The promise of rare whiskies and warm sunshine saw the team head west to the Isles this summer, on a road trip that would take us from the west coast of the Scottish Lowlands up to the Isle of Skye, visiting familiar old distilleries and new projects alike.
Unfortunately, moments of sunshine were few and far between, but the whisky did not disappoint. Naturally we were keen to head straight to Islay to enjoy the best the world of peated whiskies has to offer, but if you have the time we recommend taking the long way round and stopping off on the Isle of Arran just as we did, where you can catch up with the latest additions to the diverse range offered by this young distillery.
Arran has only been producing spirit since the mid-1990’s, but they have been working tirelessly to make numerous excellent contributions to Scotland’s whisky portfolio. Highlights for us included the eighteen year old from the core range and the limited edition cask strength Machrie Moor, which has come a long way from the usual un-peated, gentle Arran ten year old.
A short hop over to Kennacraig and you can be on the ferry to Islay in no time. The island has become an even greater whisky destination in recent times. Kilchoman continue to release outstanding drams, and having hit their stride they are no longer ‘the new kids on the block’, with Ardnahoe construction nearing completion amidst a shroud of secrecy. We were lucky to be granted a quick visit to the site, which is set on the hillside overlooking the Sound of Islay and will soon offer visitors unforgettable views from its state-of-the-art stillhouse. Ardnahoe is being built from the ground up with future guests in mind, promising to be another rewarding destination for pilgrims to the island.
Even during the best Scottish summer in recent memory, life on the Isles isn’t always as depicted by whisky marketing teams. Things to watch out for include the often temperamental weather, which in our case meant tents being battered by wind and rain, as well as the infamous scourge of Scotland’s western regions: the fearsome midge. The silver lining is that it is nigh impossible to find yourself suffering both at the same time; the very gales that put a piece of Tom’s tent up a tree also took care of the midge problem.
No matter the weather, it’s difficult to hold a grudge on the island, and as the haar was burned away by the morning sunlight we were lucky enough to see dolphins playing off the shores of Loch Indaal, appearing to follow us as we drove on to Bruichladdich.
Our colleague Brendan is a big fan of the self-proclaimed ‘progressive Hebridean distillers’, and whilst visiting their warehouses it’s not at all hard to see why. A tour of the site will allow you to inspect the unique attributes of Bruichladdich, including their open-topped mashtun and ‘Ugly Betty’, the still responsible for crafting their increasingly popular gin, The Botanist. In fact the entire distillery is an intriguing combination of innovative thinking and long-standing tradition, as they aren't afraid to go against the grain. Just look at the rustic appearance the stills maintain, or the boundaries being pushed with each release of the fiery Octomore.
On this occasion we took the option to head straight to the warehouse for a special tasting. Favourites included a dram from a 1992 ex-bourbon cask, incredibly soft and subtle without losing any of that distinctive Laddie character, along with an altogether more assertive dram from an old Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes cask of Octomore. The bottling requirements for that batch having been met, the remaining contents were set to rest in the warehouse; now having spent several years in the unique sweet wine cask it can only be enjoyed by the lucky few who venture out to the distillery.
And all of this was before we even ventured to the south of the island, where the serious 'peatheads' reside... Laphroaig, anyone?