It was day three of our whisky extravaganza and we were starting to feel it. I was also beginning to understand alcoholism a little better. Feel bad when you wake up? Don’t worry your first tasting is at 10 am, and you’ll feel great from there on out. We had three tours booked our last day, but Caol Ila cancelled on us last minute because of maintenance issues. This turned out to be a huge blessing as I have no idea how we would have made it to Bunnahabhain had they not.
That said our first stop of the day was Bruichladdich. I had always wondered about Bruichladdich with their flashy bottles and “hip” branding and crafting practices but had never tried any of their whiskies. We had booked the standard tour of the distillery, which is very similar to the others standard tours, and as this was the morning of day three it was getting a little tiresome the way I planned it.
Malting, milling, fermenting, stilling, warehouse, drink. While our guide was great and it was still fun, I wished we had had more time and could have spaced our visits out a little more. As we went on our tour we learned how Bruichladdich had gone bankrupt and been shut down for several years, only to be bought by some wine guys who saw an investment opportunity in 2000. They brought over as their master distiller, or some might say stole, Jim McEwan from Bowmore where he had worked since age 15.
In addition to whisky Bruichladdich makes one of our favorite gins, The Botanist. We were able to see the gin still, Ugly Betty, that produces The Botanist on our tour which we really enjoyed. They only run Ugly Betty twice a year as she has such a high yield each batch (it is a Lomod Still with an 11,600 liter capacity) so we got to look inside her and you could smell all the floral aromas used to make The Botanist.
When we got to the end of the tour we had the chance to sample a few of Bruichladdich’s whiskies. I tried the first one which was their 100% Islay and almost couldn’t choke it down, something I hadn’t encountered on the island yet. It was harsh and tasted like it needed a few more years in the cask before anyone should drink it. Then I tried another, but it too was a chore to get down. I felt like this place had brought back the same old model that had bankrupt them before, except now they were dumping even more money into marketing than before. They had the largest selection of whisky varietals, the flashiest designs, and the worst whisky of all the distilleries on the island in my opinion.
After a quick lunch at the Bridgend Hotel we headed for Bunnahabhain and our Warehouse No. 9 Tour. The road down was a mission as it was a single, windy track and took us much longer than anticipated to get there.
Which was why we were all so happy that Coal Ila cancelled on us as we would never had made it in time if we were coming from there. When we got to Bunnahabhain and checked in we found out it would be just the three of us. The Warehouse No. 9 Tour is similar to the end part of the Laphroaig Water to Whisky Tour in that we would be sampling straight from the cask in their warehouse. Four casks were set out that we sampled drams from and then for an additional cost we could bottle one ourselves (unlike Laphroaig whose bottle was included in the cost of the tour). With the it already costing £35, I felt like they should have either included a small bottle, or charged a little more for the tour to include a bottle. While the whisky was good, none of us felt compelled to spend the extra money on bottling our own. After Bunnahabhain, we decided we had just enough time to make the drive out to nearby Kilchoman and do a small tasting before it closed. We thought the road out to Bunnahabhain was exciting, but that was nothing compared to the road to Kilchoman! Sera almost got into a head on with another car trying to swerve out of the way on the wrong side of the road. We all laughed as inside the on-coming car was the German couple from the day before that did the Laphroaig tour with us. Instead of being angry they just laughed and asked her how much she had had to taste already that day.
We arrived shortly before closing so all we could do was a quick tasting in their shop. This was fine because at this point we were pretty toured out and just wanted to sample whisky anyway. But we were not alone during our tastings and ended up with a somewhat crazy, draft dodging, half-Canadian/half-American older man. He was visiting Islay with his son who was a champion fiddle player on tour and giving a concert on the island. One of the reasons he seemed so crazy was because he was dressed in full traditional Scottish dress with a kilt and knife, but then he had on this Canadian beret. His son was dressed the same but with an enormous diamond ring on that made Sera’s look small in comparison.
But the strangest part was that he talked our ear off the whole time, including the woman giving the tasting, about how he had been out there years before and any other topic that came to mind. I won’t go into detail but they were some strange topics. On one hand it was a bummer because in a way his chatter distracted me from the tasting, but in another way it was so bizarre that it made the experience fun and weird. We finished the tasting there, and as they were closing I felt a bit rushed and that I missed out on some of the flavors. But I was pretty well drammed out by that point of the day so no real loss.
That evening we returned to Yan’s Kitchen for dinner because it was that good and he delivered again. If you find yourself in Islay make a point of visiting this restaurant. You won’t be disappointed. After dinner we headed back to the Lochindaal Hotel for the night.We had the earliest ferry off the island the next morning and were all ready for some sleep. Which, on a side note, is a fantastic hotel that serves a full, hot Scottish breakfast each morning included in the cost of your room. A great, and budget friendly, place to stay on the island which can be tricky to find.