Bunnahabhain Diaries…The Return !
It’s turns out this could be our second last week ever stopping in the Bunnahabhain Cottages (or at least for the unforeseeable future anyway….) . The Thursday before the start of the Holidays we heard that Burn Stewart had been sending out letters cancelling reservations for the cottages as they are ceasing Holiday lettings . If i find out whether it’s indefinitely or just temporary i’ll post up here but the Chance to stop in the Cottages in such lovely surroundings will be greatly missed ! So to our Holiday……
Sat August 14th –
Once again an early start to get up for the One O’clock ferry . The weather was a bit overcast for most of the Journey but the sun came out in inveraray , which is a bit odd as it’s usually p***ing down there ! A visit was paid to Loch Fyne Whisky to purchase a bottle (or two……) , After a bit natter with Andy (top class guy always worth a natter with) we departed with the new Bunnahabhain 12yo 46.3% UCF and a spare Berrys Own Girvan as the one i have at home has taken some serious damage ! Talking of damage ……. why is there a rather large dint in the front entrance bit of the Hebridean Isles ? Thought it was the Isle of arran that rammed the Kennacraig Pier ? Having purchased the Ileach ( always necessary on a trip to islay ….) we’ve just noticed a couple of interesting events , first is an American Singer called Rachel Harrington playing Laddie distillery , now i haven’t a clue who she is (sorry !) but i do know who her guitarist is , a fellow Geordie and one of my heroes from Lindisfarne Rod Clements ( he wrote Meet me on the Corner ) . The other is an RSPB event in the second week “Go Batty with RSPB” , a talk and walk at the Gruinart Reserve about Bats , two things to do and we’re not even on the isle yet…….
(Click on any of the Photos to see the full size version)
We arrived at Bunnahabhain in Glorious sunshine , after unloading the car it was time to get down to relaxation , crack open the new Bunna 12yo and compare it to the old 12yo (a welcome mini left by the distillery ) . Such was the weather we even managed to have our evening meal outside at the table .
The New Bunnahabhain 12yo…..
|Year –||Age – 12yo||ABV – 46.3%|
|Colour – Pale Amber|
|Nose –I opened this bottle , holding my breathe , the tasting notes on LFW mentioned the dreaded “S” word , said it was more heavily sherried than the original , would my nightmares come true ? Could BSD totally cock up the sensiblisation (made up word…) of the Bunnie 12 ? No ! This one is really sherried compared to the 40% ( which i have poured next to this one ) . Gradually the Bunnie traits emerge , Sea air , sweetness ( Confectioners Sugar ) but the sherry is more pronounced .|
|Taste – Very oily across the palate , again the sherry dominates but it is malty and sweet deep down .|
|Finish – A longer finish that the old 40%er , bags of Vanilla ,sherry and Malt .|
|Comments –Not only new ABV but also new packaging , gone is the tube and in with a box . Definitely a more heavyweight dram , definitely more sherried than the old one , may take a bit of getting used to . Mel really likes it (Hmmm sherry was her words….) Still (at this moment ) prefer the old 40%er but i shall see what happens over the next two weeks ……|
Woke up to an absolutely glorious day here on Islay , which was a blessing as we’d decided to do bugger all so i could rest up after the drive up yesterday . we did decide to go to Ardbeg for lunch at the Old Kiln . Before lunch we had a walk down to the pier (one of our favourite places to contemplate ) , the water was the clearest we’d ever seen it , you could see every detail including the fish .
After a lunch of Cullen skink and Peppered Mackerel for me , Baked potato Prawn Marie Rose for Mel and a Lemon tart between us we headed off to Bowmore to pick up a few supplies only to notice Lagavulin was open . So without haste i picked up one of their Distillery Only Bottlings . Now fate was in my hands as while shopping i forgot to pick something up at Bowmore , so we had to stop at Bridgend to visit the store……what was on the shelf ? A Caol ila Distillery only Bottling from 2007 for £50 ! One purchase later and we were off to the Cottage for a relaxing sunday afternoon in the sun dramming ! After trying a few Malts (see below) we got talking to the people in the cottage next door about Islay , Whisky , life etc . While nattering i noticed movement out in the bay , i thought it was maybe a pair of otters playing from the movement , grabbing the camera and binoculars i was very disappointed to find out it wasn’t……it was a basking Shark ! We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening watching the shark go back and forth , we gave up just after the breeze dropped and that well known other monster came out in force , the Midge ! The Basking shark sailed off only to return later , now i was watching one out in the middle of the sound when there was a knock on the door , the neighbours had spotted one…..gliding past the Bunna Pier and straight past our Cottages , only this was another one , there were two ! Superb !
John Milroys Selection Caol Ila 29yo 57.2% – Bright gold in Colour , very medicinal on the nose at first , a hint of dark chocolate seaweed and sea air . Very strong on the palate , very iodiny , very tcp and quite farm yardie too . A very long , medicinal (tcp) finish , with water the tcp comes to the fore even more . A fantastic Caol ila , Still loaded with the CI traits even though it’s nearly 30yo ! Berrys Own Selection Caol Ila 1984 53.7% – Pale Gold in Colour , This one had an extremely closed nose at first , then after a little while the CI notes emerge . Not quite as medicinal as the Milroys , more gentile . On the palate its extremely peaty and vegetal , with slight iodine , the finish is long and Medicinal . Again a very good Caol ila but i think the 29yo Milroys edges it ! Berrys Own Selection Caol Ila 2000 58.9% – Pale straw in Colour , Extremely peaty with a fruitiness on the nose , Also has Creamy Coffee lurking . Loaded with peat on the palate , again Coffee with a slight bitter chocolate . The finish is long and peaty , A superb Caol Ila , everything you want from a young Islay , this one can definitely fight in a higher division ! You probably couldn’t tell from which Islay distillery it originated in a blind tasting…… Caol Ila Distillery only bottling , Bottled 2007 58.4% – Pale Gold in the Glass , a tightly closed nose at first but eventually peat , chocolate and coffee . Extremely Peaty on the palate with tcp and a wee bit of citric (lemon) as well , A long lemon peatiness on the finish, very chewy ! I suspect a young Caol Ila here but it seems more akin to a “Young Ardbeg” IMO , very nice ! Lagavulin Distillery Only Bottling , Bottled 2010 , 52.5% (£69) – Bright Gold in colour almost polished , A very sweet smoky Nose , On the palate again quite sweet but with a smoky , peaty , Maltiness . Also a slight sherriness . The finish is long , quite chewy , smoky and a touch of malt . A really nice Lagavulin , i suspect some of this has had influence from PX casks…….
Mon August 16th –
After yesterdays beautiful sunshine the weather had changed , it was very overcast , by the time we’d reached the other side of the isle it was chucking it down ! We ended up just having a day of picking things up , first up was a visit to Bowmore to pick up a few more supplies and tickets for tomorrow nights concert at Bruichladdich Distillery . Then it was a visit to Islay Ales to pick up a few bottles of Saligo and Angus Og ,then when we got back to Bunnahabhain a visit to the shop to pick up a bottle of the 18yo PX Finish from the Feis Ile . The rest of the day was spent at the cottage .
On the way out of Bunnahabhain we saw an interesting sight , it actually reminded me of a scene from Jurrasic Park ! Loads of small birds came piling out of a hedgerow and ran up the road……
……..We lost count at 27 birds . Not being up on the bird watching , these looked like young Pheasants , especially the red bit around some of their eyes , the only thing i was unsure about was the fact that they didn’t have the long tail feathers , maybe that develops later in the the life of the adult bird ? They are indeed young Pheasants and we encountered them again on Saturday night.
Woke up to another rainy morning but as the day went on it got out sunny but with a bit of a wind (kept the midges at bay….) , once again we were having a lazy day (why not we’re on holiday !) , for tea i did however do a lovely piece of Islay Sirloin Steak , cooked to perfection if i say so myself !!!
In the Evening we headed over to Bruichladdich, first off we popped into An Taigh Osda to say hello to Paul and book up a Table for later in the Holiday . Then it was off to the distillery for a concert . As mentioned earlier i’d never heard of Rachel Harrington before but i knew Rod Clements from his Lindisfarne days , apparently (Whispering) Bob Harris is very into Rachel (she’s on his show this Thursday) and we were to find out why . She is very good ! Her music is very hard to define , a bit of American folk , A bit of Country and Western , a bit of bluegrass…… A really nice voice , Rod was very good on the guitar and we also got a slightly different version of “Meet me on the corner ” thrown in . The shop at Bruichladdich is a pretty good place to have a concert , as “Sir” Jim pointed out Great atmosphere ! They also kindly gave us a couple of drams for the concert !
Now i don’t know what’s going with the wildlife on Islay at the moment but it seems to be throwing itself in front of us at the moment , what with the Basking sharks swimming past our window , all the birds on the Bunna Road (see above) tonight on the way home we had to swerve to avoid a hedgehog crossing the road then on the bunna Road a stoat casually walks out in front of us . When we stopped it doesn’t get out the way , oh no ! It looks at us then starts rolling around on the road in front of us ! Then as we inch closer to try and get it out of the way it just wanders up the road in front of us……. Eventually it did get out of the way , it looked like a very young stoat .
Wed August 18th –
Another Beautiful Day and the walking boots were out for the first time on this holiday ! An easy one to start with and one of our favourite walks , the long loop around Bridgend Woods . This walk takes us from the car park on the Islay House Square side of the road , through the woods to the Woolen Mill , across to the Claggan strip , nearly in to Bridgend and back to the car park .Apart from the Claggan Strip it’s all on decent surfaces .
Some interesting wildlife on this walk , including a large bird of prey , i think it’s a buzzard given it’s lack of neck but where’s attenbourgh when you need him ? Keep hearing the butterfly population is on the decrease but we keep coming across loads of these little beauts ! A very nice way to pass an afternoon !
We popped into Bowmore on the way back to the Cottage , it was a beauiful view across Loch Indaal at low tide , it actually reminded us of the first time we arrived on Islay in 1999 . Exactly the same weather , exactly the same low tide ! After our evening meal we spent the evening parked on Loch Indaal participating in the Weekly SOI Whisky chat .
Once again a lovely morning , so after Breakfast we headed out for another walk , our walk today was from Ballygrant to Traigh Bhan on the Sound of Islay only all didn’t go to plan . We set off from outside Ballygrant Hall following the directions in the new Islay Walks book . We went up past Loch Ballygrant and Loch Lossit and up to Lossit Farm . Here we hit a sign saying that from July to November there is stalking going on and it’s advisable to check with Dunlossit Estate before carrying on . Seeing we didn’t have mobile reception and it hadn’t been mentioned in the book ( next print guys ?) we decided to turn back .
Once back at the car we decided to have a drive up the road so Mel could see her friends the piggies……The free roaming ones on the Dunlossit land seem to have vanished as to Rons e-mail informing us they were getting rid of them but there were still plenty on the farm further down the road ! We decided to hit Ardbeg for something to eat and bumped into Christine “Lady of the Isles” . Also managed to catch up with the latest gossip from Mickey .
Friday August 20th –
A bit of an early start this morning compared with the rest of the week , we were heading across to Bruichladdich to visit Casks i’ve got shares in and collect samples . We arrived early and managed a chat with Mary before heading up to Warehouse 12 to meet Joanne and get to see the bairns ! There’s something quite magical about going into warehouses especially when you’re going to see casks that you own . First one was the most recent purchase , the Spirit of Islay II 2008 Bruichladdich in a First Fill Bourbon in Warehouse 11 , this was the hardest to access (for them) as it was on the top of a 3 cask high stow .
Next up it was a trip along to Port Charlotte to the warehouses there , First up was the Spirit of Islay I , a 2002 Port Charlotte in a 2nd Refill sherry Hogshead , we found this one straight away as it was exactly where it was last seen , you might think this is where it should be but they can wander when stows are boken down to access casks and rebuilt ! This happened with the third cask , we had the position (which was different from the last time i visited ) but still managed to wander past it 3 times ! This is the Geordie Laddies 2001 Port Charlotte in a First Fill Bourbon cask .
While going around i had a good chat to Joanne about the cask visits , Bruichladdich have tightened up visits due to people tasting casks and getting samples that they shouldn’t , the registered owner has to notify the distillery when anyone visits and wants a sample . Also the C&E aren’t very happy about lots of people being photographed with glasses in their hands in bonded warehouses appearing on the internet…….. You can read the tasting notes i done back at the cottage below……
Joanne returned us to the distillery where we said our farewells and headed off to Ardbeg for Lunch . As usual the food was excellent at the Old Kiln , i went for the Salmon Fishcakes and Mel went for the Lemon and Paprika Chicken on a bed of Roasted Peppers with Rice , i also had a piece of Clootie Dumpling . We caught up with Jackie before heading off to Bowmore to pick up some essentials for the weekend . We bumped into Ann and Alistair in Bowmore (the ex-owners of the Lochside Hotel when we used to stop there ) , after a wee bit of a natter we headed back to the cottage to have a sit in the sun , try the Cask Samples and have a few drams . Unfortunately tonight also saw the demise of my last bottle of Cask 2390 , a 1976 Ardbeg from the 2002 Feis Ile , it will be said missed but was thoroughly enjoyed !
Spirit of Islay II 2008 Bruichladdich First Fill Bourbon Barrel – A very Pale straw in Colour , At first still very spirity on the nose , then quite malty , it is quite pleasant if not very developed . At full strength on the palate it is very strong and spirity , even with water it is very spirity but you do get a bit of the Laddie toffee / fudge coming out . Going well at 2yo but still a long way to go . Very promising !
Spirit of Islay I 2002 Port Charlotte Second Fill Sherry Hogshead – Polished Gold in Colour , Still a tad spirity on the nose at first , quite a bit of Chocolate then malt , farm yard , toffee and damp peat right at the very end . Again very strong on the palate at full strength , sweet (toffee) and Malty with damp peat . the finish is very strong and long with toffee and seaweed . This has moved on a long way since i last tried it , now approaching 8yo and i think John Rennies estimate of a great mid-teen whisky is looking good .
Geordie Laddie 2001 Port Charlotte First Fill Bourbon Barrel – Ripe Golden Barley in Colour , A fantastic nose , again very malty and toffee , damp peat but a totally different peatiness to the south shore giants . very like walking into the Port Charlotte Warehouses , a nice mixture of earthiness and maturing spirit . Very oily across the palate , first the peatiness hits you , then the maltiness and finally a creamy toffeeness . Finish is long and an iodiney peatiness . What a superb nose ( the taste is rather special as well) , the smells in the glass after finishing is amazing ! Nearly 9yo and looking very good for a 10yo bottling !!!!
So onto our Second Week on Islay……
We decided to just have a lazy day at the Cottage , all the other occupants of the Cottages left in the morning so it was just us , local fisherman , several species of birds and an elusive Otter in Bunnahabhain Bay ! In the Evening we headed to the Bridgend Hotel for our Annual meal out with Ella and Mary , a fine night was had by all , it’s always good to sit down and catch up with our friends on the Isle and there’s no finer way than over an excellent meal . For Starters the girls all went for Potato Skins and i went for Chicken Liver Pate . Mary and Ella had Chicken Breast stuffed with Brie and Tomatoes served with Roasted Sweet Potato and Swede , Mel went for a Sirloin Steak with Mixed Peppercorn Sauce and i plummed for the Rack of Lamb with Chive Mash Potato . We all went for the unusual but highly tasty Summer Berry Trifle , unusual that it was deconstructed so it’s parts were served in seperate bowls . As usual the evening passed over in a blink of an eye , thank you ladies , we look forward to next years meal !
We woke up this morning to Mist and rain over the bay , we were going to walk along to Rhuvaal Lighthouse but thought we’d wait until better weather as we don’t know the route at all ! It did clear up later in the afternoon but it was too late to do the walk as we were heading over to Port Charlotte for an Early Evening drink .
Mon August 23rd –
Once again we woke to not very good weather in the morning that changed to being a decent afternoon . After a lazy morning we headed over to Ardbeg for lunch in The Old Kiln . While there Mickey gave us a try of the two last single casks (not the Feis Ile one….) , Both were 1998 11yo’s , first up was a sherry cask , can’t remember the number . This had a great nose and palate but had a very strange finish , very dry with something i couldn’t quite put my finger on . 2nd was a first fill bourbon cask #1275 , this is what Ardbeg should be , peaty , lemon citrus , pine nuts , wonderful long finish , superb ! If you’ve got a bottle of this then you’ve got a stunning Ardbeg but then again if you’ve got a bottle of this you’ll have paid £180 and will probably never know what it’s like as you won’t have bought it to drink…….
After lunch we went off to Bowmore to pick up some supplies before heading back to the cottage . Seeing it was a decent evening we went off for a walk around to the other side of the bay . we sat at the mouth of the Margadale until the rain returned , it’s nice seeing the bay from another perspective…….
Tues August 24th –
A lovely dry morning greeted us on this Second Tuesday . We had a drive over to Kilchoman to grab a bite to eat at the distillery , we also got a chance to catch up with John Mac lellan , He’s settling down nicely to life at Kilchoman . As we were departing we also bumped into Jackie from Ardbeg who was out with her parents . We headed off to Machir Bay for an afternoons stroll along the sands . As nice as the sun was , there was a hell of a bracing wind coming off the Atlantic !
After a wash and brush up , we headed off to our favourite Restaurant on the Isle , An Taigh Osda . Once again the meal was of a very high standard , we both started with Peat smoked Haddock and crab fishcakes with tartare sauce . Mel had Pork Loin Steak with a Black pudding and sage croquette , dauphoise potatoes and a plum compote . I went for Scallops with a shell fish bisque and Saute potatoes . To say it was superb would be a bit of an understatement ……. Paul and Joan have maintained a very high standard over the years they’ve been open and long may it continue !
Wed August 25th –
An absolutely glorious morning greeted us at Bunnahabhain Bay this Wednesday Morning . Seeing it was such a gorgeous morning we decided to walk along to Rhubh a’ Mhail . The ground was extremely wet under foot most of the way , the route follows the Electric Cables to the lighthouse most of the way , it’s a fairly well defined pathway used by quads to get to the lighthouse . You get some stunning views up and down the Sound and across to Jura and you get to see the Distillery , Bay and Village from a different perspective .
You definitely need decent walking boots to do this walk but the walk is well worth it for the views at Rhubh a’ Mhail , we had a great day (it took us about 5hrs for the round trip , it’s over 9 miles and we took a lunch with us ) .
Islays wildlife played it’s usual tricks with us on the walk not a thing in sight , well a few dickie birds….. while we were swaning off up north the basking sharks returned to bunnahabhain bay , 4 of them ! But at night when we headed over to Loch Indaal to take part in the weekly chat we saw 2 young deer , 2 buzzards and our flock of young pheasants on the Bunnahabhain road and just to rub salt in the wound seeing i hadn’t packed my camera or binoculars we had an Otter swimming up and down in front of us in Loch indaal where we parked up just along from Black Rock ! There were a few choice swear words……….
Thurs August 26th –
Once again we woke up to beautiful sunshine ( are we making you sick yet ?) and a planned easy day , we had a VIP tour booked for 1pm .
The VIP Tour…… We made our way along to the Distillery to take the Bunnahabhain VIP Tour , we were the only people booked for this tour so it was a bit of a personal one ! Robin the stillman was to be our guide , Robin has worked at Bunnahabhain for 32 years , all his working life , so he knows the place inside and out ! The distillery is currently on it’s silent season ( restarts production next week) so even though we couldn’t see any whisky being produced it did mean Robin didn’t have to shout , we could see the inner workings of the equipment and listen comfortably to Robins words . Robin went into the production methods in greater detail than you normally get on a standard tour , which is great for anoraks like myself and even Mel enjoyed the in depth descriptions . We went through the usual route of millroom , mashroom , washbacks and stillroom before heading over to the filling store and then into Warehouse No.7 . Robin opened up a Sherry Cask and a Bourbon Barrel to let us smell the two different maturing spirits , The Oloroso cask was extremely nice , very smooth smelling but i prefered the 1989 Bourbon one , it was superb ! We then moved to the Visitors centre where we had 5 drams , we started off with this years Feis Ile offering , an 18yo Pedro Ximenez finish then the 16yo Manzanilla finish , the 18yo , the 25yo and the Peated Toiteach . A very nice mixture ! We all agreed the 18yo is the best example of Bunnahabhain and this years Feis Ile was a close second . The VIP tour is a great way to see Bunnahabhain and get introduced to Bunnahabhains excellent whisky . Robin was a great guide , very knowledgable with a great sense of humour , the afternoon flew over . We both thoroughly enjoyed it and well worth the £25 . ( The VIP tour is on Tuesdays and Thursdays and needs to be booked in advance)
For 4 summers we’ve been staying at the Distillery Cottages , for even longer our friends Charles and Jean have been staying here and telling us about the local otters , for 4 summers we’d never seen one . Last week our Cottage Neighbours the Rogersons had seen and photographed one at the pier , then seen one on the nearby rocks but it had vanished by the time we got out !
Tonight we had a “Homer Simpson” “Woo-hoo” moment ! At about 9pm as darkness was setting in i just happened to look out at the rocks to the right of cottages (in the top left of the 1st photo) and i saw movement , grabbing the binoculars , camera and Mel we headed out , it was the elusive Otter ! it divided off the rocks and vanished , after a while Mel spotted it on the rocks on the shore , it dived back in the water and swam right in front of us , we were sure it kept looking at us . It dived under water a few times before vanishing into the fading light at the pier . This was the icing on the cake of a perfect holiday !
So to the final full day of our holiday and the last day, for the immediate future , of staying in the Bunnahabhain Cottages . We awoke to another lovely morning , after breakfast we relaxed for a little while before heading to the South Shore for lunch at the Old Kiln stopping at Bowmore to pick up some soap for Ailsa’s “Spirited Soap” shop . Once again Ardbeg was very busy but we got a table quite fast , Mel went for her ever trustworthy Baked Potato with Prawn Marie Rose , i went for the Steak and Haggis Pie . Must say the food is , as ever , of a very high standard and the Mango and White Chocolate Cheesecake i had for pudding was superb ! After a natter to Mickey and Jackie we bid our farewells to ardbeg and made our way back to Bunnahabhain to pack and tidy up .
Sat August 28th –
So it was with a heavy heart we left the Cottage for the last time and took the long drive to Port Ellen to catch the morning ferry back to the mainland……
We both agree this has been possibly the best holiday we’ve had on Islay , a good mixture of time relaxing , time walking and spending time with good friends !
We’ll miss not being able to stop at the Bunnahabhain Cottages , we love it for the remoteness , the peace and quiet and the outstanding views around it . Yes they are basic compared to other properties but are well equiped . Yes they do need a bit TLC , the Kichen and bathrooms could do with renewing as could the windows , from what we gather No.5 needs a bit more building work . From what we gather the reason to stop renting was down to complaints about the state of the properties and the company deciding it needs to look at the costs involved in these revitalisations but couldn’t rent them out in their present condition . We just hope that Burn Stewart comes to their senses and decides to put he money into these properties and doesn’t let them go to rack and ruin , like the two middle cottages and the houses up in the village . These cottages are very popular and not just with us . We hope we are not indeed the last people to stay in these cottages and we hope once again to be able to spend our vacation time in Bunnahabhain Bay but going off BSD previous track record it’s not looking good……..
Perhaps someone might step in and buy them of them……….
The Cottage rentals weren’t the only thing that came to an end this holiday , A bottle of Ardbeg 1976 Cask #2390 , A label-less Living Cask 10th Anniversary Bottling , A Port Charlotte “First Cut” Valinch and an Ardbeg Lord of the Isles .