lAPHROAIG, LAGAVULIN, NAR-DBEG & KILDALTON CROSS
We headed south for our second full day on Islay with the intent to visit Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. Unfortunately, I had missed that Ardbeg would be closed today, following their Feis Ile open day yesterday – I had deliberately avoided the open day to get away from the crowds and help stop the island tipping over by heading to the opposite side.
First stop was Lagavulin and while waiting in the tasting room, Dad and I met another travelling father and son, Dwayne and Mike from California. We had a good chat before the tasting we were all booked on. Dwayne and Mike had come to Islay from Speyside where they had toured various distilleries including the exclusive Dalwhinnie tour (run only twice a day) and the Glenfarclas Five Decades tour and tasting (run only once per week). I asked them about their tour experience and they recommended we do a distillery walking tour when staying in Dufftown.
At Lagavulin, we had booked a Sensory Tasting Experience which I had anticipated would be something similar to wine tastings where they get you to taste and smell various items that present in the flavour and aroma profiles of the wine. It certainly looked to be the case, when we were presented with little wooden boxes containing bottles of various ingredients and whiskies. Alas, although a nice tasting with a personable host, I cannot help but feel Lagavulin fell well short of my expectations.
Our host Margery was lovely, she began by telling us some local whisky history before moving onto the boxes in front of us. Inside were five whiskies, Lagavulin 16yo, The Distillers Edition, Lagavulin 8yo, Jazz Festival ’17 bottling and Lagavulin 12yo.
To accompany these whiskies, we had bottles containing malted barley, dry peat, sea salt, vanilla, sherry infused wood shavings, dried figs and Lapsang Souchong tea.
Looking at that list, you may notice that they are not all aromatic. Peat has almost no aroma unless burning and producing smoke, sea salt doesn’t smell much at all and neither does dried figs. I was expecting perhaps oils or essences, that would release more volatile molecules for our nosebuds (?) to lock onto.
My other expectation was there would be more side-by-side comparisons and attempts to isolate the flavours or aromas of the whisky with the help of the chosen ingredients. In reality, the dry ingredients felt more like an afterthought, even though the boxes contained booklets which covered exactly what I was expecting to the wankiest of detail. This tasting definitely missed the mark.
Since Ardbeg was closed, we kept on driving past the distillery to Kildalton Cross. The Kildalton Cross is more than 1,200 years old and is considered one of the finest examples of a Christian cross in Scotland. The cross stands next to the ruins of an abandoned church, surrounded by grave stones and intricate carvings. I am not at all religious, but I imagine this location would have a special reverence for visitors who are. It would also make some amazing photographs if visited early in the morning with a rising sun and misty surrounds, we visited in the middle of the day. On our way back towards Port Ellen, we passed Dwayne and Mike who were riding towards the cross on pushbikes – it’s a decent ride, so I’m glad we had a car.
We stopped for lunch in Port Ellen before backtracking to Laphroaig distillery for the standard Laphroaig Experience tour.
Arriving a little early, I took the opportunity to try the current Batch 10 of the Laphroaig 10yo cask strength. The cask strength version of the Laphroaig 10 year old has been on my wish list for ages, but it doesn’t get exported to the Australian market (it should!). It was everything I was expecting and I made up my mind to buy a bottle after the tour. While we waited, we ran into Dwayne and Mike for a third time. They had already toured Laphroaig but had returned to make some purchases. We chatted again, then said goodbye when our tour began.
Laphroaig has a pretty good museum setup where they begin and end their tours. Our guide, James, collected us and immediately impressed me by asking what our distillery tour experience was so that he didn’t bore us with the basics if we already knew them. I actually learnt a few things on this tour, such as the fact Laphroaig hand cut their peat and cold-smoke their malt. I even learnt the significance of the square feet of land that Laphroaig give away to the ‘Friends of Laphroaig’ but I won’t spoil all the secrets. Although standard in format, I really enjoyed the Laphroaig tour and I think it’s interesting content and James’ delivery were the reasons why.
That night, Brian surprised me with a dinner invitation to Islay House, a stunning Scottish mansion, now a five-star hotel and restaurant. Brian had met our dinner guests, Roy Duff (of aqvavitae.com) and his mate Bill Dull, yesterday and again today (it’s a small island). Roy and Bill were filming their time on Islay and staying at Islay House. The dinner was amazing but would have been far too fancy for Dad who chose to say back in Bowmore. We all had a great time, enjoying the food and talking about whisky. I was very grateful for the opportunity to dine at Islay house and it’s always nice to meet a fellow whisky blogger/vlogger.