Around the world in 15 days (part 3: Queen of the Hebrides)

Wednesday

Early morning in Appin.

We were up reasonably early to get ourselves going before coffee service. We enjoyed coffee in our room while we finished packing and then had a full breakfast downstairs in the dining room. We loaded up the car, took a few pictures of the hotel and surroundings, and then bade the hotel staff goodbye (thanking them for everything).

The drive to Kennacraig port was easy enough and we arrived in plenty of time to board the ferry to Islay. We didn’t know what we were doing, but it was clear the staff were used to tourists and guided us deftly to our spot in line. Driving on board was easier than I had thought it would be. We went upstairs to the passenger deck to find it was quite nice, with a restaurant, coffee shop, and plenty of seating. I got us coffee/tea and we watched the water while we read for the two-hour journey to Port Askaig.

Nothing says, “exclusive,” or, “we’re not in the US” like bottling your own whisky.

On arrival, we got back in the car and drove off the ferry, following traffic around the one way off the port. We decided to go to Bruichladdich, a distillery on the west side of the island. Bruichladdich makes an unpeated whisky under its own label, and peated options under Port Charlotte and Octomore. The main label caught Virginia’s attention and she enjoyed every option she tried. And then she had their distillery exclusive — the Valinch. One taste and she immediately demanded a bottle, which she filled from the cask herself. She also tried their gin (The Botanist), but we found we could get in in the US. I got a driver’s dram of the Octomore to take to the hotel, we thanked everyone, and were off.

We drove to Port Ellen and checked in at the Islay Hotel. Due to our travel off-season, I decided to book their top-end room because it was significantly discounted to being just a little more than their standard room. It was well worth it — the room was large and we had a nice sea view. We had dinner in their whisky bar, followed by a dram each (I had the Lagavulin Feis Ile 2018, which was wonderful) before going to bed.

Thursday

Islay whisky day! This was my one day to really taste whisky because I didn’t need to drive. Islay has three distilleries, including my favorite (Lagavulin) along the coast in a 3.2 mile stretch from Port Ellen. Plus these are all peaty and smoky whiskies, my favorite kind. I was going to enjoy this.

We slept in and got moving around 8am (late for us on this trip). Even with that, we were out the door after breakfast by 9am for our 2.5 mile walk to Lagavulin. We joined a large group for the Warehouse Experience, where Iain MacArthur (a Lagavulin legend) guided us through whisky tastes: Jazz Festival 2018, 7 year, 21 year sherry cask, 22 year bourbon cask, and 26 year sherry cask. A large group made up most of the attendees, and we kept running into them through the day (all good natured). Iain was a generous host and we got to spend a little time talking with him. Virginia asked what to buy, and he said, “get the exclusives.” After our profuse thanks, we then went back to the tasting room to try the Game of Thrones House Lannister 9 year, Jazz Festival 2017, and distillery exclusive. Then we took Iain’s advice and bought the three available exclusives (Jazz 2017, Jazz 2018, and distillery exclusive), which gained us an etched glass decanter and whisky glass set. Thankfully, they let us leave everything there until we returned to pick it up.

We walked up another 1.1 miles to Ardbeg for a hearty lunch, finding our fellow participants from the Lagavulin tasting. (Ardbeg has the only restaurant around, so it wasn’t exactly surprising.) As we finished, we were asked whether we were familiar with their whisky. Virginia said, “no,” and they decided we should learn RIGHT NOW with an unexpected tasting of four drams. One was the Drum, a cask-strength distillery exclusive. We purchased a bottle and walked back to Lagavulin to pick up our stuff there.

Then on to Laphroaig for a tasting of their Select and the five whiskies that result in that blend. The tasting included not only three commercially available whiskies, but also two that aren’t (one aged in Oloroso casks, one aged in Pedro Ximenez casks). It’s amazing to see how the same base spirit turns into so many different expressions. Virginia then asked about a distillery exclusive. We hadn’t tasted it in the program, but got a wee bit to try. We very much enjoyed it and bought a bottle, bringing our final tally to five bottles for the day.

After, we walked back to Port Ellen with our fellow tasters and collapsed for a rest. We then had dinner in the hotel restaurant (pan-seared haddock, macaroni cheese with bacon and leeks, pistachio and olive oil cake), and Virginia had her twentieth and final whisky of the day. We packed up and went to bed early, knowing we had an early start ahead.

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