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Whisky, Mull and Tides


It's been very windy here and we've been getting a bit pissed off with camping so we agreed to investigate going self catering somewhere on Mull next week. I thought we would pick up a fixed caravan or a cottage easily but everything I tried seemed to be booked. In the end I discovered that Oban tourist office provide a "find you a cottage" service for only £5. What a bargain. Except that when I finally got through to them they didn't want to play ball but told me to phone the Mull tourist office.

Mull was blunt: "we're full".

"So what about camp sites?" I asked. She thought there should still be space on those. So I phoned the one we'd intended to use and eventually got to speak to the owner at 8pm and made a booking for a tent pitch with a hookup. Phew.

Anyway, between all of this fun and games we went to Bowmore, had lunch and then went for the distillery tour. The process they use is basically the same all the distilleries use, except that they do their own malting, which is rare now. And even they only do 40%, the rest they buy in. So in essence they start the grain germinating so the starch turns to sugar. Then they dry it using peat to provide some of the heat which gives it some smoke flavouring. Then they wash the grain to get the sugar out. That gives then a sugary liquid to which they add yeast and essentially make beer. Quickly too: fermentation only takes 48 hours. Then they distil it twice to produce the raw spirit which is a bit over 60% ABV. That's put into casks for 6-8 years upwards where it matures and picks up flavours and its colour from the cask - all the casks have been used before, typically either for bourbon or sherry but also for port.

And they end up with a spirit which, sadly, I don't really like.

Especially anything even moderately peat smoked, which theirs is. So at the tasting after the tour I had a polite sip of their 12 year old and then left Beth and the three Swedish firemen(!) who made up the rest of our tour party to finish their 12 year old old and then sample the 18 year old, both without and with water.

Afterwards Beth bought a bottle of the 18 year old (about £50 a pop, but a steal compared to the £2,000 a bottle one ... and the £8,000 a bottle one).

We decided I'd better drive after that so I drove us down to Portnahaven and back via a lovely little twisty road. The waters around Orsay island off Portnahaven were another little tidal race with the incoming sea breaking where it met the outgoing tide. I took some video.

Tags: food, Islay Written 21/05/08

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