Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch…
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT EVERY DISTILLERY ON ISLAY
This is one of four stories about what to drink, eat and do and where to stay on the Scottish island of Islay. Want to know all the tips? Liquor.com’s Everything Guide to Visiting Islay has you covered.
Scotland is home to more than a hundred distilleries. Among them, some of the world’s most prestigious producers of aged spirit. Amazingly, within this crowded landscape of legendary liquor, there exists a specific region prominent enough to distinguish itself as whisky island. This is Islay, a rugged, windswept terrain off the country’s southwestern coast that’s home to the boldest flavors in all of scotch making. During the island’s 18th-century heyday, it was home to 23 distilleries. Today, that number stands at eight. (A ninth, Gartbreck Distillery, is slated to open later this year.) Regardless, with just 3,000 permanent residents, Islay remains, per capita, the most remarkable repository of hallowed drams in all the world. Here’s some help weaving it all together.
Gated off from the quaint seaside village that lends it its name, Bowmore feels like the Willy Wonka chocolate factory of scotch distilleries. There’s a certain mysticism emanating from this 18th-century edifice, and it’s more than the warm cereal aromas wafting up from the active malting floor. The Ultimate Bowmore Experience includes a visit to its No. 1 Vaults, where a whisky thief is dipped into a cask during an enchanted tasting within Scotland’s oldest barrelhouse. The distinct liquid aged here, rich and robust, is markedly less peaty than what you find elsewhere on the island. A newly remodeled visitors centre overlooks scenic Loch Indaal and features a handful of distillery-exclusive bottlings.
Power move: Book a stay a block away at Harbour Inn. The lobby doubles as an idyllic fireside bar where you’ll ward off the damp Islay air with drams of truly local malt. In the morning, wake up to a bowl of Bowmore-topped porridge, a local delicacy.
School Street, Bowmore
+44 (0)1496 810 441
Abutting the southern shoals of the island is this iconic 200-year-old distillery. It’s maritime barrelhouses dutifully inhale ocean brine, imparting salt and seaweed into every bottle. The flagship expression, a 10-year-old malt aged in ex-bourbon casks, epitomizes what Islay whisky ought to offer. The 90-minute Full Range Tour, offered at 10 a.m. daily, Monday through Friday, culminates in a tasting of its main range, alongside two rare cask releases. Every year, at the beginning of June, the brand celebrates Ardbeg Day with the unveiling of a limited one-off. This year welcomes Kelpie, a robust and peppery dram featuring liquid aged in virgin casks from the coast of the Black Sea.
Power move: Your tour concludes around lunchtime. Lucky for you, Old Kiln Café, located on-site, serves a sensational venison lamb hamburger surely qualifying as best on the island. You’ve been warned.
+44 (0)1496 302 244
When this historic facility reopened under new ownership at the start of the 21st century, it rebranded itself as Progressive Hebridean Distillers. It’s not just marketing jargon. Bruichladdich takes a pronouncedly forward-thinking approach to a a very traditional style of whisky. Its Octomore label, for example, purports to be the world’s most heavily peated malt and among the first to identify phenolic concentration (which roughly correlates to smokiness) right on the bottle. True believers of local terroir, the distillery sources its malt and peat on the island and ages all of its juice on-site. An hourlong Warehouse Experience is offered multiple times daily, though operations shutter on Sundays throughout winter.
Power move: After tasting the core lineup, bottle your own single cask straight from the barrel inside the visitors center. The selections are constantly rotating, but you’re guaranteed to go home with something that rarely makes it off the island.
+44 (0)1496 850 190
Bunnahabhain is almost criminally underappreciated here in the States. A visit to its sprawling property, toward the northern tip of Islay, will leave you wondering why. Its flagship bottling comes equipped with a 12-year age statement and an elegant balance of roasted nuts and subtle salinity. Experience its unique splendor in addition to several single-cask expressions on its one-hour Warehouse Tasting Tour. Guided by a resident whisky maker, you’ll leave with elevated expertise in addition to a belly full of marvelous malt. Because of its exclusive nature, the tour must be booked in advance. Plan accordingly, particularly during the high season (April through September).
Power move: As one of the most remote distilleries in Islay, transportation is worth careful consideration. Scottish Routes is a local outfit that can mold a prolonged day of whisky tasting to your specific desires.
+44 (0)1496 840 557
5: CAOL ILA
Caol Ila is a workhorse, producing more than double the annual output of any other distillery on Islay. Traditionally much of that juice made its way into blended whisky on the mainland. Nowadays, the lighter single malt rolling of their lengthy, copper stills is in increasing demand — from connoisseurs and casual consumers, alike. A lofty, glass-encased still-house exposes the mechanical innards, visible from the surrounding Islay Sound. The Premium Tasting & Tour is a 90-minute affair, concluding with a comprehensive sampling flight in the property’s historic cooperage.
Power move: If you’re already quite familiar with the workings of a distillery, skip the tour and opt instead for the Whisky & Chocolate Pairing: five variations of Caol Ila, lined up against artisanal confections. Each chocolate is selected to annunciate the dark, roasted components of its complementing whisky.
+44 (0)1496 302 769
Laphroaig is accused of producing some the peatiest malts on the planet—a charge the distillery wears like a badge of honor. In the parking lot, standing between the still house and the sea, there’s an exact spot where billowing vapors of new-make spirit converge with briny ocean air into seamless union. And all this magic occurs before you’ve even stepped foot into the legendary facility. Laphroaig is one of the few scotch operations with a working malthouse, so it’s worthwhile to incorporate a viewing of its malting floor into any tour here. Go with the Maltman’s Platter Lunch Experience. It’s one hour in length, ending with a leisurely meal of local meats and cheeses paired with multiple expressions from Laphroaig’s expansive arsenal.
Power move: During the high season (April through September), Laphroaig offers morning peat-cutting sessions. Rendezvous at the distillery at 9:20 a.m., get booted up and hit the peat banks for a hands-on lesson in how this whisky receives its defining essence.
+44 (0)1496 302 418
Islay’s youngest distillery, established in 2005, is also the closest the island has to what American’s would call a craft producer. Rather than concerning itself with output, Kilchoman is dedicated to process. A number of distinctions mark the operation as unique. It’s the only true farm distillery in the country, utilizing grain grown and malted on site, and the liquid runs off the smallest stills in all of Scotland. All of this wouldn’t be worth a damn if it didn’t result in a truly exceptional whisky. Judge for yourself on the Premium Tour, which includes a tasting of the core range (the 100 percent Islay is estate-produced, from grain to glass), along with specialty cask maturations. Past one-offs have utilized sauternes, madeira and port barrels.
Power move: Just over a mile northeast of the distillery is Saligo Bay, home to Islay’s most stunning beaches. Bring a bottle (and a jacket) for a memorable sunset at the Sleeping Giant, a jagged rock formation jutting out like a dragon scale from the surrounding sand.
Rockside Farm, Bruichladdich
+44 (0)1496 850 011
Lagavulin 16-year-old is commonly regarded as the quintessential expression of Islay malt. This is, of course, a fiercely contentious claim. But the distillery’s visual splendor is never up for debate. From its trademark pear-shaped stills to the setting at the foot of its eponymous bay, Lagavulin has to be seen to be believed. To fully understand how setting impacts spirit, the Warehouse Demonstration is not to be missed. The barrelhouse manager draws samples from a series of casks, ranging successively upward in maturity, as you taste your way through the aging process in real time. The experience is offered every day at 10:30 a.m.
Power move: After the tour, hike a short distance along the mouth of Lagavulin Bay to arrive at the steps of Dunyvaig Castle, a 12th-century ruin that affords the most instagram-able panorama of the distillery, dramatically framed across the water.
+44 (0)1496 302749
[This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for Heisenberg. Now Brexit is fuckin’ with whiskey]
WHAT DOES BREXIT MEAN FOR IRISH WHISKEY?
The Irish whiskey maker is benefitting from a boom in tourism that’s boosting revenue in Dublin and throughout Ireland. More than 100,000 tourists arrived in Dublin on March 17, which kicks off tourist season in the country. In 2016, more than 8.8 million overseas tourists (nearly double the Irish population) visited the Emerald Isle, according to Ireland’s national tourism authority.
But for all the celebrating that occurred over the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, there are some dark clouds ahead. On March 30, two weeks after Dublin cleaned up its last green streamer, British Prime Minister Theresa May signed Article 30, which begins the two-year process ending in the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Dubbed Brexit, the breakup will have a long-ranging impact across industries and countries.
According to Ibec, a national trade organization for businesses and employers in Ireland, Brexit poses a direct challenge to Ireland’s food and drink sector, which grew 50 percent between 2009 and 2015. And though it’s too early to assess Brexit’s immediate impact on Irish whiskey, one thing’s for certain: The industry is paying close attention.
A January 2017 report by the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) shows that the drinks sector is a major driver of the Irish economy. Irish trade groups, in particular, are lobbying that a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland not be reinstituted, as it will make moving materials and products more expensive and difficult.
Jameson’s executives are sanguine about the coming changes. “Within the whole business world there is uncertainty,” says Brian Nation, Jameson’s head distiller. “There is an element of the unknown. It’s not impacting on our present plans at the moment. We’re still driving ahead with the forecasts that we have. We see ourselves continuing to do that.”
Teeling Whiskey Co. founder Jack Teeling candidly described his reaction on the coming negotiations as a mix of “disappointment, dread and uncertainty.”
“My biggest fear is the challenge that faces Northern Ireland and the potential that free movement between the North and the South for everyone on the Island of Ireland will be affected,” he says. In terms of Teeling’s future outlook, the brand anticipates a drop in U.K. visitors to its distillery. Teeling is also monitoring the drop in the value of sterling, which could affect its ability to compete against now more affordable scotch.
In many ways, liquor companies, whether they produce cognac, whiskey or rum, are set up to look decades ahead into the future. Preparing for the next round of whiskey (or rum or cognac) batches means forecasting drinking, and therefore blending trends, far into the next generation.
“You can look at it in very simple terms,” says Billy Leighton, Jameson’s head blender. “If there’s an eight-year component in our whiskey, then we must already be setting down the next eight years’ worth of stock for it to meet the demand.” Taken in that sense, the next two years of Brexit negotiations, currently projected to complete in spring 2019, is a small blip within the overall spirits timeframe.
“I don’t think anyone is too sure what’s going to happen,” says Leighton. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, there’s going to be an element of, ‘Well, let’s wait and see.’ ”
“Maybe other markets will become more attractive after Brexit,” he says. In the U.S., for example, the Irish whiskey category grew by 18.7 percent in 2016; revenues were up 19.8 percent to $795 million, according to The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States(DISCUS).
“We are planning for the future and laying down as much stock as we can,” says Teeling. “Brexit or no Brexit, Irish whiskey is in the middle of a long term cyclical uptrend driven not by the U.K. but other Irish trading partners primarily the U.S. and Continental Europe. So despite Brexit, the future looks bright for Irish whiskey.”
[I guess the only qualm I have with this is the whole ‘exercise portion control’ bit…]
How To Drink Vodka The Right Way
Now in its third year, Kachka remains one of the country’s most singular restaurants. The Russian eatery, slotted into a cramped storefront on Portland, Ore.’s eastside, specializes in zakuski, which literally translates to “vodka snacks.” And although the bar stocks an encyclopedic list of labels, spanning from Kaliningrad to Kentucky to all points in between, co-owner Israel Morales stresses that vodka isn’t just about what’s in the bottle. It’s about sharing it with friends and food. These are his five rules for drinking vodka the Russian way.
1. USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM
“Vodka needs a friend,” says Morales. “For it to be done right, it should include food and people around the table.” In Russia, he says, the zakuski tradition is to set out a spread of appetizers, almost like tapas. “It’s a social activity, with lots of toasting. How it works is you all have shots of vodka and everyone makes a toast. You drink communally, then have a bite to eat. And it repeats itself. This is the cadence of Russian dining and drinking at the table.”
2. DRINK TO THE OCCASION
“When I drink vodka, I have to think about my endgame,” say Morales. If you’re pairing with food, he recommends selecting something clean, crisp and lighter in texture. Eastern European or Scandinavian vodkas are good for this purpose. But in Martinis or to sip straight, he might opt for a more flavorful vodka, one made with an unusual mash bill or yeasts that supply funky or fruity notes. American vodkas often fit the bill, but Russian Standard is also a favorite for mixing, he says.
3. CHILL IT OUT
At Kachka, most vodkas are served straight from the freezer. “It changes the viscosity and can be delicious,” says Morales. However, he warns that more flavorful vodkas have a tendency of becoming muted in the freezer, so he sets those in the refrigerator to cool. For example, Dystopia (a Portland-made vodka with tropical fruit notes) and Karlsson’s (a slightly sweet potato vodka from Sweden) would be prime picks for the fridge.
4. EXERCISE PORTION CONTROL
Tiny one-ounce shot glasses are best for vodka, says Morales. “It’s the act of consuming it in small portions that allows you to toast and drink more frequently without getting blown out. Small shot glasses are the key to dinner parties—you’ll have a very short dinner party if you use large shot glasses.”
5. LET THE VODKA LEAD
Infused vodkas are a staple at Kachka and are often used in cocktails such as the Kosmos-politan, a kitschy Cosmo riff that features cranberry-infused vodka but no cranberry juice. “A very carefully crafted Vodka Highball or Martini can be very delicious,” says Morales. “But if you’re using it in a cocktail with seven other ingredients, it will get lost very quickly.” So keep it simple, and let the vodka lead the dance.
From Holeman and Finch’s first cocktail menu
Featuring whiskey and jasmine and ginger liqueurs, the Oracle represents the rebirth of cocktail culture in Atlanta.
1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. jasmine liqueur
1/2 oz. ginger liqueur
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes Regans’ orange bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain into an old-fashioned glass.
Pickle Juice Whiskey Sour
If we’re going to order a martini, it’s gotta be dirty. The brininess of the olive juice adds the perfect finish to the booze. Which is why we’ve translated this same concept to the whiskey sour. Pickle juice is turned into a syrup before getting shaken up with bourbon, lemon and an egg white for a briny and frothy cocktail you’re going to love.
The best part is pickle juice syrup goes well beyond this recipe. Keep some on hand and swap it out for any simple syrup when applicable to add a little salt and tang to your cocktail.
For the Pickle Juice Syrup:
½ cup granulated sugar
For the Cocktail:
1½ ounces bourbon
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce pickle juice syrup
1 egg white
Cornichon, for garnish
1. Make the pickle juice syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the pickle juice and sugar over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar has dissolved, 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.
2. Make the cocktail: In a shaker, combine the bourbon, lemon juice, syrup and egg white, and shake until frothy. Add ice and continue to shake until well chilled. Pour into a chilled coupe and garnish with a cornichon, then serve.
The Marguerite—The Original Dry Martini
In 1904, Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them introduced the world to the Dry Gin Martini. Known then as the Marguerite, the cocktail derived its smooth and aromatic elegance from the seven botanicals (including citrus peel, green cardamom and juniper) in Plymouth Gin. The distillery had been in operation for some 110 years when the book hit shelves.
Recreate this classic Martini recipe—and harness the turn–of–the–century splendor—by making it the way it was intended to be made.
2 parts Plymouth Gin
1 part French dry vermouth
Dash of orange bitters
1. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass.
2. Fill mixing glass with cubed ice.
3. Stir well to chill and dilute.
4. Strain into a Cocktail glass.
We’re all about a good whiskey cocktail. So when we heard about this bourbon and blackberry sipper from Jack Rose Dining Saloon in D.C., we had to try it out. Bourbon is stirred with blackberry preserves and lemon for a tart and ever-so-sweet drink that will quench your thirst in the best way possible.
The charred cinnamon stick adds the perfect smoky aroma. Simply use metal tongs to pass the stick back and forth in a flame. If you don’t have a blowtorch handy, a gas burner will work. Or you can toast the stick in a pan until fragrant.
1¼ ounces I.W. Harper bourbon
¼ ounce Bruto Americano
1 teaspoon blackberry preserves
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
1 heavy dash Angostura bitters
In a rocks glass, combine all of the ingredients, except for the ice and cinnamon stick. Fill the glass halfway with ice and stir to chill, then fill with more crushed ice. Garnish with the charred cinnamon stick and serve.
A GENIUS TAKE ON THE CLASSIC AVIATION COCKTAIL
In 2010, I tasted the very best Aviation cocktail I’ve ever encountered. And more than a few of these sky-blue babies have glided down my throat over the years. I was in Athens helping to judge the Diageo World Class Bartender Competition, and the bartender who prepared the cocktail was Takumi Watanabe who works (still) at The Sailing Bar in the city of Sakurai, Japan.
Takumi’s version of the Aviation took my breath away, and along with a Martinez made for me in London by Ago Perrone in 2006, these are the only two cocktails I’ve tasted in my entire life that have made such a long-lasting impression on me.
I never knew what it was that set Takumi’s Aviation apart from the rest, but I recently contacted him to talk about his recipe, and I got a lightbulb moment when he mentioned that since there was no crème de violette available to him at the time he had used Marie Brizard Parfait Amour, a liqueur that’s similar in color to the original ingredient but boasts orange and vanilla notes rather than the more floral notes found in crème de violette.
Takumi contacted the good folks at Diageo to confirm what he had told me, but nobody presently working there was in Athens in 2010, so nobody really remembers what he used.
Convinced that my Japanese friend’s initial memory of the drink was probably the most accurate record of what went down, I experimented with Takumi’s recipe, and I’m 99.99 percent sure it was Parfait Amour that made his drink so incredibly special.
INGREDIENTS IN THE TAKUMI’S AVIATION COCKTAIL
HOW TO MAKE THE TAKUMI’S AVIATION COCKTAIL
Add the gin into a shaker and stir to release the aromas.
Add ice and the remaining ingredients and shake.
Fine-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
THE COUNT, THE SAGE, THE TEMPTRESS (SAINT LEO, OXFORD, MISS.)
Opened in summer 2016 just off Oxford’s charming town square, Saint Leo is the ubiquitous Neapolitan pizza place with Italian wood-burning oven that’s a dime-a-dozen in major food cities but a rare exception in these parts.
Opened by a local, Emily Blount, who grew up in the Bay Area and lived in NYC, the glowing restaurant’s big-city-quality ethos translates to the cocktails, as well as the food.
Drinks are straightforward, amari-based or inspired off classic aperitif cocktails, as with The Count, The Sage, The Temptress, a clear sipper of sage-infused gin, pineapple-infused Cocchi Americano aperitivo and blanc vermouth. It’s elegant, subtle and aromatic, cleaning the palate in between rounds of antipasti and pizza.
ABOUT THE TOUGH TO HEAR COCKTAIL
Hollywood bartender Chris Hewes would serve this spicy absinthe-based shot to a movie star who didn’t win an Oscar.
INGREDIENTS IN THE TOUGH TO HEAR COCKTAIL
HOW TO MAKE THE TOUGH TO HEAR COCKTAIL
Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.
Shake, and strain into a shot glass.
*Chile de árbol-infused St-Germain INGREDIENTS:
- Dried chiles de árbol
- 1 (750-mL) St-Germain
PREPARATION: Chop a handful of dried chiles de árbol and add them to the St-Germain in a large jar. Let it infuse for at least 1 day. (You can also use fresh jalapeño peppers instead, which only take a couple hours to infuse.)