There are moments in your life where you take a step back and think, how did I get here? My whisky journey, as short as it has been, has included some amazing moments, but few days can live up to this one. First off, let’s ignore the elephant in the room and please just accept my apologies for the lack of posts. This is my first step to getting back to a normal schedule of my whisky stories and reviews. And with Mickey Heads, Ardbeg Distillery Manager, celebrating his 10 yr anniversary last month, I thought it was the perfect time to talk about the day we spent with him on Islay last year.
We woke up early and were treated to a wonderful breakfast in the Seaview Cottage, quite oblivious to the day that was ahead of us. We were then taken over to meet Mickey at the front of the visitor center. From there he took the three of us on a personal three hour tour of the distillery. There were activities for us every step of the way. We got to separate our own grist using a shuttle box. We got to check temperature and alcohol levels from the washbacks. We even got to fill our own casks. It’s fun to think that 10+ years from now someone will be drinking the whisky we put into those barrels. We were then brought over to the Chairman’s Study where Mickey walked us through a deconstruction of the Ardbeg 10. Their benchmark expression is a mixture of first fill and refill ex-bourbon barrels, and we got to sample cask strength samples of each. As well as a few special drams of previous Ardbeg releases.
After all that “work”, it was time for lunch. So, of course we were brought to the Old Kiln Cafe were it was necessary to enjoy some haggis and a dram of Uigeadail, one of my favorite Ardbeg whiskies. I should note, that if you find yourself on Islay, you have to eat at the Old Kiln Cafe. Even if you don’t plan to tour the distillery, it’s a must. The food is amazing.
After lunch we were told to change into MUCH warmer clothing as there was a boat from the Islay Sea-Adventures pulling up to the dock. Being one who easily gets sea-sick I almost backed out of this portion. But then I saw Mickey jumping into the boat with a mystery box full of whisky. How was I supposed to turn that down. And man, am I happy I joined them. We took the boat about a mile out, and one of the tour guides jumped into the choppy COLD water in scuba gear. 15 minutes later he showed up with a bushel of scallops, sea urchins and starfish. As they gave us a tour around the island, we all took turns shucking and enjoying the scallops while Mickey poured us a handful of drams out of his mystery box. Our final destination was a cave next to Soldiers Rock. In that cave, Mickey brought out a bottle of Dark Cove, which we enjoyed along with the freshly cooked scallops, while next to our boat were two seals just watching along and adding to the amazing scenery. It was then that I had to ask myself… “how did I get here?”
After we arrived back to the Cottage, and took a nice long hot shower to thaw out, Mickey met us in the warehouse where he had chosen a few special casks for us to pull from and taste. I was in heaven. Our favorite was a 17yr first fill ex-bourbon cask. It was just amazing. I know I have mentioned it before, but there is something amazingly magical about being in a warehouse with all that sleeping whisky.
To finish off a magical day, we were brought back to the Chairman’s Study where we enjoyed a private dinner with Mickey and Jackie Thomson, the Distillery Visitor Manager. As you would expect. Every element of the meal was matched with another list of whiskies, the final two being the 21yr and the rare 1815. One of only 400 bottles this whisky was aged for 33 yrs, and an extra 8 years marrying in a glass container. Such a perfect treat to end a day that was nothing less than amazing.
I can’t thank the Ardbeg team enough for putting together this experience. And congrats to Mickey Heads and his 10yr anniversary. We had such a blast with him, sharing the day, talking (and drinking) whisky and laughing till our sides hurt. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.