Upon arriving in Islay and driving off the ferry we go no more than 3 blocks before we reach our dinner destination, the Islay Hotel Restaurant, don’t confuse with the Islay House Hotel, totally different. We ate at Islay Hotel and stayed at Islay House. This is basically the only place to eat in town that is busy enough to justify high turn over and guaranteed freshness of ingredients. It’s in the center of town and right off the ferry, so book several dinners here if you can. You will eventually get a taste of the entire menu throughout your stay. You really just need 3, maybe 4 days max here to get the total Islay experience, unless you want to golf or something, but I don’t even think they have gold courses here. Their bar at the Islay Hotel is quite nice too.
Nice chandelier’s. Very utilitarian. In case you ever run out of glasses you can always reach up.
So this is a peaty Laphroaig that is matured in a Ruby Port cask. I usually like peat and sweet, but the port gave it too much of a medicinal flavor, like Robitussin. Although I like Bourbon casks, I’m not quite sure if I feel the same about Port casks. They are becoming more common, and I have not had a lot of them, so I am feeling them out. This is an expensive bottle as well, given that it has no age statement, in combination with the other factors, I would not buy this. Not that it is bad. At least it was an experience. It’s like dating if you date a wide spectrum of people you find out what you like and don’t like in a partner. This was a notch on my belt that added to my port matured whisky repertoire.
Since I saw the Port Ellen sign with my own two eyes and realized how opportune of a time it was to try some Port Ellen without paying an arm and a leg on a bottle, I jumped at the chance to try one at the bar. It was 53%, so clearly cask strength. Just the dram was 80 pounds if I remember correctly. I liked the dirty nose on this, like barnyard wine that is very reduced, earthy, damp basement or old library smell. It had a lot of mild spice like close and nutmeg, with oak accents, but the finish was not long, was somewhat muted. Had some peat and salinity, very complex and elegant overall, not one of those mouth coating, oily knock out strongly flavored whiskys, but at least I had my 1st Port Ellen. This bottle costs around $1000.00. Good luck finding it, even online.
If you love Islay whiskeys, this is the best place to experiment, as they have a shelf for each distillery and they have a broad range of their entire line up from many years going back deeply. Great variety here, hard to find a bar like this. I repeat don’t go to the distilleries thinking you are going to get their rare and old shit. They won’t have it or give it to you even if you pay top dollar. Why would they if they can sell a 50-year-old cask of Lagavulin for $500,000.00? Go to as many reputable bars on the island as you can to get a broader variety of the range of each distillery.
Food is decent, nourishing, fresh, nothing to write home about. You are basically coming here for sustenance. If you are a foodie, do not expect molecular theatrics at any restaurant here. This is a town of hard-working people, salt of the earth, nothing fancy here. You are walking around all day in muddy boots, rain on and off. Come casual and don’t have high food expectations. Their salmon was dry and bland appearing, classic presentation, flavors did not surprise. Get as much fresh langoustine and shellfish, oysters as you can, this is what is unique to this region as far as food locality. Go early as their best dishes often sell out, not just one, but often 2-3 of the best sounding dishes are sold out here. Book an early dinner if possible, which would also allow you to drink all night.
Nicely furnished, cozy dining area. They had these rare collectible ceramic bottles on the window sill that were the original bottling method for whisky before glass bottling became popular.
Empty ceramic whisky bottles like this are apparently collector’s items and they would every now and then go missing from the window sills so they keep a lot less out and in view of the staff to prevent sticky fingers from carrying it out of the restaurant.
After hours of waiting for our food, we finally ate, paid, and drove in the darkness with poor wifi connectivity on a single lane road into the hinterlands to find our hotel.
If that doesn’t look like a haunted house, I don’t know what the fuck does. This was the picture from the following day of the servant’s quarters in the Islay House Hotel, so needless to say we survived the night, but oh was it an adventure. It was like a real-life murder-mystery game that we had walked into.
The place even came with an off-tune haunted piano, that Jerry was playing like the corpse bride. We somehow managed to get directions on google maps for this place from the restaurant’s wifi, which got us to the general vicinity, but we had to stop at a local bed and breakfast that was luckily still open and they guided us to the entrance of the place. It was a long driveway, and as you approach the house you see all the lights on in the rooms from the outside. There were only 2 other cars parked outside. I believe there are like 10 rooms in this place. You park and walk into the foyer and the door is unlocked. It was so bizarre to travel all the way out to the middle of nowhere with howling winds, and you just come across a mansion with all the lights on and the door unlocked. There was an old skeleton key with the name of our room on the table in the front desk reception area sitting on top of a paper with our name. Jerry had a key, but he had no idea where his room was. We could not call or email the hotel management at all. It appears that there was a Mr. Hashimoto that never made it that night either. This was the start to a freaky ass night. We were in this white wood-paneled living room area, with no apparent exit. You had to go around in a circle and push each wood panel individually to reveal a secret passageway to a spiral staircase. Seriously like the Shining. I swear to God, an exact replica of the hallway with the ghost twins.
Here are the ghosts asking Jerry to come into the dining room and play with him.
We were literally walking around the entire house at 1am, finding one secret door or room after another and just going around in circles. When Erika and I finally found our room, Jerry’s room was nowhere to be found. We kept circling with an endorphin buzzed wonder trying to see if we would see a ghost or something in the process of finding his room.
I don’t know about you but I would not stay in a room called Freidrich. That just looks like a fucking invitation to be fucked with at night. If I had to come up with a ghost’s name, that would take the cake.
Jerry finally gave up and slept in the room directly in front of ours so that we can hear him if anyone tried to murder him. I don’t know what the hell that dangling chain noise is in the video, maybe that is a ghostly artifact. However, after this video ended, we went down this staircase and into the back building where what seemed to be the old maid’s quarters and there was this creepy long hallway with hospital green walls and black and white checkered floors with no lighting. I don’t know what the hell possessed us to venture into that part of the house, but there was this curious urge to explore it. I was the first to head down the hall, Jerry was close behind, Erika was all the way at the end. Erika had actually looked out the window from where we started and got a weird feeling as she looked across to the back house, which is pictured above. She got a weird vibe about something being present there. As soon as she walked halfway down that hall she screamed and ran back towards the house. I heard her and it scared the shit out of me. Jerry and I almost ran into each other as we tried getting the fuck out of there. We were dying from laughter the next day.
Here is the front entrance during the day.
View from our room out to the ocean.
All the furniture was from the era of the early Islay homesteaders. Everything was painstakingly restored.
Even the toilet flushed from a tank above with a cord. Very nicely appointed.
Beautiful teapot with some English Breakfast tea.
Pretty decent home cooked breakfast with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.
They had a bar that we never had a chance to visit, but the owner had a serious collection of rare whisky that was locked behind these cabinet doors. He had a lot of the special bottles that are only released once a year at the Feis Ile festival. Basically pronounced “Facial”. Luckily I will not post a video of a facial as that would cross all boundaries. It is happening this year in May. Here is the website.
I had never even heard of this before. Here is a tasting note I found online.
A very exotic whisky, a bit too much exoticism. This is almost no more whisky, but a multi-vitamin fruit brand on a high level. With a little patience, however, there are other flavors in the nose. You have to like something like that. A very experimental whisky, outrageously sweet. Quite unlike the other whiskys in the series, where vinous notes and red fruits dominate.
Here is an even more mysterious statement from Master of Malt:
Bruichladdich’s Fèis Ìle 2015 release was the High Noon Black Art Valinch (in keeping with the theme of that year – Hoe Down!). It’s a rather mysterious release, with very little known about the whisky other than 1,881 bottles were produced.
This is some super rare stuff. Not only is Supernova hard to find, but this was the Committee release, meaning they only sell it to the members of the Ardbeg Committee, and you can usually only buy it at the festival, leading to people camping out and waiting in lines all day to get your one bottle that you are allowed to buy. Also the Committee release of Perpetuum. Perpetuum is one of the whiskys that in my humble opinion has the oiliest mouthfeel I have ever tasted. I think the name comes from the metaphor of the uber finish, as it feels like it goes on forever, like the infinity sign on the bottle. He also had the series Still Young, which highlights four different ages of Ardbeg and how they differ.
I was able to get a taste of the Rennaisance at the Ardbeg bar, which I will comment on in a later post.
Also one of my favorites, the ArdbOg. One of the dirtiest, earthiest, engine oil, used condom flavors around. Not that I know what used condom tastes like. I know the smell though. It’s important that it is ‘used’ so that you get that vaginal flora/ badussy spectrum in there. Did I say barnyard? My mind is definitely in the gutter.
Then an intriguing bottle that the bottle art alone was alluring in addition to the name of the bottle. Bruichladdich The Final Act of Creation. What a name, after God finished creating the Earth, he created this basically. Look at the color on this puppy.
Talk about rare. Read this description of the bottle.
A final act of creation from Jim McEwan, bottled from his own legendary Château Latour 1992 cask dubbed “Princess Diana”. It’s bottled at 52% to mark Jim’s 52 years in the business! Just 220 of these rare bottles were produced. It was not for sale, just a private collection given to certain whisky-making royalty. You can maybe get this bottle at auction for $4000.00 if you are lucky. I could not even find any review of this whisky online as it is so rare. Imagine, Château Latour 1992, which is a First Growth Bordeaux Grand Cru. I can just imagine how good this would be. Maybe I will never find out, like the story of the Pink Lady that fucking haunted us the night before.
Interestingly as we were checking out of our hotel on our way to Laphroaig, after breakfast we saw the manager the next morning and shared our adventure about the night before with her. She stated that she did not want to say anything upfront, but this house happens to have a history of being haunted by what is known as the Pink Lady. Apparently, the current housekeepers had an anecdote about our room, where they were cleaning it up after a guest left, but there were no linens for the pillows, so they both left the room, one went to get linens, the other went to the kitchen. Upon their return, the pillow already had the linen over it, and both housecleaners swore that they did not come back to the room to do it. At least she is a helpful ghost.
I did not have enough photos of this distillery to make a long post about it, so I added it to the Islay Hotel and Islay House post. This is ironic, as it fits with the short shrift reputation this distillery has among our whisky fan clan. So, Dr. Whisky had a funny anecdote about how when he was asked if he was enjoying his Isay tour, he told the cashier at a local store about all his favorite tastings but neglected to mention Laphroaig. From across the store, in a hardcore Scottish accent, Eric hears angrily, “What about Laphroaig!!??” This was from this master distiller at Laphroaig, and it has become a running joke ever since.
It was really cute inside and they have this gimmick where you can buy a square foot of land in a plot they have outside if you become a member and pay the annual membership fee. You get to wear these mud boots and go out and plant your countries flag in your plot of land that comes with a deed and a map. So, Erika and I are landowners in Scotland now.
Now to more important things, like the bar.
The good thing is that you can taste almost anything they have ever made at the bar even though you can’t buy the bottle.
You can get a taste straight out of the valinch for free with some of their experimental casks however you have to take the tour, which Jerry told me he wanted to avoid, as Lagavulin was going to be a shit show.
We were still able to try a bottle of this black molasses looking bottle that the bartender matured himself. First-fill 18-year-old sherry single cask with no filtering. You can hear him talking about it as Erika films the line up at the bar.
Laphroaig 15 and 18 are almost impossible to find now, they are moving to more experimental bottlings now such as Brodir and Cairdeas and stopping the aged statements sadly.
Here is what we tried.
Wow, what a lineup. Jerry says that this is what you come here for, to do a vertical like this. You cannot do this at most other bars given how rare the 25 and 30-year-old bottles are.
Prices are very reasonable for such rarities.
Be careful if someone asks you if you are enjoying Islay and you don’t mention Laphroaig, as you may hear “What about Laphroaig!!!??” from across the room.