A short ten miles from Bowmore this morning and we were in Port Ellen. Once home to its own distillery (and still sadly mourned by some), Port Ellen now only hosts a ferry terminal and a huge maltings house that supplies many of the distilleries on the island. It is also the gateway to the big three – Lagavullin, Ardbeg and Laphroig.
Our first stop was Lagavullin. There we met the effervescent Ian, who I had first read about in Michael Jackson‘s mighty tome: “Whisky”. In his fortieth year at Lagavullin, Ian led us through a tasting of various Lagavullins, from the regular 12-year old, through a 15 yr old, 19 yr old, 46 yr old and then a double matured. While it was a treat and a privelege to hold a glass of nearly 50 yr old whisky, I wasn’t that impressed with the taste and much preferred the 15 yr old and the 19 yr old. However it was then both amusing and frustrating to hear Ian tell us with garrulous charm that there was nowhere we could buy the 19-yr old – it had all run out.
Ardbeg was our next stop. After lunch there we went into a room with Jackie for a tasting of different Ardbegs. All of them I liked, preferring Ardbeg over Lagavullin, but my very favourite was a variety called Corryvreckan, named after a large whirlpool that develops between Islay and Jura in certain conditions. For me it contained just the right bend of smokiness, bitterness and body, although maybe I’d be better off describing it when I taste it by itself and not after a few drams of Lagavullin.
Our third stop of the day was Laphroig. It was another amazing place with a good tour and a splendid tasting room, although at this stop we only sampled one variety of Laphroig. It was great to see the maltings in operation at Laphroig – they use 15% of their own malted barley – the rest come from the big maltings in Port Ellen.
It had been Laphroig who, earlier in the day, we had seen cutting the peat bogs on the road to Port Ellen. This is an operation they still do in a traditional style, by hand and using no machinery other than hand tools on the turf. Perhaps this is a reason why Prince Charles chose to bestow his Royal Mark on Laphroig some time ago – he’s also been one for believing in natural, traditional methods. Or maybe he just likes a wee dram of Laphroig.
The stills were impressive too, pumping out their spirit at a fast rate.
With Laphroig done our touring was over for the day. Tomorrow we sample Bowmore, Bruichladdih and Kilhoman. Should be interesting.