The Southern Distilleries - Edinburgh and Islay

The Southern Distilleries

Wednesday 5th September 2007

We spent most of today visiting the distilleries on the South coast of Islay, starting with a brief glimpse at the now closed Port Ellen, followed by a tour around Laphroaig, then lunch at Ardbeg, and in the afternoon a tour of Lagavulin. In the evening we went for a drive around Loch Indaal, had a brief glimpse of Bowmore and Bruichladdic distilleries, and rounding off the day with dinner at the Port Charlotte Hotel.

Edinburgh and Islay

John's Pictures
Maison de Stuff

08:28:08 We had stayed the previous night at the White Hart Hotel. The mist had been so thick the previous evening that we hadn't been able to see much, but on waking up this morning, although it was still a bit misty, I was rather pleased with the view...08:28:21 ....because, from our hotel window, we could see the Port Ellen distillery (sadly now long closed). Still, an excellent way to start the day!08:28:56 The view from our hotel room looking in the other direction - and you can just make out the Calmac ferry here.

09:32:50 After a spot of breakfast, and checking out of our hotel, I took a wander along the seafront to see if I could get some close-ups of Port Ellen - I think this is probably too close-up, and consequently you can't make out the all important big black letters and pagoda roof topped malting house.09:33:55 Closer up on what I assume is one of the warehouses. I think this is still used for maturing Port Ellen (and possibly Lagavulin) malts.09:35:01 There's the ferry again.

09:35:26 ...a better picture of Port Ellen distillery - can see the pagodas now!09:35:40 ...and another one...09:36:33 ....and one more. Real shame about the weather today.

09:37:52 The White Hart Hotel, where we had stayed the previous night. I'd wanted to stay here because Alfred Barnard had in the 1880s, whilst researching for his epic "The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom". 09:44:07 Our first (working) distillery of the day was to be Laphroaig. As you can imagine I was quite excitable by this point, and wanted to take pictures of every sign and building that had any kind of connection...!09:49:23 So there are some of the building that make up Laphroaig distllery.

09:52:07 I think all of these Islay distilleries are best viewed from the shore though...09:52:56 Shame it was such a grey day, but in a way I rather like the stern light it casts on the distillery.09:53:40 I love these big back letters.

10:20:53 The view through one of the windows in the visitor centre - just to remind you where you are, in case you'd forgotten!10:31:15 Laphroaig are one of the few distilleries that still has their own floor malting - although they do also take some of their malt from the Port Ellen maltings which serves all of the distilleries on the island. It was great to see the floor all laid out like this - the distillery was very much in production today.10:32:06 The lads (as the guide occasionally referred to them) using these rollers to distribute new barley.

10:41:05 Marvellous.10:43:17 This is inside the kiln, where the malt is being dried out in all that wonderful peat smoke. I wish I could have recorded the aroma in here!10:52:51 The peat equivalent of a coal bunker.

10:53:05 The peat fire powering the kiln seen above.10:54:18 Still on the tour, but we briefly popped outside for this photo opportunity.11:01:19 Here's the mash tun - for those of you who haven't been on a distillery tour before this is the bit that takes the milled down malted barley (grist) and mixes it with water to create a sugary liquid called wort, which is ready for fermentation.

11:01:34 ...and the wash backs, which brew the beer-like substance ready for distilling. Unusually they're using stainless steel wash backs here at Laphroaig - most distilleries use wood.11:03:54 Chie warming her hands on the mash tun.11:10:12 Ah the stills, always the most photogenic part of any distillery tour. I think the three on the left (OK one is just out of shot) are the wash stills, and the three on the right the spirit stills.

11:10:23 ....and there's our excellent guide, Jack. Note the difference in shape of the wash stills used at Laphroaig - the way they are pinched in at the base of the neck, and the way the line pipe angles upwards rather than downwards. This means that the spirit may have to make several attempts before getting into the condenser, giving it longer to react with the copper.11:16:05 More pictures of the stills...11:16:09 ...and again.

11:18:42 I loved watching the spirit bubble up through these portholes.11:19:28 The still safe.11:21:39 Onto barreling - here are some Bourbon casks out in the yard, as yet unfilled I believe.

11:22:26 Barrels with the pagoda roof etc in the background.11:25:09 Jack demonstrating how to unbung a barrel.11:38:49 ...and at the end of the tour, of course, comes the dram. I'd had a dream for some time to drink the Islay malts out on the piers of the distilleries themselves, and so here I am.

11:38:51 Yes, call it purely psychological if you well (and you'd probably be correct), but this was the best dram of Laphroaig I'd ever had.11:38:55 Chie was doing a really great job with the camera here - I love this picture!12:04:30 Unfortunately we had to rush off after the Laphroaig tour finished, as I'd been told I needed to join in a very important phone conference for work... so we rushed back to Port Ellen, the only place where my phone seemed to be able to get a signal. In the end though it turned out the meeting was cancelled - hooray!

12:13:42 As Iain Banks also noted in Raw Spirit, Islay is great because the names of your favourite whiskies are written all over the place.12:18:52 The timing of the various tours meant we couldn't quite fit all three of the South coast distilleries in, so having read that Ardbeg has a cafe, we decided to just have lunch there instead.12:31:39 ...and very nice it was took - Chie had a leek and parmesan soup, and I had a "hearty lentil" soup to start with...

12:51:48 ...followed by Mary's Clootie dumpling (sort of like a Christmas pudding) for Chie's main course (!).12:51:58 ...and I had a surprisingly good mushroom tagliatelli.12:53:04 Just so we could remember the name of the dessert / main course Chie had.

13:22:07 Presumably this would originally have been the maltings at Ardbeg.13:23:29 ...and there are those fabulous big black letters again - I had seen this from the ferry the day before, even through the thick sea mist.13:24:55 Barrels...

13:24:58 ...and Chie hiding behind a barrel.13:43:19 We still had a bit more time before the Lagavulin tour started, so decided to take a bit of a drive along the coast to see what we could see...13:43:22 ...mainly sea.

13:43:26 ...this was a nice little bay, despite the awful weather!13:56:58 So, onto the next tour, at Lagavulin.14:56:06 Straight into the tour then - here's the inside of the mash tun seen through the little hatch on the top.

14:56:12 That hatch seem from a bit further back.14:56:34 A fake owl here, presumably to scare off mice?14:57:28 The room with the wash backs in.

15:10:48 ...and onto the stills again - Lagavulin appeared to have two wash stills, and two spirit stills.15:11:06 Not sure why I chose to take a picture of the low wines and feints pipe here!15:11:26 Close-up on some of the stills here.

15:25:58 Chie admires the spirit safe.15:29:00 ...and now the warehouses. Really fabulously dank and musty in here.15:29:13 I guess this is a vatted malt, with all of the Islay / Jura distilleries contributing.

15:29:26 More barrels...15:31:12 The view out of the window in the warehouse - you can just see the remains of the nearby castle here.15:49:44 Chie banging the barrels.

15:49:49 ...and again.15:53:36 In Lagavlun's dramming room, which was decorated like a lounge.16:59:10 After leaving Lagavulin, we headed over to the other side of the island to check into our B&B (Kilmeny near Ballygrant) for the next two nights. I was really taken aback by the decor in our room - really lovely.

16:59:22 The other side of the room.17:03:04 We had taken the suite, which also came with this very nice little sitting room on the side, where we enjoyed a late afternoon tea, including some excellent homemade scones.17:58:53 After tea, we went for a little drive around LochIndaal, in the hope of finding somewhere nice for dinner. En route we passed through Bowmore - the "capital" of Islay - and so a couple of pictures of the distillery there were absolutely essential.

18:00:35 seen from the beach, although as with Port Ellen I was struggling to get it at the right angle...18:01:29 ...another attempt...18:01:46 ....and one last one.

18:19:46 The church at Bowmore, a really unusual building.18:43:07 Further on round LochIndaal, we passed through the village of Bruichladdich, another name made famous by the distillery located there. Note the name spelled backwards here!18:43:35 ...and the pair of boots in the top of the still.

18:55:48 Finally we stopped at Port Charlotte, where after much deliberation we decided to have dinner.18:55:54 This village was once home to the Lochindaal distillery, but I couldn't find any traces left of it.19:38:16 Dinner at the Port Charlotte Hotel - Chie had a seafood chowder (again!) and I had a sort of pasta bake - both very good, and complimented by an excellent selection of Islay malts!