Once the fantastic tour of Springbank is over, it takes just over half an hour to reach Kennagraig to catch the afternoon ferry to Islay: about two hours of smooth sailing (the weather was more than magnanimous in those days), with inevitable tourist photos.
The next morning, the first distillery I visit on Islay is Caol Ila, whose visitors’ centre has been completely refurbished (and modernised) with a Johnnie Walker theme, their whisky being one of the “four corners” of the blended along with Cardhu, Clynelish and Glenkinchie: the Flavour Journey Tour I chose is therefore entirely based on the aromatic and taste contribution that Caol Ila gives to the various JW bottlings, sacrificing a little of the distillery’s identity.
On arrival, immediately a taste of the special edition made for this year’s Fèis Ìle, the 13yo of which you can find my opinion here.
Charlie leads the small tour group to sniff glass bowls of scented jellies, each with an olfactory characteristic of Caol Ila: peat, caramel, vegetable, marine, fruity. Not everyone grasps (or likes) this aromatic breakdown, I found it interesting despite its simplicity.
We move to another room for a little history of the distillery, complete with a very atmospheric videomapping animation, and then we go through the various stages of barley processing, which Caol Ila takes directly from the Port Ellen malt house.
We finally arrive at the production part, which is quite impressive given the quantity of distillate produced, with eight washbacks and six stills, the latter with a spectacular view of the Paps of Jura.
Access to the still room is partially restricted.
A trip to one of the (many) warehouses, where the use of casks is explained, again more in the spirit of Johnnie Walker’s creation than Caol Ila’s whisky, so much so that four casks are ready (just to be sniffed), one for each distillery that makes up the four corners of the blended.
The tour ends in the tasting room at the back of the bar, where participants find four different tastings: the classic 12yo, the Caol Ila 14yo Four Corners, the Distillery Exclusive (you will soon find a review of the latter two) and a highball made with Johnnie Walker Black, which I must say is quite tasty.
Excellent drams, but the attention was captured by the spectacular view from the window opposite.
And so, given the proximity to Port Askaig, all that remains is to take the ferry to Jura, which in a quarter of an hour brings you to the island where the dock immediately makes it clear what to expect: little human presence (there is no bar or any kind of open structure to welcome you) and lots of beautiful nature.
Exploring Jura would take more than an afternoon, there is only one road that runs along its east coast, and not even all the way, ending in the middle of nowhere and forcing a long walk to the northernmost tip where you can admire the Corryvreckan, the whirlpool made famous by Ardbeg.
We choose to drive as far as possible, hardly crossing anyone, through miles and miles of ferns, beaches, mountains, until arriving at the small village of Craighouse where there are a handful of houses, a hotel, a couple of clubs and, of course, the Jura distillery.
We continue on through nature and vertical stones, ending the route in front of a group of deer, the true masters of the island.
Jura is a spectacle of nature, whether you are interested in the distillery or not, the advice is to carve out at least half a day to trip along its coast.
The next day, Kilchoman awaits us…. but I will talk about that another time.