fishboy wrote:I must admit that probably my favourite tour on the island is at Caol Ila...conducted by Neil Ferguson.... Ask him any question and he'll talk himself horse.
Ah, another neigh-sayer!
Thanks for putting a name to this gentleman (and giving me a reason to buy Gavin Smith's book). He is certainly reason enough to visit Caol Ila, and the view of Jura from the stillhouse is another. If you visit CI, be sure to allow plenty of time. In fact, my general advice for distillery tours in Islay is not to try to squeeze in too many in too short a time. Usually, one in the morning and one in the afternoon is plenty, unless the timings are well apart--otherwise, you find yourself rushing off to the next tour just when a good hospitality room blether is gathering steam.
My other bit of advice is this: While we all love to visit the birthplaces of our favorite whiskies, it's not necessary to love a malt to get a lot out of a visit to the distillery. Bunnahabhain does little for me, but it's an excellent place to visit, especially if the outspoken Mr McClellan gives the tour. Jura is just plain fun to get to, and the sense of remoteness is wonderful. Again, allow plenty of time for travel. (Mr Heads is no longer there, I guess, so I can't vouch for the tour itself--anyone been there lately?) And I don't care for Bowmore at all, but I enjoyed my visit last year. Worth it just to see the floor maltings--Laphroaig has them, too, but my recollection is that Bowmore's are more impressive, with a good up-close look.
Kilchoman is worthy of a visit, also, unique as a start-up boutique distillery. In fact, I'd say you can't go wrong--Bruichladdich is the one can't miss in my book, but each distillery offers something unique, and the experiences are all complementary. I think I'd rate Lagavulin last of the nine, but a visit there is by no means unsatisfactory.
Two days seems such short shrift--there's much to see besides distilleries! The Kildalton Cross, out the road past Ardbeg, is a must-see, and such places as Finlaggan, Portnahaven, and the Oa are worth going to if you have the time. But rushing around on Islay seems entirely out of character with the place...again, don't try to cram too much in; relax, enjoy yourself, you'll have plenty of reason to return.
If you are interested, my accounts of visits to Islay can be found on my website. The 2005 visit starts here
, with the Islay visit starting at the end of Part 3
and photos starting on Page 4
, and the next year's visit starting on Part 5
of the 2006 page. End of self-promotion. Hope I linked those right.