The Lead Up To…

Islay Sunset

June 14, 2010

So…the ticket snafu…

Well…I’d been watching Expedia for a decent round-trip deal.  Lo and behold…$950 return to Glasgow.  Holy hell!  Waaaaaaaay more affordable than I initially thought.  I spent a couple of days telling the lads about the heckuva deal I’d found, hoping someone would opt in.  A few days later Expedia had the same fair advertised for $899.  Okay…time to book.  I waited one more day, and logged in that Sunday night.  Expedia now sez…”The fare you have requested is no longer available”.  F*ck.  Next best…~$1300.  While in the midst of my hissy fit rage of cursing myself I decided to check Travelocity.  Bam!  $899.  I decided to talk to the wife in the morning and book it.  Got to the office, logged in…and “the fair you have requested is no longer available”.  F*ck.  Next best…~$1300.

Am I really this stupid?  (Don’t answer that!)  No matter how I tried shuffling the dates, there was nothing less than $1266.  As a last resort I tried the Air Transat site itself.  Same flight…$931.  Called.  Booked.  Done deal.

I consider that $33 difference my idiot fine.  A little proactivity going forward, please.


I have been in contact with a lovely lady at Ardbeg (Janey…if you’re reading this…you’re amazing).  I sent a note saying that I would be visiting from Canada, and due to our ridiculous customs here, I was unable to ship whisky from my favorite distillery (Ardbeg, of course).  In particular, the Supernova 2010.  Janey responded that she would hold two bottles for me until September. 

Further…she has agreed to put aside any of the others I am hoping for (Corryvrecken and Rollercoaster, at a minimum).  Boys…we should talk.  If there is something you want…let me know.

June 23, 2010

Sorting through details now.  Though this is to be a relaxing trip, there is a lot of structure involved when hoping to visit 8 distilleries in only a couple of days.  When you take in to account that the distilleries are closed on Sunday, and at least one for a public holiday on the Monday I’m there…well…careful planning is in order.

As it shakes out, I arrive on Islay (Port Askaig) at 3:00pm Thursday, September 23rd.  The day’s last tour is 3:15 at any distillery.  Caol Ila, being closest, seems to be within stone’s throw of the ferry terminal (and, incidentally, my car pickup).  Whether or not I could make it in time for the tour…who knows. 

I am booked for Ardbeg on Friday morning (10:30) and Lagavulin at 3:45.  I have emailed about getting to Laphroaig for the 2:00 tour.  Still awaiting word.

Saturday will be Bruichladdich in the early afternoon, followed by a personal tour of Islay’s youngest distillery, Kilchoman, at 4:00 when the general tour finishes.  This has been set up by an incredible woman named Laura, who has gone far and above in order to help me.  Laura is actually following up on a B&B for me in Bowmore as well. 

This tour will be really quite neat.  Kilchoman is young and doing things a little differently.  I am hoping I can sample this whisky while on the island…and if finances and customs travel allowance (ahem…how much I can bring back) hold out…I’d really like to bring some back for you all to try.  You know I love the craft distillers.  Kilchoman excites me.

Back to B&Bs…I am booked in to the Lochindaal Hotel (B&B) in Port Charlotte for the 25th and 26th, and plan on spending that Saturday eve (after Kilchoman) and Sunday exploring.  Sunday will be my free day with no agenda.  Laura mentioned that the Lochindaal is local to her and that they are great.  If it was any indication when I spoke to (Iain, I believe?) on the phone, he was welcoming, and finished with a ‘look foward to seeing you’.

I have requests in with all other distilleries for specific tour times and am awaiting confirmation.  I have been back and forth with a couple already.

I have opted to rent a car (as you will have noted above).  Though the island is small, I am on a tight time frame from morning until about 5:00 most days. 

I need to note here…

I have been in contact with many fine folks on Islay already.  I am truly blown away with how patient, helpful and amazing they have all been.  If any of you from the island see this…know that I appreaciate all your help and time.  I can’t wait to meet and thank you in person.

Until I know more…

Casks outside of Bunnhabhain

July 28th, 2010

 In my planning, I naïvely jumped to the conclusion that ferrying my way across to Islay would be the most inexpensive way to get there. Seeing as how it would also allow a beautiful crossing to the island, I had fairly cemented my plans.

For whatever reason, while navigating the page I decided to look into flight costs to Islay from Glasgow. Man…am I glad I did. I have booked a return flight for £72. Instead of arriving on Islay at 3:05pm on Thursday, September 23rd (10 minutes before the last distillery tours run for the day), I will now touch down at 9:10am. This, of course, opens up all of Thursday for me. The icing on the cake however, is that instead of ferrying off the island at 9:45 on the 28th, I am now flying out in the evening. Yet another whole day opens up. I feel like the breathing space I gain is well worth sacrificing my ferry crossing.

So…what will these days entail? Well…I am thinking about making the short trip across to Jura. I could spend the day at the Isle of Jura distillery and making the long journey to the Corryvreckan whirlpool. Incidentally, for those not in the know, Jura is where George Orwell wrote 1984. Would make a great theme night for the club, no? Corryvreckan is only at most active at certain times though. Check out youtube for some neat clips of the pool.

Otherwise…I now have the ability to space my visits a little more. The plan is not to be pickled while on Islay. Three tours in a day may lead to just that.

I have also cancelled my car reservation. Initial plans were to have the car for mobility, but let’s face it…I don’t drive after a beer or two here. There is no way I will drive on the other side after a couple of drams. As for travel…I’ll figure it out.

As of now, I will be staying with a lovely lady named Kate for three of my five nights on Islay. Kate is the Aunt of Laura, who I mentioned here previously. Both have been wonderful thus far, and I can hardly wait to meet them. Kate is located in Bowmore, the capital of Islay, and quite central. For two days in the middle of my trip I will be staying in Port Charlotte at the Lochindaal Hotel (/B&B). The landlord, Iain, was pleasant and helpful on the phone. There is a pub there where Iain has many rare and interesting Islay malts available. Hmmmm…fine.

My last step is to book accommodation for my last night in Scotland. I will be arriving in Glasgow after 7:00pm on the 28th. I fly out before noon the next morning. It will likely be after 8:00 before I get my bags and check in (hotel at the airport), but I may try to make it down to the Bon Accord. This is home to the Glasgow Whisky Club (Mark from and Ralfy…among the others I have not met) and quite an alehouse apparently. I guess it depends how knackered I am when I get back to the big island from the little island.

More to follow.

In the meantime, to any of the folks I have spoken to from Islay that may ever read this…your help in setting this all up has been amazing. I am grateful. Look forward to thanking you in person.


Image copyright and courtesy of Armin Grewe

August 31, 2010

Suddenly it seems real.  Three weeks till wheels up.  There is an odd mixture of excitement and regret that I can’t bring my friends and family.  Sigh.  Can’t win ‘em all.

I have been in constant contact with the folks on Islay.  From the big guns at Bruichladdich to the warm welcoming souls letting me encroach on their homes, everyone has been great.  I have been accomodated by many of the distilleries in my endeavors to see and do as much as possible while there, so that I may bring it back to ATW in the form of stories, photos, insider secrets , new whisky reviews and all sorts of extras.  The open arms and open doors have been quite eye-opening. 

Time to get into last minute scramble mode.  Y’know…banking, lists, the pre-pack gathering, final accommodation confirmations, a bit of pre-planned island travel (unless I want to hike it from the airport!), etc. 

I may be taking along a netbook.  If network connections are good, I will try to update frequently from Islay.  I’ll beg forgiveness in advance…I may be sipping a bevvie or three.    Um…is it possible to slur my typing?

As I know more…so will you.

September 9, 2010

…And so it begins.  Less than two weeks until go time.  Starting to have those annoying travel nightmares.  Anyone who has ever globe-trotted will likely relate.  Those dreams where you are at the airport and have forgotten your passport…or can’t make it to the airport…or lose your bag.  On and on…

I have had two of these recently.  In the first, I struggled to make it to the airport.  Upon finally arriving, I realized I havdn’t arranged any of my money-issues (Currency exchange, shifting between accounts, etc).  I woke while still standing in a dream queue for Scotiabank.  In the second (last night) I had made it to Scotland, but missed my ferry to Islay.  I was with Jim McEwan and, being the gent he is, he was attempting to help me get across, as I had a scheduled meet at Bruichladdich that I was devasted about missing.  For whatever reason, I had my snowboard with me (cause we all know how important that would be on Islay).

Anyway…typical stuff before traveling.  Though I adore traveling (and actually love the flight itself), I always worry about forgetting something important.

Oh well.  In somewhat lighter fare…

Here’s a quick rundown (all, of course, subject to change) of how it’s mapped out:

Wednesday, September 22nd:  Kiss my lovely wife and daughters goodbye and hop a plane at 3:25 pm

Thursday, September 23rd:  Touch down in Glasgow at 6:30 am.  Hop a flight to Islay, landing at 9:10 am.  Drop off bags to Kate’s B&B in Bowmore and head to Bruichladdich for 11:30.  Will be there for a couple of hours before heading across the island for Bunnahabhain at 3:15 pm.

Friday, September 24th:  10:30 am Ardbeg.  Will lunch at the Old Kiln Cafe and spend the afternoon in the area.  3:45 pm off to Lagavulin. 

Saturday, September 25th:  10:45 am Caol Ila.  3:00 pm off to Islay’s youngest, Kilchoman.  Move to the Lochindaal Hotel in Port Charlotte for the next two nights.

Sunday, September 26th:  No plans.

Monday, September 27th:  10:30 am Bowmore tour.  2:00 pm Laphroaig tour and a wee visit to my own plot of Scotland.  Back to Kate’s B&B in Bowmore for the last night on Islay.

Tuesday, September 28th:  All day free until 6:25 when I fly in to Glasgow.  May hit up the Bon Accord to meet with Mark Connelly.  My hotel is right beside the airport for easy check-in/check-out.

Wednesday, September 29th:  11:55 am flight home to family.  Will arrive at 1:25 pm.  Big gathering with the gang later that eve.

All of my evenings are free to wander, sip malts, visit the pubs and meet people.  I plan on walking the coastlines…taking pictures and breathing Islay.

Flights still cheap.  Last chance, gang…any takers?

September 17th, 2010

“All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go

I’m standing here outside the door

I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…”

Well…not quite.

Less than a week now till I can disconnect from ‘office mode’ and slow down a bit.  These in-between days leading up to departure are starting to get hectic.  On top of all of my work duties, I have a load of projects on the go.  Not the least of which is the upkeep of ATW and constant push for new content.  So, while I busy myself with email and organizing details, I find myself stressing about what I’m forgetting.  Alas…when these are life’s problems I think we need to seriously remind ourselves just how fortunate we are.

Picked up some pounds (currency, not flab) yesterday and shifted a few dollars around to the right accounts.  Nabbed a few wee things I needed for the trip.  I’ll be picking up my luggage today and will start to throw some stuff together as it comes to me (yes…I’m a list guy).  Oh yeah…found someone with a current converter (transformer) thing so I can still plug in while in the UK.  Whether or not I update while on the Island or save it until I return will be highly dependent on mood, time and connectivity (uh…and sobriety?).

While Islay shares its whiskies with me, I would like to share with them in return.  Of course there is only so much I can take (and afford), but I think I’ll nab a few little bottles of Alberta Premium to pass on some of the flavors of Canada to the kind folk who give us their malts.  Note to self…hit up the liquor store tonight.

The team at Bruichladdich (via Ella Edgar…thanks Ella!) have graciously offered to pick me up from the airport when I arrive Thursday morning.  This is typical of how well I’ve been treated thus far by people whom I have yet to meet.  Wasting little time on Thursday, I will be dropping my bags at Kate’s place in Bowmore and heading for Bruichladdich.

A quick aside to anyone who is actually taking to the time to read this missive…guys and gals…Islay is a different world.  These people are made from a different mold.  Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in the big city, but as you know, Canadians are thought to be kind and welcoming.  Well…we can’t hold a candle to the kind of courtesy I’ve been extended for this trip.  Pretty nifty.

In other matters…my 6 year old is devastated I am going away for a week.  She cries every time I mention it.  I have never been away from the family for more than a couple days at a time.  My l’il daddy’s girls will have a hard time with this.  It’s nice to feel loved and wanted, but man…it’s breaking my heart.  My beautiful bride on the other hand…well…she’s just looking forward to sleeping on the diagonal in bed.

More to come soon.  Anniversary today.  My wife and I are off for the weekend, but I’ll have updates at least once more before I fly out next week.


Note:  A sincere thanks to Jim, Mark and Ella at Bruichladdich for their direct involvement thus far, and a further thanks to the entire Bruichladdich team that for their accommodation.

September 22nd, 2010

Well…cruising at nearly 40,000’.  Interesting ‘go’ so far. 

The day started off full of turmoil as my wife…well…had a rough day, to say the least.  Hard to leave when the woman you love is upset and having one of her lowest moments.  Tried to be the eternal optimist for her before heading to the airport, but kinda felt like a heel for having to go.  Just poor timing really.  Check in went off without a hitch when I arrived at the terminal.  Funnily enough while waiting to check my bags I looked around and there was Jim Murray standing in line behind me!  Well…not really, but at first I honestly believed it was.  Apparently we have a look-alike here in Calgary.  I had to get close enough to hear him speak before I could be sure it wasn’t him. 

I popped in to Montana’s (? I think it was Montana’s) for a quick chicken sandwich after clearing customs, and was still left with nearly two hours till boarding.  Oh well…1150 pages of Clavell’s ‘Shogun’ tells me that killing time will not be a problem.  I must have this doorstopper finished by the 2nd of October for the Liquorature meeting on this one.  Early impressions lead me to believe we’ll have a great night discussing this one and drinking fine drams.  Great story thus far.  Hooked right away.

The airport liquor store had a snazzy 30 year old Brora I wouldn’t have minded a nip of, however the $899 price tag had me spinning in a hurry.  No thanks.

(Three hours into the flight finds me at about page 425.  Yikes!)

Some initial malfunctions (WTF?!?!) with the aircraft (A330, I think) led to us taxiing back off the runway for a quick check regarding a warning light which the captain assured us was most likely ‘spurious’.  Apparently it had something to do with the a/c.  Hmmmm… ‘Captain…I’d like a new plane please’.  Alas…lifted off no more than 15 minutes later in the same battered old tin can.  Think someone just stuck a piece of tape across the warning light.  “Uh…not flashing now, Captain.” 

The flight itself?  Well…a stick of butter to grease my way into my seat and a shoehorn to get back out may have made things a bit easier.  In the words of Billy Connolly, “Jesus suffering f*ck”.  We were packed in there like so many sardines.  The irritably of the passengers regarding the plane itself was made vocal on more than one occasion.  Oh well…discount flight.  What do you really expect.  This is coach, after all.  Don’t like it?  Upgrade.  The delightful little lass in the seat in front of me wasted no time expressing her thoughts on her seat to the crew in an expletive-laden diatribe.  Ironically, she was at the front of our row, so had ample legroom and took the storage under her seat, which of course should have been for my bag.  Oh well.  Hope the little princess was more sunny when she got to wherever she was going. 

Oh, yeah…toss in a screaming baby behind me, that the parents thought was obviously too distraught to comfort (?!?!).  Yep…lovely flight.

A piece of advice (or maybe it’s a plea) for the masses…We all love sour cream and onion potato chips (crisps, for our UK friends), but in close quarters when you are not the one eating them…ugh…please don’t do that to others.  The smell is wretched.

After a surprisingly edible, though aesthetically challenging, meal I sat back with a cup of coffee (a familiar flavor I haven’t had since my last European excursion) and a little notebook to scribble away a few thoughts.  Consider yourself caught up for the moment.

Now…back to Japanese Feudal life…

There is something that sets me thinking Heathen thoughts while crossing the pass (Greenland/Iceland) on my way to a place where the Vikings roamed and did…well…Viking things.  The sounds of Drudkh, Burzum, Agalloch and the Soundtrack to The Wicker Man on my iPod are great accompaniment.  They also help to drown out the murmurs of the other passengers and allow me to write and read my book without disruption.  Right now I am listening to ‘Corn Rigs’. 

Out my window I think I can see the first line of light along the curve of the horizon.  Looking down I can see the fragmented body of Iceland as we race to meet the rising of the sun over Scotland.  It is 4:25 am and less than two hours till touchdown in Glasgow.  A wee while back I could see the snow covered peaks and shadowed ridges of Greenland.  Phenomenal beauty.

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