Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Scotland (ii): Cliffs, Scotch, Heritage

Waking up on Wednesday just before sunrise on Islay, I headed out to the Mull of Oa. On the southwest corner of the island, the American Monument sits atop a rocky headland overlooking the sea memorializing the wrecks of two American troop ships during World War I. It's a about a two mile out and back walk across and over the boggy plateau to the cliff edge. The featureless green hills interrupted only by the stark monolith in the distance. As I approached the monument, the silence was only broken by the sound of the crashing waves on the rocks below. The sun was rising behind clouds on the horizon. The clouds moved in swiftly and soon I was being misted by a fine rain. I ran back across the sponge-like terrain as sheep observed me nonchalantly.

Afterward, I visited the Islay Woollen Mill. An over 100-year old shop with looms from the Victorian era that spins tartans and tweeds. The musty shop was full of colorful fabrics and tchotchkes. I was shown around the mill and spoke to the shopkeeper about birding and scotch and walked away with a tweed throw.

My last stop on Islay was to visit the Bruichladdich distillery. I attended one of their warehouse tastings, hosted by Heather (whom I was promptly smitten with). We went through three casks: a 1989 bourbon barrel Bruichladdich, a 2003 Oloroso Port Charlotte, and a 2005 Octomore cask of unknown provenance (theorized to be Cuban rum). The 27 year old Bruichladdich was certainly a treat to get to sample one so old, much more delicate and subdued on account of the age, but the sherried Port Charlotte was more up my alley. Sherried and peated is my jam. The Octomore was an enigma. It was rated at 159 phenol ppm, but I guessed max. 60-70 when prompted by Heather.

After sampling several more drams at the gift shop and purchasing a few for myself, I headed back to Port Askaig to catch the ferry back to the mainland. What I loved about Islay was how remote it felt, but so full of history and tradition. It felt untouched except by its residents. Everything is backed by centuries of stories. Had I the time, I would have spent two weeks on Islay alone.