Friday, 20 May 2011

Whisky-tastic times on Islay...

We visited Islay recently (a really lovely island off the west coast of Scotland), which is home to eight different whisky distilleries. Although we went for the wildlife and the beaches more than the whisky, Ade was keen to sample some of the different malts on offer and got stuck straight into his first dram of Kilchoman on the ferry journey from the mainland...
Ade swigs Kilchoman on the ferry

We weren't bothered for trawling around all the distilleries but it seemed rude not to visit the one that was nearest to where we stayed, so we called in at Ardbeg one morning and went on a distillery tour.

We saw all the usual stuff like wooden wash backs (it smelt of delicious fruit cakes in the wash back room)...
Wash back number 6 at Ardbeg

And shiny copper stills...
Ardbeg stills

And at the end of the tour we were invited into the bottle-lined chairman's study for a taste of Ardbeg whisky...
Chairman's Study door

Inside the Chariman's Study at Ardbeg 1

Inside the Chariman's Study at Ardbeg 2

We tried a super-peaty expression (can't remember its name but it made my nose hurt when I tried some) and the less peaty, sweet tasting Blasda, which was really nice.

Then we were all left alone in the room while our guide went out to help in the cafe (which was very busy and served delicious looking food) and everyone took the opportunity to try a bit more whisky and discuss the possibility of cracking into some of the Ardbeg archive bottles on the shelves, some of which are the only remaining ones in existence! But then our guide came back and chased everyone back out into the distillery shop :)

In the shop there were shelves filled with the different expressions of Ardbeg whisky...
Boxes of Ardbeg in the shop

And a nice display of the bottles, including the Blasda we tried (a bottle of which came home with Ade)...
Bottle of Blasda

I know its not as important as the whisky itself, but I really liked the Celtic stylings of the Ardbeg 'brand'. The distillery colour is a lovely seaweed green called smoked kelp (seen on the chairman's study door above) and it crops up all around the distillery buildings and in some of the merchandise. like the shot glasses below...
Ardbeg shot glasses

The Ardbeg font is also really appealing, especially when its fashioned from metal, like on this stair rail...
Ardbeg stairs

Yup, I'm a bit of a colour and font geek :)

One other appealing thing about Ardbeg is the distillery dog, Shortie. He's a very handsome looking Jack Russel and although we didn't see him in person, there were Shortie-related things dotted around the distillery, such as this amazing (and huge) painting of him wearing a crown, which was hung in the cafe...
Painting of Shortie

And the lovely open and closed signs on the door!
Shortie closed sign

Although I'm not a huge whisky fan, I find the whole history of whisky and the differences between the distilleries really interesting. When we got home I started reading Peat Smoke and Spirit - A Portrait of Islay and its Whiskies, which is a really interesting book even if you're not into whisky. Its all about the history of Islay and I've learnt all kinds of random facts while I've been reading it.

In slightly more anoraky territory, I also got quite into the Malt Whisky Yearbook, to the point where we had to invest in the 2011 edition so I could geek out reading about 'the facts, the people, the news and the stories' in the world of malt whisky!

The yearbook is probably too nerdy for most people but I'd definitely recommend Peat Smoke and Spirit if you like a good read about history and/or islands. And a visit to Ardbeg is well worth it if you're ever on Islay :)

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