Vignettes ‘Moments in Whisky’ Trip to Islay by Mark Dermul – Part 3 of 4 – Scotch Whisky News

Trip to Islay – Part 3 of 4

by Mark Dermul

The early bird catches the worm… well, we certainly were early birds when we arrived at the northernmost distillery on the island: Bunnahabhain. The distillery was already in operation – the smoke from the stillhouse was clearly visible against the cloudless blue sky – but the visitor center staff had yet to arrive.

9 bunnahabhain

Our treat for being so early was a stunning view of the distillery in the early morning mist. And another advantage of being there before 9 am was the fact that we got the earliest tour and were the only visitors at that moment. That made this wonderful tour extra special. And without trying to sound too blasé, I do consider myself quite knowledgeable about whisky, but I did learn something new today. Bunna takes its cut – like most distilleries – until the alcohol has gone down to around 63%, but for their peated runs they keep collecting further until 59%. I had never heard that before.

After a couple of drams – well, eight if I’m being totally honest actually – we drove south towards Caol Ila. Along the way, we came across the building site of the soon-to-open 9th distillery on Islay: Ardnahoe.

10 ardnahoe

Construction was well underway. This distillery is being built by Hunter Laing & Co, the independent bottler that was founded a few years back by Stuart Laing, after he left the company Douglas Laing which he ran with his brother Fred. As a sidenote: Hunter Laing is also the owner of the land that Jean & Martine Donnay wanted to buy to build their Gartbreck distillery along Loch Indaal. But apparently they did not agree on the price and Gartbreck is now off the map.

Our next stop brought us to the last distillery we still had to visit: Caol Ila. This huge distillery – the largest on Islay in volume – was unable to offer tours at the moment of our visit as one of the spirit stills was being replaced. A serious setback in my opinion, as Caol Ila is my personal favorite from Islay and I was really looking forward to the classic view of the still with the the Paps of Jura in the background. It was not going to happen.

11 caol ila A

But our host – a Brit from Southampton who had lost his heart to Caol Ila – more than made up for it with a special tasting in the shop. We got to try the Caol Ila Distillers Edition (my wife’s preferred dram), the Coal Ila Distillery Exclusive Bottling for 2017 (with some red wine cask matured Caol Ila in the mix, a first for the distillery) and both the 17 Year Old and brand new 18 Year Old Unpeated Style. I put my credit card to good use and will enjoy those back home while reminiscing about this wonderful trip.

12 caol ila B

With a heavy heart, we set course for Port Askaig, where soon a ferry would arrive to pick us up and returns us to the mainland.

to be concluded… (the final article will be published November 5th).

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