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Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Road To Islay. Day One: This Jacket is great. I look like Bill Oddie in this jacket.

Imagine taking all your personal possessions and trying to shove them in to a cigar tube. That’s what travelling on the London Underground with luggage is like. If you take that cigar tube full of your worldly goods, stick it in a microwave and heat it up until it explodes... well, that’s like travelling with luggage, on the tube, in rush hour. In short, it’s a bloody nightmare.

But it seems worth it as currently we’re sitting on the dock waiting for the Calmac ferry over to Islay for the 2011 Feis Ile.

It has been a long journey, rising at 5.45am on Thursday to drive from our digs in Oxfordshire to Glasgow, the first stop on our journey this May. Hitting the town at lunchtime (after filling up on pork pies) we headed to The Good Spirits Co. Glasgow’s newest Whisky shop.

Set up by Mark Connelly of Whisky Whisky Whisky and a couple of others, the shop is a fantastic mix of great indie bottlings, old favourites , as well as some top flight sherries, vermouths and a walk-in humidor. If you’re in town, you HAVE to check it out- you’ll not be disappointed. They will also start hosting tasting at the premises, located at 23 Bath Street. I’m sure if you’re around locally and want to know more details, if you pop in to the shop then they’ll be happy to help you.

Last month, we had an introduction to Auchentoshan’s latest release the 1975 vintage at a launch hosted by master blender Jeremy Stephens but we sadly didn’t have time to visit the actual distillery, so this time, with the rest of the day to kill, we thought it high time to head on over and see the award winning visitors centre. Our tour guides were the irrepressible Jeremy Stephens once again and this time Distillery Manager Alistair MacDonald, who had the unenviable task of explaining Scotland’s only three still triple distillation method to us.

A wonderful tour which doesn’t require you to dress up like the builder from the Village People, we spent an unhealthy length of time discussing yeast and how it works, looking in depth at wash backs and discovering the intricacies of condensers. You even get to knock a bung out from a cask using a hammer with the reward of a dram from the cask, a real highlight.

Seeing the triple distillation process was fantastic. They have even taken samples of the fore-shots from the Spirit Still. This is basically the first part of the third distillation which is removed before the middle-cut is taken and matured in barrels. It contains a huge amount of copper and as such is a incredible turquoise-green colour which eventually settles into a murky-white liquid with the vibrant greens condensed on the top, like a ghost wearing an photo-negative coloured halo. Not something you would ever wish to ingest. Lucky then that is gets re-distilled and eventually has the impurities removed, become perfectly drinkable along the way.

One can see just why their tour and visitors centre has won so many awards and it should be even better after a refurbishment which is taking place later this year.

As we were en route to our fifth (fourth for the blog) Islay festival, the chaps at Auchentoshan told us about their own whisky festival which they host once every two years where they brew their own beer. In fact, they are the only distillery in Scotland to hold a licence for the brewing of their own beer, as well as a licence to distil. Bravo! You’ve got most of the ingredients so why not give it a go. In this case of the guys at Auccy they used the mash from distillery and it has turned out rather well:

Auchentoshan Real Ale – Summer Gold – 5.6% ABV

The aromas are pure mash house, malt and big hops notes. On the palate the beer gives Malty notes, well cooked bacon and then turns into vanilla ice cream drenched in maple syrup. The palate comes to an end with toffee and banana. Overall, this is a very easy drinking beer which maintains so bold flavours without being too stout.

The evening started and ended with drams of our favourite Auchentoshan, the Three Wood which crowned an incredibly informative day in the Lowlands and set us up very nicely for our trip to Islay.

One distillery down, only another eight to get through (plus Islay Ales and the Chocolate Shop) before we return to the south, to try and lose some weight...