[Trips] Islay Trip - Part 4 - Ardbeg distillery, Lagavulin distillery and Laphroaig distillery

Last day on Islay today with quite a line-up: Ardbeg at 10:00, Lagavulin at 12:30 and Laphroaig at 15:15, and all that on foot! So after a good breakfast of smoked haddock and poached eggs, we set off from Port Ellen, heading towards Ardbeg, the furthest distillery on the southern coast from Port Ellen. We soon found a brand new tarmac path which runs all the way from Port Ellen to Ardbeg so it’s great for walking and perfect if you’ve got a bike on Islay. And to top it all off, the sun was out. Timing-wise, it took us 30 minutes from the B&B to Laphroaig, then 20 more minutes to Lagavulin and 20 minutes again to Ardbeg, walking at a decent pace but stopping here and there for photographs.

Good breakfast at Askernish!

On the path between Port Ellen and Laphroaig
We reached Ardbeg distillery on time for our 10:00 visit. We started from the shop/café (which has really good reviews but we couldn’t verified them as we ran out of time at the end of the visit!) and headed to the now familiar mill, mash tuns, washbacks (where we got to try their “beer”) and stills, before going outside to take a few pictures. We didn’t go into any of the warehouses but went back to the tasting room for the best part of the visit. The tasting room is quite small, with a wall covered with every release of Ardbeg since Glenmorangie took over in the late 90s and on the table underneath were the 5 drams we were about to sample (the visit I booked was the upgraded 5 dram-tasting for £15 not the standard visit) : 10 years old, Perpetuum Distillery release, Uigeadale, Supernova 2015 and Corryvreckan.

It took a couple of drams to get people chatting, but by the end of it we knew most of the other 12 people around! We got to keep our Ardbeg nosing glasses and all I had to do now was head back to the shop and get hold of a bottle of Perpetuum distillery release (to go with the standard edition I already have) and a bottle of Dark Cove which was released the week before but I missed online (I also managed to get to try it before buying!). As far as prices were concerned, they were very decent, £70 for the Perpetuum, 85.99 for the Dark Cove, £120 for the Supernova 2015 and £120 for the Kildalton (just a few left). If you are interested in buying a bottle, the visit ticket gives you £5 back too.

The tasting panel
As we were late, we were very fortunate to meet a German couple who gave us a lift to Lagavulin (2 lifts actually as the 5 of us didn’t really fit in their car).

The Lagavulin tour was interesting but not sensational. You get your visit free by registering at www.malts.com and I hope it didn’t affect the quality of the tour, but considering the fact that the Lagavulin distillery is celebrating its 200th anniversary, I was expecting a bit more. We had the tour of the distillery, a walk to the pier for pictures, no warehouse visit, and back to the nice lounge. There our guide got 3 bottles out (12, 16 and Distiller’s edition), we chose 1 each and she locked the bottles away and went. We did get a full size Lagavulin Glencairn tasting glass but it didn’t feel anything special. I was pretty sure we would get to try their 8 year old release before its full release next week but it was nowhere to be seen. Last perk though, I got to try their Jazz festival 2015 release after asking in the shop and before buying a bottle as they still had a few around. I also enquired about the 1966 cask I read about on forum, staff told me in their opinion it had spent too long in the cask but I cannot confirm that as we didn’t get to get near it…

View from the pier

We now had just one to go: Laphroaig. At that stage I am not entirely sure on how long it took us to walk back to Laphroaig from Lagavulin, but what I do remember is that I ran the last 100 yards as it started to pour down with rain. Again, you enter the shop first and there are a couple of lounges at the end of it (the standard one and the Friends of Laphroaig one) I went to the counter to inquire about my booking and my Friends of Laphroaig plot and was given a dram of Lore, their latest release, as the guy located my plot, printed my certificate and paid me my rent: a miniature of the Laphroaig 10!

I must say, the Laphroaig bar is great as you can try anything on offer, as many times as you want. Grab a dram (or a free coffee) and go and sit down and relax in the lounge. I got to try the Triple wood, the 15, the 21 FoL release, and all that even before the visit started!

Lounge at Laphroiag
My certificate of ownership and my rent 
Our guide, David, has worked at the distillery for many years so it made a nice change from guides who haven’t actually worked on the production of the spirit… We had a look at the kiln, malting floors, went into the pagoda where they dry the barley, got to try their “beer” like at Ardbeg (which is definitely not something I would drink a lot of…), looked at their stills and ended up in their warehouse where casks signed by Prince Charles and Takeshi Niinami (CEO of Suntory Holdings Ltd) are on display. Once again we ended in the lounge where we were given a dram of Laphroaig Select and invited to go and try more at the bar. I made the most of it to get another dram of 15 and even managed to get a dram of 25 after chatting with the guy behind the counter! We left the distillery with our nosing glass and a flag in hand to go and search for our square foot of Laphroaig land. The field is just across the road and thankfully my plot is alongside the path, not in the middle of the peat bogs where I would probably have had to swim!

One of the kilns
Malting floor 

A royal cask...
Friend of Laphroaig?

You just have to find your plot now...
I found mine, well, more or less!
Our day came to the end after a walk back to Port Ellen and a pizza at the Sea Salt café. I still cannot work out whether my pizza tasted very bland because it actually was or because my taste buds were completely numb after the 15 peaty drams I had during the day…

We were greeted by a wonderful sunrise the following morning before setting off from Port Ellen with the 9:45 ferry which left a bit late as the previous ferry had broken down…We didn't get to visit Caol Ila or Bunnahabhain on the north-east coast but that will be for next timeWe therefore left Islay behind with our heads full of amazing memories, wanting only one thing, to come back for more!


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