("taps aff" i.e. "tops off"). Matt and I pondered for a while later in the day as to if this was what he meant, and only days later found out that he was in fact making a hilarious, under-the-radar, off-colour joke in front of his wife. Incredible.
Robin and his wife were staying on the farm of the Barley producer for Bruichladdich and they were excited for their trip as well. We chatted for a long while before heading upstairs to see the views a bit better and to have a biscuit, tea, and some Scottish tablet (assumed this would be like fudge, but it was more like just melted brown sugar). I caught up on my journal notes too and also smiled at that nice old lady from earlier who was still PSYCHED to be there.
As the Isle of Jura and Isle of Islay came into view, we went up onto the deck and hung out with Robin and his wife again, "Quite impending, in'it?" he said. Yes, it was! We got closer to Islay and then saw the "Ferry" to Jura which is a 5 min ride across a small waterway from Port Askaig. Jura looked tiny, literally just one road. They said there is literally one road, and 1 pub. :) Port Askaig wasn't a whole lot bigger, as we arrived and got off the ferry to see that Port Askaig was a grand total of approximately 3 buildings. Post office/restaurant/hotel and... done!
|One lone farmhouse|
|Awesome castley situation as we arrive in Port Askaig|
We went up "the" hill there and immediately saw a Caol Ila Distillery sign, so we followed it. It was down a windy, single-track road, a tiny road which was so unexpected while traveling towards a multi-million dollar business. So quaint and awesome. And what a view!
|The long, windy, single track road on the way to Caol Ila Distillery|
We didn't have time for the tour at Caol Ila but we stopped to check out the shop anyway. They gave us a small 5ml pour of the Cask Strength Feis Ile 2013 special Whisky, which rocked. It was £99, so quite pricey, but so good and with just light smokeyness. It they had a sampler or 20cl size, I would have bought it. Feis Ile is the special yearly event on Islay, the week-long Whisky Festival. It's actually at the end of May so we're JUST missing it, but I bet it would have been awesome (and crazy here on the Island). Anyhow, was awesome to try this special edition!
|Wow, I am gonna buy a LOT of souveniers this trip|
Next we went to Finlaggan, a historic site, former home of the MacDonald clan who ruled a large part of Scotland. There were some relics there along with an nice lady/historian there who was pleased to see us and tell us lots of details. We walked out onto the little Island and took photos of a bazillion sheep that were hanging out everywhere. The lambs were hilarious and amazing.
|Stream at Finlaggan|
|Walking around Finlaggan|
|Former stone houses|
|Don't be steppin'|
|Sheep crossing sign|
|Sheep crossing :)|
It started with their ridiculously awesome barrel signage at the front. The distillery name was painted in their trademark font and colours on barrels at the front, and a copper still was there with a fake dummy propped up in there for some reason. Amazing.
|We're here! At Bruichladdich!|
|Just as long as we don't end up inside a copper still like this fellow did, this day will go well :)|
The shop was awesome. Truly AWESOME. They had a bike jersey! I'm holding out to get the Ardbeg one tomorrow, and who knows how many distilleries will have jerseys as biking seems really popular here. They had some cool shirts as well as some awesome Bruichladdich-coloured tartan scarves. Slick.
|And... you can taste ANYTHING. Including many only available at the distillery|
|Wow, awesome clothing. And a bike jersey already!|
We started on the tour and he showed us the machinery, which was all wood (whereas some of this would be stainless steel at other distilleries) -- another reason why Bruichladdich is so
In the tanks, he showed us where they get dirty and said that other distilleries have automated cleaning as part of the stainless steel tanks, but "we just have a guy named Charlie with a brush and a hose." haha. Hilariously, he's not kidding - I think we walked by Charlie, who was sitting on the steps and eating a sandwich.
The first step is the "Wart". They add the barley with warm water (of varying temperatures as the days progress), this mixes together for a few days and contains 2 elements, the "Mash" and the liquid part. The Mash is then sold off to local farms to make "happy cows" - in fact it doesn't contain alcohol, but it is a high-protein feed for animals. The liquid part remaining is called the "Wash". Yeast is added, and it bubbles away for a while, creating a sort of lukewarm beer. As our tour guide said, to make whisky, first you have to make beer. Insanely, we actually got to TRY the wash, which is unbelievable and very unusual to get this opportunity.
|"We don't have a fancy cleaning system, we just have a guy named George with a brush and a hose."|
|"Wash", a taste of the pre-Whisky beer!|
This distillation comes in 3 stages, the head, the heart, and the tail. (We also heard the word the "Feints" thrown around). The first stage contains Methanol (i.e., windshield washer fluid), and is not consumable. It is collected and not used. The second contains Ethanol (the "new make") which is the alcohol that humans can drink. The distillation is stopped when the third stage new make is too weak and no longer contains enough alcohol. At this point, the first and third stages can be mixed together and re-distilled and again produce the 3 stages, where only the middle is kept.
|Spirit still and still safe|
During this demonstration, he also talked about "The Botanist", a Gin that Bruichladdich makes. Apparently, Gin is basically similar to Vodka. Usually it's flavoured with 8 or 9 botanical plants, and these are just thrown into the still itself and boiled. But, at Bruichladdich, they instead have a botanical container that is attached to the still. The botanicals are put in there, and the alcohol vapor passes over the botanicals instead of being boiled with them. They said this gives their Gin a more subtle flavour. Interesting stuff.
After this awesome discussion, we headed to the warehouse to see the barrels. This was epic. There were barrels from Wine, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Buffalo Trace, and more. Some really fancy wine barrels were there as well. Then we went over to taste some more things... and oh man, was it epic.
|And into the warehouse we go!|
|Clear Red wine cask|
We first got to try a very small amount of the 25 year old (1989) Bruichladdich. Crazy smooth.
And then for the piece-de-resistance... we got to try the 2002 12-year old Octomore "First edition". Bruichladdich versions their Octomores (like software!) so you could say this was pre-1.0 Octomore, like a "Octomore Beta Edition". It was never bottled. I think he even said this was the first cask of Octomore too... WHAT?!! It was not bottled as it was "only" 89 PPM of Peat, and their intention was to totally go over-the-top with Peat. Their eventual bottled Octomore was 167 PPM once it got to market. I couldn't believe we got to taste it. "This does not have a cost" he said as he poured us quite a generous portion to share. Incredible, just incredible. We told him that our buddy Lee (who's wedding it is next week) would be SO jealous that we got to do this, and he told us he'd give us a little gift to take him from Bruichladdich. Man this distillery is amazing.
|OMG. Demonstration of water into Whisky and the oil separation|
|And then... we got to try this|
|Heev VERY psyched|
|Yep. Then we tried Octomore "Beta" edition, one of only 2 of these casks remaining|
From their website:
Refined with a feline grace, the spirit is smooth, streamlined with the warmth of an Indian summer.
The bouquet is totally disarming. Add a dash of water to tease the shy aromatics of water lily, buttercup, gorse and fern before floral notes mingle with the aromas of sweet malt and brown sugar. Then gooseberry, pear, apple and lemon are met by malted barley rising in harmony with the vanilla rich oak. A revelation of how pure and crisp a young single malt can be.
A video on Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2nd Edition:Palate
The texture is so very succulent. Lemon meringue laced with warm honey, then the tidal surge of slow-distilled spirit that floods the palate with wave after wave of delicious The texture is so very succulent – lemon meringue drizzled with warm honey, then the tidal surge of slow distilled spirit floods the palate with wave after wave of delicious soft fruits, as lush as one will ever discover in a single malt. A super sweet, butterkist flavour with just a hint of summer flowers and you realise you are in the company of something wonderful, something rare.soft fruits as one will ever discover in a single malt. You realise you are in the company of something wonderful, something rare. A super sweet butterkist flavour, with just a hint of wild summer flowers. The mid-palate introduces the oak character which gives us glazed hazelnuts.
It is very impressive for a spirit so young and a grain so old. There is an air of gentle grace and innocence that ascends from this spirit that I have never before experienced. A refined, delicate, beautiful whisky that will haunt you for a long time.
Flirty, mischievous, devil may care.
And finally, something crazy they told us about. They QUADRUPLE-distilled some new make for some guys from a car show, up to 95% alcohol, so it could be used to FUEL A SPORTS CAR. This is how crazy these people are. Amazing. Check this out! (Watch from 1 min 40 sec).
Ok back to my photos. Heev labelled his own bottle and we bought a pile of stuff and then headed out for a wander.
|Heev pouring his own bottle of Port Charlotte|
|Labelling his own bottle|
|Awesome bottles on the ceiling|
|Time for a walk|
Matt was very responsible and had not tasted very much so we were able to make our way towards the guesthouse, Tigh-na-suil, in Lagavulin. On the way there we stopped in the town of Bowmore at the Co-op, and I got some Wine Gums and Walkers Crisps.
|In Bowmore... didn't expect to see this! A historic building, not sure if it was at one point a Synagogue?|
|Man we really need some Delicious Squidgy Energy right now|
I got up a little later and went with Matt into Port Ellen, just a few min. drive. We went to the White Hart Hotel for dinner at a pub, and we got Fish and Chips, naturally. What I didn't expect was that it was a HUGE piece of fish, it was nuts! Also we had some salad and a solid amount of water... certainly no need for any more whisky tasting tonight!
|Dinnertime, a MASSIVE fish and chips|
|Epic Islay Sunset in Port Ellen, with Diageo Malting plant in the background|
|The pub where we had dinner|
It was nice to get a bit of a walk in after dinner and also to continue to help us adjust to the time zone correctly. We got back to the B&B at 9:30ish, chatted for a couple hours, had some tea, and went to sleep. Tomorrow is another big day of Islay Whisky Tours, though I'm certain it won't be as crazy as Bruichladdich.