DISTILLERY TOUR FATIGUE & A HAIRY COO ENCOUNTER
Our third and final full day on Islay came about all too soon, however, today was perhaps the most disappointing day of the trip so far. Why disappointing? I think after so many distillery tours in such a short period of time, we were suffering form a bit of tour fatigue; you can only hear about how Porteous went out of business by making unbreakable malt mills so many times, before every distillery starts to look the same. This is exactly why if you plan on visiting multiple distilleries in the one trip, you should focus on unique tasting experiences for the most part and save the actual tours for only the distilleries where you really want to see their stills or you know the guides do more than just phone it in.
We started the day with a bit of a drive; beginning in Bowmore, we went through Bridgend and followed the road around to the opposite side of Loch Indaal, past the turn off to Kilchoman, through Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte and ending up in the twin villages of Portnahaven and Port Wemyss on the western most point of the island. I was surprised how big these fishing villages were, despite seeming to not have much in the way of shops or amenities. They also have a cracking view, “you can see Ireland on a clear day” one of the locals assured me, but even if you can’t they are both situated in a very picturesque location and would be perfect for a bit of coastal walking.
Our first distillery tour for the day was back at Kilchoman (the ‘c’ is silent), still the newest distillery on the island until Ardenhoe gets up and running.
Established in 2005, Kilchoman is a very young distillery by Islay standards with the next in line being 124 years older. Kilchoman is also unique in that it is marketed as a ‘farm distillery’ and grows their own barely for the distillery’s 100% Islay whisky with their other expressions getting their malt from Port Ellen Maltings. Production quantities are modest, but the distillery is family owned and operated and employs up to 30 local staff during peak periods. There was nothing wrong with the Kilchoman tour, but it was the first where I felt I was getting tired of the process. I did buy some cool copper coasters though.
Next up was Bruichladdich, I have never been a massive fan of their whisky, but I do like some of the things the distillery tries as they are anything but standard in approach. Unfortunately, the tour was very standard and doubly disappointing because the distillery wasn’t running since it was going through a maintenance cycle. I would have like to have been told this when I booked the tour, because if I had known, I would have booked something different.
Last distillery stop of the day was Bowmore. I had booked the Bowmore Reinventing the Flavour Wheel tasting before we even arrived on the Island, because I thought it would be a good one for my dad to do. He struggles (as many of us do) with putting a name to what he smells and tastes in whisky, so I figured this would be a useful experience for him. But I soon realised that we had been booked on the wrong thing and ended up doing a standard tour which I all but switched off to. I was annoyed that this had happened because I specifically asked for the flavour wheel tasting and was given the wrong time. To make matters worse, once we concluded our tour, I saw the tail end of the tasting we should have been on and it looked much better than what we got and I found the same copper coasters I bought at Kilchoman, for £2 cheaper! I was in a bad mood at Bowmore, so my opinion is probably a little skewed. Brian had participated in a Vaults Secrets tasting in Bowmore’s No.1 Vault earlier in the day and said it was excellent, so don’t let grumpy ol’ me dissuade you.
Brian met up with us at Bowmore and we all had pizza for dinner before Dad and I left for our accommodation on this last night on Islay. We were unable to book all our nights in the one place, so I booked a room at Persabus Farm, just off the main road on the way to Bunnahabhain, near Port Askaig.
This turned out to be the highlight of an otherwise disappointing day, when we met our host, Donald, and he showed me a real Islay distilling relic.
Donald’s late mother had acquired a handmade solid bronze bowl in the early seventies from a local farmer called Hugh Currie. Hugh owed the nearby Ardenhoe farm and had used the bowl as the bottom part of his farm still. Ardenhoe farm was predominately sheep and cattle so it was probably used to distil corn rather than to make a malt spirit like traditional Scotch whisky. That said, I did get to hold in my hand part of the ‘first’ Ardenhoe distillery.
The fun didn’t end there. I noticed that Persabus Farm has a traditional highland ‘hairy coo’ as a logo and asked Donald if there were any on the farm. He kindly pointed me in the direction of an adjacent field and said I could go have a look for one if I wanted. I did want! Dad and I walked over to the field and could see several cows in the distance, we approached slowly and quietly; I eventually went it alone with my camera to see how close I could get. I got pretty close and once the cows got used to me being there, they came even closer still. I tried to get one to eat out of my hand but even the most curious coo wanted nothing of it. I did get some awesome photos of highland cows though, which was something I wanted to achieve this trip. Crappy day saved. Thanks Donald and thanks hairy coos.
Tomorrow we leave for Oban and our US travelling companion, Brian, will be coming along for the ride again.