Part of a trip with Larkfire Wild Water // All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own.
You might recognise Larkfire from my previous trip to Isle of Lewis with them – or from their website where I write a monthly blog piece about my adventures in whisky land. This time we were heading west and ended up visiting Loch Lomond Distillery, Jura Distillery, Bunnahabhain Distillery and Glen Scotia Distillery. As you can probably tell it was a great trip!
Loch Lomond Distillery
Our trip kicked off at Loch Lomond Distillery, where I had never been before. This isn’t a distillery that has a Visitor Centre so we are lucky to have a little tour booked with their brand ambassador Gary. He showed us their fascinating still room, cooperage and also took us through a wee tasting at the end. For those of you who don’t know Loch Lomond, you might not know that they make a lot of different styles of spirits. These different styles are then blended together, or bottled on their own, for their various releases. Loch Lomond is quite unique in Scotland as it has a variety of different stills and can be fairly experimental because of it. There’s pot stills and coffey stills for example and they have both single grains and single malts in their portfolio. The single grain is a really interesting one as it’s made from 100% malted barley, just like single malt is, but as it’s been distilled continuously it cannot be categorised as a single malt.
There’s also not a lot of distilleries that have their own cooperage in Scotland, but it’s always so impressive to see the coopers at work. Coopering is a craft that takes years to learn for an apprentice, and still to this day many coopers are paid per cask they finish. It’s very much a hands on trade, although there’s nowadays machines to help with some of the tasks like shaving off old char and checking the pressure. It was my first time actually seeing a cask get shaved and charred up close. Doesn’t it look cool? When you are standing next to it you can also tell when the flames change colour as the alcohol is burned off.
For the tasting we tried a few different new makes, the grain whiskies, Spearhead and also the three 12 year old expressions. The 12 year olds all have a different combination of spirit styles, but my favourite one on this occasion was the Inchmurrin which tends to be the fruitiest and freshest of the three. The name Inchmurrin comes from one of the islands in the lake Loch Lomond.
This was such an impressive visit and I’m so glad Larkfire brought us here to experience it.
After Loch Lomond we headed further west and towards the Islay ferry at Kinnacraig. It’s fair to say the ferry crossing is quite remote and if you’re interested in reading My Islay & Jura Guide – click here.
If you are looking to stop for lunch, a pint or a coffee on your way, I’d recommend The Loch Lomond Arms were we had our lunch. It’s a lovely little stop and you can walk across the road to enjoy the fresh air right next to the water as well. I had a goats cheese starter (because I’m obsessed with goats cheese) and a chicken burger which was great. Also huge bonus for having skinny fries, which I much prefer to chunky chips.
Another good stop for food is at Loch Fyne, where we stopped for lunch on our way back. They have some terrific seafood – and don’t miss the oysters! It’s further along the way, close to Inveraray. Some other good things to do on the way if you’d prefer to make some stops for sightseeing is:
Inveraray – Here you’ll find some different pubs and restaurants and also Inveraray Castle, but can be good to check if they’re open first.
Tarbert – Walk up the little hill to a viewpoint and castle ruins
Islay & The Staying at Machrie
When we arrived on Islay we headed straight to The Machrie, which was our home for the two nights on the island. I’ve stayed here once before when me and Cody got stranded during the storm earlier this year, and would probably say it’s one of the nicest and higher end places to stay on Islay. They have a lovely breakfast, a nice restaurant for dinner and also a lovely bar dedicated to Islay whiskies and gins. The rooms are very comfortable and nicely decorated in an elegant but homely vibe. The hotel has a golf course right outside and there’s also a pathway that takes you down to the beach. This walk is a little bit longer than I anticipated and probably around 15 minutes if you don’t really know where you’re going. But so worth getting the nice views.
Our first adventure after arriving on Islay was actually to take the ferry across to Jura. The ferry only takes 5 minutes, but it’s a tiny boat with space for about 3 cars so make sure you are there in time so you don’t miss out.
Our visit to Jura was the highlight on this trip for me, and that’s saying quite a lot, and we had such a good time throughout the entire trip.
When we arrived at the distillery we were treated to some sunshine that then quickly changed to rain showers in a couple of minutes. Jura has renovated the Lodge behind the distillery where they’ll be able to welcome VIP guests and mainland staff for overnight stays. It’s a lovely space and it has stunning views towards the water. We enjoyed a delicious lunch consisting of soup, sausage rolls and some of the best brownies I’ve ever had. The food was incredible and really tasted homemade in a cosy and flavourful way. The perfect meal before a tour through the distillery. We went for a wander through the production areas and I was amazed at the size of the Jura stills. They must be some of the largest in Scotland and are quite the impressive sight. I think this was also the first time I enjoyed a dram inside a still room, or more accurately underneath the stills. Mark, who showed us around had cleverly placed various whiskies around the tour so we could stop for a tasting in each spot. I’m also so happy with the photos I managed to catch during this trip, especially in the warehouse!
When we had so say goodbye and drove toward the ferry we also managed to catch a glimpse of the red deer that the island might have gotten its name from. Do be careful if you ever drive on Jura as they can pop up wherever!
After Jura we headed straight to Bunnahabhain which isn’t too far away from where the ferry gets in at Port Asking. We met up with David who was doing a wee tasting for us. The weather really had started to decline when we got here and unknowingly would cause a bit of a worry overnight… but more on that later.
It’s always such a treat to do a tasting at Bunnahabhain as you never really know what you’ll get as they have such a wide selection of both peated and unpeated spirit as well as cask varieties.
On the way back we stopped in Bowmore for dinner and headed back to The Machrie for a good nights sleep. As I mentioned earlier it started getting stormy overnight and we barely managed to catch the last ferry off the island as they all got cancelled afterwards because of the winds. Unfortunately this meant our trip to Arran the following day had to be cancelled as there were no ways to get to the island, but hopefully I’ll make it there on another occasion. Instead we headed to Campbeltown for the last wee stop on our tour.
Campbeltown & Staying at the Ardshiel
We were staying at The Ardshiel overnight and I’ve heard so much about this space from friends. They have a brilliant whisky selection, especially if you are looking for Campbeltown whiskies. The hotel has a rustic Scottish vibe and I stayed in a room on the top floor. The windows faced toward the back of the hotel, so no sea view but had no issues with any noise in spite of leaving my window open. It’s a fairly large room, however it is on the top floor (floor 3 I believe) and there’s no lift. There’s also a restaurant where you can get classic pub grub.
Glen Scotia Distillery
The last – and only – time I’ve been to Campbeltown before was in covid times when all the distilleries were shut. We managed to get a photo outside of Glen Scotia but this time I made it inside. We were shown around by Hector and Iain who gave us a tour of the distillery and then a warehouse tasting. The distillery almost feels like it’s squeezed into the space where it is and you can really see how difficult it would be to expand. The warehouse are classed as dunnage warehouses but have a high ceiling more similar to a racked or palletised warehouse. Hector even let us put our hands in the spirit safe to try a wee drop of the new make as it was coming off the stills.
Glen Scotia also does both peated and unpeated spirit but I have a soft spot for the unpeated style. One of the highlights of the tasting was a whisky matured in an old sherry cask. And when I say old sherry cask, I mean a cask that’s actually been used in a bodega, which gives quite different characteristics to a seasoned fresh cask.
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