journey across Islay to the remote North East side of the island is
spectacular. Islay's roads are rally-esque and fun in their own right. Views
across towards Jura are an added bonus, yet for whisky enthusiasts the real
reasons for the journey to the outer limits are the distilleries of
Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila.
is owned by Diageo and is the largest producer on Islay by a country mile.
Veering onto a short single track road for a couple of miles, the road suddenly
descends into an outcrop of houses clustered around a small bay with the
distillery as its focal point. The setting is reminiscent of Talisker on Skye
and would have been very convenient to transport goods by sea. It is sad that
the original distillery was torn down in 1974 to make way for a new facility.
Any character has been consigned to the history books although the move meant
Caol Ila is unlikely to be challenged elsewhere on Islay in terms of
production. Most of Caol Ila's output is destined for blends yet there is a
growing appreciation of its single malts.
regulars will know, we have been making our way around the Diageo distilleries
as part of its Classic Malts initiative. The booklet enables you to receive a
free tour at featured Diageo distilleries. Slowly but surely we are working our
way to its completion reaching 8 in total with just Speyside left on the
agenda. Lagavulin was closed for its silent season during our trip to Islay but
the distillery was good enough to stamp our books and offer a free dram.
is a good word to describe the Caol Ila tour. It really felt like being onboard
a military ship, such as an aircraft hanger with warning signs apparent, metal
flooring and a ruthless efficiency. No photographs are allowed on the tour as
Health and Safety here is taken to new extremes. Yet this is the best
ventilated and most spacious distillery I have visited so the actual danger
seems almost negligible. The tour itself is very short and there is no
criticism of the staff who are friendly, knowledgeable and try to make the best
of what they have. It's just there is very little to show due to those
production changes in the 70's.
consists of just 2 rooms which house the metal washbacks and the Still House.
Both are sizeable facilities and the distillery is working 24/7 which lends
itself to the industrial atmosphere. I could tell that our group which
consisted of visitors from a Dresden whisky society were not impressed - this
did not live up to their expectations of what a distillery should be all about.
They were more at home visiting Bruichladdich later that day.
stills at Caol Ila are monstrous beasts and the glass frontage allows some
stunning views of Islay. A small gift shop awaits and this is where you can taste
several editions of Caol Ila, which makes the trip almost worthwhile. There is
no visit to a warehouse as apart from a few hundred casks everything is shipped
in tankers to the mainland. So the overall experience feels amputated and
ways Caol Ila is a modern distillery and could be closed to visitors like many
others that are engaged in producing primarily for blends. The tour isn't great
and should only be mixed whilst visiting others on Islay, particularly
Bunnahabhain which is nearby, or a short trip over to Jura. At least it offers
a contrast against the other distilleries on the island that are more focused
on tradition. As always, all my photographs are available here.
Labels: caol ila, classic malts, diageo, distillery, islay, tour