The Big Islay Adventure 2014 - part 2
Not everyone had the good sense to turn in before midnight after the first day (Thursday), but still everyone showed up at the bus at 9 am sharp on Friday morning. With a full Scottish breakfast as a solid and energy-filled base, we were good to go.
Distillery 3: Laphroaig
First stop for the day was Laphroaig Distillery. Again we started off by wandering around aimlessly, taking pictures of anything with the merest hint of whisky relevance. After a few minutes John Campbell, the Laphroaig Distillery Manager, came down for a good chat. A very approachable, soft-spoken, whisky maestro. Next time I am on Islay, I hope to be able to pick his brains a bit more.
Soon enough Vicky Stevens, the Visitor Center Manager and a good friend, came out to greet us as well, and take us inside for a special tasting. She surprised the guys with a blind tasting, which I think is always good fun. Vicky is really good at explaining the whisky making process and the history of Laphroaig in a fun and educational manner.
During the tasting she challenged the whole group to describe what they were smelling and tasting. A couple of the guys complained, mid-session, that they were close to having exhausted their entire English vocabulary. No more words left, but still so much whisky to taste!
We were treated to these whiskies (in order of appearance):
- Laphroaig 25 YO 2013 Cask Strength Edition (see full review)
- Laphroaig 10 YO Cask Strength Batch 006 (see full review)
- Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014 (see full review)
- Laphroaig 1999 15 YO cask sample, cask #5168
Vicky then had everyone rate the whiskies. Finally - the big reveal. The 25 YO scored lowest! The winner was the 1999 cask sample, beating the 10 YO cask strength by one measly point! I liked all four, and even if I also rated the 25 YO last on this occasion, I scored them all between 88 and 91 points. Not a bad line-up!
Vicky had one final surprise up her sleeve. She had made sure everyone was enrolled as Friends of Laphroaig (well, the few that were not already FoLs), and she presented diplomas and miniature bottles for everyone. Huzzah for Vicky, huzzah for John, and huzzah for Laphroaig!
Distillery 4: Ardbeg
A very happy group of Norwegians barely made it back to Eddie the bus driver in time for the short drive to Ardbeg. It was time for lunch, and Ardbeg is famous for the great food they serve at their Old Kiln Café. Visitor Center Manager, Jackie Thomson, gave us a warm and generous welcome. We were served Ardbeg New Make, and tons of really tasty sandwiches.
The guys were led to believe that the stop at Ardbeg was for lunch and a bit of shopping only. There was much rejoicing, grinning and merriment when it was revealed that we would enter The Tasting Room after we had finished eating.
In the tasting room we were met by Neil Campbell and a dram of Ardbeg 1974/2002 cask #3498. Wow! Then another cask sample; an Ardbeg 1994 cask #738. It was getting warm, very warm, in the small tasting room. Neil was about to pull out a huge 4.5 liter, golden bottle of Ardbeg Auriverdes, when Mickey Heads himself (Ardbeg Distillery Manager) popped his head in and said: "Hey! Give them some real whisky!". Whereupon he produced an Ardbeg 1975 cask sample (cask #1379)! Finally, Neil was allowed to pull out the big bottle of Auriverdes.
All in all a very successful, surprise tasting at Ardbeg. Huge thanks to Mickey, Jackie, Neil, Margaret and all the rest of the team!
Distillery 5: Bowmore
Spirits were literally even higher upon leaving Ardbeg. It had been a long day already, and we set off for the final distillery visit of the day; Bowmore. Normally I would recommend just doing two distilleries in one day, while on Islay. I do not like to rush these things, better to take your time and enjoy to the fullest. But we only had three full days on Islay, so a couple of compromises had to be made.
We got to Bowmore about 30 minutes after schedule, which seemed to irritate the staff at Bowmore. A bit strange really, we were staying at the distillery and spent thousands of pounds there. We hurriedly started a tour of the distillery. I politely pointed out that we might not need to go through all the process steps in detail. The tour itself was OK, but nothing special.
A negative surprise met us as we got back to the Bowmore tasting room. We arrived there a few minutes after 4 o'clock, and were told 1) we could have any dram in the bar for free (except for the special bottlings), and as many as we like but 2) they close the bar at 16.30! Again, a bit strange to treat our group like this. Oh well, as the tour itself did not include any drams, we had to try to squeeze in a couple before closing time. I really hate rushing a dram of good whisky!
I did manage to try a few drops of two of their new travel exclusive expressions; the Bowmore White Sands 17 YO, and the Bowmore Black Rock. The White Sands was really good, the Black Rock not so much... Details will follow.
Close of business
We finished the day with a really nice dinner at the Bridgend Hotel, a few minutes drive outside Bowmore. Really, really good food, impeccable service, and a well stocked bar. Strongly recommended.
I see now that I forgot to mention that on the Thursday night we had dinner at Bowmore Hotel. This was also good, but a bit cramped for space. I must say Bridgend had the better food. On the other hand, Bowmore Hotel had a really nice whisky collection! Well worth going there just for the bar!
After dinner some of the guys insisted on exploring the Bowmore night life, whilst others settled for the late World Championship match on TV. Day two (Friday) was over, and it was all going according to plan...it was time for a few hours sleep.
Part 3 will be posted later this week, there is still a lot to tell!
Sláinte! - Thomas
PS! Remember that you can click the images for bigger versions.