Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Scotland (i): Islay

I've been away from this blog this past year longer than I've intended. It's been hard to find time to sit down at home with a personal project lately. That said, I felt like my trip to Scotland deserved to be written about. I spent two weeks in September in Sri Lanka for work and on the way back took a week long stopover in London. From London I took a train up to Scotland and spent five days driving through the country. My first destination was Islay.

Getting to Islay was a bit of a journey. After the four hour train ride from London to Edinburgh, I picked up my rental car and drove about three hours to the west coast to the port at Kennacraig. From there, I caught a ferry that took me on a two hour ride to the western isles at sunset. On the bow of the ferry I watched as the sun dipped below Jura and Islay as we passed by small sheep farms and hilltop ruins along the verdant arms of Scotland's inlets. It became a recurring them throughout this trip that I would see things in the distance that I would love to have explored, but did not have the time to divert to.

On Islay, my itinerary was simple: drink and talk about Scotch, maybe go on a hike. I arrived late Monday evening and would be catching a ferry back Wednesday afternoon. My full day on Tuesday involved tours and tastings at Laphroaig and Ardbeg. Walking into the Laphroaig grounds early Tuesday morning, the smell of brine and peat enveloped me instantly and I knew that I was going to have a great day. 

The tour at Laphroaig was by far the best, not only because of the level of detail and interaction, but because the guide, David, had worked at the distillery for decades and was a living, breathing part of Laphroaig's history. From malting floor to warehouse, it was a great tour and ended with sampling several casks in the warehouse.

At Ardbeg, the tasting was more designed to sample the component parts of Ardbeg's core range of whiskies. Bourbon, virgin oak, and sherry casks of varying ages that make up the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. We toured the distillery grounds while stopping at points of significance to sample the next spirit. Drinking scotch while sitting on a rocky headland overlooking the bay, salt spray and peat in the air, the sun melting the misty sky into a molasses curtain-it was not an unpleasant experience.

Having recently been to Kentucky to tackle a portion of the Bourbon Trail, I can personally attest from immediate experience that Scotland's distilleries are categorically more beautiful.

During this first day I picked up a couple of bottles, including Lagavulin's 2016 Feis Ile offering. It also happened to be just days after Ardbeg released the Ardbeg Twenty One, its first age stated whisky since the 17. My will power was all, but nonexistent on the island, so I did buy one. I won't bore you with numbers, suffice it to say that it was a bit of splurge. But, hey, it's cheaper than if I had bought it in the States and it comes with a story.

I ended the day at the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen for dinner. All the bars on Islay have immense selections of scotch (similar to how all the bars in Louisville had amazing selections of bourbon), so I sampled a few Octomores in preparation for hitting Bruichladdich the next day. In total, I think I consumed something like 18 ounces of whisky that day.