Saturday, 13 August 2016
Islay – visits to Caol Ila and Kilchoman
Caol Ila distillery facing the sea
Although during our week on Islay we visited all of the eight working distilleries, we took our only distillery tour at Caol Ila. We made a good choice as we were impressed by the way Nigel, who runs the Caol Ila tours, explained the processes and at the same time coped very sympathetically with CRM's 92 year old mum and her restricted mobility.
Nigel explained that the distillery was sited by the sea because when it was founded in 1846 boat was the only practical mode of transport. It is only since 1989 that Caol Ila has been sold as a single malt, previously all the whisky production here went into blends. Initially Caol Ila single malt accounted for just 5% of production. Now, with the growth in interest in single malts, it is up to 15%. Now part of Diageo Caol Ila gets its malted barley from the Port Ellen Maltings, also part of Diageo.
Because space is limited here, Caol Ila is sited in a small bay backed by a steep descent down to the distillery, much of the spirit is sent to the mainland to Stirling for maturation. This rather suggests that the idea that it is the proximity to the sea and Islay's climate during maturation in cask that gives Islay whiskies their special character is a romantic notion. Rather whiskies character comes mostly from the malted barley, the amount (if any) of peat used in drying the fermented barley, the shape of the stills and decisions made during distillation as well as the choice of cask.
On Monday we invested in a bottle of Caol Ila 12 YO and we have been enjoying a post-dinner dram of this gentle whisky, which still has some of the Islay characteristics but without being anything like as challenging and in your face as some.
At the end of the tour we tasted the Caol Ila Distillers Edition, initially matured like the other Caol Ila whiskies in Bourbon casks and then finished in Moscatel casks. Moscatel being the Spanish for Muscat. This whisky is richer than the 12 YO with an oily texture.
Nigel, who runs the tours at Caol Ila,
in the warehouse at the end of the tour
talking about maturation and
the three whiskies to choose from to taste
Annie's Café, Bruichladdich
If you sprinkle when you tinkle be a sweetie and wipe the seatie
We had a snack lunch at Annie's Café in Bruichladdich – a partial shrine to cycling.
Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx
Kilchoman Farm Distillery
The Kilchoman Farm Distillery, on Islay's west coast, was our last visit. Kilchoman was established in 2005 and was the first distillery to be built on Islay for 124 years. The distillery is well set up with a modern visitors' centre including a café.