The Big Islay Adventure 2014 - part 3
The story so far...
Just to make things interesting we started a bit earlier day by day. On Thursday we started at 10.30, on Friday at 09.00 and now on Saturday we were due at the bus at 08.45. Everyone, except for one guy, made it to the bus in time. He would join us later in the day though.
Distillery 6: Bunnahabhain
First stop was Bunnahabhain Distillery. This is another personal favorite of mine. I had visited here last year, and had Andrew Brown, the Bunnahabhain Distillery Manager, as the guide. I thought he was brilliant, so I insisted that we had to have him again this time.
Eddie the bus driver had trouble navigating the very narrow path they call a road, leading down to Bunnahabhain. He was mumbling something about not having been told of these conditions when he got the job. But he overcame all obstacles and brought us down safely. Well done, Eddie!
Bunnahabhain is a really big mass of buildings, in a lovely harbor. Again pictures were taken, and the crazy swimmer in our group quickly stripped down and dove in. Minutes later it was time to meet Andrew. This was his day off, so it was great that he took time to meet us.
We were given a nice tour first, then he brought us down to the tasting room. I have to mention here that Andrew is Scottish, with a capital S. He is not the easiest man to understand, until you have had a couple of drams that is... A few of the guys struggled to understand him during the tour, but I believe most understood every nuance mid-way through the tasting session.
Here's the list of the drams Andrew served us:
- Bunnahabhain Darach Ur - Batch 10
- Bunnahabhain 18 YO
- Bunnahabhain 25 YO
- Bunnahabhain 17 YO Westering Home, Feis Ile 2014 (see full review)
- Bunnahabhain 8 YO cask sample, 1st fill Manzanilla sherry cask
- Bunnahabhain Dràm an Stiùreadair, 10 YO, Feis Ile 2014 (see full review)
After the tasting Andrew opened the shop for us, and we rushed in - making the most of the 15 minutes we had before we had to leave for Port Askaig.
This was a very nice visit, and I believe this opened the eyes of a few of the guys to Bunnahabhain. This distillery has kept a very low profile for a long time, at least in Norway. We have been seeing more products from them over the past 3-4 yours, and they truly deserve more attention. Huge thanks to Andrew!
Distillery 7: Jura
We were now ready for the last distillery on the Big Islay Adventure 2014. Eddie drove us down to Port Askaig, which is just a few minutes away from Bunnahabhain. He left us there, as the tiny ferry across from Port Askaig to the Isle of Jura cannot fit a bus, even a small one.
The ferry crossing took about 5 minutes, and on the other side we were met by another small bus (how did it get there?). It took us along the only road available, the 8 miles to Craighouse. Craighouse is the administrative center on Jura. Half the population lives here, so that's a whopping 90 people!
It really is a very idyllic and picturesque little village, with the Jura Hotel and the Jura Distillery the center pieces. We were a bit surprised by all the palm trees here. I was half expecting to see pirate ships arriving in the harbor.
We started the visit with a solid and tasty seafood lunch at the Jura Hotel. Then we gathered at the Camas an Staca (standing stone) in the harbor. Rachel MacNeill turned up soon enough, bringing whisky! She is not only running Wild & Magic Islay and Whisky For Girls, she is also currently responsible for the Visitor Center at Jura, and she would be our guide.
The first dram was a Jura 30 YO, not the current release (see full review). Elvis the distillery cat, and Rachel, told us the story of Jura, before we started the tour. We saw the water source, the warehouses, got lost inside the distillery, and finally ended up in their VIP hunting lodge now turned into tasting room.
Rachel poured us the following drams in the tasting room:
- Jura Elixir 12 YO
- Jura Mountain of the Sound 15 YO
- Jura Tastival - festival bottling 2014 (see full review)
- Jura Prophecy
I used to be a bit skeptical of Jura, not very impressed, but I have to say that over the last few years they have really started to improve the quality of the expressions they are releasing. I thoroughly enjoyed this, our last tasting on this tour. Thanks again to the knowledgeable and lovely Rachel, and to Jura Distillery!
Port Ellen by night
Back from Jura we stopped in Port Ellen, hoping to catch the last matches of the big beach rugby tournament that was held that day. Alas we were a few minutes too late. All we were left with on the beach was tons of trash, dazed rugby players stumbling around in various states of injury, and hoards of teenagers shouting, laughing, puking, dancing, and mostly having a good time.
We found a relatively untouched stretch of beach and ate fish & ships, sitting in the sand. Quite nice, actually! Then we toured the pubs of Port Ellen before turning in for the night.
...and back again
Sunday morning. Bright sun. Wind picking up, no longer possible to see the reflection of the distillery in the green water of the harbor. The streets of Bowmore more silent than ever. Norwegians struggling with too heavy and too small suitcases, stumbling towards Eddie and the AAA Coach for the last time.
The ferry was due to depart from Port Ellen at 09.45, or was it? I had received emails from Calmac stating that departure had been changed from Port Askaig to Port Ellen. But their website still said departure from Port Askaig, and the evening before I had checked the Calmac offices in Port Ellen, and they also claimed the departure was from Port Askaig!
Now, Islay is not a very big island, but there was no way we could manage to cover both Port Askaig and Port Ellen, so I had to make a choice. I chose Port Ellen, Eddie was pessimistic - and vocal about it. I was right.
Breakfast was had on the ferry, amid a huge crowd of locals that had attended the beach rugby the day before. Surprisingly many of them seemed to have continued partying all night, and saw no reason to stop now. We saw groups of teenagers downing whole bottles of gin in minutes, gulping down pints of beer in seconds, and passing out in doorways and in the middle of passageways. It was not a pretty sight!
Back in Kennacraig we got everyone on the bus and started the last leg of the journey. I was still a bit anxious though. Google maps said the trip would take 4-4,5 hours. We left Kennacraig at 12 noon, and most of the guys had a return flight with KLM departing at 17.35! Not a lot of buffer there for potential traffic trouble. But it all worked out in the end, Eddie stepped on the gas, and we made it - safe and sound.
Well, that was the end of the Big Islay Adventure 2014. I have now done two tours of Islay, and I haven't lost a single man yet (no married men either - for that matter).
Plans are already in motion for the next adventure, so watch this space for more info.
Sláinte! - Thomas