Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at Islay House!
First things first: it feels mighty strange calling this blog Day 0 when actually it was mega action-packed and full of fun. But traditionally the first day of the Fèis has been Lagavulin so… maybe the whole shebang needs a bit of shaking up? But that’s a debate for another time. Preferably over a dram…
Right. So, Team MoM is on Islay! Our main home for the first part of the week is ever-so-fancy. Yes, yesterday we checked into The Machrie, and no joke – it is stunning. Gorgeous rooms, great service, lots of whisky. But! We did manage to lure ourselves away first thing in the morning because the lure of Bruichladdich was strong.
Those of you with half an eye on the Islay calendar will well know today is NOT Bruichladdich day. But Christy McFarlane, malts communications manager, enticed us over early with promise of barley news. And it was cool. We had a good chinwag as we wandered up to the new croft, taking in the views across Loch Indaal and back towards Bowmore as we climbed. The views were spectacular and the barley trials exciting indeed. Watch this space – a video with all the deets is coming soon!
No real time for a stop though as we traversed back across the island to the Port Ellen Maltings (via the all-important Co-op in Bowmore for a vital sandwich stop). This was Mega Exciting (capital letters very much intended) for both me and Jake – we’d never visited the site before, and it is integral to the island’s whisky industry. The Diageo-owned facility malts barley for seven of the nine distilleries – not just its own, Caol Ila and Lagavulin. The team had put on their own almost-distillery day, complete with music, gazebos and all manner of malting facts. And, of course, there were tours.
Before we had a nose about, we went down to Port Ellen beach with the maltings’ site operations manager Sam Hale and Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global scotch whisky master. In front of the old Port Ellen distillery we put your questions to them both, covering production at the maltings and the revival of the distillery itself. Videos to follow! (If you’ve got questions for any of the Islay distillery teams, send them to us on social or pop them in the comments below!).
Then Hale showed us round the maltings and the scale was something else. Super impressive, indeed! From the eight 25-tonne steeps to the enormous drums, and the gigantic kilns, which take in 6 tons of peat per batch, it’s clear that the operation is something special. We popped into the control room (like a spaceship) and even out onto the roof overlooking the old Port Ellen distillery. It was like glorious, peat-scented magic.
Time for a quick ice-cream break, then it was up towards the other end of the island for another village fete-type set up: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Islay House takeover! There was bunting, drams galore, and a whisky-themed Highland Games, complete with axe-throwing and archery. We did not partake, but we did spot a trio of excellent dogs! We also caught up with the SMWS team, including the intrepid Richard who is taking on the recently-established Tour of Islay tomorrow. If you see a bunch of folks in SMWS cycling kits pedalling along, give them a wave or hoot – they’re aiming to cover all nine distilleries and 65-ish miles in one day!
That’s all too much energy for us. We’re off for tea. And a dram or three. Roll on Lagavulin Day tomorrow!