Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Mouth of the River

On our earlier visits to Islay, we had already been to Bunnahabhain distillery, but somehow we had never come around to do a tour or stay longer than an hour or so to take the obligatory panorama picture at their pier, and walk to the wreck a little further on. Last year, we had the plan to change this, and booked a standard tour and a warehouse tasting while we were there during the festival. The distillery itself is only reachable by a long winding, single lane road, and for the distillery day they had decided to close down the road for normal traffic, and have the visitors park on a nearby field and transport them with a mini bus.

There are not that many roads on Islay, and there are only two ways to get to the distillery; from From Port Ellen and Bowmore, go to the crossing in Bridgend and follow the A846 towards Port Askaig, stop for a new cap, scarf or tweed anything at the Islay Woollen Mill while you are there anyway, or have a look at the Finlaggan ruins, where the Lord of the Isles used to life. Driving on, you will see the signs at the side of the road pointing you in the right direction. From the ferry in Port Askaig, the road leads you towards Bridgend, and then it is the second distillery-sign pointing right. 

From this sign, there is only one never-ending single lane road meandering to the distillery, leading you through picturesque little cottages, mesmerising vistas and the lonely white painted cask every now and then confirming you are still on the right track. These casks prove to be very useful, but if you still think you lost track, just look at the electricity lines at the side of the road which confirm there really must be civilisation at the end. Also, there is the road itself, as a dead give-away you have not reached the end of the world. Yet.

When you finally get to the end of the road, you will see a grey and somewhat desolate little village, that - upon closer inspection - turns out to be the Bunnahabhain distillery. In 1881, when the distillery was built, besides building the expected distillery buildings and warehousing, also housing and a school for the 50-75 distillery workers and their families were built. Many of the houses were left in the 1960’s, and have an aura of never having been entered since. 

When walking on the pier, you watch across the water of the Sound of Islay towards the Isle of Jura with her magnificent Paps, and - weather permitting - you might even see the third largest whirlpool of the world, the Corryvreckan, just to the left past Jura. Turning towards the distillery for a second look, she doesn't look too shabby at all, with the gate leading towards the courtyard and the large letters on the side of the warehouses, you might even consider her to be close to photogenic. Now that you are facing the distillery, walk to the left, where a small footpath leads to the wreckage of the Wyre Majestic, a little less majestic as the name suggests nowadays, but a nice picture moment - as long as it lasts.

On their “distillery day” during the festival, it is quite a busy place to be. We could tell the tempo of the distillery is normally a little different. Setting up the event (tents, benches, food trucks, etc.) seemed to be built only when the visitors actually had arrived, as if they had not realised what the day was. One after another, everything popped up and opened, music started to play, rain started to pour, as did the liquid. Umbrellas were opened for the people waiting in line for their festival bottling and all of a sudden the complete staff seemed to be in overdrive, which added to the atmosphere. 

During the festival day, we were treated to probably the fastest tour we have ever had at a distillery. We started with a dram, were shown into the millroom with the 1960’s Porteus mill, on to the 12.5 tonnes shiny, copper top mash tun (they sold their old smaller open top mash tun to Bruichladdich around the 1900’s, where it is still in production - sort of), passed the six Oregon Pine washbacks (55-80 hours) into the stillroom, where four huge stills were crammed into an impossible small space, connected with cables, pipes, hoses, tie wraps and duct tape (well almost). We learned that the four stills (2x 35000 liter wash still and 2x 15500 liter spirit still) have a capacity of producing 2.7 million liter per year, of which only 1.5 million liters are actually created in the ratio of 90% / 10% unpeated / peated spirit. There was even time to learn that only in 2014 the malt floor was converted into another warehouse. All this in about 20 minutes. Some sort of record for sure.

Time for us to catch some breath, sit down in the sun (Islay can have all four seasons in one hour, so enjoy while you can), have another dram and a very well made grilled cheese sandwich, before it was time to get ready for a separate tour through the warehouses, since these are not included in the standard tour. With many stories about how this tour was not to be missed, we went in with quite an expectation, and came out again with a slight disappointment. Fun, nonetheless, but with a too large group and only one warehouse to see, we got to stick a finger in a butt (the Sherry version, you perverts) every now and then to taste, and once we were outside again, three samples of their bottle your own, where we could purchase a 20cl bottle of, straight from the casks (after a little persuasion).

All in all the day was a complete chaos, but that made it feel real too. We could see the passion and on-the-fly reacting of the staff, who came up to the people in line for the bus back, in order to treat everyone with yet another dram. Good times. Go there when you are on Islay and try not to be held back by the first looks of the distillery as we did. The buildings may need some Tender Loving Care, the people seem to be genuine and full with passion, and they make a great dram. And that is what it is all about in the end...

Photos visit 2015
Photos visit 2013

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

N 58 58 4.3 / W 2 57 19.9

Far up the North of Scotland,on the same geographical latitude as the Swedish Stockholm and Norwegian Stavanger, there is a group of British islands called Orkney. On their voyages, the Vikings landed there centuries ago and according to the many Orcadian myths and sagas, they most likely used Orkney and the Shetland islands as their base to raid Scotland, England and Ireland.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Swords and Feathers

From the Newcastle ferry, where we - as many European Mainlanders - arrive with our own car, it is an almost straight West when following the whole A69 to Carlisle, where our route turns North following the M6, towards our beloved Scotland. It only takes very little time when we cross the river Sark, which forms the natural border between the North of England and the South of Scotland. From this point, it takes us less than 15 minutes to reach the picturesque Annandale distillery where we stretch our legs, have a cup of coffee and a lush piece of homemade cake.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Smokes on the water of life, and a bottle of rum

We have been to several festivals in the Netherlands and love finding new festivals to go to and discover. At most events we find the same tables and selections of whiskies, and the only difference seems to be a bigger or smaller location. After a while, there is less and less to discover whisky-wise, and therefore we really like festivals that present a mix of different spirits. We are not looking for people dressed up in pirate costumes, groups of kilted bagpipers blowing our ears to smithereens, sounds of approaching thunderstorms accompanied with a thick layer of mist, or half naked ladies in wellies presenting us a little too much of themselves instead of the whisky the seem to represent. Just keep it simple, you might know by now how we feel about marketing.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Maltstock 2015


This lengthy article covers many of the relaxed events happening at Maltstock 2015. 
It may cause a relaxed jealousy, start you (relaxedly) drinking whisky or trigger uncontrolled (but very relaxed) urges to purchase relaxed tickets for the next edition

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Sleeping Beauty..?

You know the feeling when starting something and just not getting it to complete satisfaction? It just seems not to “do” what you want it to “do”? For us, this happened to what we experienced the morning after the Benelux release of “the Beast of Dufftown” in Brussels, where we had a chat with Georgie Bell, Global Brand Ambassador for Diageo’s Mortlach whisky, and therefore nicknamed “Miss Mortlach”. She had found some time in her busy schedule in between her breakfast and chocolate shopping. It was a lovely talk, where we left with a lot of information, but, at the same time, nothing at all... We decided to let it rest for a little while, go on our #WhiskyFabric trip to Scotland, have some fun, and revisit the event with the just arrived Mortlach samples from the event, so we could make some notes and find out who Georgie is, and what she does.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Stand together, fight together

It is the beginning of July 2015, Wimbledon is in its final stage, the Formula-1 circus has landed in Silverstone, and here - in the Netherlands - the Tour the France is about to kick off during the hottest day recorded in years. This takes us to go mesmerizing about what we were doing only a month ago on Islay, where it is currently 17 degrees and nothing really commercial is happening except the production of the best whiskies of the world, some of which have stolen a special place in our hearts.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A lot of But(t)s, howevers and althoughs

Our first time in Scotland was only in 2012. In our fully packed two week programme we had managed to squeeze in a two-night stay in a (great) B&B, see all of the eight distilleries and fall in love with the Queen of the Hebrides: Islay. This was at the start of our journey, and even without knowing what lay ahead of us, we already had the feeling we did not really want to leave again. A promise was made that we would come back in several years, and explore the island a little more. Several years, mind you... So the very next year, we found ourselves in a small cottage in Port Ellen, just for the two of us, during Fèis Ìle: the Islay festival of Music and Malts. One whole week, and although we would be submerged in Festival activities, we probably would have some time to explore the island herself and enjoy some of the beauties she has to offer, right?

Thursday, 28 May 2015

#WhiskyFabric Gathering - Feis Ile 2015

Plans for the Feis Ile 2015 festivities were made over a year before, where online chats began about the 200th year celebrations of Ardbeg and Laphroaig and how cool it would be to be able to meet all of the #WhiskyFabric people on Islay. 

Most people we had met only online so far, and we were looking forward to taking it offline and get to know the faces behind the avatars a bit more. So did the planning begin, and many of the so called #WhiskyFabric people planned to come to this little island of the West coast of Scotland. People making arrangements to stay together at cottages, tickets booked, and a #WhiskyFabric gathering set in motion for during the festival.