August 27, 2014

GrapeScot Islay Whisky Tour, Scotland, August 23rd to 30th 2015

Islay and tour overview

Islay is a beautiful Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland, and one of five official Whisky regions of Scotland (the others are Highland, Lowland, Speyside and Campbeltown). Just over 600 square kilometres in size, it is nevertheless home to 8 working distilleries - Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman and Bunnahabhain. Construction starts this year on Gartbreck, Islay’s newest distillery. Bowmore (1779) is Islay’s oldest distillery. Ardbeg and Laphroaig both celebrate their bi-centenaries in 2015. The island has a rich history, diverse landscapes, and a friendly population of about 3000 residents, augmented by some 60,000 annual visitors. There are no big highways and no malls; road trips are often slowed down by sheep. It is a wonderful, marvellous place that all whisky lovers should visit. It will touch your heart.
Our 2015 Islay tour will include wonderful tastings and experiences at each of the distilleries, including a trip to the neighbouring island of Jura to visit that distillery. Jura, larger geographically than Islay, is home to about 200 people and 7000 deer! Time and weather permitting, we will also visit a number of important sites, including the 8th century Kildalton Cross, Finlaggan –  an important meeting place for the Lords of the Isles, the pristine beaches of Machir Bay, and the Mull of Oa for a beautiful walk, and cliffs that fall 200 metres to the sea. We’ll stay in a fine establishment, enjoy some of Islay’s best food, and meet some wonderful, iconic whisky people. In late August, we can expect highs and lows of 15C and 10C.
Our home for the week will be in the town of Bowmore, Islay’s centrally located capital. With a population of around 900, it’s home to Bowmore Distillery, a number of restaurants, pubs and cafés, the island swimming pool, and some great little shops and historic sites. We will stay at The Bowmore House, where we will enjoy comfortable accommodations, great breakfasts and Islay hospitality.


Sunday 23rd August 2015

The 8 day, small group tour will start in Glasgow. There are various routings from Ottawa to Glasgow, and starting the tour there allows participants to join from anywhere. From Canada, you can recover from jet lag, or explore other parts of Scotland, elsewhere in the UK, or the rest of Europe, before or after the Islay Tour. The Edinburgh Festival takes place in August and some might wish to take in a few events.

In Glasgow we will board our mini coach for the week around 9am to enjoy the journey to Kennacraig, where we’ll catch the 1pm ferry to Port Askaig in the North East of Islay. The 2hr ferry crossing offers wonderful views of the Paps of Jura and Caol Ila Distillery. From Port Askaig, we head south west across the island to centrally located Bowmore, the capital of Islay, where we’ll be based for the week. We’ll arrive around 4pm, leaving you time to settle in or explore the town, before a group dinner in Bowmore.

Accommodation will be at The Bowmore House, where we’ll enjoy comfortable rooms, wonderful breakfasts and great hospitality. The Bowmore House is the #1 guest house on Trip Advisor.

Monday24th August 2015

 Bruichladdich Distillery – We’ll start our whisky week with a custom tour and warehouse tasting
Lunch at Kilchoman Café
Kilchoman - custom Manager’s tour with a range of Kilchoman drams
Visit beautiful Machir Bay on the west coast of Islay
Return to Bowmore
Free evening

Tuesday25th August 2015

Bunnahabhain Distillery – a custom tour with Distillery Manager Andrew Brown, and a number of exceptional Bunnahabhain drams
Ferry and bus to Jura Distillery, Craighouse
Lunch (not included) available at The Antlers or The Jura Hotel Restaurant, both beside the Distillery. (Ferry schedules might necessitate a packed lunch)
Jura Distillery – for a custom tour and tasting of Jura’s wide range of whiskies
Return to Islay, Dinner at The Bridgend Hotel 

Wednesday26th August 2015

Bowmore Distillery –the very special Craftsman’s Tour
Lunch (not included) in Bowmore
Visit to Gartbreck Distillery, possibly in production by 8/15
Visit to the beautiful Mull of Oa, and 1 ½ hr hike
Return to Bowmore
Free evening

Thursday27th August 2015

Caol Ila – Custom tasting and whisky and chocolate pairing
Lunch (not included) in Port Askaig
Visit to Finlaggan
Return to Bowmore
Dinner at Yan’s in Port Charlotte

Friday28th August 2015

Lagavulin – Warehouse and tasting experience
Mini bus or walk (optional) to Port Ellen
Lunch (not included) in Port Ellen
Port Ellen Malting Works and/or visit Kildalton Cross
Dinner at Islay Hotel in Port Ellen  

Saturday29th August 2015

Laphroaig Distillery - in depth tour, warehouse & cask tasting, bottle from your favourite cask
Lunch  at The Old Kiln Café at Ardbeg Distillery
Ardbeg Distillery – a special experience with rare dram tastings from several decades
A very special evening at The Bowmore House with dinner, and whisky pairings by Martine Nouet, one of the world’s leading authorities on food and whisky.

Sunday 30th August 2015

Our final day. Breakfast, mini coach to Port Ellen for the 1pm ferry back to Kennacraig, and onwards to Glasgow.
From the southern ferry, and weather permitting, spectacular views of Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig can be seen.

Tour Price (Canadian Dollars)

Based on double occupancy, $4200 per person
Single supplement $600

The tour price includes

  • Accommodations for 7 nights at The Bowmore House, rated #1 on Trip Advisor.
  • 5 dinners (3 courses, 2 glasses of wine) in some of Islay’s best restaurants, to which some special guests will be invited.
  • 7 wonderful Scottish breakfasts at our home for the week.
  • 2 lunches at both of Islay’s famous distillery cafés – Kilchoman and Ardbeg.
  • Exceptional customized distillery and whisky experiences at 9 distilleries.
  • Cultural/walking outings to Kildalton, Mull of Oa, Finlaggan, Machir Bay, and more as time permits.
  • All ground transportation, in a comfortable mini coach, with a professional, local Islay driver, from and to Glasgow, and on the island for the organized part of the tour, i.e. most of the week. On the 2 free evenings, there are many dining establishments in Bowmore and numerous taxi companies, should you wish to travel to one of several other towns for dinner.
  • All ferry costs to and from Islay.
  • All taxes and gratuities.
  • Travel agency fee.
  • Carol, born and raised in Scotland, Ottawa based independent whisky ambassador and Islay lover, accompanying the group to guide, translate, facilitate, talk whisky and extol the virtues of Islay.

Not included in the price

  • Air fare
  • Transfers pre and post tour
  • Travel insurance, cancellation and medical insurance

Reservations, cancellations and refunds

  • GrapeScot is pleased to be partnering with TravelOnly, an exceptional Canadian travel agency, which will manage all sales, registrations and payments, and assist participants with any other trip related travel requirements. Mary Lynn Villeneuve, ACC, Travel Consultant, will be happy to assist you with all your travel needs. +1.613.924.1404 TICO #4316071
  • A deposit of $500 per person is required to reserve a place on the tour.
  • Final payment of the remaining balance is due by 75 days before departure.
  • Cancellations made before final payment is due are liable to a forfeit of the entire deposit of $500 per person
  • Cancellations made between 75 days and 45 days before departure are liable to a further charge of $1500 per person.
  • Refunds cannot be made to any passenger who cancels after 45 days before departure or to any passenger who does not complete the tour for any reason.
·         The above itinerary is as planned, however we reserve the right to make adjustments depending upon weather, distillery schedule changes, ferry time changes, and other constraints.

GrapeScot articles on Islay and the distilleries

Islay   Bowmore   Lagavulin   Ardbeg   Bruichladdich  Caol Ila   Laphroaig   Bunnahabhain   Kilchoman  Jura   Feis Ile 2014   Ardbeg at Feis Ile  Laphroaig at Feis Ile  Bunnahabhain at Feis Ile  Lagavulin at Feis Ile  Caol Ila at Feis Ile  Bruichladdich at Feis Ile

Coming soon – Gartbreck Distillery and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival on the blog


August 26, 2014

Jura Tastival - enjoy the journey, savour the taste!

A crow could fly from Glasgow to Jura in no time. It's about 60 miles away. For whisky loving mortals, it takes a wee bit longer and involves a nice little five minute ferry ride across the Sound of Islay, followed by a 20 minute journey along "the" road to Craighouse, where Jura Distillery is located.
Jura is larger than Islay, but has a population of only about 200 people, and around 6000 deer. Indeed Jura is Norse for deer island.
Time passes slowly on Jura
Purportedly, whisky has been made on Jura since the early 16th century and the present distillery was established in 1810. After a closure of over forty years, it was reopened in 1963 as part of a plan to revitalize the island, as the population had dropped to about 150. Now a thriving distillery, with a great selection of whisky tourist events, four large, tall stills, and a wide selection of expressions, Jura Distillery is very much back in action.
With close proximity to Islay, it makes perfect sense to offer up a special Jura Day during Feis Ile week, with free shuttles, a complimentary tasting bar, free guided tours of the distillery, and a range of tasting experiences including Whisky on the Waves, Dramming in the Dark with Master Distiller, Richard Paterson, and the Jura Tastival event, a multi sensory experience, which was both innovative and delicious.  The tasting bar was generously set up with six fine Jura expressions, all complimentary, all day long. On the Tastival menu, as it was dubbed, were the 10 year old Original, Turas-Mara (the Duty Free offering), the delicious 2014 Festival bottling, Duirachs own 16 year old, Superstition and Elixir. Tasters were invited to explore the whiskies, create their own tasting notes, post them on boards around the tasting room and tweet them using #JuraTastival.
This was a great collection to explore.
10yo 40%ABV, ex Bourbon casks. Citrus fruit, honey, cloves, hint of smoke, nice!
Turas-Mara 42%ABV, matured in casks from different geographical regions to reflect the Turas-Mara (long journey) story. Creamy vanilla, honey, cherries, dried fruit, very nice!
Tastival 2014 Festival Bottle 44%ABV, matured in seven different oak finishes. Rich and bursting with aromas and flavours. Delicious for me. A bottle is now in my collection.
Duirachs own 16 year old 40%ABV, matured in sherry and bourbon casks. Herbal aspects on the nose with aniseed, dried fruits and toffee; marmalade and spicy to taste; long, tasty finish. A classic.
Superstition 43%ABV, NAE but likely 8 or 9 years old, mixture of peated and unpeated whiskies matured in bourbon casks. Youthful, light smoke, heather honey, spice. Currently one of three available at LCBO (plus 21year old and Elixir) $60
Elixir 12 yo, 40%, matured in bourbon and sherry casks. Fruity and spicy. $60 at LCBO
We spent quite a bit of time at the Tasting Bar, wandering around the distillery and enjoying its prime location on the water, and generally drinking in the atmosphere. My non whisky drinking sister was starting to reckon that she could quite like this "stuff". It was time for lunch at The Antlers Restaurant, just up the road - a fine little place with a great selection of well prepared, homemade food. Mine involved Cullen Skink and a venison burger. Yum!
After lunch, it was back to Jura for our afternoon session with Ambassadors, Graham and Anthony. With friendly enthusiasm, knowledge, and an obvious passion for the job, they led us through a "multi sensory adventure" comprising a tasting of four expressions, with some well selected items to nose and taste, and a beautiful artistic video presentation, all intended to assail the senses and evoke favourable memories to accompany the drams.
With a special festival beer, cold brewed coffee, amazing chocolates, seaweed crisps, a layered dessert and several other interesting morsels, we experienced our way through Origin, Duirachs Own, Prophecy and Superstition. It mattered not a whit that we had already tasted them at the bar. It was all delightful!
Next up we toured the Distillery, sniffed around the washback, had a look in a warehouse, and heard about the distillery history and production processes. Then it was off to the shop to pick up some bottles, where I was delighted to catch up with Rachel MacNeill, she of Wild and Magic and Whisky for Girls, who's now also the very capable Visitor Centre Manager, with all kinds of great plans for future activities.
With yet another dram in hand, we four (me, my husband, sis, bro-in-law) queued up for the next shuttle back to the ferry, and the drive back to Port Charlotte (courtesy of the dd for the day).
You know you're on a wee Jura to Islay ferry during Feis Ile when you see this kind of sign.
The car was custom designed for carrying a dram back for my other bro', the culinary king who was back in the cottage cooking up a delicious post tasting dinner.

GrapeScot Islay and Jura Tour 2015

We'll be visiting Jura Distillery for a great experience during the whisky tour to Islay (and Jura) in late August 2015. This will be a small group experience with terrific events at each of the distilleries, an opportunity to meet some wonderful whisky people, great accommodations, transportation, food, cultural activities and some very fine whisky. To find out more, please drop me a line and I'll send you the itinerary and details.

Next post - Bruichladdich Day at Feis Ile 2014

The next post will be about Bruichladdich. Check back soon or, better still, sign up above for email updates. You'll only receive an email when a new story is posted.


August 13, 2014

Laphroaig at the Feis (Book early)!

As I write this, there are 622968 Friends of Laphroaig - folks who have purchased at least one bottle of Laphroaig and signed up to be a friend, which comes with a lifetime lease of a square foot of land at the distillery, and many other fun perks. Based on how quickly the Laphroaig events at the annual whisky festival were sold out, it's just possible that most of these Friends attended Feis Ile 2014! That's a bit of a "tongue in cheek" comment, but is testament to the huge popularity of this soon to be 200 year old Islay distillery.
Laphroaig means "the beautiful hollow by the broad bay" in Gaelic, and the name is apt. Nestled in a gorgeous spot on the south coast of Islay, Laphroaig is where some of the smokiest whiskies on Islay are produced, and where generous drams of many whisky expressions were poured on Laphroaig Day.
Months before the festival, I somehow missed the fact that events were open for reservation - probably because I had never bothered to sign up as a FOL. Silly me! Events I wanted to attend included a Burns Supper, a blind tasting, cask strength whisky tasting with John Campbell, and a Laphroaig expedition. Nobody, but nobody, cancels out of Laphroaig events, probably because if you drink Laphroaig every day you never get sick! In any event, no amount of emailing and begging got me into any of these fine functions but, having learned my lesson, we trotted off to Laphroaig Day anyway to see what would transpire.
First up, the weather was glorious. Off to a good start!
Second, the FOL bar was serving up shots of the following expressions.........
Laphroaig Select - matured in American oak (not ex-bourbon), sherry casks, Oloroso sherry butts, 1/4 casks and PX sherry casks. A cornucopia of sweet, dry, fruit and smoke.
10 year old original - cask strength version of the beloved Laphroaig 10. Powerful, medicinal, smoky.
Quarter Cask - a perennial favourite and possibly the best value Laphroaig in our fair Province. Matured in ex Bourbon casks, then small American oak 1/4 casks. Laphroaig with toffee.
Triple Wood - the 1/4 cask with added maturation in oloroso casks. Think smoky, peaty, dark toffee, dried fruits, nuts, smoky, oily, spicy, smoky, sweet, smoky. I like it a lot.
18 year old. Heavenly, elegant Laphroaig. Matures very nicely to advanced years.
Cairdeas (Friendship) 2014. The annual Friends of Laphroaig bottling, which does double duty as the festival bottle. Laphroaig finished in Amontillado sherry casks for a year. The finishing casks come through loud and clear and provide a fruit flavour spectrum from citrus to dried, as well as a lot of nutty character. The Laphroaig smokiness is more subdued in this one, but I loved the whole package. A very nice dram!
Third, the music by the Simon Moran Trio was jolly!
Fourth, I snagged the last signed bottle of Laphroaig Cairdeas (by Distillery Manager, John Campbell), which I'm opening later on this evening for a birthday dram.
Fifth, I had my interview with Jean Donnay of the new Gartbreck Distillery. (I know I keep referring to this, and that interview will appear eventually)!
Sixth, some Christmas gifts were purchased in the Laphroaig shop.
Soaps, lotions, marmalade, scarves -& Scotch!
Seventh, we managed to fit in an outing to the beautiful and inspiring 1300 year old Kildalton Cross,
Imposing Kildalton Cross

Simply leave money in the  blue box for hot drinks and baked goods.
Beautiful moors around Kildalton
Very jaggy nettles!

and a walk on the Mull of Oa,
Mull of Oa

as well as a chat with a fellow working at the Port Ellen malt storage and filling station,
Demand for malted barley on Islay outstrips local supply
a quick bite at the White Hart Hotel,
the whisky menu
Silent Port Ellen Distillery next to Port Ellen Malting works
and a get together with the rest of the family at Lagavulin Malt Mill for a wee local ceilidh! As they say in Scotland - "jings", which, roughly translated in this case, means "that's a lot of stuff to pack into one day". And it was.

GrapeScot Islay Tour 2015

I'll be back at Laphroaig as part of the GrapeScot Islay Whisky Tour, August 2015. Drop me a line if you'd like to receive the details of a grand experience there, and at all the other great distilleries on this beautiful Hebridean island. For more on Laphroaig distillery, you can read my post from my previous visit.
Next up will be my visit to the neighbouring island of Jura, home to a fine distillery (also on the tour), and one that hosted a grand day during the whisky festival. Check back soon or, better still, sign up above for email updates. You'll only receive an email when a new story is posted.

August 05, 2014

Lagavulin Day @ Feis Ile 2014 - Cool Cocktails & Wonderful Whisky

We flew in from Glasgow and were met at the Islay airport by John, our charming family friend, and rental home host for the week. John arrived to pick up our luggage and take it back to Port Charlotte. Our plan was to take the bus to Lagavulin and enjoy whatever was on offer.
While catching up on Islay news, over a coffee, one of the airport security folks asked us if we'd mind leaving, as the airport was closing. There's only one flight from and to Glasgow on a Saturday morning, so the airport closes mid morning. Lillias, one of the security guards, asked us where we were going, then kindly offered to give us a "lift". Turns out that she had been busy baking, and was about to serve food at the filled rolls and baked goods stand, run by one of the local churches.
And so we found ourselves at Lagavulin Distillery in record time, joining a long line of happy people, queuing up to buy the festival bottle. It turned out that the line was about two hours long, but it was both cheery and productive.
We chatted with a few folks in the queue, none of whom knew any details about the bottle they were lining up to buy. It probably didn't matter. It was Lagavulin. It was a special bottling. It would be good. With our place in line secured, I wandered off to find out more about the bottle; and also to go begging to see whether I could get us into any of the special tasting events that had been sold out from almost day one. It turned out that one coveted spot had become available for Georgie Crawford's Masterclass, which I snapped up, with a request to track me down if another should miraculously appear. Georgie is the Distillery Manager at Lagavulin, and a bit of an icon in the  whisky women world, so I was super excited to snag a spot at one of her sessions. With a couple of passes to a cocktail session and some information about the distillery bottling, I wandered back to the line, which had progressed - a little, just in time to receive a dram of 16 year old, which was being poured to help pass the time. And it did - very nicely!
While we were enjoying the dram, the fine weather, and good chats with folks whom we would encounter many more times during the week, we spotted this van turning into the car park.
Gartbreck is to be Islay's newest distillery, with construction starting this year, and production targeted for next year. I left the line again to go see who was in the van and, to my delight, it was the new owner, Jean Donnay, with his wife, Martine and their daughter.
We'd been hoping to meet up during this trip, so this was a serendipitous occurrence a couple of hours into our visit. Later in the week I would meet up with Jean at Laphroaig to chat about his plans for the distillery. That interview will be appearing shortly, in a subsequent post.
Before long the, as yet untasted, Festival bottle was procured, just in time to join the piper-led parade up the road to the historic Malt Mill for Georgie's Masterclass - for which, by this point, a second ticket had been procured, thanks to someone missing a flight.
The event was fun. Georgie has done this before! Apart from a great collection of whiskies, she had anecdotes to share about the distillery, the folks who work there, Islay trivia and history and completely unrelated fun stories. She showed two hilarious clips from a couple of episodes of "Parks and Recreation". The main character, Ron Swanson, enjoys his Lagavulin. Here, courtesy of Scotch Cinema, is an under three minute clip, worth watching.
On the distillery front, new efficiencies are in play, resulting in significantly higher production levels, i.e. more Lagavulin. Thirteen vent pipes have been installed to capture vapour losses in the Still House during production. This successful venture, one of several, is being rolled out to other Diageo distilleries - of which there are many!
On the tasting mat were six Lagavulin logo-ed, Glencairn crystal tasting glasses, each topped with a transparent cover to seal in the lovely whisky aromas.
First up was a cask strength Manager's Dram, bottled from 5 rejuvenated hogsheads, featuring lemon, peat and a youthful exuberance.
Next up was the 2013, Lagavulin 12 year old, cask strength. This was the 12th year for this product, and for me, this one displayed pineapple, white pepper and drug store perfume (that might sound bad, but it was an interesting nose). It was fruitier on the palate than the previous whisky, and very smooth with a droplet of water.
Diageo's Classic Malts Distillery Editions are each finished in different cask types. Dalwhinnie is finished  in Oloroso, Talisker in Amoroso, Glenkinchie in Amontillado, Cragganmore in Port, Oban in Montilla Fino and, last but not least, Lagavulin Distillers Edition is finished in PX sherry casks. This gives a rich dried fruit and spice character which is very appealing, alongside the peaty character of the whisky. The 1997 version, complete with new packaging, displayed anise, oranges, dried fruits, ginger and cloves - rich, delicious and warming.

The 2013 Friends of the Classic Malts triple matured, no age expression (but around 16 years) was next. This limited edition, 48% ABV, started life in refill casks, then moved house to European oak, before finishing its maturation in freshly charred American oak. Deep amber in colour, this one displayed brown sugar, bourbon aspects, raisins, ginger spice, sweetness on the palate, and a long, spicy finish. Delicious!
Lagavulin sponsors the Islay Jazz Festival held in September. Sadly, I only have about an inch left in my brilliant 2012 bottle. The 2013 bottling, which we tasted next, was also superb, smooth and elegant. Here's a good reason to visit Islay in September - jazz and the likelihood of another yummy Lagavulin special.
The final dram of the tasting was, not surprisingly, the Feis Ile 2014 Festival bottle. This elegant, gentle and subtle dram was from a  batch of 3500 bottles, distilled in January 1995, matured in a few refill European sherry casks, and bottled in 2014 at 54.7%. Gentle on the nose, with some butterscotch, light fruit and spice that carries through the palate and the finish, this is a nice dram that belies its high ABV rating. A drop of water brings out more perfume and makes it softer on the palate. I preferred it at full strength. This is a fine example of subtle maturation in refill casks enhancing but not overwhelming the Lagavulin character.
After a bite of lunch, featuring Islay scallops, a live band, and a wander about the beautiful coastline, it was time to take in a cocktail making session, in a barn, with swallows flying around overhead - very atmospheric! The session starred David Sinclair, ex head barman of the Gleneagles Hotel, and Colin Dunn, both Diageo whisky ambassadors. David used the finest of ingredients - Lagavulin 16 year old, fresh citrus fruits, interesting bitters and syrups, fresh mint, Grand Marnier and more, to concoct a couple of fabulous cocktails, each one successful because of the tasty balance of alcohol, sweet, sour and bitter.
If I'm deciphering my notes correctly, here are the recipes.

Cocktail One

40ml Lagavulin 16, 20ml Grand Marnier, dash of agave syrup, dash of orange bitters. Stir it all up, add some ginger beer and garnish with mint leaves.

Cocktail Two

I'm fuzzier on this one, but it was awesome!
Lagavulin 16, some whisky barley bitters, maple syrup, over ice, a squeeze of orange juice, garnish with orange zest.

Lagavulin and Coke

Although this wasn't served, we were encouraged to try Lagavulin 16 and Coke. Later, I did, and it was surprisingly tasty, given that I don't like Coke! It was definitely a notch up from my famous Ardbeg Alligator bacon cocktail.

From Free to Fabulous

There were dozens of other tastings, tours, music and dancing events, food experiences and more going on during Lagavulin Day and the rest of the week, suiting every price point from free to about $650. The Ultimate Islay Tour was an 8 hour experience on land and sea, including exceptional tastings, wonderful food, signed Festival bottles of Caol Ila and Lagavulin,  and top notch experiences at Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Port Ellen maltings.

More fabulous experiences on the GrapeScot Islay Tour 2015

A visit to Lagavulin Distillery will be part of the GrapeScot tour to Islay in late August 2015. This will be a small group experience with terrific events at each of the distilleries, an opportunity to meet some wonderful whisky people, great accommodations, transportation, food, cultural activities and some very fine whisky. To find out more, please drop me a line and I'll send you the itinerary and details. To read more about Lagavulin Distillery and my previous visit, just click the link.

Next Post - Laphroaig

The next post will be about Laphroaig. Check back soon or, better still, sign up above for email updates. You'll only receive an email when a new story is posted.