Jun 11, 2009
|We woke up to yet another lovely day in Bowmore. We weren’t scheduled to leave until around 9:45 am, so we had another unhurried morning to shower and have breakfast. This certainly was a nice aspect of this tour – not many early mornings.
Today we headed to Bruichladdich Distillery, about a half hour’s drive around the bay (and which we could see from Bowmore). Like many of the distillery towns on the Island, they have a long, white stone building (usually the warehouse) right along the shore with the name of the distillery in big black letters, easily visible from the water.
Bruichladdich is quite the success story. It was abandoned and derelict when Jim McEwan took it over, and he’s turned it around into one of the best known distilleries in the west of Scotland. They produce all sorts and ages of whisky, aged in different casks like bourbon, port and Bordeaux, and also sell some younger whiskies, too. They have also produced triple and even quadruple distilled whiskies, which actually harkens back several hundreds of years, and produces a very pale, floral whisky. They certainly have a very successful marketing campaign.
Of course, the star of the show, Jim McEwan, appeared when we arrived at the distillery, to great fanfare from the group. Ed and Anne Patrick, the leader of our group, and another fellow and his wife, Gordon and Jean, have taken the week-long Whisky Academy here, and are friends with Jim. Jim decided to break our group up into three, and while he led one group on tour, a husband and wife team (Marcus and Kristen from Seattle) who were doing the Whisky Academy led the other two groups. Marcus led ours, and although he wasn’t able to answer all of our questions, he was an interesting guide, with his perspective of being “on the outside looking in”. I was glad that we weren’t treated yet again the basics of whisky making (we know it by heart now), but rather told us what was unique to the Bruichladdich Distillery.
We went to the malt storage area, the grist mill, the fermentation tank room (which smelled delicious) and then to the still room. It is true, what I’ve seen so far, that all of the copper stills are different in shape from distillery to distillery, and we’ve been told that this also can affect the taste of the whisky.
We ended up in the bottling room, which is a really interesting operation. They were bottling their Octmore whisky, one of the smokiest whiskies at 160 ppm of phenol. The bottles were interesting themselves – black opaque with a slight bulge halfway down the bottle. Marcus was saying that when they started bottling in the opaque bottles, they had to check the first few just to make sure that the machine was actually filling up the bottles, not being able to see through them like a normal whisky bottle.
Finally, we all ended up in one of the huge stone warehouses up a short hill, where they were dumping some barrels into a trough, which I assumed piped the whisky down to the bottling room. I could see rows upon rows of barrels, stacked three and four high, dated from 1992 to 2006.
Jim, who is quite the storyteller, was telling us that he had casks of Bowmore and Laphroig that he had bottled years before, and was going to serve us. It was quite dark amber in colour, and of course, being cask strength, really burned on the way down (at about 56% alcohol, no kidding). Then he served us some Bruichladdich, which was quite nice. I found it to be quite sweet compared to other whiskies we’ve had so far.
We then went down to the gift shop/tasting room, which is a lovely shop decorated with the Bruichladdich tartan, aqua with navy stripe. They sold t-shirts and other clothes there, and of course, several walls full of every type of whisky. They didn’t have the Octmore, though, I guess because they said that it was already all accounted for.
Doug had had quite a bit to drink already with the cask strength stuff, seeing as he usually finishes my drams after I have a sip, so he was feeling pretty woozy at this point. Then, in the tasting room, they had a cask which he had more drams from. Others in our group were also feeling pretty fine too! Getting back on the bus was interesting.
It was early afternoon, so we drove further on down the coast to Portnahaven, a pretty seaside village perched on the rocks above the water. We even saw some seals in the harbour basking in the sun on the rocks.
We went to a pub for lunch, and like many we’d been to, it’s a series of small seating rooms in a rabbit warren layout. There were also a few tables outside in front, so everyone tried to find seats where they could. We all went up to the bar in one room to order our lunch, then sat down to wait for our food. I guess they weren’t used to feeding so many people at once, because a few people’s orders got lost, and one poor couple didn’t end up getting anything at all. Doug had a delicious looking brie, olive and onion pizza, and I had crab legs with salad and homemade bread, which was delicious, although a lot of work!
Lunch was a long affair because they only have a tiny kitchen there, so after I was done, I went outside to enjoy the sunshine and the view of the harbour. There was a small black and white cat outside, who was very friendly, so I picked him up and pet him and gave him a cuddle. I miss our cats, so I try to make friends with any cat that I see. The bar owner came out and said that the cat had been a stray, until she adopted it, and its name was Sam. We saw another tortoiseshell cat out back checking out the picnic tables after people had left, looking for cream in the cream pitchers.
I don’t know how Drew did it, but he managed to make it down the steep, narrow road, turn around, and drive back up with us, but he did a great job. Most of the road from Bruichladdich was one track, so on the way back around the bay, we had to stop and let oncoming traffic past by until we got to the double-lane road again.
Doug was feeling not too good at this point, so we had a short nap when we got back before we left again for dinner at the Bridgend Hotel, three miles away, where we had dinner on the Monday night.
This time, I had haggis, neeps and tatties for starter, roast rack of lamb with leek mash for main course, then a strawberry torte with whipped cream for dessert. It was a very delicious meal. After we were done, I went to the stone bridge beside where the coach was parked, and took some pictures of the stream. There was a point where the water flowed down over some rocks, where I’m fairly sure I saw a bird had a nest, but I couldn’t get a picture of the bird there. It was such a pretty setting.
We went back to the house, and I spent some time packing up, as we were leaving the next morning. I went down for a short visit in the lounge with everyone else, then when back up to the room to read for a while and go to sleep.
Islay is a lovely place, and we were so lucky to have such great weather, and the Bowmore cottages proved very comfortable and a good way to get to know the other people in our group.