Bruichladdich- the tasting!

The first-part of the distillery tour can be found here.
From the heady smells of the still-house we head back across the central courthouse to one of the many Bruichladdich warehouses. They have further warehouses in the surrounding hills and also use the old Port Charlotte dunnage warehouses for their peatier drams. Plans to reopen Port Charlotte continue apace, with stills being rescued from the defunct Innerleuven distillery to avoid the massive expense of making new ones from scratch.

This warehouse we're shown turns out to be where the magic happens, with not only the private-owned* casks stored here, but also Jim McEwan's experimental batches, with finishes in all manner of exotic casks, including rum and wine.

Into the vatting and bottling hall then, a decidedly newer area and a first for the island. The first batches were originally bottled by hand and this kit is still used for small runs, but the star of the show is the brand spanking new bottling plant. Its able to fill extraordinary numbers of bottles a day, essential for fulfilling that new Tesco contract...

 And finally, that part you've all been waiting for - how does the whisky taste? In a word...excellent. Bloody excellent in two! Well worth the wait.

We're all offered the Laddie 10, the first core expression now the whisky is old enough to be sold as a single malt. Its light, full of subtle wood character, a wisp of smoke and almost a "session" whisky in that its very easy to forget the strength and want to drink half a bottle in one sitting! We're then get offered the run of the range, with myself and other toursters doing their best to suggest a whisky they didn't have open behind the counter and willing to hand out: we don't succeed. I try the Laddie 10, Port Charlotte and Octomore in succession. They're peated at 4,40 and 152ppm respectively and boy is there a difference! The Port Charlotte is a bonfire in your mouth, all ashes and wood smoke with none of the subtleties exhibited in the Laddie. Octomore (peatiest whisky in the world!) is a different beast entirely.  Despite its OTT peat rate** it tastes nowhere near as smoky as the Port Charlotte. This whisky alone confirms that I am no longer peat-averse and more truthfully how a peat-head.

Perhaps the star of the show for me was the Valinch. "What's that?" I hear you cry! Well cry no more as I'm about to explain. A solitary cask sits mid-wall in the shop. On request you're handed an empty bottle which you then proceed to fill yourself. The cask is a one-off, only available at the brewery and never available again. The ultimate in whisky geekery. This time around its a bourbon aged Port Charlotte and at a beastly 63.5% ABV.*** Gimmicky perhaps, but still a great experience and more importantly a good tasting whisky that I'm looking forward to receiving the bottle of for my birthday (Thanks Dad!) It seems I got one of the last as they're now onto a new cask...

If you've only time to visit one whisky distillery on Islay (very poor planning on your part!) then make it this one! The enthusiasm of Helen and helpfulness of all the staff, not to mention the generous tasters all contribute to an afternoon well spent.

*Yes, it is possible to buy a cask of whisky!
** Try getting hold of one of those Brewdog!
***More details:
2002 Cask No 130, Cask Type: Bourbon/La Tour
63.5%, Release Qty: 450 Bottles, Released: December 2011



A distillery I was adamant I would visit as soon as my Islay trip was confirmed was bruichladdich. It simply ticked far too many boxes for me to be missed out on.
Situated in picturesque Bruichladich, it was rescued from oblivion by a consortium of bidders in 2001 and since then has gone from strength to strength. A tour for £5 a head is very reasonable indeed, given the number of samples offered and the fact it is redeemable against a bottle purchase. More on this later...
Arriving at the distillery the weary traveller is greeted by this retired still, with a jokingly placed pair of wellingtons serving as a warning to drinking on the job...
The visitor's car-park sits in the heart of the distillery and the tour begins and ends in the well-stocked shop (see for yourself!) We're led across the car-park and given a bit of the history by Helen, our knowledgable and enthusiastic tour guide. What follows is the most in-depth, open and enjoyable whisky distillery tour I've been on to date (and I've been on a fair few I can tell thee!). Kicking things off nicely we're told that nowhere is off limits* for us happy-snappers...this sits in stark contrast with many other distilleries where that handy catchall of "health and safety" is evoked for the dis-allowance of  photography (the flash can ignite spirit vapours in the air...allegedly).

The first site is the only working example of a Bobby grain mill in existence. Not only is it working but its in use, but unlike at Jura, Helen's voice rises above the din. The grist produced here is transported over the road to the mash-house. Bruichladdich produces three different ranges of whisky and we're able to taste the malt of two of these to compare how the peat changes the flavour. Although some barley is grown locally, its all malted at Inverness due to the high variety of peat specs required by the distillery. They'd love to reintroduce some floor malting but the old malting floor and kiln building is currently occupied the shop!
The mash tun is another antique of a golden age. It is made of wood, open to the elements and has a fixed rake, meaning sparging takes that bit longer. The final water is too low in sugar to be economical in a fermenter and so becomes the first liquor for the next mash. We get the obligatory peek into a fermenter  (also wood) and are hit by the overpowering CO2- this is a vigorous one then head into the still house.
The still house contains two each of wash and spirit stills plus a number of employees who soon evade the prying eyes invading their space. There's also another surprise in here (see right-hand side of pic for a hint) but that's for another post!

The stills are pretty tall and filled at quite a low level leading to a light spirit with plenty of finesse. The spirit safes are gleaming and the new-make is pouring through at a reassuring rate. This will be going into casks that won't be touched for at least ten years - a long capital tie up which made the extensive barrel stocks purchased with the distillery a must have.

Get a glimpse of these and the all important tasting in part  two of the tour tomorrow!

*Of course, the down-side of this is there's a large amount of distillery porn in this post!


A Spiritual Home

Beer shouldn't be taken too seriously. As a bit of fun I decided to take a Brewdog beer back to where it began part of its life. Apologies for the Beer-Nut-esque pun!

Sat on the Diurach's table at Jura Distillery
Jura is an island with a population of ~200 people off the west-coast of Scotland. The distillery was resurrected to preserve jobs on the island and now produces four regular expressions. Paradox Jura is an Imperial Stout brewed by the (Marmite) brewer Brewdog as part of their barrel-ageing experiments. This iteration is aged in, you guessed it, Jura Distillery barrels.
Fortuitously I happened to have already been planning a visit to Jura when Brewdog released the beer and after receiving the beer in the trade (cheers Dan!) a plan was hatched.

After an all-too-brief tour around the distillery the beer was released from where I had secreted it (Thanks Daisy!) and offered around any interested parties. As you would expect, it met with mixed reactions, the distillery staff perhaps thinking it sacrilege to put something as weak as 10% in a whisky cask.

And me? I loved it! I've had mixed experiences with Paradox in the past. I was lucky enough to try a few cask versions I have enjoyed but the Laphroaig version was nigh-on undrinkable, being like a gloopy TCP. This one poured a dark brown-black, with a lusciously thick texture and tan-tinged head that soon disappeared. The booze is immediately apparent on the nose but there's also roast coffee, plain chocolate and molasses. It coats the tongue and full of the same flavours in the nose, but magnified, with the sweetness and caramel of the Jura amplifying the chocolate in particular. Lovely finish, full on dessert beer.  

This beer certainly falls into the positive camp of The Great Barrel Aging Debate and comes highly reccomended from me. As for my thoughts on barrel-aging overall?That, dear reader, is another post for another day...

I've another few Paradoxes to sample sometime, perhaps I'll try the same trick...


Farmhouse Whisky

If ever there was a whisky distillery to which the moniker "craft" could be applied, then this is it. Based on a working  farm in rural Islay near the glorious dunes of Machir Bay, Kilchoman is the newest of Islay's 8 distilleries and opened a mere 7 years ago.
 The approach is along the typical farmhouse bumpy track, but at the end of the road there's the tell-tale distillery roof shape. It is still a working farm however, which the cows, sheep and ponies in the field attest to. This comes in handy for the disposal of the draff (spent grain) from the mashing in of the wash (unhopped beer). The lees of the stills are also spread on the fields as fertiliser.

We had another appointment that day; so did not have time for the full tour, instead opting to stop for lunch and a quick poke around. My first taste of cullen skink was great, as was the amount of filling in the paninis. (Didn't take any pics...too hungry!).

A good proportion of the barley used in the whisky is grown locally and in part floor malted at the distillery. The water from a nearby burn. The distillery has a single wash still and spirits still; so its very small-scale in proportion to everyone else on the island.
I get a chance to chat with the stillman as he prepares to switch the spirit safe from middles to feints and am offered a taste of the new make. Its a lot sweeter than the finished product and the high ABV means it evaporates straight off the tongue leaving the ghost of peat, some smoke and apricots. Its interesting to compare this to the alcohol at the start of the run, which noticeably still has some higher alcohols present. This all gets mixed together before cask filling.

The casks are all stored and aged on the premises in a racked warehouse. There's no mistaking which distillery its from with the distinctive bright blue barrel ends. They're mostly bourbon casks but there's some sherry wood in there too which is mostly used for finishing the whisky. Being so young its only recently that the distillery has been able to release spirit as malt whisky and will be another 6 years or so until they have a 12 y/o ready for sale.

The distillery has recently released its newest expression...Machir Bay. It " is a vatting of 3, 4 and 5 year old, matured in fresh bourbon barrels and finished in oloroso sherry butts for 8 weeks, 46% ABV." I bought a miniature of this to try at home, here are my thoughts:
Pouring the palest shade of straw, the alcohol and peat content is immediately apparent, this is a beast. In the mouth is smoke and a touch of phenol, but not overpoweringly so. That higher ABV begins to evaporate before the swallow leaving a sweet finish as the whisky warms down your  into your belly. There's no sign of the promised tropical fruit...yet. But add a wee drop water and it opens up completely. The proteins (still in the drink as this hasn't been chill-filtered) swirl around in a vortex and juicy pineapple comes to the fore. The burn is taken off the alcohol, but it still warms the throat all the way down. There's some tar, aromatic pipe-smoke and a hint of apricot at the end, with a lingering finish. Its a complex wee beastie and I can't wait to try the older variants as they become available.


Islay Ales

We Rocked up at Islay House Square home to a variety of Artisan businesses, including a gallery, marmalade maker and chocolate shop. However the target could be identified by the tell-tale pile of casks outside - Islay Ales. The shop takes up more space than the brewery itself and on my visit is full of touring Finnish engineering graduates. They all wear sailor-style hats for ease of identification.

Og, Single Malt and Finlaggan
There are a choice of three beers available on cask and samples are offered from the remainder of the bottles. The core range is available along with a Christmas Ale and we pick Angus Og, Nerabus and Single Malt Ale (3 for £10). (I didn't get around to drinking them on the island; so no reviews this time I'm afraid!). Unfortunately none of the limited edition whisky-collaboration beers were available, but the brewery was due to be bottling the 2012 version later that week.

I popped next door to chat to Paul in the 5BBL plant. There are four fermenters, with little immediate space for expansion. The majority (>90%) of beer is sold to the islanders-a captive market as no mainland cask beer seems to make it to here. I ask about outlets on the island and there's around 5 that take cask beer, with bottles available in a number of others.

I later found Finlaggan available on cask in Bowmore. The aroma didn't bode well for the beer white pepper and mace, with more of it in the flavour- not at all what I was suspecting and I'd suspect a dodgy cask. It was in good condition and pin bright; so I'm not sure the pubs at fault. Annoyingly a lot of bottle outlets on the island sold the beer cheaper than at the brewery itself, by over 50p in one case.

I wasn't keen on Islay Saligo when I tried a bottle last year, but I was fortunate to find Kentucky Kiss, a new bourbon barrel aged beer, at the Bruichladdich shop the following day.
Dark brown with rich whisky and wood ester notes on the nose. Toffee and marzipan with quite a sour twang. Coffee comes over in the finish.Its not particularly boozy as you might expect from a whisky age beer. I'd probably not have it again but its interesting to try.

I don't think I've tried this brewery at its best yet, need to old off judgement until I've tried those other three bottles next time I'm home.



The approach to Islay by sea is one of anticipation as you travel up the Islay Sound to tiny Port Askaig. Next to the where the ferry docks from the main land you will find a much smaller vessel - the Jura ferry. You can sign up to become an honorary Duirach (that is citizen of Jura) which gives you a free ferry pass not to mention monthly free dram in the local hotel.

The distillery tour is also free (but needs to be booked in advance). We were lead around by shop manager Sue. The distillery is fairly noisy, and consequentially it is difficult to hear some of the information. We missed the start of the tour due to an excellent lunch in the nearby hotel.
Lovely lady and a mash tun
All of the malt comes from the Inverness maltings. The grist is mashed in a steel mash tun, this differs from distillery to distillery.
wash and spirit stills
There are two wash and two spirit stills which produce the whisky from 8 wash-backs (fermenters). The whisky is then filled into bourbon barrels. It can produce up to 2.5million litres a year. No pictures allowed in the still house (alcohol vapours apparently) but I'm allowed to take one through the open doorway.

The four regular expressions
The tour seems to be over before its started and we end up in the shop where we remain for a good while sampling various drams.  Someone seems to have a lot of money, buying the most expensive bottle in the shop (it transpires he already has one and wanted a pair).

New make
There are four expressions in the core range. The regular 10 y/o, the 16 y/o Duirach's own, the lightly peated Superstition and the heavily peated prophecy. I was lucky enough to try them side by side in the Jura hotel.

The regular expression is widely available and light gold in colour. An aroma of apricots with some sweetness and plenty of fire.

The superstition is a tad darker with some phenols at the back of the palate and a smooth finish.

Prophecy focussed too much on peat for my liking. Darkest amber and quite oily.

Diurach's Own 16 y/o
The 16 y/o was my pick of the bunch so decided to buy some to take home with me. I'll taste it now:
It pours a burnished gold with a spicy curacao orange nose with an undercurrent of iodine and brine. Initially tingly on the tongue it progresses through mushroomy cheese rind and finishes with rich heather honey with a lingering sweetness. Its a more refined version of the 10y/o and one I'll certainly enjoying every dram of.



A two-hour drive from where we were stayed in Dunoon will take you to Oban. Its a fairly small town but has some decent restaurants, a brewery and a distillery. Arriving at lunchtime we went straight for our pre-booked meal at Ee-usk on North Pier. You couldn't ask for a better location, looking right out over the harbour through its glass frontage. Its a shame the weather wasn't up to much.

We were led to a prime table and ordered the drinks in. Unsurprisingly there's a good range of whiskys, including a few from the nearby distillery. Beer-wise there's nothing from the local Oban Brewery but there's some bottles from Fyne Ales so myself and my dad have a Piper's gold. Its a decent bitter session beer with English hops and goes well with the seafood platter we choose as starter. The Thai fish cakes were wonderfully spiced and delicious and the king prawn wrapped in salmon made an interesting juxtaposition of textures. Myself and Daisy also bravely tried our first oyster, straight out of the local loch. It was okay but nothing exciting, not sure I'd pay for one again.

The mains were all decent sized portions, particularly the whole, stuffed sea-bass and haddock and chips. The food all tasted great too. My scallops were cooked perfectly, but I still don't like those orange valve things. The staff were friendly and helpful and food reasonably priced. The only shock came when I saw the price of the Fyne Ales...£4.95 each! Its only £2.25 at the brewery not 50 miles away...

After lunch the plan was to use our Classic Malts passports for a free tour of the distillery and a few drams. Unfortunately all tours were choc-a-bloc and we had to content ourselves with a perusal of the (fairly bare) shop instead. Not to worry though as we had plenty of distilleries lined up for later in the week....

We didn't make it to the brewery, opting instead for some locally made chocolates and single origin cocoa, much better suited to the Scottish April weather.



In the heart of central Glasgow is a green park area with various monuments and the People's Museum and Winter Gardens. There's also a splendid building that hosts a secret - a German microbrewery and restaurant. WEST (for that is its name, whether it stands for anything I know not).
Gleaming copper
The first thing you notice on entering is a cordoned off area which turns out to be a view to the floor below with gleaming copper brew kettle and mash tun. Its supposedly hi-tech and efficient in a way that German manufacturing is wont to be. Its possible to tour the brewery but this generally has to be booked in advance. Certainly something for a future visit I think.
Templeton beer badge
The bar itself seems like any other until on closer inspection you find four taps with the WEST brand. Available on our visit were the St Mungo Lager, Hefeweizen, Munich Red and Wild West (a kellerbier). Its a shame there's not more available, but I guess they have to go with what's saleable within the shelf life time whilst having the core beers available. Would love to try the dunkels though.

St Mungo Lager and hefeweizen
I ordered a pint for myself and a half for the lady. The pricing system is strange to say the least and almost put a dampener on the proceedings. A pint is £3.50 (about normal for these parts) but a half is £2.50. Meaning Two halves would cost a whole £1.50 more than a pint. This seems stupid to me, even taking into account breakages/pilferage and cleaning of smaller glasses there can't be such a difference. At least the prices were clearly displayed on the wall but I can't help but thinking people would end up drinking less because of it. It would also be a good idea to offer a four thirds tasting tray for say £5. Id certainly have gone for that.

Pricing concerns aside, how were the beers? The St Mungo's was bright as a pin with a crisp flavour, some biscuit malt and very drinkable. The hefeweizen was preferred by my other half. Hazy dark blonde with a yeast ester nose and a touch of citrus. They certainly both looked the part in their branded glasses. We also tried the Munich Red (pint split between two glasses...) which was a sweet toffee apple and malty caramel affair and a taste of the Wild West confirmed it to be a lightly hoppy blonde which didn't particularly interest me at the time.

Spinnach and feta filo
Veggie haggis burger
Being that time of day we chose to stay for lunch. I'd seen mixed food reviews online but decided the proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say. Despite being very busy they soon had found us a table and having had a big breakfast skipped starters and went straight for mains. Daisy chose a spinach and feta filo parcel with pesto and tomatoes and I had a vegetarian haggis burger with added blue cheese and mushrooms. The hand-cut chips were great, well cooked and all food came out in good time and piping hot. Arranged nicely on the plates and in a good sized portion we were impressed. All of the food tasted excellent and I fail to see where the comments had come from in reviews. Certainly no complaints here. There were plenty of German inspired dishes on the menu for those who like their schnitzels and sausage too.

White chocolate tart
Hefe-ice and berry compote
I've tried beer ice-cream before (X-Beer 33 at U Medviku in Prague) but wasn't too keen, it being a fairly bitter beer sorbet. The hefe-ice was much tastier. Really creamy but with the unmistakable influence of spicy wheat and fruity esters, it off-set the tart berry compote perfectly. The white chocolate tart was also tasty and paired well with the Munich red, but perhaps a tad too sweet for me.

Daisy enjoying St Mungo's Lager
In all then a good experience. Good beer, good food, friendly service and fair prices (strangely priced halves aside). I'd certainly return and try other beers and food, but please WEST, rethink your pricing or offer tasting trays!