This picture is from the end of a long morning of whisky tasting on the Scottish island of Islay, in the Hebrides. It’s famous for the smoky, smoky whiskies. We were staying in Port Ellen, and Ardbeg was the third distillery out from Port Ellen, and only three miles away. So we did what any responsible people might do – we walked from distillery to distillery.
Starting with Laphroaig, we had an epic tasting with Brianey (and I’m probably misspelling that). The tasting was called The Hunter’s Hike, and we went everywhere. First, she took us up to the source, the pond from which Laphroaig draws the water. We had a shot of the water, followed by a “wee dram” of wheskay. It was a beautiful morning, the sun was shining. And 9 am seemed like a good time to start drinking. From the source, Brianey took us out to the peat field, where we cut a couple lengths of peat with a peat spade, before having another wee dram. And then, because there was only about a shot, or two, left in the bottle, she said, “Well, I can’t take this back to the distillery, or the boys will laugh at me,” so we finished off the bottle before heading back. (Brianey was driving, so did not imbibe.) Back at the distillery, we had a wee dram and went into the works to see how it was all made. And then we had a couple more wee drams, including one of Laphroaig Cask Strength, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 65%, or 130 proof. Booyah. It’s about 10:30 in the morning, and this is definitely the most relaxed I’ve ever felt on vacation.
We said goodbye to Brianey and headed up the highway to Lagavulin. They were closed for tours, but they poured us each a wee dram of two different whiskies and left us alone to sit in the ancient, soft, supple, red leather chairs in the tasting room. And they trusted us, apparently, not to help ourselves, because they never came back to check. After all the work we had to do at Laphroaig, it was nice to just sit.
The drams drained, we headed on up the road to Ardbeg, making it there in time for lunch at their cafe while we waited for our tasting tour. We wanted to see how their process compared to Laphroaig’s (there were really no substantive differences), and to sober up a bit before drinking several more drams. Our companions on this tour were remarkably irritating, asking the 20-year-old, clearly-not-a-master-distiller guide deep, probing questions about the process of making whisky, questions she was utterly unprepared to answer, as we made our way past mash tuns, stills and barrels of aging whisky. At the tasting, Mr. Irritating revealed that he didn’t even particularly like whisky, and certainly not at 1 in the afternoon. So he and his apologetic-looking wife left, and my wife, the tour guide, and I let out a sigh. She was so relieved to have whisky fans who didn’t ask hard questions, that we got a couple bonus tastings, including the last of an airplane bottle of Kildalton, an unpeated Ardbeg that they last made in the early 80s, and full bottles of which now cost in the range of £1000, at no extra charge. And, of course, from a business standpoint, it was a good strategy, because we bought a bottle of cask-strength Uigeadail.
Finally, it was time to walk our drunk asses home for a nice nap before heading out to dinner (and more whisky tasting). About a mile into the walk, a car pulled up and asked if we’d like a ride. We were about to say, “No,” when it started to rain.
This photo is from that tasting at Ardbeg.