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Islay, Scotland - Questions/Advice

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Hello everyone,

 

I am planning a trip to Islay, Scotland to do a whiskey distilleries tour, sampling the local drams and having a good time at it. I am  thinking i might need a week or less to complete the island. I have a few questions and now turn to you, the wise, the all-knowing sages of mirth and merriment to enlighten this poor traveler.

 

1. Travel Buddy(ies)

I would love to hook up with any like-minded persons(s) who would also enjoy coming along; the more the merrier. Only per-requirement is you be fond of drink, smoke and story ala hobbit.

Does anyone know any websites or resources that i can consult to find me a fellow co-conspirator(s)? Forums or groups?

 

2.Advice

Anyone done this pilgrimage to the Whiskey Gods and want to share their experiences /advice please feel free. Want the trip to be as cost-effective as possible preferring to spend money on drink :) Costs, must-do's, what to avoid, prices etc. I dont need anything fancy, prefer to save for the distillery visits.  Perhaps a bed and breakfast, i dunno.  Best time to go, do i need to hire  a car or is there public transport available? Is Scotland/Islay expensive? Such questions.

 

3. Braveheart

Anything else i need to know before traveling deep in the hinterlands of Scotland?

 

Thank you for reading this and eternal thanks for replying and finally....Come along!

best wishes

OM

 

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Rule No.1 unless you pre-book accommodation and ferry to Islay many months in advance and you absolutely love crowds and queues avoid Feis Ile time, this year May 25 to June 2nd.

 

As for the distilleries:

Three are neighbours and you can walk between them easily. They are Laphroaig (pronounced Lafroyg if you didn't know), Ardbeg & Lagavulin. I'd suggest you take a B&B close to them, there are quite a few and you can easily do the three distillery tours within a good half day, walking between them.

 

Caol Ila (pronounced Culleela) and Bunnahabhain (pronounced Bunnahab'n) can also be done together in a day but they are a little remote and you'd be better driving between them. You really don't want to drink and drive as they can be rather generous with drams on the tours so enquire on the island through your B&B hosts about the locals who offer tours / driving services between the distilleries.

 

Bowmore as the name suggests is in the town of Bowmore and it'll be worth staying in the town for one or two nights as it is the largest town and offers a few places to eat and drink as well as the distillery.

 

Kilchoman (pronounced Kilhoman) is a farm-based distillery over on the western bit of the island with great views to The Atlantic and some great sunsets.

 

Then we come to Bruichladdich (Bruckladdie), a little bit out of the way but more than worth a visit and the well known bar / restaurant / hotel called The Port Charlotte Hotel isn't too far away for accommodation or just food and drink.

Port Charlotte whisky used to be made at Bruichladdich but they have now bought the old Port Charlotte distillery and I think it could be made there now.

 

Apart from whisky Islay has much to offer; soem fantastic beaches and a massive bird sanctuary taking up acres.

 

Good luck.

Malty

 

 

Edit: Don't annoy the locals, in Scotland (Japan, mainland Europe, Taiwan, Canada ... etc) it's Whisky.

In Ireland & USA it's WhiskEy.

 

 

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The Port Ellen distillery has been closed for some years now, it was one of Diageo's infamous bean-counter closures of the 80's but they recently announced they're making plans to reopen it. Not sure how long this will take, certainly a few years but look forward to it eventually being operational again.

 

There were also plans for a new distillery called Gartbreck, the land was bought, plans made but nothing much seemed to happen. It now looks like those plans have failed but on a brighter front there is another new distillery planning to open in May this year. It's on the North-East coast between Caol Ila & Bunnahabhain and overlooking the Paps of jura and Islay sound.

It's owned by The laing family probably most well-known as the independent whisky bottler Douglas Laing who are a long standing and high quality bottler.

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I've just checked and what I earlier called The Port Charlotte distillery was also known as Lochindaal. It is owned by Bruichladdich but still closed, not operational but I think they have future plans for this. It's currently used as storage with bonded warehouses.

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So, currently eight distilleries operational on an island with around 3500 human inhabitants, around 20,000 sheep and at the right time of year 60,000 geese.

 

 

Can you tell that when I used to run whisky tastings in Munich I always particularly enjoyed the Islay ones?

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Malt-Teaser aka Whisky Yoda,

 

It is as if Bacchus himself has responded to my query! Your post is so chock-full of golden nuggets of lore that i need a fine-toothed electronic comb to gently filter it onto my soon-to-be-whisky-addled brain.

Thank you! and that is an understatement to my gratefulness.

 

I am currently planning my trip around your advice. I have to settle something in February then i hope to depart for the Island of sin in March or later. Would like to start at the three distilleries (lagavulin/Ardberg/Laphroig) hopefully do it in a day then move on. I was looking at the prices for   B&B#s kinda steep around 100 euros give or take, Do you know of any cheaper accommodations? I am currently traveling alone. BTW, flying back to Germany, is there a limit to how much whisky i can take back?

 

in whisky veritas,

OMM

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I'm sorry I can't help with personal recommendations for cheap accommodation, but if you want a genuine 5* B&B not too far from Caol Ila & Bunnahabhain then I can put you in contact with the owner, but beware, it's a lot more than 100 GBP per night. But then i did say 5* and that's officially rated.

 

There are a couple of Scotland-based websites which may be able to advise, one is "Scotland from the raodside", I know the people who run it and they're usually more than helpful.

 

Personally for the best weather I'd usually recommend May, June and late September early October as the best times to visit anywhere in Scotland.

 

Bringing whisky back isn't usually a problem but don't try to put any in your hand luggage. Take bubble wrap with you and use it to pack bottles safely in your suitcase (aircraft hold, assuming you'll be flying). Most normal distillery expressions can be bought here, often cheaper than UK prices so if you are bringing something back choose carefully. Some distilleries offer distillery only bottlings or there are also Duty Free only bottlings in Duty Free at the airports. Hint hint ...

 

What bottlings to look for specifically?

Lagavulin; Each year they bottle a 12y Cask Strength. Never had a bad one yet.

Laphroaig; Each year they bottle a 10y Cask Strength, only available at the distillery. If you have room in your case bring me a 2018 version, I'll pay you.

Bunnahabhain; Not so peaty but they often have 'specials' and I do like Bunny, so you should too.

Kilchoman; Personally I'm not such a fan of the sherry cask stuff from them. I find the sherry overpowers too much. Go for the 'normal' bourbon cask bottlings.

Bowmore; For some reason they seem to over-rate themselves and the prices show it. Just normal Bowmore is pretty good. Specials are just too expensive for me these days.

Bruichladdich; Always something interesting especially if you look towards Port Charlotte & Octomore bottlings.

Caol Ila; Good 'normal' peaty whisky. No fancy stuff like sherry casks, as I said just good stuff.

 

You'll notice I haven't mentioned Ardbeg.

It's actually bloody good whisky. Really quite peaty but I personally hate the owning company (LVMH) with a vengeance and think they should stick to overpriced handbags.My one recommendation for Ardbeg is to visit the on site cafe / restaurant run by Jackie. You'll be well looked after, the food is good and she's a gem.

 

Finally, if you do get to Ardnahoe distillery which is the new one between Caol Ila & Bunny and owned by The Laings then please give my regards to a couple of people. I understand an instrumental person in the day to day running will be Andrew Laing. He's a young chap from the Laing family and a true Gent.

Secondly, their master distiller is true whisky & Islay royalty; Jim McEwan. He's one of the greatest distillers of this age and they've really struck gold by getting him on board. I know him well and he knows me (at least by sight) although he wouldn't recognise the name Malt-Teaser. GIve him my best anyway and it may well get you an extra dram or two for free.

(Feel free to PM me for my real name as upon reflection Andrew doesn't know me a Malt-Teaser either).

 

 

Enjoy your trip, I only wish I could join you but at the moment I can't.

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