11 Sep 2016
Nine days now. Guess we should backtrack a little, yeah?
Getting a third solo trip off in a matter of a few years is not an easy thing. Marriage and kids means compromise and buckets of understanding. Oh…and likely some serious spa time or something as recompense. I won’t get into the actual negotiation process here, but suffice it to say that some conditions needed to be met in order to make this happen as regards the homefront. Once we had that squared away it was time to start tackling logistics. I should mention (and not because I have to) that my wife is beyond amazing. Honestly.
First things first. September is a great time to visit Islay. The weather is mild; the crowds non-existent; personal attention at the distilleries at soaring heights; and the overall experience less geared toward the masses and more…specialized in many ways. While all of these things are incentive enough to travel at this time, the reality is I go to Islay not just for the malts. For me it is a disconnect from the ‘real world’. When I get tired of being an adult and simply need to let my mind turn to simpler things I know it’s time to go back ‘home’.
Locking down accommodations early on the island is paramount. That and travel arrangements. The distilleries are unquestionably the most flexible part of the trip. In fact each time over I’ve booked, then rebooked, then sometimes made third adjustments to either the tours themselves or the dates and times for each. I always start by roughing out an idea as to when I’ll hit each distillery, then figuring out the most logical base from which to operate. As Bowmore is most central, most of my time is spent there.
We four (whom I’ll introduce in the next blog) arrive in Scot(ch)land on the morning of the 20th. We land in Glasgow at about 8:00 am. Plans are to leave our luggage at the hotel (right across the way from the airport), find a quick breakie and head to Auchentoshan for the first of ten distillery visits on this little pilgrimage. Not sure what the afternoon plans entail, but the eve will most likely see a reunion with an old friend, Mark Connelly, at the famous Bon Accord whisky bar. This will be a test of willpower, to say the least. Early plans are to be on somewhat good behavior, in order to be fresh for an early start and 8:30 am flight to Islay. Not to mention we’ll have been on the go for a day and a half (or more, unless the lads can sleep on our flights) without sleep by this point.
Day two sees us land at Islay’s itsy bitsy airport at 9:10 am and head straight from there to Kilchoman. Perhaps we’ll do a drive by the Lochindaal Hotel in Port Charlotte to drop our bags before spending the morning at Islay’s micro distillery. We’ll have a quick lunch at the distillery’s wonderful café after the Premium Tour, then beeline it straight for Bruichladdich to meet up with my mate, Allan Logan. Plans are to spend the afternoon with the good folks in teal until they finally tire of our hijinks and send us packing for Port Charlotte. At that point…dinner and drinks at the Lochindaal.
Day three: Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. In other words, the redheaded stepchild, northeastern part of the island. If visitors to the island need to shortlist their distillery hitlist these are typically the first two casualties. Truly a shame that folks would elect to skip these ones, as both are situated on some of the most beautiful of the island’s terrain. Bunna is an absolutely stunning old relic and Caol Ila is a lumbering beast that helps put distilleries like Kilchoman, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich in proper perspective (though all for different reasons). Bunna will be the Dram Tour, while Caol Ila will be the Premium Tour. Both, in my humble opinion, also produce some of the whisky world’s most underrated malts.
Day four: We’ll be leaving Port Charlotte, and the familial comfort of Iain and Katie’s Lochindaal Hotel, in order to make Bowmore our home base for the duration of the trip. We’ll have breakfast with Iain before taxiing around the loch to drop our bags at Meadowside Bed and Breakfast (the wonderful home-y lodging of my friend Kate McAffer), and then continuing on to Ardbeg. The tours/experiences we initially hoped for at Ardbeg sadly became obsolete during the planning process. I emailed back and forth with some friends at the distillery and it looks like we’ll have a special day lined up for us irrespective of initial disappointment. Just what that actually means…who knows? We’re happy to play it by ear though, and trust in the folks with the keys to the kingdom (Jackie, Mickey et al). We’ll do lunch at the Old Kiln Café and spend the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere (and drams). This eve should see our first foray to the legendary Duffies whisky bar in Bowmore.
Day five: Hitting the water to venture across to neighbouring Jura. Just so happens that for the third time my journey coincides with the Jura music festival. This time we’ll be there to check out some of the festivities after we take part in the upgraded Sweet And Smoky Experience at the distillery. We’ll scout a bit of this deer-riddled isle (standing stones, the house that Orwell brought to fame, the Paps, Corryvreckan?) before back to Bowmore for evening drinks and din.
Day six: One of the island’s most amazing places: Laphroaig. This distillery is utterly beautiful and run with such profound attention to detail and obvious love that it is unquestionably palpable when you visit. It’s also arguable I tend to linger ‘round Laphroaig longer when I visit Islay than at any other distillery. We’ll be doing the Distiller’s Wares tour. Two and half hours of boggy bliss. At the end of the formal bit of the tour we’ll be doing some cask sampling and bottling our own souvenir to bring home. Cannae wait.
The evening will see us touring the southern part of the island, before drowning our livers at Duffies.
Day seven: Lagavulin. Unfortunately we just had the rug pulled out from under us again. We had booked and confirmed for a 9:30 am tour, followed by a warehouse tasting with (I believe) Lagavulin legend, Iain MacArthur. And much like last time over, the distillery has gotten back to me to cancel the tour, as they’re entering silent season for distillery maintenance. We’ll still get the warehouse deal, but will not get to scout around the stills and such. I’m trying to negotiate, but not really optimistic. Sigh. Diageo is nothing if not rigid and set in their path. Kinda think there should be a contingency plan on behalf of the company in these sorts of cases, as many people make this a once-in-a-lifetime trip and to be rebuffed…well…let’s just say it sucks.
Again we’ll spend the evening touring, but the northern part of the island this time. And perhaps a visit to Islay’s brewery, Islay Ales, to sample some of the local grog. I’m sure a few cold ones will be welcome after the fiery heat of peated drams thus far.
Day eight: Last day on the island, and what a way to go out. We’re booked for the Craftsman’s Tour at Bowmore. Quite a finale, this is one of the most impressive of the island’s tours available to visitors and malt lovers. A visit to the Number 1 Vaults is icing on the cake for any Islay trip. There’s no way we were missing this opportunity. I’ll save details for later, but trust me…this experience is a magical one.
We’ll fly out at about 6:00 pm and try to take in a little more of Glasgow before a morning flight on the 28th takes us back to our loved ones and familiar beds. I imagine it will be much like the Spirit Of The West song by this point: “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best, I’ve been gone for a week, I’ve been drunk since I left, And these so-called vacations will soon be my death, I’m so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest.”
There are many, many details planned along the way (and some very special drams), but I’ll save those jottings for the day to day entries after it’s all gone down. Cause let’s face it…things change. You can bet, however, that our eves will be spent in the pubs, our bellies will be filled with great home fare (both malts and meals), our days will be spent walking the coastlines and sharing drams and that there will be some sheep that may want to go into hiding when they hear the first loud ‘eh’ from we sodden Canucks. 😉
And yes…I still have a bit of a reveal coming for ya. Just waiting on finalization, but should be able to share the word in a couple days at the latest. If all goes as I hope, there will be some cool shit coming. Fingers crossed.
More details to come, friends.