The Road To Laphroaig: Part 7 – What’s In A Name & The Journey Home
Recently, editor Jay, better known as t8ke, traveled to Scotland to select one of Laphroaig’s first single casks for the US market. 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:
As promised, there’s always an encore, whether it be an amphitheater rock show, or open mic night at the corner bar.
Last we spoke, a cask was chosen, and it was time to get jet setting. Notably, our travels home would begin that night. Little did I know, it would take a couple days until I was done. It should have only taken about 13 hours, but Delta airlines had other plans for me.
Waking up from a quick snooze on a comfortable leather couch, Nick and I got the call that it was time to abandon our post doing damage to that 33yr Ian Hunter bottle, and meet up for lunch. Lunch was made up of lighter fair, sausage rolls, haggis, some smoked meats and Irn Bru. As we ate, the team let us know they had one more surprise for us, and then it would be time to depart. We marched down to Warehouse 1, the most maritime of warehouses with a glass in hand.
Warehouse 1 is butted right up against the sea. You can see it in all of the images I have posted so far, the block Laphroaig writing giving it personality to protrude from foggy days. Inside Warehouse 1 was one of my favorite sights from the whole trip, and it appeased my childish sense of humor.
It’s a historical sign, but it’s still an awesome one. At least I thought so. Pardon my wind burn. I told you it was windy there.
Back on track. Let me tell you, though, this warehouse stank. It was awesome.
Warehouse 1 has so much salinity in the air that barrels can only live here for up to 9.5 years. Starting at 10 years or so, the hoops on the barrels start to physically rust right off. As a result, they age them here until they’re butting (heh) against the danger zone for the metal hooping on the cooperage. Once that begins, barrels are either dumped or transported off Islay for more aging that is less likely to compromise the integrity of the barrel.
Simon delivered another toast, and we got a peek of a new bottle. It was the new Cairdeas.
With Cairdeas Warehouse 1 finally on shelves, I can talk about it! Maybe it was the Laphroaig air, but standing in Warehouse 1 with the peach ring and vanilla cream laden Warehouse 1 Cairdeas in hand was magical. I promised myself I’d be picking up one if the opportunity arises, as it usually does. Thankfully, it did. The review will be up shortly, as I’m curious to see how differently it tastes compared to standing in the warehouse with a pour on Islay.
Tasting wrapped up, it was time for us to say goodbyes to the team and hit the road. It was the late afternoon and we had a plane to catch. Many of you will remember that we took the ferry in. There’s also a plane to and from Islay. We elected to fly out, so we could safely make our flights out of the country the next day (the ferry runs twice per day, neither time convenient for our morning departure from Glasgow.). They warned us that the plane wasn’t particularly large, but that was fine with me. I’d been on small planes before.
Stuart cheerfully picked us up at the distillery, and we said our goodbyes. It wouldn’t be the last of Barry that Nick and I would be seeing this calendar year – more on that some other time – but to everyone else, it was good bye for the foreseeable future, or at least until next year, hopefully! We said our goodbyes and headed off. We’d take a quick stop over at Bowmore which is Laphroaig’s Islay sibling distillery for a quick tour and taste. After all, their gift shop is sort of legendary. On the road we went, and for the first time, I passed on that road pour of Laphroaig. At this point, I was kind of ready for some ice water and a salad – and salads were kinda tough to find on Islay.
We arrived to Bowmore and had a great tour lead by two lovely ladies who’s names I’ve unfortunately since forgotten. We were butting up against the end of the work day, but they were good sports and let us roll with the turbo tour. From cobblestone alleys lined with Jim Beam barrels to the still house and the extremely cool dunnage in their warehouse, it was a very insightful experience with lots to compare and contrast against Laphroaig. In the basement, we tasted two casks, straight from the cask. A bright and lively ex-bourbon around 18 years old, and a dank, syrupy sherry cask that I’d have bought if they’d let me. Many of you know that I have interesting experiences with Bowmore – they’re either on or they’re off and their core expressions are incredibly snooze worthy to me most days. These were the best Bowmore’s I’d had in years, and suddenly the magic of the gift shop made sense in my mind, for they sold a number of casks there, along with other interesting releases.
There was only one snag, though. My suitcase was full. It was jammed. It wasn’t full of booze. Well, that’s sort of a lie. I had Bottle #1 from our cask in my luggage. I also had a full pair of Welly boots in there, so space was at a premium. They had some interesting bottlings in the gift shop, but none remaining of that sherry cask from the tasting basement, so I let sleeping dogs lie and passed on liquid purchases. I bought a shirt for my wife, without realizing in about 26 hours I’d learn how different Europeans and American sizings are, but I was pleased with myself in the moment. There’s a 0% chance my wife will ever drink Bowmore and like it, but when I travel without her, I like to bring back a couple of items from notable stops on the trip.
After everyone wrapped their shopping, we took off for the airport. It wouldn’t be very far, and Stuart made a couple calls along the way. It turned out he kept making the same call – ringing up the airport to get an idea if we’d take off or not.
Thankfully, as we arrived, the front desk agents were optimistic the plane would leave on schedule. We’d be taking a tiny little hop jet over to Glasgow. Weight was important, the agents told us, and everything would need to be weighed. Everything. All of our bags were weighed, whether checking them or not. I saw a dog get weighed. Basically all of our bags were considered overweight which meant they were standby. So was the dog. This meant that if the plane was overladen, our bags would be shipped independently…sometime. That gave me a pang of uncertainty, as we were slated to leave for Amsterdam in the morning, but what can ya do. Standby Dog and our bags would just have to hang tight.
We headed to security next. There we saw a familiar face: the gate agents. It turns out that at the Islay airport, you wear many hats. We sat down and after an hour or two of delays, our plane arrived. Our gate agents turned security agents headed out to receive the plane on the runway and prep for departure. I’ve been on small planes before. This was the smallest plane by far. No wonder they weighed everything. While the flight was completely full, they let us know that our bags would indeed make it on the plane. Standby Dog would also get to ride along.
An hour later, we landed in Glasgow, and we scrambled to make it to dinner. It was to be a final hurrah of a meal, as everyone departed at different times the following day. We met up at Mother India, apparently some of the best Indian in Scotland, and got down to business. Everyone snagged a cold pint of Kingfisher and Jaime, who loved the restaurant most of all, started ordering for everyone. I enjoy sort of rolling with the punches when I dine with folks. I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly courageous eater, especially Indian food before a long flight, but I’m far from picky and like experiencing the food that brings folks joy. So along for the ride we went. Naan was obviously phenomenal, I had a curried monkfish that stole the show for the evening as it got passed around. Shrimp, tandoori chicken, a variety of pilafs, Lamb, the works.
Wrapping up dinner, we had an interesting dilemma. We needed to leave around 4am for the airport. That was 10pm local time back at home in Wisconsin. I always try and plan around time adjustments when heading back westward – with work to do when returning home I don’t typically look forward to a multi-day sleep adjustment. Our flight from Amsterdam to Detroit would take off about 11am – that was midnight at home. As a result, I elected to pull an allnighter with a final night in Amsterdam. I’d push through any tired eyes to make it to our Amsterdam flight home, then crash and sleep the way home. I’d wake up 7am local time in Detroit on arrival and (hopefully) be fresh to go. Some time in customs, some time in bag check, re-entry through security, and I’d be good to rock and roll for a 3pm flight to finish the journey home.
We headed back to the hotel, and decided to pay a final visit to our cordial bartending crew. A champagne starter while everyone got settled and then Nick and I remembered we had some final work to get to. A major task had not yet been marked off: naming the cask. As our trip went on, we were having difficulty coming up with how to name the cask. Admittedly, Laphroaig didn’t offer a deep level of customization, but there was room for a line of text. After a day or two of chats, we elected to name it simply. Our names. A bucket list item to us both, and with the strong yield, there would be some bottles for Nick’s store clientele as well as all of you reading this as a part of r/Bourbon, Aficionados Group, r/Scotch and beyond. The problem with 2 names is that one must come first. Would it be Nick Conti or Jay West? We weren’t sure how we’d decide.
Thankfully, Guiness Golf was there for us. We’d agreed on a best of three. The first round, we played at the Hotel Machrie. I was victor, coming in with a strong start. The second round took place at the Hotel Bowmore, with Nick taking the victory there. I blame all of the Laphroaig Barry was sharing for that one. But, with the busy selection day and various bus trips and tours and dinner, we’d not yet had time for Guinness Golf round three. Therefore: it came time to see the bet through at our hotel for the night. We asked Adam for a round, and our dinner friends were beginning to show up after settling in their own rooms. Minutes later it was a full house, and we were ready to tee off. Perhaps our closest round yet, both Nick and I were just millimeters from a perfect swing. We elected to let our Beam friends judge, and after some deliberation and various forms of bar measuring, it was judged that our barrel would indeed be named “Selected by Jay West & Nick Conti”. I’ve golfed poorly ever since, but somehow uncorked a win when it mattered most. We let the team know, and our cask was in the books.
Even though competition was long fought, we still had a couple of hours to burn if we were to make it through the night.
As a result, Jaime, Nick, Harrison and I set out for a nightcap on the town after dinner. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the name of the bar. It was below street level, bright and neon lit in a clean, modern aesthetic. Lots of plant walls. Very neat. Satisfied with the amount of scotch I had consumed thus far on the trip, I opted for a Negroni. I’d have opted for several if time and body permitted: it was delicious. We wrapped up discussing the trip, our selection, and just had a good, laid back time chatting before we’d all split ways in the morning. The rest of the crew decided they’d opt for a couple hours of sleep after all, so we headed back to the hotel. I hit a shower, freshened up, and then got to work on the week’s barrels to come back home. 3 hours of quiet, uninterrupted working time is hard to come by, and I’ll hardly pass it up, even deep in the night in Glasgow. There was a light rain, the city was pretty, and I got to business.
A few hours later, everyone met up in the lobby. My work was done for the most part, and we caught a taxi to the airport. Security, the flight to Amsterdam and all went smooth. I caught about 90 minutes of sleep on the first flight, again passing up on questionable snack foods (more egg salad sandwich, anyone?). In Amsterdam, we had a brief wait before boarding our next flight, so we hit up the Heineken airport bar, as one must.
I’ve always liked Heineken, but let me tell ya, it is hard to beat a fresh one, in Amsterdam, served in questionable volumes. One of my companions (Nick, Harrison and I were traveling on the same flights to Detroit) was feeling the curry of the evening prior, but it wasn’t me so I gladly accepted an extra cold 20oz Heineken and got comfortable.
I scoped out some shops, electing to make a few key dessert purchases for my lovely wife at home, and then we met back up to enjoy our beverages. My plan was to sleep 100% of the way home, so I stretched my legs, found a snack, plopped down and enjoyed my Heineken and we passed the short time before boarding.
With the top of the hour approaching, we headed to our gate after polishing off the beers. We boarded our flight and got comfortable. I was successful in my goal in sleeping. It turns out that while I pinched pennies and sat economy the whole way home (which was seriously still expensive, good lord) my entire row was empty.
Unsurprising that folks would prefer to go to Amsterdam rather than return home, that day at least. My three seater row was empty, so I got comfortable, donned some blinders, and said goodnight. I woke up about 6 hours later, we had made good time, and the attendants were letting us know that we’d be landing soon.
Land we did, and about 2 hours later we were through customs, bags retrieved, transferred, back through security and in the Delta Lounge having lunch and a drink awaiting our various flights. I was slated to leave around 2pm, with the CT folks taking off closer to noon.
They made it out on time, and I ended up spending the night in Detroit thanks to a staffing issue with the airline. Don’t get stuck in Detroit. It’s not fun. Get stuck in NY or Chicago or… literally any other city.
The next day, I made it home. Well rested, on the right timezone, bags secure and most importantly: The first 375ml of Laphroaig Single Cask “Jay West & Nick Conti Selection” Single Malt Scotch Whisky safe and sound in my bag and on to the shelf. I took a small nip, and it tasted every bit as wonderful as it did on Islay, 30 hours and 3,600 miles ago.
This concludes the The Road To Laphroaig. This cask will go on sale March 27th, 2023.
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