Jamie MacKenzie from Bowmore is a madman. Luckily, he fits in perfectly with us, and as David OG and I drove into the Bowmore entrance at 8:45 on a cold Thursday night, we was in the parking lot waiting for us and jumping up and down as we approached. We immediately walked over to the Harbour Inn for an amazing dinner of gigantic local oysters, fresh monk fish and local lamb, as well as plenty of fantastic booze. We stayed for nearly three hours, talking whisky retail, business politics, and Bowmore marketing before we finally made it over for our late night tour of the distillery. Day Four's adventures. would begin at exactly midnight.
Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay and when you visit in the dead middle of the night, it seems almost ancient. Buiit in the late 1700's, it's much like Springbank in its antiquity, but much larger and with more equipment. They also do their own floor maltings and have a penchant for traditional, time-tested procedure. Jamie took us through every facet of the operations and we ended the evening by tasting some amazing whiskies out on the beach behind the distillery which you can see below. Jamie thought that the salty sea air would provide the right atmosphere for true appreciation.
By the time we headed back to the cottages it was nearly 2 AM and we still needed to sit down and have a few special drams to finish off the night! Jamie was a fabulous host and his passion for Bowmore made us just as excited. I really love how Bowmore operates and the old school tradition I saw on display in the distillery, which by the way, was operating with two staff members at 1:45 AM! We separated our own barley on the malting floor, tasted warm, fermenting wort right out of the washbacks, and drank white spirit off the still. Then I realized that the Bowmore 17 is one of the best whiskies ever and immediately secured myself a bottle to purchase the following morning.
Friday morning was our scheduled appointment at Lagavulin so we dragged ourselves out of bed, left without eating, and made our way over past Port Ellen to the distillery. I won't get into what exactly happened, but we left without ever seeing the inner workings of the facility. I'm not sure that Diageo effectively communicated what was expected of our visit and we drove off rather bummed out by the experience. No worries, however, because that meant more time to spend at Bruichladdich, and MAN did we ever need it! Jim McEwan took us on the most intense, and awesomely overwelming whisky experience a few geeks like us could ever have. It would make most malt maniacs weep with envy. Jim, as seen in the distillery above, is perhaps the coolest guy I've ever met and I can see why Susan Purnell loves him so much! His openness, candor, and sense of humor are so in sync with my own that we spent most of the day teasing one another and laughing at each others jokes. I had such a good time that I was completely spent by the time we left.
Bruichladdich shares much of the same whisky making philosophy as Springbank and, like its Campbeltown contemporary, it believes not only in the beauty of human, hands-on distillation, but also in the humanity and soul of Islay itself. Jim wants everything done on Islay because he wants to protect the integrity of his whisky as well as the jobs of his employees. Bottling and aging are both done at the Bruichladdich location and much of the whisky is made from local barley. While we were super pumped about tasting new make spirit off the still and watching Jim in action, we all knew what we were here for so Jim wasted little time in getting us over to the warehouses.
You wouldn't believe how much whisky we tasted today even if I listed every one of them here for you. Jim has so much awesome whisky at Bruichladdich that at one point I wasn't sure if one afternoon would be enough. I think I'm going to have to go back again before we leave just to make sure I didn't miss anything. Jim would open pretty much anything we ask, busting bungholes right and left to satisfy our curiousity. My excitement and enthusiasm after each taste seemed to energize Jim even more and he suddenly got into the act and started opening many of his own reccommendations to try with us. I'm pretty sure we'll be buying at least three private casks from Bruichladdich, but it may be more like five before we're done.
If you thought that Bruichladdich had a lot of different bottlings in the U.S, you wouldn't believe their distillery store. Springbank and Bruichladdich both have unique casks in the gift shop that you can fill and then label on your own (something I did at both!), but Bruichladdich keeps an archive of every one they've ever done! You can buy each of them from a special location behind the counter and there are dozens! The one I got was a 19 year cask strength in maderia cask! Sooooo good.
I'd like to get a bit more detailed about the day, but I'm wiped out right now and must keep it short. What you should take away from this post:
- Bowmore is a fantastic town as well as distillery. Great whiskies and a fantastic operation. I can't wait to tell our customers about how it's done and why they'll love it as well.
- Bruichladdich is stellar. Now tied for my favorite distillery along side Springbank. Jim is a riot and his knowledge of old whisky is fantastic. He gave me a few samples to take that are mind-bending.
- We found many amazing casks today and you should all be very excited. They won't be cheap however because of the quality and age. I am starting to save right now so I can budget for them!
Ardbeg tomorrow. Can't wait.