On Saturday we went up to St. Paul to take in some of the 4th Annual Little Africa Fest. It was held in Hamline Park, at the corner of Lafond and Snelling (free admission). There are quite a few African restaurants and businesses in the area and there’s also a sizable immigrant African population: Somalis and Ethiopians, in particular, but also Eritreans and immigrants from various west African nations. This is a part of the Twin Cities that we have not previously seen much of or interacted with and we’re eager to close that gap. Our town in semi-rural, southern Minnesota is not remarkably culturally diverse (though there’s more diversity here than most might imagine) and as our kids get older it becomes more and more urgent for us to get them to see Minnesota as not just a sea of whiteness. Fortunately, the Twin Cities offer plenty of opportunities to expand cultural horizons. Continue reading
Here now is my last distillery report from our visit to Scotland in June. Fittingly, it’s of the most recently built, functioning distillery on Islay, Kilchoman. The smallest distillery on the island, it’s the one that’s least like the others: the most remote (relatively speaking), located not on the water but among farms, and absolutely independently owned. I’ve liked their malt since the very first one I ever tasted—a 3 yo bottled for Binny’s in 2010—and so I was glad to be able to stop in for a few minutes on our way for a ramble around Machir Bay (Kilchoman may not be on the water but you’re never far from the water on Islay). Continue reading
Here is my penultimate distillery visit report from our recent visit to Islay. I’ve already gone over my longer visits to Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Bowmore (where I did tours) and to Ardbeg (where we ate lunch) and short stops at Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. Here now is a brief look at Bruichladdich. We stopped here a little after my tour at Bowmore. We were on our way to Portnahaven, trying to figure out where to have lunch, and stopped at Bruichladdich to see if they might have a cafe (for some reason I’d thought they might). They do not, but I took the opportunity to take a quick look around and take a bunch of photographs. Continue reading
On Wednesday I posted a look at the grounds and visitor centre of the venerable Bowmore distillery. Here now is a look at the interiors of many of the distillery’s most important buildings. As I’d mentioned, my initial hope had been to do the comprehensive Craftsman’s Tour but it was booked up before I got around to emailing the distillery. The basic tour was a consolation prize. This turned out to be a good thing though. For one thing, it meant I did the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin (which was the highlight of the whisky parts of our Scotland trip); for another, it meant we had time on this day to visit Kilchoman and go on to Machir Bay—and our time at Machir Bay turned out to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. And as it happened, the basic tour at Bowmore is pretty damned good in its own right. Continue reading
After Laphroaig, Bowmore was the Islay distillery I most wanted to visit. The distillery evokes a love-hate response from most whisky geeks and I’m one of those who is in the love camp, most of the time. (What can I say? I’m all about love and positivity.) And more than any distillery tour I’d wanted to do the Craftsman Tour at Bowmore, a 4 hour extravaganza that leads you through the entire process of whisky making and ends with a tasting session inside their legendary No. 1 vaults. Alas, I left making a reservation too late and they were full up the entire time that we were on Islay. On the plus side, it’s because of this that I ended up doing the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin, and if you’ve read my report you know how happy I am to have done that. At Bowmore I contented myself with just the basic 1 hour distillery tour. I can tell you that this is a pretty good tour—probably better than the tour portion of the Laphroaig Distillers’ Wares experience and about 500 times better than the perfunctory tour at Talisker. This post, however, does not describe that tour—that’s coming on Friday. This post merely presents a look at the distillery grounds and the shop and visitor centre. I have too many pictures, you see, and can’t be arsed to crop and resize them all at once. Continue reading
On Wednesday I posted brief impressions of Bunnahabhain, one of the two Port Askaig distilleries on Islay. Here now is a report on an equally brief visit to the other: Caol Ila.
Both Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila are located right on the Sound of Islay, across the water from Jura and both are massive factories: Caol Ila, however, is not as rundown as Bunnahabhain. Of course, assessments of “character” differ—see the dissenting comments on my endorsement of the upcoming renovations at Bunnahabhain—and actually even I wouldn’t say that Caol Ila—or the little I saw of it on my visit, which was mostly to the gift shop—has character. However, it doesn’t look like Oliver Twist is inside, asking for a little more gruel. That’s a type of lack of character that I can get behind. Continue reading
Of all the distilleries I visited in Scotland, whether in depth or on a hit and run basis, none were more of a pain to get to than Bunnahabhain, few had as idyllic a location when I got there, and none presented as depressing a prospect in such a lovely setting. This does not immediately appear to be the case as you approach the distillery—see the photograph alongside for the promise of charm. It’s a lovely glimpse after a not-very fun four mile drive on a single track road on which you meet far more oncoming traffic than you would like (more than 0 vehicles was far too many for me at some of the spots where we encountered trucks etc.) but the promise is not kept. At least not right now. It’s been reported recently that the owners are going to spend a lot of money to refurbish the distillery and I think you’ll understand why below. Continue reading
For my earlier post about my recent visit to Laphroaig, see here. In that earlier report I described the visitor centre and the distillery grounds more generally, with more pictures than could possibly be said to be necessary. Today I have an account of the Distillers’ Wares tour that I took at Laphroaig that day. You will be glad to read that it too contains far more pictures than could possibly be said to be necessary, including three of barley and four of the same set of casks. Useful information you can get anywhere else; for unnecessary pictures of barley and casks you come to me. This is our arrangement. Continue reading
I’d originally planned to write one large post on my visit to Laphroaig, covering both the Distillers Wares tour that was the focus of my visit and a more general look at the distillery grounds and visitor centre (as in my write-ups of my visits to Talisker, Lagavulin, Tomatin and Oban). However, I have so many pictures from Laphroaig and—as it’s my favourite distillery—it is very hard for me to not post a large number of them. As such, a single post would become too overwhelming (both for me to format and for you to read). Accordingly, here first is a look at the distillery more generally; I’ll go over the Distillers Wares experience on Friday. Continue reading
I have already posted accounts of my visits to Talisker and Lagavulin. Those were my second and fourth distillery stops and at both places I did formal tours (well, a warehouse tasting at Lagavulin). Here now are quick looks at the first and third distilleries I stopped at: Tomatin and Oban. Both were as close to drive-by visits as possible. Literally so: both were right by the highway between places we were spending more time at. We got to Tomatin at the end of our first full day, on our way to Loch Ness; and a few days later we stopped at the town of Oban for lunch on our drive from Skye to Kennacraig to catch the ferry to Islay. Continue reading
The first three miles east from Port Ellen on the A846 are as close as it comes to pilgrimage for lovers of smoky whisky. One mile out sits Laphroaig. You go another mile and arrive at Lagavulin. One more mile and you are at Ardbeg. Whitewashed buildings, pagoda roofs, the ocean just beyond—if you’re lucky, the smell of peat smoke will be in the air. Even if you haven’t halted along the way you may well be feeling exalted by the time you arrive, a few more miles up the road, at the ruined church in whose cemetery stands the Kildalton cross. (If you go the other direction out of town you’ll come across another ruined church, the old Port Ellen distillery). But if you have stopped to spend some time at Lagavulin with Iain “Pinkie” McArthur, you will certainly be feeling the spirit quite strongly by the time you get there.
So it was for me on my first full day on Islay. Continue reading
As I said on Wednesday, our trip to Scotland was not centered on whisky. We spent most of our time out and about, on and by lochs, up and down hills, on beaches and roads, and inside and outside castles. But I’m not going to be posting about that stuff on the blog. What you’re going to get here is going to be strictly whisky and food, giving you the impression that the trip was in fact very whisky-centered. I’m going to start with Skye even though it wasn’t our first stop. Nor was Talisker the first distillery I visited in Scotland; but it was the first I toured. Continue reading
If you’re like me there’s nothing you enjoy more than hearing stories about other people’s vacations and looking at their photographs of the things they saw and did. Well, you’re in luck! I just got back from a 10 day trip to Scotland and over the next few weeks I’m going to go on about it in nauseating detail. And so that you can plan your life accordingly, I am going to first give you a sense of what to expect from these posts; a road map, if you will, or more in keeping with our trip experience, a bit of Sat Nav guidance (generally, but not always, accurate). Continue reading
There is no denying that I am a lazy bastard. I am not a fan of exercise. This is because exercise is boring. When at home (which is most of the time) I take my dogs for a walk every day—a mile or so at a time—but if not for them I wouldn’t be likely to do it. Nor, unlike some of my friends, am I drawn to walking through the woods or prairie landscapes in/around our little town. But put me in an interesting city and watch me go. I’ve walked miles in Montreal on my two visits (see here, for example) and in London I’m averaging somewhere between 3-4 miles a day and often not in sensible shoes. In fact, I’ve been going out of my way to walk. Such, for example, was the bit of extended perambulation—or flaneurie, if you will—that led to the rather haphazard collection of images of street art in this post. Continue reading