Monday, June 02, 2014

Scotland 2014 Day 4: Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig

Scotland 2014 Day 4: Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig

Well, there doesn't seem to be much data/internet connectivity on our phones here on Islay! Oh well... not that I really *need* it! Guess I better just enjoy the GLORIOUS scenery :) Rather than wasting time Facebooking, posting photos as they happen rather than just in a post-trip Blog like usual, we're spending much more time just chattin' and chillin' which is great. Matt and I started the day chatting about yesterday and how nuts it was at Bruichladdich. That WAS crazy! We headed to breakfast early, so we'd have plenty of time to WALK (yes!) to Ardbeg for our "full tasting tour" starting at 10:30 (am! Ugh!)

One of the most epic things about Islay is that the 3 (arguably) most famous Islay Distilleries are within - as our B&B put it - "stumbling distance" from each other. We were staying in the "town" of Lagavulin (don't blink or you'll miss it), about 1 min walk from Lagavulin. 20 min east was Ardbeg, and 20 min west was Laphroaig! Excellent.

Our Full Scottish Breakfast was a great start to the day, mushrooms, awesome fried eggs, toast and marmalade... oh man Robertson's Silver Shred and Golden Shred are really good. After breakfast we chatted with Don, and helped him download a couple Boz Scaggs songs he REALLY loved and burned them onto a CD for him. He'd been listening to them on YouTube so we got it all sorted out so he could play it in the car or on the stereo in the kitchen. He was over the moon, it was awesome. We gave them some computer advice while there too and Matt formatted his memory card for his camera. Good times! They really appreciated our help.

As we were just about to head out to visit Ardbeg, I was telling Dot that I really wanted to get my Dad a Christmas Pudding, but hadn't seen any at Tesco or Sainsbury's or a Co-op yet. She said that usually stores only stock it over Christmas, and if they have any left over, they'll send it back to the main warehouse or give it away... only small shops, if any, would still carry it in May... but... she probably had an extra in the cupboard somewhere... whaaaat!!!! She disappeared for a minute and came back to present me a brand-new Christmas Pudding, super epic, from the Co-op!!!!! WOW!!!! She checked and it said good till April 2015... and she said I could HAVE it!! Incredible. I offered to pay her for it, "Can I give you some money for this", "No, you may not!" she said very firmly! How incredible. She said she sent best wishes and that she hoped my Dad would really enjoy it (he most definitely will!) That ROCKED. This place (Tigh-Na-Suil B&B in Lagavulin) rocks, and Dot and Don are the best. :)

Ok, onwards to Whisky! First stop, Ardbeg.

Ahh, the sweet smell of Islay
We chatted so much with Dot and Don that we had to book it down the road a bit to get there (almost) on time, there were so many sheep along the road laughing at us. We arrived and started the tour right away and it was awesome. The guy running the tour looked a little like our legendary Economics Professor from Waterloo, Larry Smith! It was funny, and we decided to nickname him "Larry O'Smith" - though that makes no sense and "O'Smith" is probably an Irish name (if anything), not Scottish. Nonetheless, Larry O'Smith, our tour guide, was excellent.

Mmm... Peaty :)
We learned about Ardbeg's methods. "Us and Bruichladdich are the only distilleries that still do it the old way." Ardbeg was actually closed for a while, and had quite a rocky history actually! Now that Whisky is on the rise in popularity again, Ardbeg's email list is the "Ardbeg Committee", a group of individuals intent on ensuring Ardbeg never closes its doors again!

Mind your heid!!
Ol' school
Stills at Ardbeg
We saw lots of cool stuff, similar to the tour at Bruichladdich. It was really fun, and especially interesting and awesome to actually smell and TASTE the malted barley used to make Ardbeg. It tasted great, and actually tasted quite a lot like Ardbeg whisky! I would have loved to have a porridge made of that!

Here's a video of the tour (and also in this video is the spirit safe at Laphroaig).

And then, time for the tastings!

Time for some tastes!
"Lightly Peated" Ardbeg? Who would have thought this existed?!
We all got a cool little tasting glass that said "Ardbeg Tour 2014", super cool. It was like a Glencairn glass, but just a "wee little one!" Super awesome. We started with the Ardbeg Blasda, an "unpeated" (well, sortof) Ardbeg! Now, since Ardbeg (and Islay itself) is known for the peated whiskies, it was very odd that Arbdeg would sell an "unpeated" (actually, lightly peated) option. Larry O'Smith told us that it was so you could say "I only drink Islay Whiskies!" even if you hadn't quite graduated to really heavily peated whiskies yet, so you could still impress your friends. He also called this a "Ladies Whisky" (more on that in a sec, there was a hilarious retort from a lady on the tour a little later) and it was "only" 22 PPM of Peat! We also then tried the standard Ardbeg 10, a good one to compare from.

Then, as is the norm in the UK, it started to rain. So we headed inside, and then had some Ardbeg Alligator made from new American Oak. Very tasty. This one is apparently impossible to find, and he poured it out of a massive 4.5L bottle! From there we then tried both of the cask-strength options, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. Both were good and very intense. I wasn't sure which one I liked the best - probably the Alligator because it was unusual and impossible to find, followed by the Corryvreckan I think. Uigeadail and Corryvreckan tasted quite similar to me, so it probably would be wise to try them both in the future with some water.

One we tried the really intense cask-strength whiskies, the only woman on our tour, an Indian-Australian lady, spoke up. She really enjoyed the Uigeadail, and said, "Now THIS here, THIS is the ladies whisky!" Everyone laughed, and Larry O'Smith said, "All these years I guess I've been drinking a ladies whisky!" We all had a good laugh about it, and since we were all about 5 tastes in (including a few at 57%!) we all laughed together perhaps a bit louder than we usually would have. :) Good times. We said goodbye and thank-you and headed to the EXCELLENT cafe at Ardbeg, the Old Kiln Cafe. Basically every single person on this trip has told us, "You HAVE to eat lunch at the Old Kiln Cafe at Ardbeg, it is epic." And oh my, it was.

Tea time!
Ach aye!
Pinkies up!
Epic cheese and pickle toastie
Baked Potato
Clootie Dumpling, the best dessert EVER!!!
Use ALL the cream!
On the way into lunch we saw a really cool Scottish hat in nice green Argbeg colours and a matching scarf. Super nice, but the hat was a bit tight for my massive "heid!" and I figured we'd see lots of that stuff later in Edinburgh.

WOW Lunch was amazing!! We had some water (obv) and a pot of tea, naturally. :) The Toastie (toasted sandwich) was SO good. We got cheese and pickles (being "pickled vegetables", not actual green pickles), and roast beef and onion. Amazing. We also shared a "Cheesy Beans" baked potato... so British!!! And MAN that was amazing. It was all really excellent quality. The food was so well done, such excellent ingredients, very fresh and perfectly prepared... WOW. So many people had told us to come here and for good reason, it really was the best.

For dessert we shared the "Clootie Dumpling", as recommended by Dot and Don. They asked us "Cream or Ice Cream", and I asked how people usually order it. "Your preference", she responded. I went with Cream, figuring that was more British. YES!!!!!!!! So great. It was very similar to a Christmas Pudding, so moist and had a great sort of "crust" on the outside from how they prepare it. It TOTALLY ROCKED. I just loved this thing. I gotta find somewhere back home in San Francisco that makes it! That was amazing.

I bought and Ardbeg Cycling Jersey (sweet!) and we got an Ardbeg flask for Lee to add onto his wedding gift tomorrow night.

Looking back at Ardbeg Distillery
Trying my best to look like Ron Swanson, unsuccessfully
Lagavulin Distillery
Back we went to the B&B, and we ran into Dot and Don who were outside busy making wooden benches! "We've outfitted ALL the distilleries!" Don said proudly, showing off his very impressive woodworking skills. Awesome. We told them how epic the clootie dumpling was (MAN!!!!!!!!) So good.

We walked the grand 12 steps to Lagavulin, and checked out their cool glasses. They also had some special bottlings, but some I can pretty easily get in the US like the Distiller's Edition. We said we'd come back at the end of the day because we had to rush off for out Laphroaig tour "at 3" -- turns out it was at 3:30!! D'oh! Should have checked the calendars. Oh well. Our walk to Laphroaig was beautiful and we passed a cool place I dubbed "The Secret Garden".

And... here we are at Laphroaig Distillery!
Workin' it
This place rocked
We got to Laphroaig in (very) good time for our 3:30 tour, so the lady at the front desk gave us a taste of the 18 Year as well as the Triple Wood. We enjoyed those out on one of Don's excellent benches, while soaking up the sun and glorious Islay Mist. The 18 Year was quite good, and pretty smooth. The Triple Wood was just OK... I was surprised about it, it was good but I thought the Sherry was actually overpowering. That was too bad, because I suspected I would LOVE the Triple Wood since it begins as a Laphroaig Quarter Cask which is probably my favourite Islay Whisky. It was good, but nothing to write home about, for me anyway. I was quite surprised!

The tour began and there were lots of people there. But, similarly to the other tours, it was really cool to compare the distilleries and see what the differences were. Laphroaig, unlike many others in Islay, actually do their own malting on-site. They showed us the burners they use to burn the peat, and the floor with grates in it where the barley goes and gets smoky flavour from the peat. Laphroaig had stainless steel containers for the wash, rather than wood ones. They also had the diversion "bowls" and the spirit safe like the other distilleries. Their stills were unusual though -- they were very tall and "uphill". The tour guide said they removed more contaminants and made it so Laphroaig would "never give you a hangover" :)

Copper stills at Laphroaig
Steel mash tun at Laphroaig
Well, this looks old
Epic tastes
This decanter was awesome
Spirit safe
Barrel room
We finished the tour and we got our free tasting glass. I bought a tumbler and a reeaaally cool clay water jug (for adding water to your whisky), it is suuuper nice. We also tried the new "Laphroaig Select" which is going to be a new flagship item for them. It was good, but they called it an "Intro to Islay Whiskies", so it was too tame in comparison to what we'd already had in the morning at Ardbeg. Still, the Quarter Cask takes the cake as my favourite!

On our way out, we bought some Laphroaig-smoked salmon and ate it like champions. It was awesome. We walked back to the B&B and unfortunately had missed Lagavulin, but had all had enough for the day anyway, so no worries there. I might try to jump in quickly tomorrow just to pick up a Lagavulin tasting glass.

Chowing down on some Laphroaig salmon
Secret garden
A bird we totally thought was real
This dog came to say "wassup"
Good dog
We went back to the B&B to chill for a little bit and then went to the Co-op to get dinner. I got some really good To-Go pasta which was really fresh! I guess this IS a port town, right? I was surprised how fresh all the food was. Super awesome. I also got a Ploughman's sandwich (YES!) and Cadbury Dairy Milk "Eggs" -- hardboiled-style with a little spoon! Funny. I also finally bought an Irn-Bru, the crazy Cream Soda/Inca Kola-style soft drink, bright orange and tasting like bubble gum. Crazy!

We drove out to the end of the road, as far to the South East as you could go on Islay until literally the road ended. It was a single-track road, with only a few houses, and people generally out walking their dogs. The weather was beautiful.

There was a dude in a campervan (well, more like a large white van) and we said Hi. He told us he was camping there and "living out of the car for the week" (i.e. campervan, sortof). He apologized for the greasiness of his hair, saying they were "showering when they could", haha reminded me of the good 'ol (or should I say "oil") days, backpacking around Australia. We saw his girlfriend pop up from the back of the truck to say hello and his dog was there too and was nice and friendly.

The beach was epic and the magic hour was upon us, so we went there to eat our big epic feast. Dinner was great but as we headed back to the car, I reaaaaaalllllllly had to go to the bathroom, like imminently. It was a 20 min drive back to the B&B, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere, certainly no restrooms around here! This was an exercise in seeing if I could delay socializing with random interesting world travelers to attend to the call of nature, or if I would somewhat-secretly hide my pain for the benefit of meeting some new people. I failed quite gloriously at this test, buckling under the social pressure of meeting cool new people immediately as we walked back to the car and the greasy-haired dude said, "Hey, want a quick taste of wine?" Well, since I literally couldn't say no, we hung out for a little bit. It started to get windy and my body began to stage a bit of a revolt, shivering and such. I ignored that for a bit, as it was interesting to meet these cool people and talk a bit about their travels on Jura and around Scotland in general. Super fun. I was a little in my own world due to the extreme bathroom necessity (I should stop mentioning it), but soldiered on for a good 20-30 min (which felt like about 7 hours).

British snack time
Epic countryside
Amazing scenery on the drive around the coast
Dessert: Cadbury Dairy Milk "hard boiled eggs"
Beach view for dinner
We said goodbye somewhat swiftly after deciding to make a move, and Matt ZOOMED back to the B&B, literally dodging a huge peacock that was walking around on the road. We got back to the B&B super fast and I ran into the house, unknowingly locking Matt outside. Haha, whoops.

Dodging a peacock
Haha, it gets funnier (yes, now that we've all laughed at my expense, time to laugh at someone else) -- since we had zoomed into the driveway at near light-speed, I ran out and didn't even notice some guy was there asking for directions. He came up to Matt and wanted directions from the owner, and didn't just want to ask Matt. Matt said we'd been here for a couple days and could probably help, but they guy REALLY wanted to ask the B&B owners instead. The somewhat persistent guy tried to open the door to the B&B, and that's when Matt realized he didn't have a key and was locked out! Haha. The dude eventually figured this was too complicated and just walked off.

Eventually Dot and Don let in Matt and I emerged having handled the call of nature. We caught up on Facebook (a little) but were pretty tired. I took a 45 min nap and then went out to chat with Heev. We talked about the trip so far, the peat usage by the distilleries, etc. It was awesome.

Heev went to bed and I stayed up a bit later finishing my journal. Tomorrow we say goodbye to amazing Islay and head back to the mainland. Our plan for the evening tomorrow is to get to Dumfries for the evening for Lee's bachelor party! Can't wait to give him his surprise gift, you guessed it: whisky!

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