Water To Whisky

24 Jun

Many people had told us to expect wet and windy weather on Islay but we enjoyed great conditions; some overcast days but nothing that interrupted our plans at all.

We had decided to go to Jura on Monday and that turned out to be an inspired choice.  As you will see from the photos below, the weather was superb.  Not 35˚C like the south of France, but very pleasant all the same.  The crossing only takes ten minutes and then we were part of a procession of traffic towards Craighouse where the Jura Distillery is located.   Got to the distillery at 11h45 and booked for the 12h30 tour.  In the meantime we sat outside in the sun while I had two drams – one for me and one for my driver, Leanne.   Nearby an older guy in overalls, gumboots, leather gloves, etc. was doing the gardening.  We got chatting and he told us that he played banjo and mandolin in a traditional music band on Sundays and Wednesdays starting at 20h30 at the Port Charlotte Hotel.  So we put that in the calendar.  Had another dram after the tour then Leanne drove us up the coast further to Lagg where we turned back to head for the ferry.  We got to Bruichladdich in time to have some samples before heading home to Portnahaven.

The main event for me on Tuesday was the Laphroaig ‘Water To Whisky’ tour which I had booked last week.  Before that I took in another distillery tour at Ardbeg that started at 10h30 and was meant to take 90 minutes.  Leanne dragged me out of the tasting room at 12h20 to get me to Laphroaig!  The Laphroaig tour was four hours and started with a trip to the water source where we had a very nice picnic lunch, accompanied by a dram of course, the Cask Strength.  From there to the peat cutting where we tried cutting some peat. Easier than I thought it would be.  Another dram, Quarter Cask this time.  Then back to the distillery for a full tour.  Interestingly, there was no restriction mentioned regarding photography in the still room or the filling room as there had been elsewhere.  The tour ended in the old warehouse where we sampled three barrels then selected one of them for our own 250ml bottle.  One of the guys, an American PhD student named Albert, and I then enjoyed the whisky remaining in the sampling beakers.  So total Laphroaig drams must have been about seven. Total for the day so far – twelve.  As we left we helped Albert jump start his car, he had left the park lights on all day.

Just got back to the Lochindaal Hotel at Port Charlotte in time to meet Chris & Sue for dinner at 19h00. Had a fun time chatting, good food and beer.  Had another couple of drams back at the B&B then called it a day.

Now you might be thinking that I would be stumbling about with a hangover on Wednesday morning, but you would be wrong!  I felt just fine.  I had consumed much more alcohol than I would ever normally have in a day but it was over almost twelve hours and on three good meals.  Anyway, I was quite relieved to be in good shape and ready to continue the relentless pursuit of Islay distilleries.  So we headed off around the western side of Islay to Kilchoman Distillery, a newcomer on the island having started about ten years ago.   Next stop Bowmore for a sample of their 18 year-old and buy another glass.  We had a quick look in the Round Church while we were there.  After that we headed back to Caol Ila mainly to buy a glass that I had not thought to do on Saturday.  Of course I had to have a couple of drams as well, my one and one for Leanne since she was driving!  

While we were having dinner at the pub back at Portnahaven Chris and Sue arrived.  Had a short chat before it was time for us to head off to the traditional music evening at the Port Charlotte Hotel.  We got there and the place was packed but we managed to wedge ourselves in. We saw another couple who had been on the Laphroaig tour but then we saw not only the gardener from Jura in the band but the lounge manager from Laphroaig was there too playing piano-accordion.  The music was excellent including a solo vocal by the pub owner in Gaelic – quite moving.  Also ended up chatting to a Kiwi girl from Coatesville and an Australian guy from Queensland.  After an hour or so it was just too hot so we went outside for some fresh air.  There were two benches free right by the door so we sat down.  Soon after we found out why they were free – midges!  So that didn’t last long before we went home to bed.

Thursday was time to catch the ferry back to the mainland.  We got up early and packed the rest of our stuff in the car before our 07h30 breakfast.  We left Orsay House, the B&B,  just after 08h00 and had a good run to the Port Ellen ferry terminal arriving before 09h00.  There had been a bit of rain in the night and we got some spots while driving, other than that it was just grey and overcast.  We bumped into Jeff from Queensland at the ferry reception as well as a couple from Orsay House on Monday night when we got on board.  Ended up talking all the way across.  It was smooth enough on the water.  Got off at Kennacraig at 11h50 and joined the procession of cars and trucks travelling towards Glasgow.  We got to Inveraray in about an hour and stopped at Inveraray Castle, home to the Dukes of Argyll, for a coffee at their café.  Left again about 13h45 and had a clear run through to our accommodation near Glasgow at 15h40.

It was wet and cold on Friday morning but we left the hotel and headed for the coast to Ayr regardless.  By the time we got there the rain had stopped.  We continued down the Ayrshire coast to Culzean Castle and the weather kept improving.  The castle was a beauty but no photos allowed inside.  From there we went to Linwood, the location of our housesit for the next two weeks.  We arrived at 17h00 and met Tracey, who had done all the organising, and her parents, Robert and Heather.  We had dinner and started getting to know the dogs and what needed to be done for the ducks, hens, fish and Charlie the parrot.

We spent Saturday close to the house and Robert and Heather took us for a drive to help us get oriented.  They left for the airport at 07h45 on Sunday in grey weather.  We only went out to get groceries and I spent the majority of the day sorting out photos and writing last week’s blog.

Highland Cattle are a Scottish breed of cattle with long horns and long wavy coats which are coloured black, brindled, red, yellow or dun.  The breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland.  Highlands are known as a hardy breed due to the rugged nature of their native Scottish Highlands, with high rainfall and very strong winds.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_cattle

Highland Cattle are a Scottish breed of cattle with long horns and long wavy coats which are coloured black, brindled, red, yellow or dun. The breed was developed in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. Highlands are known as a hardy breed due to the rugged nature of their native Scottish Highlands, with high rainfall and very strong winds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_cattle

Even the Royal Mail gets to Jura on the ferry.

Even the Royal Mail gets to Jura on the ferry.

The Paps of Jura across the meadow.  The weather was excellent so we drove up past Craighouse, where the Jura Distillery is located, towards the remote end where George Orwell stayed and wrote.

The Paps of Jura across the meadow. The weather was excellent so we drove up past Craighouse, where the Jura Distillery is located, towards the remote end where George Orwell stayed and wrote.

Only just past Lagg we decided to turn back so we could get the 15h15 ferry back to Islay and visit another distillery.  In this photo - if the telephone doesn't work you can always send a letter!

Only just past Lagg we decided to turn back so we could get the 15h15 ferry back to Islay and visit another distillery. In this photo – if the telephone doesn’t work you can always send a letter!

These signs are common in rural Scotland.  As a lapsed mountain biker they always make me smile.

These signs are common in rural Scotland. As a lapsed mountain biker they always make me smile.

This was taken out the car window as we drove out of Craighouse at 14h30.  Apparently there are ten times more deer than people on Jura these days.

This was taken out the car window as we drove out of Craighouse at 14h30. Apparently there are ten times more deer than people on Jura these days.

Work is definitely overrated!  But, to be fair, on Monday the weather was beautiful and the scenery magnificent.  It would have required more talent than I possess to take bad photos.  This was taken just down the road from the ferry ramp on Jura looking towards Port Askaig on Islay.

Work is definitely overrated! But, to be fair, on Monday the weather was beautiful and the scenery magnificent. It would have required more talent than I possess to take bad photos. This was taken just down the road from the ferry ramp on Jura looking towards Port Askaig on Islay.

At low tide the sheep and the cattle browse the flats.  There are a mix of sheep and cattle roaming the roads along the coast and we are told that the farmers are paid to graze this area and keep it tidy.  Works for me!

At low tide the sheep and the cattle browse the flats. There are a mix of sheep and cattle roaming the roads along the coast and we are told that the farmers are paid to graze this area and keep it tidy. Works for me!

A similar shot but with Bowmore town and distillery in the background.

A similar shot but with Bowmore town and distillery in the background.

A calm evening at Portnahaven looking out to the lighthouse on Orsay Island.

A calm evening at Portnahaven looking out to the lighthouse on Orsay Island.

This is the oldest house in PortnaHaven.

This is the oldest house in PortnaHaven.

As it was explained to me, families built next to each other as children grew up and got married.  Many of these houses have been in the same family for generations, being passed down rather than ever going on the open market.

As it was explained to me, families built next to each other as children grew up and got married. Many of these houses have been in the same family for generations, being passed down rather than ever going on the open market.

The Laphroaig water source.  This reservoir is fed from a loch in the hills behind.  The water is very brown from the peat it had flowed through.

The Laphroaig water source. This reservoir is fed from a loch in the hills behind. The water is very brown from the peat it had flowed through.

Our picnic lunch up near the distillery water source.

Our picnic lunch up near the distillery water source.

Laphroaig still cut all their own peat by hand and use the latest technology to transport it to the distillery.

Laphroaig still cut all their own peat by hand and use the latest technology to transport it to the distillery.

This is the peat bank that amateurs like me get to try cutting.  Hence it is not straight like the 'real' ones!

This is the peat bank that amateurs like me get to try cutting. Hence it is not straight like the ‘real’ ones!

Work done, time for a dram!  And yes, it was a bit bright without my glasses.

Work done, time for a dram! And yes, it was a bit bright without my glasses.

Jenny was our guide and Doug (get it?) has been working here cutting peat since he was 15 years-old.  Note the pile of dry peat behind them waiting to be carted to the distillery.

Jenny was our guide and Doug (get it?) has been working here cutting peat since he was 15 years-old. Note the pile of dry peat behind them waiting to be carted to the distillery.

The malting floor where the barley is spread out to start its germination.

The malting floor where the barley is spread out to start its germination.

Barley sprouts.

Barley sprouts.

After germinating a percentage of the barley goes into the smoke room to gather that distinctive peat smoke flavour.

After germinating a percentage of the barley goes into the smoke room to gather that distinctive peat smoke flavour.

And this is the source of that smoke down below the smoke room.  The peat is not too dry so it produces copious smoke without much heat.

And this is the source of that smoke down below the smoke room. The peat is not too dry so it produces copious smoke without much heat.

All Single Malt Scotch is double distilled.  Here are the Laphroaig stills - three wash stills at the far end that produce low wines at about 25% ABV and three (of four) spirit stills that produce about 72% ABV.

All Single Malt Scotch is double distilled. Here are the Laphroaig stills – three wash stills at the far end that produce low wines at about 25% ABV and three (of four) spirit stills that produce about 72% ABV.

The spirit safe is kept under lock and key by HM Customs and Excise.  As the alcohol content varies during distillation the operator can turn the nozzle from left to right thereby directing the spirit to different secure storage vats.

The spirit safe is kept under lock and key by HM Customs and Excise. As the alcohol content varies during distillation the operator can turn the nozzle from left to right thereby directing the spirit to different secure storage vats.

This is the old Number 1 warehouse, the one with the big Laphroaig sign on the front.  Only the distillery manager knows exactly what is in here.

This is the old Number 1 warehouse, the one with the big Laphroaig sign on the front. Only the distillery manager knows exactly what is in here.

At the end of our tour we got to sample from these three casks.

At the end of our tour we got to sample from these three casks.

Extracting our sample.

Extracting our sample.

After the tour Leanne and I set off with GPS in hand to locate my one square foot of land.  As a member of the 'Friends of Laphroaig' I was allocated this land several years ago and they pay me rent on it of one dram per year.  The only catch is that I have to visit the distillery to collect it.

After the tour Leanne and I set off with GPS in hand to locate my one square foot of land. As a member of the ‘Friends of Laphroaig’ I was allocated this land several years ago and they pay me rent on it of one dram per year. The only catch is that I have to visit the distillery to collect it.

Relaxing on my estate… and overlapping onto several of my neighbours!

Relaxing on my estate… and overlapping onto several of my neighbours!

Typical scenery around the western side of Islay.

Typical scenery around the western side of Islay.

Looks great on a fine day but I'll bet it is rough here in the winter storms.

Looks great on a fine day but I’ll bet it is rough here in the winter storms.

The Kilchoman Military Cemetery which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Most of the graves resulted from a ship sinking just off the coast near here.  The CWGC site says, "This cemetery was made for the burial of the dead from H.M.S. Otranto, sunk on the 6th October, 1918, after a collision".

The Kilchoman Military Cemetery which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Most of the graves resulted from a ship sinking just off the coast near here. The CWGC site says, “This cemetery was made for the burial of the dead from H.M.S. Otranto, sunk on the 6th October, 1918, after a collision”.

More landscape on the western side with the Paps of Jura in the distance.

More landscape on the western side with the Paps of Jura in the distance.

Standing at the Round Church in Bowmore looking down the High Street.

Standing at the Round Church in Bowmore looking down the High Street.

The traditional music band at the Port Charlotte Hotel.  Our friend from Jura in the back right corner and Dave from Laphroaig on the right.

The traditional music band at the Port Charlotte Hotel. Our friend from Jura in the back right corner and Dave from Laphroaig on the right.

Inveraray Castle was used for filming parts of Downton Abbey.

Inveraray Castle was used for filming parts of Downton Abbey.

The main entrance to the castle.

The main entrance to the castle.

From the castle looking towards Loch Fyne and the bridge on the main road in to town.

From the castle looking towards Loch Fyne and the bridge on the main road in to town.

The ambient temperature must have been 14˚C and quite windy but this was one of two groups of intermediate school aged children going for a swim.  Perhaps it was customary to do so on the longest day because I was not able to come up with any other reason to go swimming on a day like this except that it was the 21st of June.  And even that was no where near a good enough reason for me to try it.

The ambient temperature must have been 14˚C and quite windy but this was one of two groups of intermediate school aged children going for a swim. Perhaps it was customary to do so on the longest day because I was not able to come up with any other reason to go swimming on a day like this except that it was the 21st of June. And even that was no where near a good enough reason for me to try it.

Culzean Castle was constructed as an L-plan castle by order of the 10th Earl of Cassilis. He instructed the architect Robert Adam to rebuild a previous, but more basic, structure into a fine country house to be the seat of his earldom. The castle was built in stages between 1777 and 1792. It incorporates a large drum tower with a circular saloon inside (which overlooks the sea), a grand oval staircase and a suite of well-appointed apartments.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culzean_Castle#Film_and_television_appearances

Culzean Castle was constructed as an L-plan castle by order of the 10th Earl of Cassilis. He instructed the architect Robert Adam to rebuild a previous, but more basic, structure into a fine country house to be the seat of his earldom. The castle was built in stages between 1777 and 1792. It incorporates a large drum tower with a circular saloon inside (which overlooks the sea), a grand oval staircase and a suite of well-appointed apartments. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culzean_Castle#Film_and_television_appearances

Looking from Culzean Castle up the Ayrshire coast towards Ayr (beyond the point).

Looking from Culzean Castle up the Ayrshire coast towards Ayr (beyond the point).

Here are all the distilleries on Islay and Jura plus some other shots…

Caol Ila Distillery.

Caol Ila Distillery.

Bunnahabhain Distillery.

Bunnahabhain Distillery.

Bowmore Distillery.

Bowmore Distillery.

Jura Distillery.

Jura Distillery.

Lagavulin Distillery.

Lagavulin Distillery.

Bruichladdich Distillery.

Bruichladdich Distillery.

Ardbeg Distillery.

Ardbeg Distillery.

The mash tuns at Ardbeg are still wooden.

The mash tuns at Ardbeg are still wooden.

Laphroaig Distillery.

Laphroaig Distillery.

Kilchoman Distillery.

Kilchoman Distillery.

At Bruichladdich I sampled three of their malts including Octomore, a 61% ABV, 167ppm peated example. It was actually rather nice, nowhere near as scary as the 167ppm suggested.

At Bruichladdich I sampled three of their malts including Octomore, a 61% ABV, 167ppm peated example. It was actually rather nice, nowhere near as scary as the 167ppm suggested.

The sampling line-up that we enjoyed after the tour.  From L-R; Blasda, The Ultimate Ten, Alligator, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan,

The sampling line-up that we enjoyed after the tour. From L-R; Blasda, The Ultimate Ten, Alligator, Uigeadail, Corryvreckan,

At the end of our 'Water to Whisky Tour' we could chose one of the three casks and bottle our own 250ml bottle which was packed with a glass in a presentation box.

At the end of our ‘Water to Whisky Tour’ we could chose one of the three casks and bottle our own 250ml bottle which was packed with a glass in a presentation box.

Laphroaig Cairdeas is a special edition bottled for the Friends of Laphroaig at the time of the annual Whisky Festival on Islay.  Most of it sold within 6 hours of going online.  I managed to get a bottle delivered to our housesit address near Glasgow.

Laphroaig Cairdeas is a special edition bottled for the Friends of Laphroaig at the time of the annual Whisky Festival on Islay. Most of it sold within 6 hours of going online. I managed to get a bottle delivered to our housesit address near Glasgow.

My haul of glasses purchased at the distilleries.  The shiny thing in the centre is a collapsible metal tumbler I got at Jura instead of a glass.  Looking back I should have got the glass.  The Laphroaig miniature is my land rent dram.

My haul of glasses purchased at the distilleries. The shiny thing in the centre is a collapsible metal tumbler I got at Jura instead of a glass. Looking back I should have got the glass. The Laphroaig miniature is my land rent dram.

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2 Responses to “Water To Whisky”

  1. Jeff July 1, 2013 at 05:36 #

    You lucky B! 12 drams in one day 😉

    • bikernz July 1, 2013 at 07:15 #

      Actually 14 by the end but what was really surprising was that I got away with it! I didn’t expect to.

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