The Road To Laphroaig: Part 2
Recently, editor Jay, better known as t8ke, traveled to Scotland to select one of Laphroaig’s first single casks for the US market and his single barrel program. This is a multi part series outlining his travels and the images and content he took along the way. If you’re just catching up now, here’s the segments so far:
Rest And Be Thankful. A suggestion that’s often heard, rarely heeded. Or in this case, it’s a beautiful pass in the Scottish preserve known as The Trossachs National Park just outside of Loch Lomond. Rest and Be Thankful was named after the grueling efforts it took livestock farmers and travelers to traverse the area before roads and automobiles became common. The pass was beautiful. It looked exactly like I’d expect Scotland to appear to be. Sheep, hills, sunlight, a beautifully (rare) blue sky. There were creeks and Glens, there were hills and valleys. And, sweet jesus, there was wind.
The wind rips through the Rest And Be Thankful viewpoint, but it was a great introduction to the country. From there on, the wind never stopped. We grabbed some pics, I shouted some stuff into the wind in a feeble attempt to vlog the journey, and had some more Laphroaig.
You’ll remember Nick from Part 1, but Stuart is there on the left. Harrison…I don’t think he could hear me. Stuart rocked, by the way, and possessed an incredible knowledge of the country side, the history, and most importantly: every person we came across. Everyone knew the man! A good sign.
The wind cut through most of our apparel, so we packed back up, and headed off to Inveraray. A castle-ish town by the sea, we were told we could grab a bite to eat and use the bathroom in the white washed town. There were a couple bottle shops as well – all good places to burn some time. Once there, we checked out a neat little bottle shop. They could have used some additional square footage, because there were even bottles hanging out on the ceiling. Pretty wild. We mostly just browsed, it seemed risky to load up on bottles before even getting to Laphroaig. Wise choice.
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Alright, sightseeing was over, time to get to the ferry. We spent a little more time than we intended, so we had to book it. The rest of the ride was pretty quick, we enjoyed some bus Laphroaig, and were to the Kennecraig ferry about an hour later. There are three main ferries that service Islay from the Kennecraig location. As it arrived, it was pretty impressive. A huge boat. I mentioned how big it was to Stuart, who told me it was actually the littlest ferry of the three. Shows me. There were a couple of cars to board alongside our sprinter, and several tanker trucks. These were, of course, for distillate.
Most of the distilleries on Islay tank their distillate off the island for aging on the Scottish mainland. There are a couple reasons for this. Most importantly: there’s more land on the mainland, and materials and labor are more approachable. Transporting full barrels is inefficient and expensive. Moving the raw distillate, unaged, around via tanker truck is the most accessible way to maximize the distillery supply chain. Furthermore, many of the distilleries on Islay do hold some barrels for aging – the key being “some”. After 10,000 barrels in your dunnage, you need insurance. That’s pricey on Islay. Mainland aging it is, mostly. We’d sample some Islay only Laphroaig in due time, for a special occasion. The tankers arrived empty, so we rode with a bunch of tin cans on wheels across to the Islay. There, they’d be filled and return.
The best part of Scotland was the general consensus that few things weren’t worth doing without a Guinness (or some other beverage) in hand. This jives pretty well with my ideals when traveling. The ferry also served meals, and several of our compatriots enjoyed Fish & Chips on the boat as well. Sans salt. That would be a reoccurring theme, one we were just learning. If you’re traveling, bring your own salt. You may need it.
The ride is about 2 hours from departure to arrival on Islay. We’d be going ashore at Port Askaig. That was the plan, anyways. They informed us if the water and wind were too rough, we’d go ashore at Port Ellen instead. Either worked for me – I’d drank bottlings with both of those names before, and I’d found them agreeable. Thankfully, while the water was very rough, we still persisted with a Port Askaig docking. Nick and I gave some spreadsheet work a go, but found cell reception spotty. I checked in on the barrels selling that day, things were smooth. With the internet just flaky enough, we decided to grab a drink and head up to see a bit from the rooftop observation area.
Fast forward a bit, it was windy and cold. That sums up the majority of our time on deck on the ferry. It was beautiful, and the sun kept hitting portions of the coast in golden arrays. It was scenic, it was surreal, and it was a pretty electrifying view that amped us up for arrival.
As we landed, we got back in the van, and headed off for land. The ferry onboards from the bow, and disembarks from the stern. We carried on. A short drive brought us to our first stop on the island: Bowmore. Everyone’s seen those whitewashed distilleries on the shore, but man, do they stick out. They’re painted bright white so they’re exceedingly visible from sea. They cut through the grey and the haze. Bowmore looked just as I’d expected, but it was so much more impressive in person. We were here. We’d made it to Islay.
The sun was starting to go down. Our first bottle of Laphroaig was totally empty. We were informed that was borderline unacceptable (the lack of Laphroaig on hand) so it was time we scouted for a refill, and made off for our lodging: The Machrie Hotel.
At the Machrie, we met our hosts and tossed our stuff in our rooms. Dinner would start soon. Simon Brookings was first to greet us with a warm handshake, and we’d meet other faces such as the market managers, marketing team and later: distillery team. Dinner was an awesome ordeal: nestled in their great room that overlooked the links, with a direct line of sight to the beach and the sea. Potato dumplings and Albariño made up the first course, followed up with lamb and Sancerre.
We worked through each course with a pour of Laphroaig, first the Select, then the 10, Cask Strength and then the most recent Cairdeas. PX Cairdeas and dessert: a tart, oatmeal based fruit parfait just worked. I’m not much of a dessert person, so I rarely pair whiskey and dessert, but I’m definitely hooked. Thankfully, I also signed up for a gym. This could get dangerous.
As dinner wrapped up, we were invited to enjoy a round of golf. Not golf golf, but Guiness Golf.
The best kind of golf.
More to come in Part II, March 24th, 2022.