Earlier this month, I was invited to celebrate my soon-to-be, brother-in-law's bachelor party in the place where the "water of life" was created. That's right, I'm talking about drinking Scotch in the only place it should be drunk, Scotland. Here's the daily breakdown of the trip:
Day 1: Wednesday, April 6th
I arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on Wednesday around 1pm. I meet up with the guys who were already in town. We grabbed some lunch and then I went for a city tour with my cousins Ed and Jerry. On our town we visited the City Chambers, the Glasgow Cathedral and stopped for drinks at the Drygate Brewery. The rest of the crew met up with us for drinks and dinner. The drinking and dinner went on into the early morning.
Day 2: Thursday, April 7th
We woke up hungover and headed to the Glasgow airport to catch a flight to the island of Islay. Islay is the fifth largest Scottish Island, with a population of about 3,230 people and more importantly has eight working distilleries. We landed in Islay around ten in the morning and our driver and van was there waiting for us. While I bags were being taken to our house, we went to have breakfast in the capital city called Bowmore. We had a traditional Scottish breakfast at the Lochside Hotel and then did our first Scotch Distillery tour. The Bowmore Distillery is over 237 years old and one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. The Bowmore Distillery creates over 2 million liters of single malt scotch a year. We did about a 45 minute tour and learned a lot about the distillery process.
After the tour and tasting we jumped in the van and headed to our second distillery tour of the day. If Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the island, Kilchoman Distillery is the youngest. It was founded in 2005 and is the first distillery to be built on the island in 125 years. What makes it unique, is that it is the only distillery on the island that is still has all parts of the process - growing barley, malting, distilling, maturing and bottling - carried out on Islay. It's one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland and is truly Islay's only barley to bottle farming distillery. The tour was very educational and it's amazing to taste the differences the distillers processes.
After visiting Kilchoman, our driver Kenneth, took us on a quick tour of the western part of the island. We stopped off along the Kilfinichen Bay and took a stroll on the beach and then visited the ruins of the Kilfinichen church. After admiring the ruins and tombstones, we climbed back into the Van and headed to our place of residency for the next five days, the Skerrols House. The Skerrols House is a seven bedroom, countryside house located in the heart of Islay. It's run by a charming gentleman named Thomas. When we arrived he greeted us with a bottle of Kilchoman Scotch and took us on a tour of the place. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and catching up on some much needed sleep. That evening we went into the village of Port Charlotte and enjoyed an amazing dinner and great drinks at the Port Charlotte Hotel.
Day 3: Friday, April 8th
On the third day we started out with some breakfast at the house and then hopped in the van and headed to the Lagavulin distillery, located in the village called Lagavulin. They're for their single malt 16 year bottles, which is smoky, rich and powerfully built. We arrived just a little after 10 am and were given a private cask tour by one of their Master Distillers, a small, ornery guy who goes by the name of Pinky. He was an awesome tour guide, who's main goal was to have us drunk before we left the distillery. He gave us tastings straight from the casks of their 16, 21 and 37 year old scotches. Pinky even gave Jett some marital advice and blessed him by pouring some of the 37 year old Lagavulin on his head. The tour was a blast and we stumbled out of the cellar and back up to the gift store to purchase as much Lagavulin as we could carry.
After our first distillery tour of the morning we headed to our second stop of the day Ardbeg Distillery, for lunch and some of their finest whisky. Ardbeg sits on a beautiful bay on the southern coast of Islay. They began producing whisky in 1798 and are known for their 10 year old single malt. The distillery and tour were great and it was nice to have some food in our belly to start soaking up all of the alcohol. After lunch we filed into the van and headed to our next stop. The Kildalton Cross is a celtic cross that was carved in the late 8th century AD. It is found on the grounds of the Old Parish Church of Kildalton which dates back to the early 12th century. The high cross is carved from a single slab of local, grey-green epidiorite stone and has some beautiful carvings on it. Even though it's been weathered, you can still see scenes like David fighting lions, Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac and Cain murdering Abel. The cross and the church grounds are close to the ocean, so it makes for a beautiful scenery and hike. I would highly recommend checking it out if you're ever on the island.
After spending a good hour or so walking the old church grounds we headed home for some relaxation and prepare for the evening dinner. For dinner we headed back in to the town of Bowmore and ate at The Harbour Inn. Our table wasn't ready when we got there, so we sat in the pub and had a few drinks while we waited. During this trip we ate some of the freshest seafood I think I've ever had and the dinner at The Harbour Inn didn't disappoint. We left stuffed with smiles on our faces and plans to visit a couple Bowmore pubs and try to blend in with the locals. The rest of the night got a bit blurry, but I do remember beating a couple gentlemen at Snooker and getting a round of drinks for our group. We party until the pubs kicked us out and then we headed home, to drink more scotch and smoke cigars under an absolutely breathtaking night sky. Because there was not light pollution on the island, I was amazed at how many of the constellations could be seen from our back porch. I could have stood out there for hours gazing up at the stars, but three glasses of scotch had me ready for bed.
Day 4: Saturday, April 9th
On Saturday we woke up, had another fantastic breakfast and got ready for another distillery tour. Kenneth picked us up around 10 and headed to the northeastern side of the Islay island, to the Bunnahabhain Distillery. The Bunnahabhain Distillery was founded in 1881 near the port city of Askaig. As usual, we were running late and when we arrived, we saw a familiar group waiting on us. Over the past few days, on every distillery tour, there was a group of German travelers who were signed up to take the tours with us. And every time, we were running late. We apologized again and got ready for our tour. The distillery cellar was cold, but the tasting kept us warm. Bunnahabhain is one of the mildest of the single malted Islay Scotches. It uses less peat in it's distilling process, which gives it a smoother, buttery taste. As someone who wasn't a Scotch fan before this trip, found this to be my favorite of all of the Scotches that we tried on this trip. We tasted a 16 year, 18 year and even got to bottle our own 8 year. We spent time admiring the breath taking scenery before loading up the van and heading to our next stop.
Kenneth took us to the town of Portnahaven, which is actually the town he is from. Apparently 'The Skerrols Boys' as we were starting to become known as, we creating quite the stir around the island, and Kenneth gave us a warning that if we didn't behave ourselves in his hometown, he would leave us. With that said, he dropped us off at An Tigh Seines, An Tigh Seines is a friendly, warm and welcoming establishment. It had a great atmosphere, and the freshest seafood I've ever had. The pub is located directly across from the ports, and the patron of the restaurant can simply walk out the door and chose her menu. The eight of us ate, drank and laughed our way through lunch. When we were ready, we loaded back into the van and headed to our next stop, the Finlaggan Ruins.
The Finlaggan Ruins is a historic site on Eileen Mòr in Loch Finlaggan. This ancient location dates back to the Bronze Age and was the seat of the Lords of the Isles and of Clan Donald. Where the Lords of the Isles met to discuss politics, clans and the early foundation of the Scottish Kingdom. When we arrived, it was raining, which made this location even more epic. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and gave us a brief lecture on the history of the ruins and what it meant for the people of the Scottish Isles. Because of the cold and the rain we didn't get to enjoy it as much as we wanted to, we tried to withstand the weather, but we weren't as tough as the rugged landscape. After about 45 minutes or so, we loaded back in to the van to head to our next spot. The Islay Woolen Mill.
The Islay Woolen Mill, is owned and run by Gordon and Sheila Covell and produces an excellent range of top quality woven fabrics, much in demand by the Hollywood film industry. Islay Woollen Mill designs were featured in Braveheart starring Mel Gibson, Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks and Rob Roy starring Liam Neeson. This was the first bit off shopping we did on the isle, apart from buying bottles of Scotch. Gordon was very patient and nice gentlemen, he showed us his loom and all of the articles that have been written about his mill. After spending some Quids and taking some photos around the mill, we jumped back into the van and headed home, to relax before dinner.
Our dinner reservations were at the Bridgend Hotel. It's located in the heart of Islay, and is over 150 years old. We were greeted by friendly staff and had some drinks while we waited for our table to be ready. After having tons of whisky, I opted to try The Botanist, Islay's Dry Gin. The gin was smooth and our table was ready rather quickly. After being sat, we placed our orders and enjoyed our last night in Islay, rehashing our favorite memories to the trip. Dinner was fantastic and the hotel didn't let us down on the ambiance. After settling the bill, we made our way back to the Skerrols house to smoke cigars, drink some Scotch and play some poker. We played in to the wee hours of the morning, before calling it a night.
Day 5: Sunday, April 10th
This was our last day on Islay and we still had one more tour to take and a monument to see before we caught our flight back to Glasgow. Our last tour was set for 10 am at Laphroaig. The Laphroiag distillery dates back to 1815 and is located on the East coast of Islay. Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded in person during a visit to the distillery in 1994. He actually signed a 15 year old barrel of his favorite whisky and it's still sitting in the distillery waiting to be opened. Laphroaig is known to be the most peatiest of all of the Scotch whiskies and although it has a nice taste, it's my least favorite of the bunch. Mainly because I don't like Scotches that are heavy with peat. The tour and tasting didn't take much time and after you buy a bottle of Laphroaig you will be come a "Friend of Laphroaig" and be given a plot of land on Islay. After our tour and tasting we loaded back up in the van and headed to the American Monument.
The American Monument is an impressive tower that was built on the high cliffs of the Oa peninsula in 1920 by the American Red Cross. It was built to honor the loss of two troop ships in 1918, the Tuscania and the Otranto. The monument overlooks the spot where the Tuscania sunk. Kenneth dropped us off and we hiked a little over half and hour to the amazing scenic vista. The cliffs are about 429 feet high and over look the pacific ocean and across the straight is Northern Ireland. Once up there, you can read the two plaques placed there to honor the memory of those American Soldiers and Sailors who gave their lives for their country. The view was absolutely breath taking and almost as beautiful as Ireland's Cliffs of Moher. After capturing the beauty and paying some respects to our countrymen, we walked back down the Oa and hoped back in the van. From here our last stop was the Islay airport, where we took our quick flight back to Glasgow.
We landed back in Glasgow around 5pm and we caught cabs back to our original base of operations, Citizen M Hotel. We checked back in to our hotel rooms, quickly ditched our packs and got ready for our last night together honoring Jett's bachelorhood. We followed our concierge recommendation and tried out a steakhouse called Blackhouse. The Blackhouse was bustling and the eight of us ended up squeezing into a round, corner booth. The meals and drinks were ordered and we began to tell stories and joke about our time here in Scotland. As dinner came to a close we decided to pull a little prank on the Man-of-Honor and stiff him with the bill, so we slowly excused ourselves to the restroom and made our way across the street to the Bavaria Brauhaus. The Brauhaus was a German-style beer garden and we all ordered a round of beer and waiting for the waitress to inform Jett that he was left with the bill. It took about ten minutes until he walked through the door with a smile on his face. We all had a good laugh, ordered him a beer and continued the nights celebration. After our rounds of beer we had one last stop planned for the night. The famous whisky bar called The Pot Still. The Pot Still is known for having over 700 whiskies from around the world. So our plan was to try as many as possible before they kick us out for be drunk, bloody Americans. Little did we know, we would be closing that place down and stumbling home to get some rest before we all departed to different places from around the globe.
Day 6: Monday, April 11th
Ah my last morning in Scotland started with a horrible headache and a noisy ride to the airport. Thankfully I had a long flight ahead and I would be able to sleep off last nights festivities. I departed around 9:30am in Glasgow and arrived back in Tampa after 4pm with plenty of memories and stories to tell my wife.