The Day Before

Long train trip, long bus ride… and thanks to mostly grey skies, not the most agreeable weather for soaking in the sights along the way. But all of the connections were timely, and taking the bus along Loch Lomond and along Loch Fyne brought back good memories from the trip to Islay two years ago.

Inverary

Inverary on Loch Fyne (an admittedly crude panorama)

Kennacraig

ferry arriving at Kennacraig

Campbeltown is a pretty little village (when the sun shines); lots of quaint shops and totally walkable, at least as far as the major points of interest are concerned. The harbor is quite scenic, and the view from my hotel room nods to the town’s nautical heritage – from the window the Springbank distillery and one of its warehouses are also visible.

Campbeltown harbor

hotel view

I recommend the Black Sheep Pub (inside the Royal Hotel, where I did not stay) for a good meal and atmosphere; it was here that I made my first local Campbeltown whisky discoveries. The Springbank distillery produces three basic styles in various bottlings, the eponymous Springbank (lightly peated), Longrow (heavily peated in the fashion of an Islay malt, but with a noticeable sweet pear character – pictured below, it was delicious) and Hazelburn (completely unpeated). And much to my surprise, it turns out that there is a third distillery in Campbeltown, Glen Scotia! Too bad my brief visit will only allow me to tour Springbank and Glengyle… next time? When I could add the distilleries on Arran and Jura to the mix, just to check off all (?) of southwest Scotland from the whisky list. So many drams, so little time….

Longrow

Longrow

The Approach

Car (+ ferry) – bus – “T” – bus – plane – plane – train – tube – train – bus… how to get to Campbeltown from Wisconsin.

While MBTA let me down as far as getting to Logan Airport is concerned (poor signage for the commuter rail, and not particularly helpful train personnel…) I nonetheless made it to London yesterday and am now on the train to Glasgow. Four and a half hours from London Euston, followed by another four-and-a-half-hour bus ride to Campbeltown (at least there won’t be any turbulence). Tours of the two distilleries there – as well as the Glengoyne distillery outside of Glasgow – are still the focus of this excursion, but I am also looking forward to the return trip where I will enjoy an overnight stay in Reykjanesbær, Iceland. Yesterday I saw the odd birch “whisk(e)y” and “liqueur” for sale at a store next to my departing gate at the Keflavik airport, and I am quite curious to find out if these distilled products are any good; if they are, perhaps I can sneak one of these little bottles into my suitcase.

Icelandic whisky

Yes, an impressive and tempting amount of Icelandic (craft) beer was also for sale in this store… but temptation was easy to resist in this case since it was 7:30 A.M. Iceland time/3:30 A.M. Eastern time!

Icelandic beer

No trip to London is complete without a stop in my favorite pub, the Blackfriar. Built on a site formerly housing a Dominican friary, the cozy dining room in the back is beautifully decorated with mosaics and reliefs of former reverend abbots (one of them looks a lot like Yoda…?); just below the ceiling are quaint sayings such as “Industry is all” and “A good thing is soon snatched up.”

Blackfriar ceiling

Of course I had to have a couple of English ales to accompany my beef pie (the Blackfriar really does have “the best pies in London”)… a Mosaic pale ale followed by Turner’s Runner, a typical ESB. Unfortunately I was unable to determine the brewery of the former, but both of these beers were quite delicious – I love the slightly dank, resinous and citrus character of Mosaic hops (my favorite variety), and the ESB had a nice balance between roasted malt and appropriate bitterness while leaving a beautiful amount of lacing on the glass (perhaps due to a lower level of carbonation?).

All in all a nice way to prepare myself for today’s long trip and set the taste buds in order.

The Return (not exactly…)

In just over two weeks another trip to Scotland gets under way… distillery tours will again be the primary focus, but this time I am unfortunately not making it all the way to Islay. During the trip two years ago I ran into some (fellow) German whisky tourists who raved about their visit to the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown; they were touring Islay (and the adjoining mainland) by van, so they were able cover a slightly wider geographic range – and also got around a little more quickly than yours truly on a bike. (They had time to take the ferry from Port Askaig across to Jura and visited the lone distillery on that island… Germans tend to be quite organized and efficient.) Even my dad is aware of the Springbank distillery: some time ago he sent me a link to an online article discussing their unique two-and-a-half-times (?!?) distillation process. Well, curious as I am, I have wanted to visit Springbank for some time and will finally do so in mid-June. A second distillery in Campbeltown – Mitchell’s Glengyle – has also recently begun producing whiskies, making the long trip (four hours by bus from Glasgow, after a four-hour train ride from London) “worth the journey.” Passing by the ferry terminal at Kennacraig will bring back fond memories… as long as I am not asleep when that stop is made.

EUS-GLC

Glasgow-Campbeltown Continue reading The Return (not exactly…)

The Recipe

The readers (reader?) of this rarely updated blog know that I am a fan of craft beer as well as whisky. During the past year I have had the great pleasure of being an apprentice/intern at a small craft brewery that is poised to celebrate its two-year anniversary this summer, and as part of this apprenticeship I have been fortunate to design a small number of “pilot batch” beer recipes which have been received favorably by the consuming public. One final recipe has recently been brewed, which will hopefully marry my two favorite flavors: smoky, peaty single malt scotch and dank, piney hops. Say what?

While touring the Islay distilleries two summers ago I had several opportunities to sample the flat, smoky “beer” which is essentially what the pre-distillation liquid tastes like, and that experience made me wonder if it would have been possible to add hops (and ultimately carbonation) to this liquid in order to turn it into an actual, drinkable beer. Well, as I learned more about the (beer) brewing process, I discovered that there are Scottish Ale styles which use a small amount of peated malt in the grain bill; these Scottish Ales are not particularly smoky in flavor but are instead a bit on the sweeter side (thanks to a touch of honey malt), and as I thought about what varieties of malt would work well as part of a similar grain bill but with a higher percentage of peated malt my taste buds turned to chocolate… in other words, a hybrid of a Scottish Ale and a Porter might be able to absorb the higher smokiness. From there, it was just another small leap to turn the Porter aspect of the recipe into a Black IPA (perhaps my favorite beer style): the basic tastes of the two styles are rather similar, the difference being that a Black IPA is essentially more hop-forward in aroma and initial taste than a Porter. Hoppy Porter? Dark, roasty IPA? Both… so essentially there is a hybrid within the hybrid that will get mucked up with peat.

As the recipe was running through my mind over several months, I thought about how fun it would be to include malt in the grain bill which had actually been peated at one of the Islay distilleries. Unable to find any commercial distributors who sold malted barley with an Islay provenance, I discovered that Islay Ales (the lone brewery on the island) had brewed a beer using locally peated malt. Sadly, my inquiry (enquiry) about how/where to source such malt was never answered, so the next step was to contact a distillery directly in order to find out if they could spare a wee bit of malt. Kilchoman was the first distillery I contacted (a logical choice, since this “farm distillery” grows much of their own barley) – and I did not need to reach out to any of the others! I received an almost immediate, affirmative response, and in my excitement/at my brewmaster’s encouragement I decided to ask if they would also send a stave from a used whisky barrel which could be added as a flavoring agent (in the form of wood chips) after the beer has fermented. Another yes, and after the shipping cost had been calculated (the malt and the stave were free – thank you, Kilchoman!) and paid the shipment was on its way.

stave

With a few tweaks to the grain bill and a sampling of some of the available hops that will (hopefully) lend this beer an identifiable (Black) IPA character, we finally had a chance to brew “Hop Ness” a little over one week ago. The mash smelled fantastic (just a hint of peat), and the aroma of the boiling wort proved to be just as promising. Taking a cue from my brewmaster, I christened the wort with a few drops of Kilchoman whisky… which I am sure will not be noticeable in the final product but was certainly a nice bookend to this beer’s brewing journey. Fermenting now with Scottish ale yeast (we’ll see what that does to enhance the variety of flavors) and perhaps to be dry-hopped before it is finished, I hope that in a week’s time I can find out what this experiment has produced. The stave is at the ready for aging purposes – perhaps one keg will be set aside with a few (whisky-soaked) chips inside?

peated malt & hopness recipe (edit)

the “Hop Ness” recipe – partially redacted (you don’t want to give everything away)

hop ness grain

two buckets of grain

hop ness mash

the mash – too bad there isn’t a smell button

drop

dropping a wee bit of Kilchoman into the wort

hop ness transfer

transferring the wort into the fermenter

Update: the first consumption of the finished product. Complex bill of flavors, mission accomplished!

hop ness

The Guide

Having recently seen several varieties of Kilchoman at a “big box” liquor store in Central Illinois (is no secret safe?) I was inspired to finally share my memories of how the names of the various Islay distilleries are pronounced. While I do not claim 100% accuracy (and am not Scottish), I feel that I do have a fairly keen ear for language and sounds. Here we go!

Ardbeg: ard-BEHG
Bowmore: buh-MORE
Bruichladdich: brook-LAD-ee
Bunnahabhain: buh-nuh-HAH-vin
Caol Ila: kull-EE-lah
Kilchoman: kill-HOH-mun
Lagavulin: LAG-uh-vuh-lin
Laphroaig: lah-FROYG

Bonus (city names)

Port Askaig: por-tus-KEHG
Port Ellen: por-TELL-in

Feel free to gently roll your r’s on the front of your tongue for extra authenticity! Of course there are many more Gaelic (which is apparently pronounced GAL-ik on Islay) names for various whisky varieties which I can barely remember; my favorite (and this spirit is apparently no longer available) was Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona, pronounced kruch-VOH-nah and meaning “peat stack.” Ardbeg and Bunnahabhain definitely take first place in giving their expressions difficult-to-decipher Gaelic names… who can forget their first dram of Ardbeg Corryvreckan or Uigeadail, never mind Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach, Eirigh Na Greine or Toiteach (the latter apparently sounds quite Klingon)? Perhaps all of these names are easier to pronounce a few drams later – as was the case on the longest day of 2014 when Tom and I shared quite a few at the State Bar in Glasgow. Slàinte to you!

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

rising tide1

exterior view

rising tide2

the brewhouse

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

bunker1

exterior view… really looks like a bunker

bunker2

bunker3

the brewhouse – little bigger than a garage

bunker4

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

foundation1

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

foundation2

foundation3

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)

allagash1

exterior view

allagash2

grain silo

allagash3

grain milled on site

allagash4

mash tun, lauter tun, whirlpool – German design!

allagash5

holding tank

allagash6

rows and rows of fermenters

allagash7

bottling area

allagash8

some of the original brewing equipment

allagash9

active yeast during cask maturation

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.