Day Four – Laphroaig
Indeed the mighty Laphroaig (it is mighty, isn’t it?) was open today. It is the only Islay distillery that one can visit on a Sunday. As I was initially doubled up on my tours for tomorrow (Bowmore in the morning and Laphroaig after lunch), I decided a little breathing room would be preferable, and opted to head for Laphroaig this morning with nothing else on the agenda. Though the trip was a little rushed from Port Charlotte, I was able to catch a bus down to Port Ellen without trouble. Repeating the walk along the Southern coast was just as delightful as the first time I did it on Friday.
The hills are beautifully rich and green, dotted with sheep everywhere, and the sea sparkles in the sun. The road is framed by rock walls and blackberry bushes. It was the epitome of pastoral, walking along eating blackberries and being in the quiet countryside. I’m a city boy, but I could get used to this.
Howard and Rita, the couple I met at Bunnahabhain, passed me en route and offered a ride, but I chose to keep walking. Would have been nice to share a few more minutes, but the day was too nice and I wanted to enjoy it outdoors. Besides…gotta slow down a little on Islay, right?
Far too soon I approached the looming warehouses of Laphroaig along the right hand side of the road. A little further and the heavily treed lane leading down to the distillery was in site. I stopped for a quick shot or two (I refer to the camera here, not whisky), then headed on down.
Apparently a few others had similar thoughts regarding the Sunday tour. I was paced along the road by a couple of groups, and when I finally arrived at Laphroaig, I found there were to be 23 of us on this tour. By far the largest group yet…but absolutely one of the best tours thus far. Again I was sharing this tour with folks I had crossed paths with, been on other tours with or simply hung out with.
There is something quite deep and mysterious about Laphroaig. It is raw…earthy…dark and clouded with smoke. Its heavy seaside character leads me to imagining storming seas and ocean winds battering the walls of the distillery, all but obscuring the towering black ‘L-A-P-H-R-O-A-I-G’ on the white washed wall. Laphroaig is an ominous and rumbling thundercloud of frightening might and power. It is almost majestic. Interestingly enough…Prince Charles has declared Laphroaig his favorite whisky. Pictures on the distillery walls show him on the grounds meeting the gang at the distillery.
I had no expectations for the Laphroaig tour, as I had yet to hear of others’ experiences, so was more than impressed with the tour and visit to the distillery. Vicky was an exceptional guide. She seemed utterly at ease. Her humor and knowledge helped make this one of my favorite times on Islay. I would strongly recommend others not miss Laphroaig when visiting. Due to unfortunate timing I was unable to do any of the premium tours, but do note…Laphroaig offer more in-depth experiences if you care to spend a little more. Alas, being Sunday and all…no such luck for this weary traveler.
One of the highlights of the Laphroaig tour was the maltings floor. Most Islay maltings are done at Port Ellen, site of the sadly closed and demolished Port Ellen Distillery. Only three Islay distilleries do maltings nowadays (however token they may be). Laphroaig is one of them (Kilchoman and Bowmore are the others). We were able to see both the germinating barley and the kiln. Very cool.
It was nifty too seeing the quarter cask alongside the full size cask while touring the grounds. The casks are the same height and all, but the quarter cask is simply missing a few staves. This of course serves the purpose of changing the whisky/wood contact ratio and allowing for quicker maturation. It certainly changes the profile. I have done a vertical tasting with the Laph10, QC and Laph10 cask strength, and can absolutely attest that though all of them share the underlying skeleton, the QC is quite a hybrid beast.
After the tour (and a dram of the Quarter Cask), I wandered out to my own l’il plot of Islay. As you may or may not know, Friends of Laphroaig can visit their own numbered square foot of land (indeed I am a Scottish laird), plant a flag and collect a dram for ‘rent’. The ‘tithe’ was a mini of the afore-mentioned Quarter Cask. (A quick commendation to the Canadian contingent…apparently we’re so devoted that our visits had caused the distillery to run out of mini Canada flags. Well done, lads and lasses!) After scribbling away for a few minutes with a red felt pen on a blank flag I threw on the ol’ size 12 wellies, grabbed my camera and went squelching through the bog.
I snapped a couple shots of my new home away from home and went back to drop a few pounds at the shop. I picked up minis of all three main releases and a couple shirts for gifts. The only full size bottle I wanted was sadly out of my price range (25 y.o.). Oh well.
I headed back along my favorite stretch of Islay road en route to Port Ellen. Here I grabbed a seat in the harbor and snacked on a gorgeous baguette (man, do I miss these when I’m back in Canada) in the early afternoon sun. No bus for a while and no worries here. Happy just to listen to the birds and enjoy the day. The waters were gentle, the breeze light and the sun warm. When I get back to Port Charlotte I think I’ll throw my feet up for a few minutes before strolling over the lighthouse.
One shitty note…camera card is full. I’ve been snapping away quite liberally but figured I could delete later. Guess I’ll have to check some of the pics and clean out a few. Still have Bowmore to see tomorrow, then an eve with the Glasgow Whisky Club. Will need some room on there.
Made it back to Port Charlotte, re-organized my bags a bit (weight distribution more than anything), read a few pages and I think I may have dozed for a bit. When I came to (sometime just after 6:00 pm) I strolled up to the lighthouse, then turned back and went a mile or two in the opposite direction. Can’t even put into words the moonrise I saw. It was surreal. So unbelievably orange, bright and massive as it cracked the horizon that I honestly couldn’t believe it was the moon. It looked like an A-bomb had gone off in the distance. Stunning. No pics or video I got could do it justice.
Made for a beautifully lit walk back to the Lochindaal, where I now sit in the pub (Alone!?! Quite a change from last night) with a dram in hand. Re-visiting this newly re-branded Bunnhabhain 12. Glad for it too. Quite a lovely whisky. Followed this one with a Bowmore Surf. Not quite so lovely. All chased with a Caol Ila. Now we’re talking.
I’ll be back to Bowmore in the morning for my last full day on Islay. A little sad. Bittersweet. Miss my wife and kids like mad, but don’t want to leave. A night in my own bed will be heaven though.
A few random thoughts…
So many birds around…picking blueberries…everyone waves and says hi to everyone they see…peat and coal fires in the pubs…the locals all chat with each other and folk like me on the buses…swans in the sea…some brilliant whiskies sprinkled throughout the pubs.