Today is Islay Brewery's open day and the weather is set to be good so the plan is to sun ourselves and have the occasional pint whilst listening to the music.
For a complete change this holiday Liz has agreed to drive so this afternoon I can enjoy a pint out three. Mind you the plan is nearly scuppered at the offset. We so enjoyed Bruichladdich last Sunday that a bottle is the least we could do. Now, attentive readers will recall that they also do a gin - The Botanist. It's one of those 'exclusive' premium gins full of 'hand-foraged botanicals' which is just another way of saying expensive. I'd be tempted buy a bottle only if it is very much to my taste. So we pop into the distillery (what a lovely phrase that is 'pop into the distillery') and I ask if I could have a tasting. Normally this is a tiny taste in a wee plastic glass but this is Bruichladdich - healthy, at least full size measure in a really nice glass. This is nice gin too but before midday? Where is the sun in conjunction to the yardarm? OK, sold to that man as well as a bottle of there Classic Laddie whisky.
Two distilleries we've yet to visit Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain both down on isolated coves on the east side of the island. Caol Ila is owned by the big spirits group Diageo, and whilst blagging a taster we talk to the shop manager who is from Marchwood just a few miles from home. As well as a taster he persuades us to sign up for the Diageo whisky passport. This amazingly gives us to two complimentary nosing/tasting glasses, exactly the same glasses we paid for money for a couple of weeks ago so we could drink in the van. Nice, now we can invite guests to drink our whisky. I fear they may get accidentally damaged on the way home (We've been in the company of Scots for too long!)
Bunnahabhain is interesting, a 4 mile twisty drive down a single track road with not so many passing places. We are just about to pull in to the distillery as a laden wagonl wants to pull out so we park precariously close to the sea just outside to allow him to pass. This means we get to walk all through the distillery. It is a pretty desolated place. Forget the mash tuns and stills, the money is in the vast warehouses full of future product. The ship is small, in the old general manager's office. Alas a sudden influx of Europeans with money to buy the more expensive expressions mean we don't get chance to chat and taste. It's a long 4 miles back to that single track without a taste.
But for the record Bunnahabhain was my #1 whisky so I wasn't too worried. I think I really need to do a Bunnahabhain v Bruichladdich taste off, it's close but I think the Laddie might edge it.
On to the brewery but first a small detour about a mile away to the Islay Woollen Mill. OK, I'm biased but having a the well past retirement age owner describe operations and seeing a 100+ year old loom in operation was a highlight for me. The industrial revolution was just that, a real revolution, and having done craft weaving seeing the equipment that replaced it was wonderful and brings home the real revolution this actual was. It's noisy, oily, and mechanical but watching those flying shuttles shooting across pick after pick must have been magic 300 years ago. We buy a couple of small pieces. The person in the shop confirms that local drivers will wave as you pass. If you don't spot an obvious wave then you could possibly have missed the "Islay Claw" where the driver maintains both hands on the steering wheel but, crab-like, raises a single, crooked finger in recognition.
The brewery is in Islay Square which has a couple of other craft shops and a community garden. The garden is run on behalf of the community and produce is available to buy on an honesty system. We were too late for any vegetables for next week; Liz was tempted by several of the plants available but aware of the limited van space erred on the side of caution.
It was a lovely day, the sun was out, nice music poured out of the music tent, I had a good local pint (and Liz a coffee). All was well with the world. We discovered there was a limited edition of just 1000 bottles of Big Peat's ale, brewed in conjunction with a distiller that produces a whisky of the same name (and who was offering tasters, which we tried). I had one, it was good. I had another. We took two bottles home! Liz will probably have one tonight.
But first another meal at the campsite's bistro.
Walking back we comment what a lovely bright, clear evening it is. But there is just enough haze that the far side of the island has soft edges. Where has Ireland gone? Clearly visible from the campsite last night, today the tiniest haze and there is no hint of it. Bizarre!