We’ve been lucky enough to live and work on the magical Hebridean Isle of Islay. After owning and managing our own busy Wine Shop in Leek, Staffordshire, and after launching our own brand of Single Malt Whisky, I was given the opportunity of managing the visitor centre experiences at Lagavulin and Caol Ila Distilleries and later of managing Caol Ila itself.
Our home was the old Exciseman’s house at Caol Ila Distillery, on summer days the view along the Sound of Islay (Caol Ila) was breathtaking, on winter days one storm followed another up the Sound. The scenery and wildlife was incredible. Seeing white tailed sea eagle, golden eagle and otter was almost a daily occurrence.
As well as my love for the breathtaking Islay scenery, the great whiskies and wonderful people, I also fell in love with the fishing. There can’t be many places in Europe or maybe even the world where the keen angler has such ease of access to so many different species of fish such as brown trout, salmon, bass and my favourite, the elsewhere ellusive sea trout.
My love of Islay began in the late 1990s. There’s a fantastic pub in Leek called The Earl Grey Inn, under its current ownership it is famed for its many real and craft ales, service and friendliness. In the 90’s it was famous for its peculiar interior, its toilets, its rather eccentric clientelle and its extensive range of single malt whiskies thanks to the landlord’s enthusiasm for the product. I had only recently tasted single malts and didn’t think I liked them, I thought they all tasted the same, I thought they all tasted like whisky. Until one evening when John thrust a glass of Caol Ila 12 year old into my hand and instructed me to taste it. I will never forget that moment and it was a life changing one.
The Isle of Islay introduced herself to me through that glass of Caol Ila 12 year old. The intense, smokey aromas and flavours told me about where this incredibly complex whisky had been made, it told me about Islay, and I had to visit.
In the coming years at The Wine Shop, we began to bottle whisky, lots of it, and most of it from Islay. We bottled everything, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich and even Port Ellen. We were lucky enough to get the chance to bottle some incredible whiskies, and this in turn took us to Islay, exhibiting our single cask bottlings each year at the Islay Festival of Malt and Music and delivering them to shops and bars on the island so that they could be enjoyed by many visiting enthusiasts.
In June 2012, I was given the chance to work at Lagavulin and Caol Ila Distilleries and I jumped at the chance. 8 months later I was joined by Leonie and Heather, once the Wine Shop had been sold. Leonie joined Kilchoman Distillery where she managed the busy visitor centre and Heather enrolled at the local primary school with circa 25 other pupils.
We had an incredible time on Islay and met and worked with lots of wonderful people. The experience we had will never be forgotten and was truly life changing. As a whisky enthusiast, to end up working at the distillery where your favourite whisky is produced is absolutely Living The Dream.
Islay is the true whisky Isle and there are currently 8 working distilleries on the island with advanced plans for at least 2 more to be built in the next couple of years.
Islay is often thought of as the island that produces the heavily peated drams, but actually, it is the array of different spirit characters produced by each of the distilleries which makes it so diverse and therefore of such interest to the whisky enthusiast. Anyone who has tasted Bunnahabhain 12 year old and then compared it to Laphroaig 10 year old or Lagavulin 16 year old will understand that.
Because of my love for Islay, my tastings will always have an element of Islay bias. We are however hosting a series tasting events in the near future that feature single malt whiskies exclusively from Islay. During the tasting, as well as experiencing many whiskies from the Isle of Islay, I’ll be talking about whisky production and maturation, and give an overview of each of the distilleries on Islay. I’ll also be touching on controversial issues such as the dreaded question about water, ice and other additives!
It would be great to see you at one of our future events and to share a dram with you. Please click on the links below if you would like to find out more about our Islay Malt Whisky Tastings or to buy tickets.