[Trips] Islay Trip - Part 1 - The journey and Bruichladdich distillery

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spent the last weekend on Islay with a few friends. It was obviously a whisky tour and the aim was to try to visit as many distilleries as possible, to experience a range of single malts and of course to discover a bit more of the island itself. So quite a programme for only 3 days! Out of the 8 distilleries currently operating on Islay (pronounce “i-la”) we managed to visit 6, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman on the Friday afternoon, Bowmore on the Saturday morning and Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig on the Sunday.

In this first post, I am going to focus on the Thursday journey and Bruichladdich on Friday.

We left Manchester on Thursday afternoon at around 5pm and head up North. Our plan was to drive to Lochgair, which is about 30/40min away from Kennacraig and the ferry terminal, stay in the Lochgair hotel there and drive to the ferry on the Friday morning. 

Lochgair Hotel
We arrived at the hotel at around 11:15. The hotel was basic but clean, with a great whisky bar. Just make sure you know your whisky as the night staff’s description of the spirit was along the lines of “that dirty smelly Scottish stuff”! After a decent traditional breakfast (included in the £40/person price) we headed to Kennacraig for the 10:00 ferry. You must be at the terminal early as the last check-in is 30min before departure. 

The crossing took 2 hours and 10 minutes with the sun for the biggest part of it. As you are sailing along the southern coast of Islay, approaching Port Ellen, you notice Ardbeg first, then a red chimney and Lagavulin appears too. There is no view of the 3 at the same time as Laphroaig is hidden behind a small rocky island and is only revealed to your right, on the final approach to Port Ellen, with the Port Ellen Maltings to your left.

Ardbeg from the ferry
Port Ellen
Port Ellen Maltings
Bruichladdich (pronounce "brook-laddih") was booked for 2:00 so this gave us time to drop our bags at Askernish B&B which is literally 50 yards off the terminal on your left. Joy the owner welcomed us and made us feel at home straight away! 

Askernish B&B
Bags dropped, it was time to head off to our first visit of the weekend: Bruichladdich. We drove to the distillery (thank you Stuart!) in about 40 minutes from Port Ellen. It isn’t that far away but the roads on Islay are not your traditional A-roads: up and down, narrow, pot holes… so you have to take your time (and enjoy the scenery and the wild-life!). There is ample parking at the distillery. 

You walk through the gate and the shop is on your left. It is a nice spacious shop with comfy chairs and quite a few bottles, from the Bruichaddich range to the Port Charlotte to the Octomore to the Micro-provenance range. There are also 2 casks from which you can bottle your own: a Port Charlotte 07 edition in a Rivesaltes cask, distilled in 2006  (64.7%) and a 24 year-old Bruichladdich 18 edition matured in Bourbon and Fine French oak cask, each for £75 a bottle. 

At 2:00 we got started with the tour, looking at the old Boby mill, going across to the Mash tun which was steaming as Bruichladdich still use an open cast iron mash tun. Moving on to the wash back room and the still house which houses 4 whisky stills and their recently installed gin still as Bruichladdich produce a gin called the Botanist. 

Stills and spirit safe at Bruichladdich
Whilst in the still house, David, our guide, made us try their new-make spirit which I found rather fruity despite the 68% alcohol strength! The final part of the visit was the warehouse where we were surrounded by many top French wine casks, from Chateau Petrus to Y’quem to Rothschild to Latour. Bruichladdich are great for experimenting with different sorts of casks, often producing tremendous results.  I just wish we could have tried a few of these there! 

At the end of the visit we were taken back to the shop and presented with a range of 7 or 8 bottles for a taste. I chose to try their 24 year-old cask which was nice but much preferred the Octomore 7.2 I tried just after. If we had had the time, I would have stayed longer for the warehouse tasting but Kilchoman was next and we just had 15 minutes to get there for our next visit…

Thanks to David Hope Jnr for the great tour, and to the wider Bruichladdich staff for their help and passion.

To conclude Part 1 of our Islay trip, a quick piece of information that I gathered whilst talking to our guide, Bruichladdich are planning on releasing Black Art 5, as I always thought that the 4th edition would be the last since Jim McEwan retired last year. Watch this space…


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