Last Day on Islay – Boo!

My final day of what has been a revelatory trip to Islay. The day got off to a relaxed start with a full continental breakfast (thank you James) and a quick clean up. I felt like such a freeloader that the least I could do was stack the dishwasher and clean the table! I reluctantly left Lagavulin Hall and it’s occupants – they all made me feel so welcome, it was hugs all round. I did have a ferry to catch at the other end of the island, though. A quick drive to the Mull of Oa and a walk out (almost) to the American Monument and then off to Port Askaig for the ferry.

I had time so I took a detour to Bunnahabhain distillery- and I’m glad I did. Some of the best bits of driving road, gorgeous views and the distillery’s location is just beautiful. The clouds lifted as I got there so I could finally see the famous Paps of Jura. I hadn’t intended taking a tour as I didn’t think I had time but David Wood – he who had hosted the ‘Queen of the Moorlands’ tasting  – had spotted the car and came out. Turns out, David drives from Staffordshire to Scotland about once a week bringing and collecting stock and stays to do tours at Bunnahabhain to get experience he can use in the shop down south! The other four members of the tour were on the same ferry so it was a quick visit! Informative though.  Bunnahabhain must be one of the most compact distilleries I’ve ever seen. It is big – they need to store 90 tonnes of barley to continue production in case the weather closes in for a week, they have the largest mill, grist hopper (35 tonnes) and mash tun on Islay – and yet everything seems to be placed to use the minimum amount of floor space. Another anorak point of interest: they use four lots of hot water in the mash instead of three to get the maximum amount of sugar from the grist.

A swift dram of Bunnahabhain 12yr and 18yrs then time to jump in the car and zoom over those fun roads to catch the ferry! While waiting to board, I met up with the ceilidh band from Tuesday night. We caught up in the coffee lounge of the ferry and compared notes of the past week. One or two looked a little fragile…it must have been a good few days for them! Once more proving that it is a very small world in whisky, the band called over another traveller to find we’d been to the same Ardbeg tasting on Wednesday. Maybe we’ll bump into each other again as at least one of the band members, Dave Sinclair plays in Edinburgh from time to time (Whistlebinkies, I believe).

I have had some unforgettable experiences on this trip. I’ve met some interesting people, tasted incredible whiskies, visited beautiful places, hopefully made friends and been luckier than I surely deserve. I was warned that Islay would cast a spell on me. I certainly want to go back. What I’ve liked most about this trip though, is not so much the whisky (amazing as that has been) but what it does to people. Complete strangers chat like old friends, there is an openness about meeting, sharing a love (and gossip) about whisky that even age and language barriers cannot stop. Everywhere you go, you hear people talking about whisky; where they’ve been, where to go, who they have met, what to try. Such friendliness should really be bottled and used to help world peace!
Oh, wait…it is bottled….!

Roll on Feis Ile 2010! (And next time, someone else can drive!)

Hope you’ve enjoyed my travel-blog, I know I enjoyed writing it. See you at the next blog tasting,


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