Guided Islay Distilleries Experience, April 2017

 

Thats me just back from a fantastic trip to the magical Isle of Islay. I’ve hosted trips to Islay for groups of whisky enthusiasts for many years, and this was the first of 2017. Our group was made up of 7 enthusiastic folk, some new to whisky, some seasoned enthusiasts, all set to visit Islay for the first time. We’d first talked of arranging this trip way back in September 2017, and it didn’t take long to fill it as word got round the regulars at The Earl Grey Inn in Leek that we would be Islay bound next spring.

I had tried to prepare those that signed up for the expedition, I’d tried to explain what incredible experiences awaited them on the whisky isle, but it is very hard to do, very hard to describe the beauty and magic of Islay. The only way is to experience it at first hand, to make the long journey by road to the Calmac ferry terminal at Kennacraig, around the sea lochs of Argyll, to visit the distilleries and historic sites and to meet the people of Islay who make most beautifully complex whiskies in the world.

There is nowhere else in the world that makes whisky that truly speaks of the landscape, whisky that when you stick your nose in the glass and have a good sniff it transports you to where it was distilled, the peat reek betraying it’s provenance. The island is certainly responsible for luring me in to the whisky world many years ago, I remember being given a glass of Caol Ila for the first time and being left in a state of shock by the intensity of its nose alone, even before I experienced the wonderful acidity and zestiness on the palate.

My guests were in for a life changing treat.

 

Our guests were due to arrive on the Monday evening ferry arriving at Port Askaig, they would then be collected by minibus from Islay Taxi and Minibus Hire. After a long journey from Staffordshire I knew they would be ready to sit in front of a roaring log fire and enjoy a couple of drams, even if they’d probably taken advantage of the malt of the month offer in the bar on the ferry.

Our accommodation for the week was to be Octovullin Farmhouse which I often use for both whisky and fishing trips as it is extremely comfortable, spacious and well equipped.

TUESDAY

After a grand night’s sleep, and a hearty breakfast with meats supplied by Porters Butchers in Bowmore it was time to introduce our guests to Islay. (I’ve included our full itinerary below so that you can see exactly what one of our Guided Islay Distilleries Experiences looks like in detail). At 9am our cheerful driver Kenneth arrived to collect us and off we weeched our guests to their first distillery, the first distillery being Ardbeg no less. Here our guests enjoyed an in-depth tour with Ross and after that, they were to be treated to a tasting of many whiskies from the full range of Ardbeg. Smiles were all around, the biggest of all being on the face of our Paul who had set himself the challenge of finding a whisky to beat his favourite, Ardbeg 10 year old. He was to have much fun in his quest. And so were we.

After our tasting we wandered down to the pier with a dram and gazed out to sea. Who else should put in an appearance but the otter. Perfect, right on cue.

A packed itinerary meant that there was no time to stay for lunch at the popular Old Kiln Cafe as we had a date with Bruichladdich Distillery at 1pm. No horses were spared during Kenneth’s mission to deliver us in time for our next tour and tasting at Bruichladdich. This distillery built in 1881, the same year as Bunnahabhain in the North of the island, was built at a time when the whisky industry was in boom, due not least because of the decimation of the vineyards in Europe through the outbreak of the phylloxera epidemic. Cognac and Claret had been the alcoholic drinks of choice at the time and the canny Scotts stepped in to save the day by developing and marketing the Scotch industry.

We had another great tour at what is about as close as one can get to being a working Victorian distillery, and then it was time for our guests to enjoy their first visit to one of the island’s fine dunnage warehouses for a tasting, this time straight from casks, and hosted by my former Caol Ila colleague Heather. Heather has first hand experience of many of the Islay distilleries, after being lucky enough to work in many of them. She was good craic and kept our guests fully entertained and supplied with awesome vintage Laddies.

We tasted some wonderful drams straight from the cask, the most popular being a stunning 1989 vintage American oak matured laddie. Delicious. After a full range tasting at Ardbeg, and now another flight of truly awesome drams my guests were beginning to feel the effect so it was off to the shop to pick up some bottles including the distillery only bottling known as ‘Valinch’. There is always at least one cask at Bruichladdich where visitors can bottle their own whisky, it is named valinch after the pipette type instrument used to draw cask samples. I’m told that valinch means ‘cask thief’ in Gaelic.

We thought that after all that whisky, a little fresh air was the order of the day so Kenneth pointed the bus in the direction of Machir Bay and of we set for the beach, however, we would of course need to call in to Kilchoman Distillery as it seemed a while since we’d had a dram. Once again, bottles were eagerly gathered and finally we made our way to the beach. For one of us, tired and emotional, a wee paddle in the sea was the perfect antidote.

WEDNESDAY

If Tuesday wasn’t busy enough for my lucky guests, Wednesday was to packed with distillery activities and once again we headed off down to the South end of the island, to the Kildalton coast to visit the iconic Lagavulin and Laphroaig distilleries.

At 9.30, the guys joined the tour of Lagavulin Distillery hosted by Sophie, before being taken down to a stunning dunnage warehouse where they would meet the Lagavulin Legend, Iain McArthur, a man who I’d had the pleasure of working with regularly in my years at Caol Ila and Lagavulin. Iain’s Warehouse Demonstrations are famous the world over and people travel thousands of miles to hear his anecdotes and to have good craic whilst tasting awesome drams straight from the casks filled with various vintages of lovely Lagavulin. The tasting began though with a wee taste of the 2016 Islay Jazz Festival bottling which were still available in the distillery visitor centre, there would be a few less in the shop that morning.

After visiting the Kildalton Cross and Chapel, it was time for Laphroaig where we would enjoy a distillery tour followed by drams. It was great to see traditional malt floors and kilning, and perfect for demonstrating how peaty Islay drams really speak of their provenance. The peat reek was starting to come in to play.

We had an hour or so spare at the end of the day so Kenneth took us back up through Port Ellen and Bridgend via the High Road to Finlaggan, once the seat of The Lord of The Isles, and one of the most important historical sites in all of Scotland. The guests certainly appreciated a few lung fulls of good Islay fresh air after another day packed with stunning drams.

THURSDAY

And so the final day had come, and it was time to head for good old Caol Ila where until recently I was Distillery Manager. Caol Ila is by far the largest distillery on Islay, but that does not mean that the quality of spirit is any less. My go to dram was, and still is, and probably always will be from Caol Ila. We were met by my successor, Ed Thom who kindly looked after us for the morning, for which I and my guests were most grateful not just because of how well he looked after us but because he was also off on annual leave. Half way through the tasting, I realised that everyone had gone very quiet as we were sat in the cooperage at Caol Ila. I realised that a lot of pennies were beginning to drop and that guests were now really starting to understand the array and diversity of different spirit styles, flavours and profiles. They were also starting to realise that they were having the time of their lives.

Proud to boast and show off my signatures and initials on various bottles in the distillery visitor centre, much to the amusement of Ed, many bottles were gathered and it was time to point the bus North, to another old stomping ground of mine, and a distillery very close to my heart. Bunnahabhain. At Bunnahabhain we were treated to a comprehensive tour and warehouse experience by the ever enthusiastic and knowledgeable David. We tasted incredible Bunnahabhains from an array of single casks but this time guests were able to buy and bottle their own drams in wee bottles, many of which will no doubt be proudly displayed in Staffordshire whisky cabinets.

It was time for the last distillery visit of the week, this time at Bowmore, the first distillery on Islay to be given a license to distill back in 1779. Although this was the last distillery visit, it was not the last whisky experience. I had quietly planned with the help of a very good friend that my guests would enjoy a little peat cutting to round off their Islay experience, which all enjoyed, not least because of the tutor host.

We had enjoyed perfect weather throughout our week, the food was fantastic, our hosts obliging, the whisky sang as ever and our guests eager to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Whether it is fishing experiences or whisky trips that I’m arranging it sometimes feels like cheating. Whether stood in a loch casting a line, catching or not catching, whether enjoying a dram on an Islay beach or in a dunnage warehouse, Islay does my work for me, my guests are blown away by the surroundings, the landscapes, the people, and the whisky. It is indeed a stunning place, and a place that is life changing for each who visits.

If you would like to join us for an experience of a lifetime, get in touch!

Slainte and happy drams.

David

 

 

 

 

ITINERARY (For info)

MONDAY 03/03/17

8.25pm            Ferry arrives at Port Ellen Islay

8.30pm            Guests collected by Islay Taxis Minibus from Port Ellen Ferry Terminal

9.00pm            Guests arrive at Octovullin Farmhouse, rooms allocated on arrival

9.30pm            Welcome drams in the drawing room

TUESDAY 04/04/17

9.00am             Minibus collects guests from Octovullin

10.00am           ARDBEG DISTILLERY. Distillery tour followed by Full Range Tasting

12.10pm            Minibus collects guests from Ardbeg

1.00pm             BRUICHLADDICH DISTILLERY. Distillery tour followed by Warehouse Experience

3.30pm             Minibus collects guests from Bruichladdich

4.00pm             KILCHOMAN DISTILLERY. Brief visit to shop, weather dependent trip to Machir Bay

5.30pm             Minibus returns guests to Octovullin

WEDNESDAY 05/04/17

8.30am             Minibus collects guests from Octovullin

9.30am             LAGAVULIN DISTILLERY. Distillery tour followed by Warehouse Experience

12.15pm            Minibus collects guests from Lagavulin. Visit Kildalton Cross and Claggan Bay

2.00pm            LAPHROAIG DISTILLERY. Distillery Tour

3.30pm            Minibus collects guests from Laphroaig

4.00pm            Visit Finlaggan Castle

5.00pm            Minibus returns guests to Octovullin

THURSDAY 06/04/17

8.30am            Minibus collects guests from Octovullin

9.30am            CAOL ILA DISTILLERY. Distillery Tour

10.45am          Minibus collects guests from Caol Ila. En route to Bunnahabhain chance to see new site of Ardnahoe Distillery.

11.30am           BUNNAHABHAIN DISTILLERY. Tour and Warehouse Experience

2.00pm            Minibus collects guests from Bunnahabhain

2.30pm            BOWMORE DISTILLERY. Distillery Tour

3.45pm            Minibus collects guests

4.00pm            Visit ISLAY ALES and ISLAY STUDIOS in Bridgend Square

5.00pm            Minibus collects guests and returns to Octovullin

FRIDAY 07/04/17

 

8.30am            Minibus collects guests from Octovullin and takes to port for ferry departure

 

 

 

Join David Wood at Feis Ile 2017!

Join David Wood and Distilled Events during the Islay Whisky Festival 2017 for a series of exclusive Islay Single Malt Whisky Tastings at the Gaelic College, Bowmore. Tickets are on sale now.

 

Click on the links below to buy tickets now!

ISLAY WHISKY FESTIVAL 2017: Islay Malt Whisky Masterclass 2.30pm Session Tickets

ISLAY WHISKY FESTIVAL 2017: Islay Malt Whisky Masterclass 6.30pm Session Tickets

 

I’m delighted that for the first time since being Distillery Manager at Caol Ila Distillery, I will be back on Islay during the festival, hosting independent tastings featuring whiskies from many different Islay distilleries. It isn’t very often during the festival that enthusiasts get the opportunity to compare and contrast a range of fine drams from numerous distilleries, and this is one of those very rare opportunities.

IMG_20170220_171821_449   220 Caol Ila Stills

You’ll get to taste some awesome drams and I’ll talk to you about my journey from severe whisky enthusiast to being manager at Islay’s largest distillery, via whisky retail and independent bottling, and what it is like to live and to work on this beautiful Hebridean island. Now that I am independent once more, I’m also able to treat you to a worts and all, behind the scenes, virtual distillery tour!

FB_IMG_1488893417779   Queen of hebs bruichladdich

We are currently in the process of selecting the drams that we are going to show but I can say that among others there will be the opportunity to try our very own Queen of the Hebrides ‘Gan Barraille’ Bruichladdich 2005 single cask, a fine 23 year old Bunnahabhain single cask as well as drams from Port Askaig Single Malt, Ian Macleod Distillers and single cask offerings from William Cadenheads.

Tickets are limited to a maximum of 40 per session, so please purchase yours now to avoid disappointment.

Please follow the links below to buy tickets:

Islay Malt Whisky Masterclass – 2.30pm session – Gaelic College Bowmore

Islay Malt Whisky Masterclass – 6.30pm session – Gaelic College Bowmore

Please share with your whisky friends! I hope I will see you on Islay in May!

Slainte!

David

Christmas 2016 Whisky Tastings!

It has been wonderful to get back on the road hosting single malt whisky tastings. Talking to people about whisky, particularly whisky from the Isle of Islay is what I love to do. I’ve worked with whisky, one way or another, for getting on for 21 years. I’ve been involved in making it, packaging it, branding it and selling it, but it is at tasting events like the ones I’ve hosted recently, where whisky brands come alive, and where people really get the chance to explore the world of whisky and share great drams with like-minded folk.

I host tastings for small and large groups, in all sorts of venues. I regularly host tastings in bars, hotels, restaurants, private clubs, offices and even in people’s homes so if you are interested in holding a whisky tasting, whether it be for a group of friends, work colleagues, or for your Christmas party, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Every tasting is bespoke so we can cater for every event and occasion.

Our first tasting in November was in Worthing on the South coast at the beautiful St Pauls Art Centre. This was to be the first of our Islay Malt Whisky Tastings and I was pleased to see a number of people at the event who I had met whilst living on Islay, it was great to see familiar faces even though I was so far from home.

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St Pauls Art Centre Worthing 24/11/16 Islay Malt Whisky Tasting: Set List

Glenkinchie 12 year old Lowland Single Malt 43%abv (on arrival, palate teaser!)

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Islay Single Malt 46.3%abv

Caol Ila 12 year old Islay Single Malt 43%abv

Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt 46%abv

Laphroaig 10 year old Islay Single Malt 40%abv

Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Single Malt 43%abv

Queen of the Hebrides 2005 cask 432 Bruichladdich Islay Single Malt 64.8%abv (!)

I left Worthing at about 11pm and headed back up the motorway. I needed to get back that night as I was due to host another event the following day at Picture House Social in good old Sheffield.

I love Sheffield, almost as much as Glasgow. The beer scene is fantastic and there are loads of great pubs and venues. Picture House Social is part owned by a friend and former colleague of mine, James Hill. James and I have hosted many great whisky events all over the UK, and so I was looking forward to seeing the venue and to hosting the tasting. Picture House Social is a huge venue with enough space to host gigs, theres 2 or 3 bars, and they make amazing pizza! The tasting I was hosting was part of their Firkin Beer Festival and I was asked to match 4 whiskies with 4 craft beers. The tasting was to take place in the venue’s mini cinema, all was set for a fantastic evening!

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Picture House Social, Sheffield, Beer and Whisky Pairing, 25/11/16: Set List

Cardhu Gold Reserve Speyside Single Malt 40%abv (palate teaser!)

Caol Ila 12 year old Islay Single Malt 43%abv paired with Beavertown Lupoloid IPA

Caol Ila Distillers Edition Islay Single Malt 43%abv paired with Madhatter Mandarin IPA

Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Single Malt 43%abv paired with Five Points Railway Porter

Queen of the Hebrides Bruichladdich 2005 cask 432 Islay Single Malt 64.8%abv paired with Cloudwater Red IPA

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The following week was another busy one, I was delighted to be hosting the first tasting in my home town of Leek since returning from Islay in December last year. This event was held at The Spout Brew House, home to the great craft beer shop, The Bottle Lab. Once again I was joined by lots of familiar faces and I was really looking forward to enthusing about all the things we had been up to during our 4 year long adventure on Islay. I’m afraid there was rather a few slides to go through, more than 120 as I recall! The set list was exactly the same as the tasting I hosted in Worthing. I was so enthralled in the tasting that I unfortunately forgot to take any photos!

Spout Brew House, Leek. Islay Malt Whisky Tasting 29/11/16: Set List

Glen Grant No Age Statement Speyside Single Malt 40%abv (Palate Teaser)

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Islay Single Malt 46.3%abv

Caol Ila 12 year old Islay Single Malt 43%abv

Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay Single Malt 46%abv

Laphroaig 10 year old Islay Single Malt 40%abv

Lagavulin 16 year old Islay Single Malt 43%abv

Queen of the Hebrides Bruichladdich 2005 cask 432 Islay Single Malt 64.8%abv

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Later last week it was time to head South again, this time to the bright lights of London. I’ve hosted tastings at some rather posh venues before but this one may have taken the biscuit. I was asked to host a pre-dinner Rare Whisky Tasting for a group of enthusiasts at The Royal Automobile Club in busy Pall Mall. This was a chance for me to root through my whisky cabinet and find some hidden gems. Now that I am no longer tied to a large whisky company, it means that I can show whatever whiskies I like from whichever stable, I can talk freely about them too, all very refreshing!

The surroundings at this top end private London Club were incredible. In the cabinets at one end of the room were numerous motoring trophies including the Formula One trophy!

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I was incredibly excited about this tasting, not least because of the drams I managed to find and acquire for the event. There were some stunners amongst the whisky big guns for this tasting.

Royal Automobile Club, London, 01/12/16, Rare Whisky Tasting: Set List

Bunnahabhain 12 year old Islay Single Malt 46.3%abv

Manager’s Dram Dufftown Diageo Employees Only Speyside Single Malt 56.2%abv

Kilchoman Private Cask 97 / 2008 Islay Single Malt (still in cask on Islay) 59%abv

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2015 bottling 1998 vintage Islay Single Malt 57.3%abv

Bunnahabhain Distillery Only Moine Rum Finish Islay Single Malt 56.1%abv

Queen of the Hebrides Bruichladdich 2005 cask 432 Islay Single Malt 64.8%abv

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The whiskies truly sang, the Caol Ila Feis Ile 2015 and the Queen of the Hebrides Bruichladdich single cask went down extremely well. I was very impressed with the distillery only Bunnahabhain Moine Rum Finish which I had managed to secure at the distillery just the week before, it sold out the day I purchased it!

I’ve loved every single one of the tastings, and so have the good folk who have attended them. In the coming weeks, leading up to Christmas I’m hosting another Rare Whisky Tasting, this time in Leek again at the Spout Brew House. 12 lucky imbibers are going to taste some wonderful whiskies including an incredibly rare Port Ellen Islay Single Malt. I’m also hosting a whisky and food pairing at South 16 in Buxton and another whisky and beer pairing session at The White Hart, Alton. We’d love to see you there.

If you would like to attend one of our tastings, you can find more info, and book tickets by visiting the Tasting & Events page. If you need any further info, give me a call on 07875 405 980 or drop me an email: david@distilledevents.co.uk

If you would like an event similar to the ones described in this post, whether for a small or large group, whether newcomers to whisky or experienced enthusiasts, please get in touch and we’ll plan your perfect bespoke event.

Slainte and happy drams!

David

david@distilledevents.co.uk

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Islay – An Incredible Experience

 

sunset-sound

Looking North up the Sound of Islay towards Mull with Colonsay and Rhuvaal Lighthouse in the foreground

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.

excise-house

The old Exciseman’s house Caol Ila

 

caol-ila-chimney-and-mull

Mull and Jura over Caol Ila Distillery Chimney

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.

earl-grey-old-pic

1990s Earl Grey Inn (Pre Sidey and Bayo)

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.

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Port Ellen 1982 and the Bowmore Blacksmith’s Bottling

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.

lagavulin-distillery

Lagavulin Distillery, “Hollow by the Mill”

caol-ila-village

Caol Ila Village and Distillery

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.

Islay Malt Whisky Tasting – The Foxlowe, Leek

<a href=”http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/islay-malt-whisky-tasting-worthing-tickets-28871658909?ref=ebtnebtckt&#8221; target=”_blank”><img src=”https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/custombutton?eid=28871658909&#8243; alt=”Eventbrite – Islay Malt Whisky Tasting – Worthing” /></a>I look forward to dramming with you soon.

Slainte

David