Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Whisky tasting in Islay, Scotland
A couple of days before we flew to Glasgow for our holidays, Scott woke up one morning and told me he had a bad dream. He dreamt that we had our holiday in Islay and he didn't visit any of the whisky distilleries! Oh the boy was upset! The primary aim of visiting Islay is to do a 'whisky crawl' and be merry.
Every day was planned with military precision. The boys wanted to visit as many whisky distilleries as possible while for us girls, it is also about getting some good chow to line the stomach. We (ok, not so much me) would pore over the island map and plan our route making sure we have potential lunch places en-route to these distilleries. On the first day, we drove by a house with a 'home-made tablet' sign outside, we made the boys stop the car, ran to the house under the rain dodging peacocks in the garden (random but true!) and grab some for the car ride. A little sugar fix is always good for the soul!
There are 8 distilleries on the island and we visited 6 - Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman. Each distillery offers whisky tasting and we had most of ours for free with Bruichladdich being the most generous! Scott was extra smug about this as he gets double measure of this 'liquid gold' since I am not a whisky person and my tasting dram gets passed on pretty swiftly to him!
We did 2 tours of the distilleries - Bowmore and Laphroaig. As the brewing process is similar I did not have a preference for one over the other though we did get to see how the malting of the barley is done in Laphroaig but not in Bowmore. The malting process is an interesting one for me as it is fairly labour intensive compared to the rest of the processes involved. The soaked barley are evenly spread out on the ground and it has to be turned every 4 hours to encourage germination. This is now done by a machine though some distilleries try to maintain tradition (e.g. Bowmore and Laphroaig) and malt 20% of their barley using the traditional way whereby a man has to turn over the barley with a shovel every 4 hours!
My top 2 favourite whisky distilleries are Bruichladdich and Laphroaig. Bruichladdich blew me away with its branding and design - it feels fresh and current with a crisp font and color. It wasn't immediately obvious that a Bruichladdich bottle holds whisky in it if you are not familiar with the brand. The aqua colour stood out. There are many speculations on how the color came about but on their blog, they said that it was simply inspired by the colour of the sea outside the distillery (OMG yes they have a blog - how progressive for a whisky company!). I think the branding appeals to the younger whisky drinkers but may have a tendency to alienate its older clienteles. But we 'get' it and and to quote Jenna - we fell for it 'hook, line and sinker'! We left the shop with 6 bottles of whisky, 1 bottle of gin (mine!), a scarf, a cap, and a hipflask....Yup, we 'get' it.
Laphroaig is another favourite but for the exact opposite reasons of why I love Bruichladdich. It has a great museum detailing its history, it feels traditional without being stuffy and it has some clever marketing up its sleeves. They encourage you to be a 'Friends of Laphroaig' - a free membership that comes with a free 1 square foot plot of land around the Laphroaig distillery. In the museum, you are provided with wellies and waterproof jacket and are encourage to walk the land to find your plot. Once you have found it, you are provided with your country's flag to 'mark your plot'. You can see flags of various countries sticking out of the empty land surrounding Laphroaig - it inspired you to find your plot and leave your mark too. They also offer the opportunity to choose and bottle your own whisky directly from cask which is such a great idea. I would have bought that experience as a present for Scott if I had known it was on offer. I obviously did not do my extensive whisky research!
I initially thought this holiday would be mainly for Scott but I actually had a great time and would love to visit again. We had a great holiday home, good food, bought 8 bottles of whiskies and I personally came home with a bottle of gin and a tea towel. Not bad...not bad at all.