In early 2016, Mrs. Wonk and I trekked across Islay and Speyside in Scotland, visiting as many single malt Scotch whisky distilleries as time allowed during our all too brief ten-day stay. In a series of posts, I’m documenting our experiences, one distillery at a time with tons of photos. If you’re not familiar with how single malt Scotch whisky is made, I highly suggest first reading my prologue post, Essential Highlights of a Scotch Whisky Distillery Visit. What follows is our visit to the Lagavulin distillery on the island of Islay.
You’d like to think that on the one and only occasion of your fiftieth birthday, you’d have the luxury of waking up and lolling around in bed until you’re damn well ready start the day. Alas, on the occasion of my fiftieth, I faced the incessant chiming of my iPhone, willing me to action at 7:30 AM after all too short a slumber. In any other circumstance I’d hit the proverbial snooze button. But on this day, I was instantly on full alert: Time to get up, race downstairs, enjoy a hearty traditional Scottish breakfast by the fireside at our charming wee hotel, and be off. For today is the day I’ve anticipated for years – a visit to the powerhouses of peated single malt whisky: Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Laphroaig, situated in an erstwhile row along the southern shores of Islay. Lagavulin will be our first stop.
Lagavulin has been around for 200 years—let that sink in a moment. The distillery gives its starting date as 1816, just a few years prior to the Excise Act of 1823 that touched off the modern era of Scotch whisky distilleries. However, it’s quite likely that “unsanctioned distillation” was going on at the Lagavulin site prior to 1816. Today it operates as one of the flagship brands of UK-based Diageo, the world’s largest spirit company. Lagavulin’s flagship expression is their 16 year, although there’s also the recently released 8 year (200th anniversary), a 12 year and various special releases.
Continue reading “Lagavulin – An Inside Look”
If you’re a fan of Scotch single malt whisky, and really, why wouldn’t you be, a visit to the distilleries of Scotland increases your appreciation by an order of magnitude. Having recently completed a ten day trek through Speyside in the Scottish highlands, as well as the island of Islay, Mrs. Wonk and I agree it was the trip of a lifetime. While writing my earlier Essential Highlights of a Scotch Whisky Distillery Visit article, I realized I had a ton of distillery visit planning trips to share, so I wrote this post to focus on those topics. A special bonus is that Mrs. Wonk joined me in writing this. She always handles the high level logistics of our trips (planes, hotels, etc…), and she’s a top notch writer with even more experience than I. You can find her insights in the second half of this post.
When planning a Scotland journey, the time of year when you visit matters a great deal. Summer may be ideal in terms of weather, but many distilleries aren’t distilling in the summer months—so there is less activity to see. During the spring and fall seasons, the most popular time to take on distillery visits, popular locations are often overwhelmed by visitors, yielding less than optimal conditions to linger a bit, meet the still operators, or maybe get a peek at something not on the usual tour.
Continue reading “Planning your Scotch Whisky Distillery Pilgrimage”
In January 2016, Mrs. Wonk and I crossed the pond to spend eight days the Islay and Speyside regions of Scotland, visiting as many whisky distilleries as possible during an all-too-brief visit. We battled snow, hail, fierce winds, flooded railway tracks, comically narrow roads, and tire-killing curbs. In the end, it was the trip of a lifetime, visiting thirteen distilleries and experiencing profound moments several times per day. Over the next dozen or so posts, I’ll share the stories of each distillery through words and photos.
We also made appearances at Ardbeg and Aberlour, but circumstances prevented a full tour.
Continue reading “Essential Highlights of a Scotch Whisky Distillery Visit”
It takes a brave–and possibly mad–person to name their latest project “Mea Culpa Rum.” Yet that’s exactly what Bryan Davis just did, posting the label image recently on his Lost Spirits Technology/ Distillery Facebook page. Longtime readers of this site know that I’ve spent an obsessive amount of time over the past two years keeping close tabs on the Lost Spirits story. Starting with their bold, polarizing rums (Navy Style, Polynesian Inspired, and Cuban Inspired), through the science of rum flavors and barrel aging, and onto licensing the amazing THEA One aging reactors to upstart distilleries, Lost Spirits has been an ever-changing story covered by major news outlets like Wired and CBS News. So it’s with a certain amount of pride that I can say this site covered it first and the most in-depth.
When I last wrote about lost Spirits in September 2015, I had been present for the unveiling of Santeria rum, made for Rational Spirits of Charleston, South Carolina– the first reactor licensee. A few months later, a second licensee called Rattleback received their reactor. Behind the scenes, Bryan and his partner, Joanne Haruta, were continuing to sign up yet more licensees while evolving the reactor design to process larger quantities of spirits. I chatted occasionally with Bryan during this time, naively assuming that he’d be busy for a while building reactors and helping new licensees get underway with their technology. Sure, there were occasional only-in-Lost-Spirits-land elements–like working with an actual Santeria priest to bless Rational’s reactor–but not enough to warrant a full news flash here.
Continue reading “E Pluribus Unum: Lost Spirits Confounds Expectations Yet Again”