Islay is a special place. This was my third trip to the island and it always gives me the same feeling of stepping back in time. Of the many things bottled there, I wish it were possible to distil the feeling of tranquillity that comes about when you descend the ramp of the CalMac ferry and drive through some of the most beautiful, rugged scenery imaginable. Alas, until such a thing becomes possible I will have to cajole, coax and con my friends and loved ones into travelling with me. Come to think of it, I'm happy enough with that. Oh, and one more thing. The image above is not an Islay whisky. I know that; you know that. Trust me - in context it makes sense.
This trip, as with my other Scotch trips, was arranged ad hoc. A WhatsApp group, a suggestion, three very enthusiastic friends and we were done. Two of the group represented polar ends of the spectrum with regards to feelings on peaty whisky - we had a self-professed peathead with a penchant for Laphroaig and a peat-dilettante who had merely dabbled in the smoky realm but was yet to be convinced of its magnificence. I have travelled with peathead (as he shall henceforth be known) to Islay before, and it was with something approaching religious fervour that he insisted Laphroaig was on our list. We were happy to oblige.
Now, the journey from Northern Ireland to Islay is an interesting one. You can take a small passenger ferry from Ballycastle which is a very civilised affair taking somewhere south of 2 hours. This was not an option for us as one of our number lives in London and was meeting us in Glasgow. The journey, therefore, started at 6am to catch the 7:30 Ferry to Cairnryan. I am not going to bore you with a detailed account of the journey and offer, instead, this synopsis. Beautiful scenery, amazing roads and increasingly barmy conversations. One part of the journey that deserves mention and that is the final 20 minutes. Have you ever tried to find a house that is painted black, on a pitch-dark evening in an extremely remote area of a remote island? I hadn't but, let me tell you, it presents a considerable challenge. After mistakenly driving up a neighbour's driveway (said neighbour spent the duration of our trespass looking out the window with a glass of wine in hand and understandable scowl on face) and navigating the most potholed road I have ever encountered, the journey came to an end. At 9:30 that evening we arrived at The Black House in Bruichladdich after an exhausting day of travel.
I promised earlier that the image for this post would make sense, and I intend to deliver on that promise. Given that we had our peat-debutante with us I had decided that it would be a kindness to bring some non-peated whisky to ease him into the transition. Glasses were duly poured, emptied and refilled through a very amusing game of Cards Against Humanity. The eagle-eyed reader may have noticed that there were four of us, yet only three glasses in the photo above. The final of our quartet had, perish the thought, opted for a beer upon arrival. Beer. On Islay. Maddness. A fourth glass was eventually filled, sanity was restored and we reached our quorum.
Never before has a game been so hard fought - room allocation was at stake! There were two king bed rooms and two bunk bed rooms. Yours truly, being the charming a delightful individual you have come to know, came third (after having amassed a significant early lead, so my virtue may still be in question). At the end of the night, the bunk bed was calling. The wind howled through the building and we were somewhat afraid that we might wake up in Oz, but our trusty Air BnB remained firmly rooted to terra firma. The most annoying thing about the wind was that we were unable to break out the cigars that had been brought to try alongside the Dalmore.
To be continued...and it will be Islay whisky from this point on!
Part 2 at https://bit.ly/2EmrvvX