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Day 2 - January 24, 2006                                                                 Back to Islay 2006

Up early again (this jet lag is good for getting up for breakfast), and a lovely Scottish breakfast for two in the cute little dining room over looking Loch Indaal, with Bruichladdich across the bay.  There was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun was rising.  We had decided that the morning would be spent exploring the town of Bowmore, checking out the round church, the only one in Scotland and one of only three in the world.  Then on to the Bowmore Distillery for the 10 am tour.  Another tour on our own! This is definitely the time of year to visit Islay.  Note that the locals say “Buhmore” with the emphasis on the “more”, not the “buh” as Aidan and Jackie had done.  And the locals will correct you!

Our tour guide Heather was a local, born and raised on the island.  First stop was the malting floors – Bowmore do 40% of their maltings on-site, using “Optic” barley from Perthshire.  They pre-soak the barley for 36 hours before spreading it on the floors for malting. The barley (or malt) is turned manually every four hours as it germinates.  Aidan and Jackie both had a go at turning the malt – in 12 years from now, you’ll be drinking the whisky we helped make!

The peat fires at Bowmore are lit on Mondays and Wednesdays.  The malt is smoked with peat for 18 hours, and blown dry with fans for a further 42 hours. 

The Bowmore Distillery is the most environmentally friendly on the island and is one of the most environmentally friendly companies in Europe.  They operate a heat exchanger that warms the water for the community swimming pool (which they donated the building for) while cooling the still water.   The waste from the maltings are sold to farmers for cattle feed, and any waste waters not recycled in the system (as are the low wines and feints from the stilling process) are disposed of at sea, as they are good fish food.

We also had an opportunity to visit the vaults where the whiskey is aged.  They are dark and chilly, and at the rear of the vaults are below sea level contributing to the salt and seaweed flavours.   On display was a keg they gave the Queen for her Golden Jubilee, dated 1980 and bottled in 2002.   There were 648 bottles from that keg, and she gave the distillery two of them back.  The distillery auctioned one for charity – it sold for £9,200.  There is still one bottle available …. if the price is right!  The Queen apparently gave most of the bottles away to her friends and family……so if you know any Royals…..!!

After the tour, we tried Bowmore Dusk, which is a 12 year old with a further 2 year Bordeaux wine cask finish. You could certainly smell and taste the wine cask finish.  We also tried Enigma, a 12 year old finished in a Sherry cask.  Also delicious and quite sweet.  Since we’d tried a number of the other Bowmores before, Heather also offered us a tasting of 16 year old, non-chilled filtered (51.8 %) bottled in 1989.  Smooth, delicious…….

Our tour guide put on a DVD showing the ordeal the distillery went through in the early 1960s to change the boiler and bring in a new still.  There were no “drive on” ferries to the island back then, and the only way to get the heavy equipment to the island was with the help of the British Navy and a flat-bottomed ship with an opening bow that could unload the trucks close to shore.  The Manager at the time had told everyone that they should wait a week till the tides were just right.  But the Navy had only a small window in which they could do the job.  Luckily, the owner of Bowmore at the time had the foresight to buy insurance! Yes, you guessed it.  It was one thing after the other – the ships couldn’t get in close enough, the flat bed truck with the boiler got stuck in the sand, the tides came in….. The truck spent the night and two tides under water!  They had troubles getting it back on board the ship, and had to manually winch the boiler back on the boat first,  then winch back the truck.  Needless to say, a week passed until the tides were right, and the boiler came ashore!!

It was now 1:50 pm, and Aidan hadn’t had a beer.  We headed to the pub at the Bowmore Hotel, hoping they were serving lunch, as a sign out side listed venison curry.  They weren’t serving food but Aidan enjoyed a pint of Tennent’s 80/- and Jackie a Black Bottle (a delicious blend of Islay whiskies).   

We headed to the Harbour Inn, still looking for lunch.  They’d stopped serving a few minutes before we got there, so it was a bag of crisps each and a pint of Belhaven Best for Aidan and Black Bottle for Jackie.  The barmaid was a very chatty girl and was showing us on a topographic map of the island all the places she loves to go.  Aidan and Jackie realize that they will never get all the distilleries done this trip, never mind any of the other hikes and walks they wanted to do…….we will be back!  As usual, we realize we’ve missed the last bus out to Caol Ila – well, we could still get there, but we couldn’t get back to our Hotel the same day!  Aidan ordered an Islay beer – Saligo Ale.  Our barmaid suggested a walk over to Bridgend, where there local brewery is located.  It sounded like a good idea!

The brewery is a fabulous low volume, small batch brewery that opened Easter 2004.  They have made nine different types of beer since they started operations, and Aidan tasted three at the brewery that he hadn’t already tasted.

We couldn’t linger too long, as the last bus was leaving Bridgend shortly.  We hoofed it down to the main road and the bus stop with 5 minutes to spare.  At the bus stop, we chatted to Jim, an Australian businessman taking a few days R&R, and Angie, a South African who had previously spent 4 months on the island working, but was back for a week to visit.   

We enjoyed an aperitif the Harbour Inn pub, where Jackie tried the White Horse (the blend Lagavulin is added to). It was smooth and very drinkable.  You may be asking why Jackie is having blends while on Islay.  It’s a matter of costs, as the single malts run from £4 to £100.  And most of these blends we can’t get in BC and are less than £2.  Aidan had Belhaven Best.  Angie, our South African friend came in and enjoyed the raw oysters with a more expensive dram than Jackie was having – the Bruichladdich Moine Mhor.

We moved on to Brian’s Pub, which was said to be full of underage kids, giggling teenage girls, and was not recommended.    We thought since it was early (6:30 pm) that we should be OK.  It was a stark, smoky bar that had a pool table and a dart board. There were only a few patrons, all under 20!  Jackie tried a Scottish Leader (another blend) and Aidan a Tartan Special.  We played a game of darts, Jackie taking an easy victory over Aidan, and then left. Jackie was not tolerating the smoke well!

The next stop was the Lochside Hotel – we started at the pub side, but when we inquired about single malts, the bartender dragged us over to the Lounge side.  Wow! There were over 200 single malts.  OK Aidan – this is your round!

Jackie tried a 25 year old Port Ellen (spectacular and worth the £7), the Bruichladdich Infinity (no balance, but very complex, a young whisky), and Aidan sampled the 80/- McEwan’s. 

Back to the Bowmore Hotel to check out the curry…. With a 70/- Tennent’s for Aidan and a Black Bottle for Jackie.  We tried the smoked Scottish salmon and smoked Islay beef for appetizers.  Aidan ordered the Venison Korma, which came loaded with peppers, so Jackie enjoyed it!  Jackie ordered the Islay roast beef.  It was over-done, as all British roasts are, but at least there were no peppers and Aidan was able to eat it.  Overall, not our best meal in Islay, although we had been warned it was “hit or miss” at the Bowmore Hotel.

After dinner we went through to the pub side of the Bowmore Hotel for a night cap.  We ran in to Ken the Aussie chap, and so stayed for a couple of pints (70/- Tennent’s) and some more Black Bottle.  Back to the Harbour Inn pub for two more pints of Belhaven Best, and a dram, chatting to an architect and two work mates from Glasgow looking at modifications to the Port Askaig ferry dock.  At 11:00 pm, we’d had enough (or maybe it was last call…..).

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