Susie has become somewhat obsessed with distilleries. As she was only going to be here for a week I thought it would be fair to allow her to set our itinerary day by day. This is the sort of thing I had to put up with at our daily strategy meeting over breakfast:
“I was thinking we could get the five past ten bus to Ballygrant, and then there’s a nice walk we could do past some lochs out to Port Askaig.”
“That sounds ideal, love.”
“It’s not a long walk, just three miles I think, but there’s a hotel at Port Askaig so we could have lunch there.”
“Right. I’ll go and put some stuff in the rucksack.”
“Before you do that, can you just check the distillery timetable to see what time they do tours at Caol Ila, it’s just a half mile from the port, so we could pop up there after lunch.”
“Em, it says here that they only do one tour a day during the winter, and that’s in the morning.”
“Oh. Perhaps we should go to Port Charlotte today then. Where’s the nearest distillery to there?”
Thursday was a great day. We went to the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart in the morning for a guided bird-watching walk. There were two proper bird-watchers, the proper RSPB guide, and us two. From one end of the hide there were whispered conversations along the lines of: “Is that a Greenshank?”
“You see the Lapwings on that near bank, just look beyond them towards the Godwit and the Teal – is it a Greenshank?”
From our end of the hide, the conversations were rather more like this:
“What’s that brown thing?”
“Is it a duck?”
“That’s it, you’re right, it’s a duck.”
Thankfully our companions were marvellously patient guides to these two ‘interested idiots’.
After lunch in Port Charlotte we made our way to the Bruichladdich Distillery. It was a very interesting visit. Distillery tours involve a walk around a lot of ancient machinery with each distillery vying to have the oldest mills and stills. The tour concludes in the visitor centre where you get a nip of whisky which is as wee as something can be and still legally be referred to as a ‘nip’, and you try to avoid getting so caught up in the excitement of the occasion that you buy a t-shirt and cap you’ll never wear and a bottle of hideously expensive whisky that you’ve not actually tried and may well discover that you don’t much like when you get it home.
That’s not how the tour at Bruichladdich goes. Susie and I were the only punters on the last tour of the day, which was great because it meant we could ask the guide, David, all the really stupid questions that we’d been too embarrassed to ask on other tours in front of hard-core grizzled whisky buffs. Then we went to the visitor centre. David had established that I like peaty whiskies and Susie doesn’t, so we were both given a healthy dram (most definitely a dram and not a nip) to match our preferences. We were nosing away at the glasses, and examining the colour, and sipping the whisky by the microgram (as you do when you know you've got a long wait before you're going to be offered anything else), when a second sample appeared. It is with a decidedly modest sense of regret that I have to confess that the glasses started lining up and my complexion grew distinctly ruddy. With each new whisky, David explained what sort of barrel it had been casked in, and how old it was, and what the peat content was, and we tasted a gloriously heady array of Hebridean spirits. Unfortunately our recollections of exactly which whiskies we tasted and which ones we liked best became slightly fuddled; I may have to pop back next week to see if I can re-discover which ones we would most like to have in the Vicarage drinks cabinet.
If you're that way inclined, Bruichladdich whiskies come very highly recommended by the Pilgrim and the Long Suffering One (except for their quadruple distilled concoction which is just plain wrong).