....And We're Back Up - Still Alive, Still Drinkin'

Glasgow looking towards Port Dundas

You must be thinking, "Good God!  These guys were posting every hour and then, POOF!, nothing for days. I hope they're safe.  I hope they didn't die in a fiery wreck going through the mountains!"  Don't worry, we're just fine, but it's been quite a few days.  We've had no internet for sometime as we've either been in the car, or in the sticks.  There's too much that has happened since then to go into strict detail, but here's a quick recap since we last left you:

- took the ferry back over from Islay

- went back through Glasgow down south to Ayr and met with A.D. Rattray

- from there went to a secret new source of whisky (shhhh! don't let other retailers know!)

- drove north through the mountains to Glendronach

- visited Gordon & MacPhail

- broke my camera and now have to use David OG's

- visited Duncan Taylor

- now staying at Edradour

We went from the heart of the Lowlands north into the Highlands and, believe me, they are two different worlds, which you can see in the picture below.

There can be only one.....

We took the scenic route through the middle of the Cairngorm Mountains and we are very lucky the weather was beautiful because had we gone today we would have been SOL.  Still fresh powder on the mountains with slopes still operating.  The valley along the Dee River can make you a wee bit teary-eyed and as we drove by Royal Lochnager, I found myself wanting a bottle just to remember the amazing trip through the Eastern Highlands region.

Because of the time change we had sunlight until after 8:00 when we arrived at the hauntingly gorgeous Glendronach distillery.  That was lucky for us because it is out in the middle of NOWHERE and it would not have been fun to try and find our way on those tiny roads in the dead black of night.  Think Wuthering Heights, but in Scotland, and just as sinister. 

I won't go into complete detail about the visit, but I can tell you that we will be buying a fantastic barrel of Glendronach directly from the distillery for K&L.  I can also tell you that the Glenronach 12 is the absolute best single malt that nobody is drinking.  I have a new replacement house bottle, no joke (sorry Springbank 10, but the Glendronach 12 is just toooooooo good and very reasonable).  They do everything by hand, they have a remarkable facility, and their wood program headed up by manager Alan is unmatched.  They do everything with the knowledge that their barrels are the most important element at the end of the day.  Fantastic stuff with an oily, fruity, fat-textured edge.  Recently revamped by a pair of South African entrepreneurs, this is a major distillery to watch.

To walk the grounds is to become lost in the bucolic splendor of the Scottish Highlands.  I kept waiting for Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery to come out of the shadows with their swords.  Their cooling system is run by the cold water stream going through the middle of the building and they have a large barley field growing right next door.  We might see some amazing local barley projects from Glendronach if they can re-establish their in-house floor malt.  Could be wonderful.  Did I tell you how much I love the 12 year?

I wasn't kidding about the Wuthering Heights reference.  The house on site (which we stayed next door to) is haunted by the ghost of spanish woman who was brought over in a sherry barrel.  Spooky, to say the least.  There's also a secret tunnel that goes directly underneath where I was standing as I took this picture.  They say that she walks through it at night.  Scary!!

Meeting with G&M was fantastic if only because I learned so much about how the indy system works.  I had no idea that indie bottlers were sending their own barrels to the distilleries!  I guess that's how the majority of the business got started and it's how they controlled quality.  If you buy a barrel from the broker market, you might get stuck with a 20 year old malt aged in a 4th or 5th fill barrel, which sometimes gives you nothing but 20 year old white dog.  Euan from G&M let us try an example of Glen Keith that was pretty worthless.  Easy to get seriously screwed, I guess.  Now that many distilleries are no longer filling barrels from outside clients, the market is all about past relationships and connections.  We tasted some good possibilities for K&L selections and are excited about working with such a historic company on a more direct basis.

Because we were so close, we HAD to drive over and see Loch Ness.  No monster however.


When we finally made it over to Huntley today to visit Duncan Taylor, we were nearly tapped out of energy, but these guys got us energized fast with their insane selection of casks.  I'm a bit tired and can't go into to much detail, but Mark (pictured above) is a serious whisky geek just like us and he gave us all the stuff he would want for himself.  The octave program they have is awesome, and now that the prices are more inline with what we can afford, we might have 6 or 7 contenders.  The best part is, we'll be expanding our exclusive line up of rare mothballed/closed/destroyed distillery offerings beyond our most recent Imperial octave

Yes, you read correctly.  That says BANFF!  Why wait for the prices of these guys to go up to Port Ellen and Brora levels?  We're striking now and man was this whisky great.  Banff has been closed since 1983 and was completely destroyed by a fire in 1991.  Not much left.  Did we buy it?  Wait and see.  We're going to have serious collectors wetting their pants by the end of 2011 with some of the extinct whiskies we've found on this trip.

-David Driscoll



In the town of Bowmore there is but one pub worthy of your time.  It's called Duffie's and it's run by Duffie.  Duffie has a shit ton of whisky.  Duffie knows a shit ton about whisky.  Best whisky bar ever.  Go to Islay, go to Duffies.  Everyone knows him, so you can't miss it.

I don't really need to add much to this. 

-David Driscoll


Scotland - Day Five - Ardbeg

Finally getting to Ardbeg was an awesome thing, even though they're currently closed down and won't be restarting whiskymaking for a few weeks still.  Today was also Saturday so the distllery tasting room and gift shop was also closed to the public.  Luckily we had contacted distillery manager Mickey Heads in advance and, since he lives on site round the clock, he was happy to come over and give us a tour.  Ardbeg has perhaps the most beautiful location of all the Islay distilleries with picturesque looks over the southern coast all the way to Ireland.

On a quiet peaceful day like this one, the water was calm (even though it's the ocean) and the lack of tourist groups coupled with the empty distillery made for quite a solitary mood, completely unlike the loud, expressive flavors of Ardbeg's whisky.  Mickey took us on a complete tour of the facility and explained how Ardbeg is actually the second smallest distillery after Kilchoman, with its tiny barley mill and only two stills.

Everything about Ardbeg tastes like its location smells and feels.  We went on a walk through the warehouses and Mickey pointed out how salty the air is coming off the water, causing the rings on the barrels to rust and deteriorate quickly.  They have barrels going back as far as 1975 so make sure and watch out for that single barrel cask strength 36 year release we'll be coming out with soon (ha ha).

While we won't actually be barreling it, we did get to taste a little of it and Mickey made sure to bring the goods.  Ardbeg used to be like Bruichladdich and Springbank, having single casks in the gift shop that visitors could come and bottle themselves.  Sadly for us, the demand for Ardbeg has reached fanatical levels and people were coming in and buying everything they could, so they were forced to end what had been a fun bonus for enthusiasts.  Mickey also pulled some samples from the warehouse for us to taste which were fun and exciting for Ardbeg lovers like us.  Mickey is also quite a bourbon fan so we told him how we'd have to fly him out to California for some tastings.  We think Mickey should be the next big Ardbeg celebrity after Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie, considering he's the one who's there all the time!

After concluding a wonderful visit with Mickey (who is a fantastic down to earth whisky fan just like the rest of us) we went a little further down the road to visit the fantastic 1300 year old Kildalton Cross with its early Christian carvings and biblical depictions.  There is a bit of Twin Peaks-like eeriness to the place, which only made it cooler.  There were sheep running free all over the place and David and I did our best to chase them! 

Now we're back for our final night at the cotteges waiting to go have beers with Phil from Bowmore.  We're going over some of the casks we've tasted and wondering how we're going to ever decide on so many good options!

-David Driscoll


Good Morning....

I've seen this view so many times from other people's photos, but this one was taken by me.  What a copycat I am! 

-David Driscoll


Scotland - Day Four - Bowmore/Bruichladdich

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.

-David Driscoll