Vignettes ‘Moments in Whisky’ Trip to Islay by Mark Dermul – Part 2 of 4

Trip to Islay – Part 2 of 4

by Mark Dermul

I think it is fair to say that Port Ellen is legendary. The releases of this closed distillery command high prices. And let’s be honest: the whisky is good! So when we left Ardbeg for Kilnoughton Bay, we could not possible pass by this factory. For that is what it is nowadays. The Port Ellen Maltings provide peated barley to almost all distilleries on Islay (except Kilchoman). The Maltings are not open to the public, but you can walk freely among the warehouses. Seeing the type of padlocks on the doors, I think it is a fair bet that quite a few casks are still on site.

5 port ellen

The finish off the day, we drove to the Mull of Oa to take the long hike up the American Monument. It has to be said: it is a dramatic sight with the waves crashing into the rocky coast, but a storm was brewing and we could hardly stay on our feet. A must-see!

When driving back to Bowmore – we were staying at the wonderful Harbour Inn, highly recommended! – we stopped at Gartbreck, but no sign of the doomed project was to be found.

Our next day brought us all the way to the northwest of Islay, where we visited the Kilnave burial site and the Ardnave Point. To our surprise, the vegetation was quite different from the south of the island which we had seen the day before.

Driving back inland, past Loch Gorm, we found our first distillery of the day: Kilchoman.

This farm distillery, founded in 2005 and therefore currently the youngest distillery on Islay, offered a great tour with some lovely drams afterwards. Everything at Kilchoman is at a smaller scale, except the passion with which they produce the liquid nectar.

6 kilchoman

But changes are afoot at Kilchoman. They recently acquired the farm and are in the process of building a much bigger kiln and stillhouse where a barn used to be. For their 100% Islay release, they use barley grown on their own fields surrounding the distillery.

Driving further south we arrived at Bruichladdich. We had not booked a tour and it appeared it was already fully booked. But the lovely tour guide gave us a big smile and said ‘We’ll make it work!’

7 bruichladdich

And what a wonderful tour indeed. Our guide explained – and allowed us to taste – the different barley used for all three malts produced here: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore. The mash tun – the biggest in the Scottish industry – is bigger than your average swimming pool! Impressive to say the least.

It was also nice to ‘meet’ Ugly Betty, the Lomond Still used to create the popular The Botanist gin. And back at the visitor center, it was a feast to bottle our own 16 years old Port Charlotte from the distillery cask.

Speaking of Port Charlotte… just a few minutes south of Bruichladdich you can visit this lovely village of the same name, where Bruichladdich currently uses some old warehouses. And you can still clearly see some remnants of the old Lochindaal Distillery. This old warehouse turned into a Youth Center is a nice example.

8 port charlotte

We continued on south to the Rhinns of Islay. No distilleries there, but a beautiful village – Portnahaven – where we enjoyed watching the wildlife in the bay. Otters, seals, puffins… Wonderful.

to be continued… (Part 3 will be published October 29th).

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