The Beer Day

Back in the United States, reflecting on the fantastic trip… it seemed only appropriate to celebrate the completion of this journey by visiting producers of the other malted barley beverage which I enjoy. Since their product is certainly not as “high-octane,” sampling ales from four breweries in Portland, ME during the course of an afternoon promised to be less exhausting than touring distilleries (especially by bike). A special shout-out to the newest craft brewery back home: I am looking forward to finally tasting your ales and helping out when I return!

Rising Tide
a go-to brewery for several years; Daymark (a rye IPA) is a favorite

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exterior view

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the brewhouse

Bunker
a new-to-me “small batch” brewery; I finally understand what an IPL is

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exterior view… really looks like a bunker

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the brewhouse – little bigger than a garage

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very active yeast!

Foundation
only four months old; I actually visited yesterday but came back today to fill a “howler” with their tasty ginger-infused Saison

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exterior view (don’t hang your head, your beer is very good!)

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the brewhouse (also quite small)

Allagash
Maine’s largest Belgian-style craft brewer; if you haven’t tried Curieux, you just don’t know (the Prince Tuesday colla”brew”ation with Maine Beer Co. and Rising Tide is also fantastic)

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exterior view

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grain silo

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grain milled on site

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mash tun, lauter tun, whirlpool – German design!

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holding tank

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rows and rows of fermenters

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bottling area

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some of the original brewing equipment

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active yeast during cask maturation

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The Weekend

A tight connection to the ferry this morning… the cab was fifteen minutes behind schedule, but fortunately got me to Port Ellen in time to return (and pay for) the bicycle hire and make it onto the ferry back to Kennacraig. Extra kindness mention: Carol’s Cabs did not charge me for waiting at Islay Cycles while I was completing the transaction, and the lift down to the ferry terminal was also not on the meter (yes, I tipped). Take note: when the ferry is scheduled to depart at 9:45 A.M., passenger loading ends at 9:35 A.M.! Perhaps next time I will fly to Islay – it would certainly be quicker (but not as scenic), and when all costs are added up it might not be that much more expensive to take flybe than the CalMac-CityLink combination. Although I have become reluctant to check my suitcase… two more times….

west loch tarbert entrance

entrance into West Loch Tarbert; yes, today wasn’t so sunny… I got lucky with the weather on Islay (yesterday’s bike ride partially in a shower notwithstanding)

kennacraig approach

approach to the Kennacraig Ferry Terminal

finlaggan unloading

everybody off – including you, my dear sweet suitcase

I am crossing fingers that dinner at Alla Turca (a Turkish restaurant in Glasgow!) will not result in the same disappointment as I experienced when I returned to Sharky’s in Blacksburg, Virginia a few years ago. Back in the late 90s, Sharky’s had awesomely delicious and spicy “911 wings”; a little over ten years later, the recipe had changed to the standard, vinegary hot wing sauce… I should have never gone back. Three years ago, Alla Turca was a real find: while nothing particularly unfamiliar was on the menu, every dish was prepared incredibly well. If dinner disappoints tonight, I hope that the Germans will not – I am counting on the match v. Ghana being broadcast at The State Bar around the corner from my hotel. Sunday is wide open; we’ll see what Glasgow has to offer.

The Third Day

Call me a frugal German (or perhaps it’s the Scottish frugality which surrounds me), but in order to get £9 back for two t-shirts which I bought on Tuesday and hadn’t worn (so glad to have the suitcase back) I decided to skip the Islay Ales visit today after visiting the two northeast distilleries. I have gone on my fair share of craft brewery tours in the US (and have been surrounded by the brewing process for the last few days anyway), so this particular stop on the itinerary seemed like it could be put off until the next time. Besides, the bike ride from Bunnahabhain to Caol Ila and from Caol Ila to Bowmore featured some of the most intense climbs (both of these distilleries are right on the shoreline), so getting back to hit the shower – even though I biked through a relatively brief shower – was also high on the to-do list. Yes, next time (with a car?) a few more options would present themselves… many historic sites on Islay, a trip over to Jura, etc., but the vistas I enjoyed from the road were truly marvelous. (I had little time to stop for photographs as I was trying to maintain my momentum.) After these three biking days it will be nice to relax in Glasgow over the weekend – I am infinitely glad that I took a cab to Bunnahabhain this morning as a there-and-back ride would have really taken a toll.

Bunnahabhain

shipwreck

a private and free tour (by the lookalike of a friend) – the power had gone out across the entire island as I took the cab from Bowmore; as a decision on whether or not to proceed with the tour was being made, I took a stroll along the shore to see a shipwreck (don’t drink and sail)

bunnahabhain 1

bunnahabhain 2

exterior views of the distillery

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mash tun – apparently the biggest in Islay (Bruichladdich uses Bunnahabhain’s old mash tun)

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wash backs

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several photos of the wash and spirit stills

Caol Ila

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from here it was all down hill to the distillery… and then back up

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exterior view of the distillery – interior photography was not allowed

Caol Ila is a huge facility; 85% of the distilled spirit (which is shipped to Edinburgh for cask maturation in tankers, one of which I happened to encounter on the single-track road up from the shore) is primarily used for Johnnie Walker blends. They have only been producing single malts since the 1990s, and as part of the tasting we were offered a fantastic 26-year-old whisky direct from the sherry cask in which it is maturing. This particular whisky is not for sale anywhere, and once the barrel is empty it will be gone… next year, it will be a 27-year old! Well worth the price of admission.

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view of Jura from the Caol Ila pier

The Second Day

Now that was a bike ride…. Google maps will tell you it was 26 miles, but what it doesn’t really tell you is that it was uphill both ways and almost always against the wind. Yes, Islay has a very unique topography. Despite the challenges of the ride, I did make it to all three of the distillery tours which I had booked – sometimes with only ten or fifteen minutes to spare. (Good weather continues to be a welcome travel companion.) Along the way I ran into several familiar groups of German whisky tourists, a Japanese Scotsman (I don’t know how “authentic” the heritage was, but styling a kilt he was), cows and sheep. The drivers on Islay are very friendly, giving a hand or finger wave and even giving way on some of the narrower roads I navigated today. So after this long ride I am going to take it easy tomorrow and catch a cab for me and the bike to the northeast side of the island to visit the last two distilleries on the itinerary. I feel comfortable enough with the traffic re-education I have undergone that renting a car the next time could be an option… if a few friends come along to split the cost.

bowmore

view of Bowmore from halfway around Lochindaal

loch gorm

Loch Gorm (not Gorn) en route to Kilchoman

Kilchoman

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exterior view of the distillery

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ladder up to the peat kiln

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peat kiln fire – still warm

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distilling room

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mash tun in the back of the distilling room

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mash tun in action

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washbacks

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spirit safe

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bottling machine – most of this operation is done by hand

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Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels just filled

Bruichladdich

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exterior view of the distillery

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grain mill

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open-air mash tun – unique

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washbacks

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distilling room

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the “spirit still” spirit safe – a second spirit safe is used for the “wash still”

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distilling “The Botanist” gin

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awww… they put my name on some barrels!

Bowmore

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seaside view of the distillery

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the grain mill

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pouring grain into the mash tun

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mash tun in action

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washbacks

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distilling room

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spirit safe

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the oldest whisky maturation vault on Islay – at sea level and cold

And yes, I finally broke down and bought a bottle of single malt which I believe would be difficult to find back home. Along with a t-shirt to supplement my meagre clothing supply, which was suddenly enhanced by being reunited with my missing suitcase. It’s going to be a little heavier now….

The First Day

Rescued by the bus! Facing a long bike ride back to Bowmore from Port Ellen, I was just intending to take a break at the Islay Airport (half-way point) bus stop when the bus came by. The driver stopped and invited me in – with bike. That finally answers one of the questions which I had not been able to have resolved: can I transport the bike by bus to take a little “edge” off the cross-island endurance test? Yes. And thankfully that answer came today, as I was heading into the wind on the return trip from visiting the three southern distilleries.

Ardbeg

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ardbeg 2

ardbeg 3

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exterior views of the distillery

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a version of the “spider diagram” which the Scotch Club once used at a meeting

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the mill for the malted barley

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the fermentation room – which produces very smoky, flat beer

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the distillation room

Lagavulin

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exterior views of the distillery – interior photography was not allowed

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our tasting room; we were offered a sample of their pre-casked spirit, a very interesting flavor

Laphroaig

Perhaps the best tour of the day, very fun and informative. I became a “Friend of Laphroaig” and now own a square foot of land on the property – on a return trip I can collect my “rent” in the form of a dram.

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seaside view of the distillery

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royal approval

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an actual malting room!

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the peat kiln – smoky

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the peat kiln fire; we all got to throw a little peat onto the fire, so some of the 2024 10-year-old will include peat from Pete

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mash tun and fermentation tanks

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distillation room

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the spirit safe… a slightly mysterious but important process takes place here featuring terms such as “foreshots,” “low wine” and “feints”

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cask storage… primarily used Maker’s Mark barrels (Ardbeg uses Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s)

The Trip

the trip

Bus-ferry-bus – that’s the way I got to Islay. As for my suitcase… perhaps tomorrow. A few snapshots from the journey:

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loch lomond 2

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Loch Lomond

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A ten-minute stop in Inveraray

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The ferry

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The Kennacraig “harbor”

fog

fog exit

There were several thick patches of fog on the way

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Islay from the southwest approach

jura

Jura… maybe next time

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Port Askaig

After finding a few clothes and more toiletries, I watched World Cup games in the bar – between which I enjoyed the Lagavulin venison roast, and after which I enjoyed a dram of Kilchoman. Thanks to a friendly bartender, tonight I learned how to correctly pronounce “Lagavulin” as well as “Bruichladdie”; once I have (hopefully) visited all of the distilleries I just might spill the beans.

The Switch-Up

Folks, don’t fly into or out of the Florence airport. The single runway is short, and the valley in which Florence is located is subject to strong winds. Which means that certain smaller airplanes will be prohibited from flying into or out of the airport if the tailwind-headwind-crosswind situation is deemed to be too dangerous – tricky, since with a short runway larger planes are unable to land at the airport. The very definition of a catch-22.

Yesterday’s flight to Birmingham was diverted for this very reason. The incoming flight was sent to Pisa when it was decided that landing in Florence would be unsafe. So at the time of the flight’s original departure we were put on a bus for a lovely one-hour ride on the FI-PI-LI to the Pisa airport. No ground support was offered once there, but we all found our way to the correct baggage drop-off counter (we had already “checked in” to the “flight” at the Florence airport) and the gate. But then hours went by…. So, depending upon whether you believe the captain of the flight or the Italian gentleman with whom I had several pleasant conversations and who seemed to know the operations personnel, the fuel purchase system either kept breaking down or was made “difficult” by an airline wishing to purchase fuel at an airport from which it normally does not fly. We eventually left about three and a half hours after we should have departed Florence and arrived at Birmingham airport well after the last flight to Glasgow should have left….

But my original connecting flight to Glasgow was delayed as well – they were waiting for the very plane I was on from Pisa (Florence)! So I got to run around the airport, made it onto the flight and sat across the aisle and one row back from where I had been sitting thirty minutes earlier. Unfortunately my suitcase did not make it into and out of the Birmingham airport as quickly as I did (I can only hope that it did leave Pisa); I am crossing fingers that it will meet me in Islay sometime later tonight as it did not get to Glasgow before I had to catch the bus to Kennacraig. Thanks to the Poundland across the street from my Glasgow hotel I am at least equipped with a few toiletry essentials, although a change of clothes will be necessary at some point down the road.

(Aside to LW: as far as I know I have no “enemies” in the European aviation system who would purposely divert my suitcase.)