...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Laphroaig Distillery's Water to Whisky Experience

When scheduling my Scotland posts, I didn't realize that the first week's worth were going to be so negative.  Kristen and I had such a lovely time there that I feel as if I've poorly communicated the experience.  So to remedy that, I'd like to share a bit about my favorite whisk(e)y distillery tour of all time.

Laphroaig's Water to Whisky Experience, or as I've been calling it "The Baller Tour", does cost £90.  Yes, I agree, that's a lot of money.  You know how many bottles of long-matured single cask Laphroaig you can purchase for £90?  Okay, none.  A different comparison:  £90 is a lot of money and one can still get a bottle or two of good whisky for that price.  But the thing is, most of us will never get another chance to go to Islay.  Most of us will never get another chance to go to Laphroaig.  Most of us will never get another chance to get an insider's tour to the distillery, hike across more than a mile of open Islay farmland, eat big spread of local Islay nosh by Laphroaig's water source, cut wet peat, taste single casks from Laphroaig's warehouses, pour my own bottle, all the while drinking single malt whisky on the island on which its made, for four and a half hours.  Considering all this, the tour was worth the price.

I mean, damn.  This is me.

I just cut Laphroaig peat.  Look at the expressions of awe on the two gents in the background.  And I am rocking those wellies.

Okay, I'll let you recover from the awesomeness of that photo for a moment.




I'll start at the beginning.

In my last post, I mentioned I departed Lagavulin because "I had somewhere (better) to be".  That somewhere was Laphroaig Distillery.  It was 11:30am and I had to get to there before noon for the tour.  Luckily the Port Ellen township had recently built a walking path between distilleries, so I hoofed it.

The weather and the scenery was beautiful, making for an excellent 20 minute walk.

When I got to the distillery in time, Sherillyn was there to hand me some swag and a glass of Triple Wood.  She knew I was a whisky blogger, which was impressive since I'm the 748th most popular whisky blogger in my area code.  Sherillyn (Bruichladdich fan and daughter of local farmer who sells barley to 'Laddie) was joined by Jennie (a new mom, just coming back to work after months of baby girl time), and they two led the Water to Whisky tour group of Germans, Quebecois, and the 748th most popular whisky blogger in his area code.

We started out with a good extended distillery tour, met a number of real human employees who actually dirtied their hands in the creation of Laphroaig whisky, and got to see malting floors in action.

I took this photo as I dove head first into the barley. They let you do that on the tour. (No, they don't.)
Pictures are worth a certain amount of words and I'm all about value.  So, some photos:

Barley peat sauna
Shazaam! Burning peat turds.
The four copper wizard hats
Once the indoor tour was complete, then it was time for the drive, hike, and lunch.  We walked across this...

...to get to this...

Where we ate a lunch of locally made soup, smoked fish, beef, lamb, cheeses, and tablet.  There's a lot of this along the hike...

...so one feels like one has earned one's lunch.  And when I hoovered up every last crumb, it wasn't just to be polite.  The food was excellent, possibly the best lunch I had while in Scotland.  And we got a bottle of Quarter Cask from which we poured freely.  Then we hiked back.

Then we were driven to the peat lands just north of Port Ellen.

Where this happened...

...after which I was given a pour of Laphroaig Lore for my efforts.  And then a pour of the Cairdeas 2016.  (Quick hot take: the new Cairdeas is okay, but it ain't a patch on the 2015.  When drinking it amidst sudden 30mph Islay winds, I found the wine cask element barely registering.  Taking all of that helpful information into consideration, I like the Lore better.)

We came back to the distillery and turned in our rubber boots.  I picked up my rent (a Laphroaig 10 mini) for my square foot of Islay, and then grabbed a pour of the 10yo Cask Strength Batch 008. (Quick hot take: 008 has a similar bitter peppery punch that Batch 007 had and the sweetness was very reserved. A good sign.)

To the warehouse!

Just for show (sadly), this cask was signed by #1 fan, Prince Charles.
We tasted samples pulled from three single casks.  I don't have photos of these because I was too busy drinking whisky.

Cask 1 - 11 year old 2005, spent 8 years in ex-bourbon and 3 years in a quarter cask, ~56%abv: Very good quality Laphroaig and my second favorite of the three.  The quarter cask had much less influence on the whisky than I'd expected.  Utilizing refill ex-bourbons to make quarter casks seems to result in less of the oak-syrup quality that virgin oak and "rejuvenated" casks impart. Anyway, this one was a little reminiscent of the official 10yo CSes.

Cask 2 - 12 year old 2004, 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel, ~51%abv:
More heat than the higher ABV younger cask and less peaty.  It's not bad whisky, but...

Cask 3 - 18 year old 1998, ex-sherry butt, ~59.3%abv:
This one made drinkers emit noises.  Bringing the whisky glass up to the nose, one finds oneself snorting molasses, toffee, and tablet while knee deep in a burning bog.  Also, it tastes wonderful.  Thus it was my selection.

After this, the show was over.  My wife arrived just in time to rescue Sherillyn and Jennie from the 748th most popular whisky blogger in his area code.  Kristen had spent the day actually exploring the island while I had been nerding out, and now it was about time for us get a drink.  Being the sober one, she drove us back to our B&B, not at all making our rented Audi A3 catch air when Dukes of Hazarding it over a bump on the A846.  That never happened, nope.

Tour recommended.