We've lost Gareth. Poor chap had to leave on a jet plane early this morning and miss this day of wonderful days…drumroll please…
Ardbeg Day! Yes, my malty children, it was the day of Ardbeg, and after a long and luxurious lie in, we were fed a lovely fry up by Mr Ben and then lickety-split, back in the Malt Mobile to rush across the island and not miss all the festivities.
For on this day, Ardbeg held their very own Islay-lympics complete with discus throwing and sheep tossing. We began the day with a nip of the Feis Ile special bottling from Ardbeg, the aptly named: Arbeg Day (Release the Peat!).
Got your big plate, Alan?
The schedule for Islay-lympics
Team Master of Malt at Ardbeg day with a bottle of Ardbeg Day. Meta.
Nose: Big waft of Peat, nicely fruity. More than a hint of very old Speyside. Vanilla, BBQ sauce, kick of chilli. Maybe a touch of Satay?
Palate: Full and rounded. Absolutely massive mouthfeel. Peat weaves in well with the nicely sherried notes. Touch of seaweed, camphor.
Finish: Sherry carries through into the finish, but a nice creaminess is contributed by the first fill bourbon too. Dries out at the death.
Overall: An absolutely fabulous dram. A cross between Uigeadail and Alligator. Uilleagator if you will...?
But where was Shortie?
The three Malteers spent a bit of time wandering around, taking in the sun, and viewing a few of the Islay-lympians at their sport. Flags of every nation were dotted around the grounds, remnants of the opening ceremony parade. I took the opportunity to pose with Old Glory in front of the distillery.
From sea to shining sea!
As it was our very last day on Islay, we tried to get as much in as we possibly could, including, but not limited to: touring the distillery, giving interviews, winning raffle prizes, spotting the Union Jack man, petting dogs, and (of course) drinking whisky! There were some lovely peat faeries floating about the place, making sure not one festival-goer had an empty glass.
A peat faerie properly branded up
And whom did we see doling out the drams? You guessed it, friends! Our old pals from Cask Strength were lending a hand to make the day go smoothly, to provide a bit of entertainment, and to generally enjoy themselves.
Hey hey hey, it's Ardbeg Day!
Ben, being the sneaky clever chap he is, managed to blag us a space on an Olympic-themed distillery tour. All the employees were dressed for the day in trainers and sporty clothing, and our tour guide was properly kitted out. She explained that during the tour, she would pass around a baton and if you (the consumer) were caught with it, you would win a wee prize! Here is where my deep desire for winning began…
Spot the Union Jack man…
Ardbeg has a long history of being closed and open, only to be closed and then opened again, but the details in the décor of the distillery indicated that this was a very fine establishment indeed. The repetition of the Ardbeg green throughout never let any of us forget where we were.
The devil is in the detail – Ardbeg green and more
All of Ardbeg's barley comes from the Port Ellen maltings, located on Islay just behind the now closed Port Ellen distillery. Ardbeg orders its barley peated to 55 ppm, save for two special expressions, the Blasda and the Supernova, the former containing only light peat, and the Supernova (you guessed it) containing atomic peat.
Ardbeg's old malt hoppers. The perfect place for a sauna?
We were ushered through the old (unused and wooden) malt hoppers to have a look at the new (stainless steel) hoppers, and then to the malt mill (a very rare and still quite functional Boby mill), which is over a hundred years old. Sadly, some details of the distillery history have been lost throughout the years (guess they weren't using iCloud) so our guide couldn't give us the exact age.
Back of the net!
After the mill, it was on to the mash tuns where we were allowed to have a peek in, before heading to the washbacks. I must say, with the gorgeous sea views, this was probably the most beautiful washback room I'd ever been in. Or maybe it was just the sun and sea air gone to my brain. [Ed: Are you 'right there, Father?]
The ancient and rare Boby mill
Some of us had a wee taste of the wort (pronounced 'wert' by some who shall remain nameless) before moving onto the still room.
The tip of the iceberg and the full 'berg beneath the grate floor (Spot the Union Jack man!)
The still room was appropriately painted with the 'beg green (wondering if they sell it in the shop—would make a great accent wall) and three ultra-tall copper stills with a handy little addition on the spirit still: a purifier. This little beauty ensures that the heavier molecules fall back into the still and are broken down into smaller molecules preventing the whisky from becoming too heavy and meaty. Jack-a-nack-a-nory.
And I Still got love for the streets. It's the B-E-G.
Spirit still or low wine still? Shall we ring Jura?
I want to tile my bathroom with these
Can you spot the wee purifier?
We had a peek at the spirit safe while the feints were coming off which was quite exciting to witness. Again, a beautifully hand-painted sign labelled the safe. Oh, Ardbeg.
All steamed up and feinty
Our lovely and sporty tour guide then escorted us outside for a tasting of the aforementioned Ardbeg Day (the whisky—I'm not getting philosophical). The view was sublime: wispy white clouds against a bright blue sky, the ocean stretching to the horizon. Are you with me? Are you getting this?
Perfect end to a perfect week
Have you spotted him yet?
Justin didn't even know what hit him
We bid adieu to the tour and headed back to the par-tay which was in full swing. Ben Elly took off to be interviewed by the Ardbeg folks (I got my turn later) and we joined the Cask Strength lads for some scallops and dressed crab while lounging on the grass (sounds a bit like the Bunnahabhain day, don't it?). The band was in full swing, the whisky was flowing prodigiously, and all was very right with the world.
Even pooches love Ardbeg!
I overheard someone say that the best thing about Ardbeg day was that it was more a day for locals—and by that point, everyone sure seemed like a local. We had seen these folks every day for over a week, and we were becoming a whisky tribe. I finally got to meet three dogs we had seen at every distillery day, and snapped what is possibly the best dog and whisky shot I've ever seen.
For those about to rock, we salute you
And then it got better.
The closing ceremonies were arranged at the front of the distillery, and many Islay-lympians were awarded medals for terrier-racing, sheep-tossing, and a host of other events in which we all had failed to participate.
I did forget to mention that we had all entered into the raffle previously, and that the winners would be announced at the closing ceremony. This is where my desire for winning deepened. And my wanting paid off.
I won second place in the raffle, and for my efforts was awarded three whiskies: Ardbeg 10 year old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, and Arbeg Uigeadail. Add this to the Ardbeg Alligator I had purchased some days before, and I was ready to host my own Ardbeg tastings at home.
Feis Ile anagram? Even the local fuzz were getting in on the action!
Goodbye, my friend
As the sun sank below the distillery roof, we hedged our bets and decided to head back towards Caol Ila, to chilli and ribs, to poker and writing blog posts, and (eventually) to bed. Anticipating an early morning to catch the ferry back to Kennacraig, we had tried our darnedest to make the best of an understocked situation by purchasing the biggest towels we could find. Sadly, these were tiny.
They start out the size of mini Frisbees and end up the size of actual paracetamol.
We had done ourselves proud by managing to visit every distillery on the island (some twice), sampling every festival bottling (amongst others), braving a swim in the sea, surviving countless midge bites, driving to and fro all over Islay, hosting parties, attending dinners, and writing about it each and every day.
All for you, dear reader.
And so we give our thanks. Thank you Islay. Thank you whisky. Thank you Master of Malt.
You are all champions.
The champions of whisky
More champions of whisky