121pilot, a commercial airline pilot in the United States who has offered his insights and analysis on a number of topics on Live and Let’s Fly recently traveled with his brother and father on a very special trip to Scotland. He asked me if I would be interested in a trip report and I quickly said yes. Over the next week, you’ll read about his trip planning, flights, and time on the ground in Scotland. Today, he writes about his tours of sevearl whisky distilleries.
> Read More:
Part I: A Special Trip To Scotland In Lufthansa First Class
Part II: A Pilot’s Review Of Lufthansa First Class
Part III: First Time In First Class Terminal + Lufthansa A321 Business Class To Scotland
Part IV: Hotel Hopping + Scenic Driving In Scotland
Tip: Hire A Guide In Advance
If choosing to spend a day visiting multiple distilleries, you’re certainly going to want to enjoy a few wee drams of fine whiskey as you do. Therefore, you’re not going to want to be driving. If you’re not planning well in advance, finding a good guide can also be rather difficult.
We had not realized this, and thus finding a reasonably priced car/guide service proved a bit of a challenge. We ended up being very fortunate in the companies we did use. On Islay we contracted with Bowmore taxi service, who put together an itinerary for us that turned out to be excellent. Being a believer in local knowledge, I had given them some general guidelines and then allowed them to plan our two days for us. This worked out extremely well. Our driver, Donald, was friendly and personable; we could not have been happier with him.
During our time on Islay we visited Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Caol Ila, Finlaggan, Ardanhoe, and Bunnahabhain. We also popped into Ardbeg for lunch at their wonderful café. We did not do full tours at all these distilleries and as this is a travel blog not a whisky blog, I won’t go into great detail about each of the distilleries. I will highlight, however, for those of you interested, some places not to miss. Some random pictures should give you a good flavor though.
At Lagavulin we participated in the sensory tasting session where you sample a number of different whiskies while smelling various elements that go into the whiskies. Definitely worthwhile for the whisky lover.
We didn’t have much time at Ardbeg since we only popped in for lunch, but we ended up wishing that we had spent more time in the café. The setting was lovely and the food good. Plus there was the chance to order various tasting flights of their excellent whiskys.
Bruichladdich was unique in that they would allow you to sample a range of whiskies gratis. Yes, that’s right free. Frankly more distilleries should adopt policies like this. I ended up buying a bottle I had not planned on buying as a result.
My absolute favorite on Islay though was Kilchoman. Until we visited there I’d never heard of them much less sampled one of their drams. Kilchoman is a newer distillery and they are somewhat unique in that they are not owned by one of the major groups that own most of the other distilleries. Most Islay distilleries import their malt and or do some level of processing of that malt elsewhere before distilling it on site. Kilchoman grows some of their own malt right there on the Island (it started as a family farm), and then take that malt through every stage of production to produce their 100% Islay Single Malt Whisky. That bottle (one of which came home with me) was one of my absolute favorites of our time there. A true nectar of the gods, if you will.
Lunch our second day was at the Bridgend Hotel and was again absolutely superb. There is no question I’d want to dine there again if I returned to Islay.
Return To The Mainland
After 3 nights on Islay it was time for us to move on. We boarded the morning ferry back to Port Kennacraig; this time on the MV Finlaggan which is one of the larger ferries being used in Scotland. The facilities were considerably nicer on this larger ship, and we had some nice views of Islay on our way out that we had missed arriving in the dark.
We then drove up the A83 and A816 to Oban where we would spend the night. The roads in Scotland are generally 2 lanes and narrow but the drive was beautiful. Frankly, I wished we had more time to stop and explore.
In Oban we stayed in the Cameron Guest House which was close to downtown and offered free parking. The room was very nice and the host friendly. My only complaint was that I had missed the fine print of Travelocity that their rate did NOT include the customary free breakfast. That being said, I felt like we ended up being just as well off walking in to town the next morning to find food.
We, of course, took advantage of being in Oban to visit the distillery there which is one of the smallest in Scotland. We didn’t take the tour, but did enjoy some tastings.
The next morning we drove to Elgin which is located in the heart of the Speyside region for our next two days of distillery tours. Our drive took us through Cairngorns National park which was spectacular.
Once again, I lamented that we didn’t have more time to stop and explore the country side. That being said, what Google predicted would be a 3.5 hour drive turned into an all-day affair. At points in the park, the road went down to one lane which isn’t at all uncommon in Scotland in the more remote areas.
Coming in Part VI: Our stay in Elgin and journey home