Your most memorable whisky story?December 22nd, 2009
There’s more to drinking whisky than what’s in the bottle. Whisky is a very social thing. We drink with friends, visit distilleries, go out to bars and restaurants, go to whisky festivals, etc.
Indeed, whisky has helped create a lot of great memories along the way. Surely you have a fond whisky-related story that we might enjoy?
As you can imagine, after drinking whisky for 30 years and writing about it for 20 years, I have a lot of stories I could share with you. But for now, I’ll begin with this one, as it is the first one that popped into my head.
It was my first trip to Islay about 20 years ago on a chilly November morning. I was by myself, and I had just taken the ferry (with my rental car) over from the mainland after a splendid weekend in Campbeltown.
It was lunchtime. I was thirsty for a pint of beer and hungry for food. I heard about the Lochside Inn in the town of Bowmore and their great whisky selection, so I wanted to check the place out.
Great whisky indeed! I perused the amazing selection of Islay whiskies while I drank my pint, contemplating what whisky I will enjoy before the day is over. Then, I sat down at one of the tables to grab a bite to eat.
Next to me, also alone at his table, was an older gentleman who appeared to be in his 70s. I noticed he was finishing a half pint of beer (and that he also had a walking cane on the empty seat next to him). I bought him a round and asked him to join me for lunch, which he did.
I can’t remember his name (I have it written down somewhere in my notes.) It turns out that he worked at the Caol Ila distillery for close to 50 years before he retired. He told me that, because of his bad leg, he can’t drive anymore. But, if I drove him to the distillery, he would give me a personal tour. Of course, I said “yes”!
So, we finished our lunch and drove over to the distillery. On the way he told me about Islay life and the Islay people. And he gave me a tour like you wouldn’t believe. Amazing stories–some that no PR company would ever want told in public. For example, it was the first time I learned about adding soap to the pot stills to keep the frothing down during distillation.
It turns out this clever old chap had an alterior motive for my taking him to the distillery. On our way out, he popped into the office quick to say goodbye (or so I thought). The receptionist behind the counter walked into the back room, brought out a bottle wrapped in a plain brown bag, and gave it to him. He quickly slid the bottle out of the bag, looked at it, and then slid it back into the bag.
During the ride back, he didn’t mention the bottle once. I figured that, as part of his retirement package, he was allowed an occasional bottle of whisky. The problem is, he couldn’t drive anymore (and neither did his wife) to pick it up. I was more than happy to oblige.
As I was dropping him off in Bowmore, he invited me to join him and his wife for dinner. Naturally, I said I would. Later that evening, the three of us had a wonderful dinner. And then he pulled out of the bag that same bottle he got at the distillery. It was the old distillery 12 year old bottling (prior to “Flora and Fauna” Caol Ila releases). He opened it up and we drank a dram together, to finish off the evening. Great whisky. Great day!
It was my first distillery tour on Islay, and it was the beginning of an amazing five days on the Island which was almost spiritual in nature. I will never forget the great whiskies I tasted along the way, the simple beauty of Islay, and the wonderful people living there. I have been back to Islay many times after that, but I will always remember my first day on Islay.
So that’s my story. What’s yours? We could really get a nice thread going here. Think about a special whisky moment you have experienced, and please share it with us.