Isle of Islay, Scotland
Yesterday was a travel day. We had to leave Inverie (again, that 3/4 mile walk from the hostel to the dock is LONG with our backpacks.) Our ferry back to Mallaig was about 30 minutes late so we just waited around in the very strong wind watching the water and enjoying the view. The delay was fine for us since we are driving and we built in some extra time between the two ferries. But for some people, that 30 minute delay meant they missed their trains! We were actually driving past one of the major train stations, so we were able to drive one of the men we met last night and his amazing rescue dog, Wolf, to that point. It felt good to help out a fellow traveler. The drive from Mallaig to Kennacraig was about three hours, but felt very long since we got so little sleep the night before. We stopped for coffee at Costa but it just wasn’t enough! Lucky for us we got to the ferry early and were able to take naps in the car while we waited to drive onto the ferry. This ferry was even bigger than the one from Mallaig to Armandale. The ferry to Islay had different decks and even a cafeteria-style dining room. Our BNB host suggested that we get dinner on the boat, and so we did. It was fine, and about what would be expected from a kitchen on a ferry. It was definitely the most convenient and practical option for us.
(I had a hard time with the pronunciation of Islay, so I want to mention that you do not pronounce the “y,” and you pronounce it “eye-luh.”)
Our Bed and Breakfast was just a step away from the ferry terminal (but not noisy at all) so that was really nice! We can 100% recommend the Askernish BNB! Our host, aptly named Joy, was so lovely, warm, and welcoming, plus she made an amazing breakfast. With the exception of lox on a bagel, I would never think to have fish for breakfast, but I did here! Joy cooks it up in with cream and butter and it is so good! The beds were comfortable, the rooms were adorable, and everything was very clean. We loved everything about the Askernish BNB!
We got a great night’s sleep and woke up very excited to visit the distilleries. We booked the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin for 10:30. Joy advised us to leave plenty of time, and we thought we had done that. But the combination of leaving a couple minutes late and the walk being further than we anticipated left us nervously doing some very intense speed-walking. Joy just happened to be driving down the road and she pulled over where we were. She let us know we were not going to make it in time and told us to get in the van! She was so kind to drop us off and Lagavulin, and we were so lucky that she happened to be passing by us! She saved our butts and I’m SO grateful she did because Lagavulin was on the top of my list of places I wanted to visit in Scotland. Annette planned this entire trip, and when she asked me what I felt strongly about seeing, my answer was short: Lagavulin. Islay is a bit out of the way, so I was so excited when she told me she had looked into it already and also really wanted to go! Though I’ve always been a fan of bourbon, there was a long time when I did not like any type of scotch whiskey. Years ago at The Brick Store Pub in Decatur, Georgia, someone insisted I taste the expensive glass of Lagavulin they had. It was the first scotch I ever enjoyed. Then when Parks and Recreation came out with the episode where Ron Swanson goes to Lagavulin, I was so excited, “that is the one scotch I like!” Though it took years after that to develop an appreciation for other scotch whiskeys, Lagavulin opened that door for for me. So you can imagine why the Lagavulin distillery was top of my list of places to go in Scotland!
The Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin was fantastic and I highly recommend it! You go into the whiskey warehouse which doubles as a tasting room. Everyone sits around the perimeter of the room as warehouseman and local celebrity, Iain McArthur, talks you through the basics, and conducts a tasting. Iain has been in the whiskey business since 1970 and is as interesting and animated as he is knowledgeable. We got to try 5 amazing whiskeys, all of which the group pulled out of the barrels. There is a giant metal straw that is used to suck the whiskey out.
Annette was selected to be one of the people to do this. Being the great big sister she is, she purposely didn’t pull enough out of the barrel so that someone else would get a chance to do it as well - me! Though Ian and his assistant were selecting each person, as you will see in the video below, Annette very naturally selected me herself.
After a wonderful time at Lagavulin, we headed over to Ardbeg for lunch. We both had an insanely delicious fish soup. To drink, Annette ordered a cappuccino and I ordered their most popular whiskey - a 10 year. We shared both drinks, and the 10 year was a bit strong for us! We can appreciate all of the love, work, and craft that went into it, but it was just stronger than what either of us liked. Regardless, Ardbeg was lovely for lunch and we were glad we were able to try their scotch whiskey.
Next we walked over to Laphroaig. It was an absolutely beautiful walk. We did a tour of their amazing facility. Laphroaig is one of the few distilleries that still uses a malting floor on site and roasts their own peat. Unfortunately we happened to be there during their three week long silent season, so we didn’t get to see the malting floor in use. Regardless, the tour was interesting and informative. At the end, each person gets three tickets towards tasking whiskeys. Each taste “costs” anywhere from 1 to 3 tickets. Between them two of us we shared a 3-ticket-taste, a 2-ticket-taste, and a 1-ticket-taste. It was really cool to be able to try each “level,” so if you’re touring with a buddy, we recommend this method. The favorite one for us was their Four Oak.
Our BNB host had also recommended trying the whiskey cocktails at Laphroaig - they are supposed to be delicious. But it did not occur to us that a bar would close early so we missed out on those. If you visit, try one, and let us know what you think! The “Penicillin” is supposed to be unique and very yummy.
After a long and lovely day of whiskey, we were hungry! I was beyond thrilled that we had a reservation at the Sea Salt Bistro. THEY SERVE PIZZA. This was the first time on this trip we had pizza. It is my favorite food, and it was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.