Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask Bruichladdich Ed XXXVII

I'm sitting in the bay window of lovely old house on Islay. The view over Loch Indaal towards the Big Strand and Port Ellen beyond is breathtaking. For the last couple of days I've been busy applying labels and duty stamps to our latest edition to the Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask range and it's been one of our most exciting finds to date, not least because of how we found it and what an extraordinarily beautiful dram it has turned out to be.

A couple of years ago, we were approached by a somebody who had been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to own one of the very first casks that were filled when Bruichladdich was taken over by it's current owners after having been silent, mothballed for many years. He wondered whether we'd like to buy the cask and offer it to our customers under the Rare Cask label. The whiskies that we bottle under our label always have to be the best possible example of each particular distilleries house style so, in order for us to approve it, excellent wood policy would have to be apparent. Back in September 2001, these first few casks at Bruichladdich were primarily first fill ex sherry hogsheads, very well made, clean, tight casks, the staves of which had all been seasoned with a fill of rich, dark olorosso sherry.

The original owner of the cask and I have kept a close eye on how the whisky has developed with the wood over the last couple of years. The first time I nosed and tasted it I new it had the potential to be one of the very best drams I have ever tasted under an independent label, and a Bruichladdich that hasn't been matured in wine casks which seems to be the distillery's cask of choice these days.

Bruichladdich whisky under the new ownership became 10 years old at the beginning of September, and so it seemed fitting that, provided the whisky had reached maturity, that we would bottle the cask shortly after. I'm convinced that this whisky is the first single cask single malt to be released from Bruichladdich since it's 10th anniversary of the new ownership....a proper wee laddie at 10.

So last Friday, my daughter and I made our way over to the Isle of Islay. All being well, the cask would be bottled that day too. There would be a long wait over the weekend until I could pick up the bottles on Monday morning so that I could get them all labelled up on onto the van and ferry to ship back down south.

On the Saturday night I thought we'd head down to the Loch Indaal Hotel to see if we could persuade the landlord to let us watch the football, my favourite Stoke City at home to Manchester United in the premier league, a game I was sad to be missing given the probability of an unbelievable atmosphere at the Britannia Stadium. All the local lads in the pub were watching the rugby but they kindly switched over and joined me watching the heroic potters hold boring Man Utd to a 1-1 draw. I was having a pint with a lad called Craig and I noticed he was wearing a Bruichladdich sweatshirt. He asked me whether I was holidaying on Islay and I explained that I'd just had a cask bottled at Bruichladdich. He turned out to be the very man who had bottled the whisky for us the previous day. Islay is a very small island.

Sherry hogsheads like these are very difficult for distillers to come by these days especially given the fact that they will often need batches of 80 to 100 at a time. Bourbon barrels have often been preferred by scotch whisky distillers because they mature spirit very consistently and because of their shape and size. Bourbon barrels are smaller, and easier to handle. They are also uniform in size so make warehousing more efficient. Hogsheads however, do differ in shape and size so can be difficult for small distilleries to use their storage efficiently. Most hogsheads are made up from staves from ex bourbon barrels and it is rare to find a hoggy that has been made up from the staves of ex olorosso casks.

Our cask was a first fill, and given that peaty whisky can mature exceptionally well in a second fill, it is destined to be filled again for another lucky private individual. We'll look forward to sampling that over the years to come ;-)

The whisky has been bottled at the natural cask strength of a whopping 62.5%. Bruichladdich don't tend to water the spirit down to 63.5% as other distillers do, and the casks tend to be filled at around 70% which is why our whisky's strength is so high. We have not chill filtered the whisky, nor have we added any colouring.

So, the whisky is bottled, the labels designed, cut and applied, we are just waiting for our printed tubes to arrive and then we'll be starting to ship it out to our customers. There will be 100 bottles available at The Wine Shop in Leek and 100 at http://www.whisky-online.com/ for those customers further afield. Whisky Online specialise in shipping overseas. Both the Wine Shop and Whisky Online have started waiting lists so that customers may pre-order their bottles. To avoid disappointment, please contact us ASAP to add your name to the list and secure your bottles.

Number of bottles: 200
Filled to cask September 2001
Bottled September 2011
Strength: 62.5%
Cask: First fill ex sherry hogshead

Price: £80 per bottle

Tasting notes:

"This is Bruichladdich as nature intended, honest and uncluttered by overt wood technology. The colour is a rich mahogany in the glass. Then come the aromas, intense raisins and woodland fruits at first, then sticky toffee pudding, simmering spices and a deepening complexity. The palate follows the lead of the nose but develops further with flavours of liquorice and salt. A keen oily mouthfeel keeps the whole in balance and paves the way for a toothbrush defying finish. An uncompromising, memorable and beautiful whisky."

We're proud to have been given the opportunity to bottle and sell The Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask Bruichladdich Edition XXXVII....thanks Peter!

Cha'n 'eil e soirbh!


Conditions Dovedale 11th October

Had a quick look at Dovedale today. The river is carrying a fair bit of colour but clearing at the edges. According to the car park attendant, who apparently has a measuring stone (?!) the river is about 10 inches above it's usual levels.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Islay September 2011: Trip 1, Fishing

Last week I returned from our latest trip to Islay. I was joined by a very experienced group of anglers and a number of the group were as eager to give the sea fishing a go as much as the usual loch fishing for wild brown trout. Our bunch of merry men for this trip was made up of master of the dead drift Glen Pointon, John Tyzack, Ron Trevis, Andy Heath and Wesser. Andy was a very welcome member to the group, for along with his trusty hound 'Mooch', he provided much of the meat for the table, which in turn was prepared in such an appetising way by our brilliant chef Wesser.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon leaving mainland on the 1pm ferry having left the Staffordshire Moorlands at 3.30pm. All were tired but we knew that we would have to get a fishing session in on Loch Finlaggan that evening as the weather prospects were not good for Sunday and Monday as the tail end of Hurricane Katia would make a visit to the West Coast of Scotland. All had a fine few hours on the loch, and we caught on all manner of dry flys and one or two traditional wets.

The weather on Sunday wasn't quite as bad as threatened by the BBC but we still thought best to seek a sheltered spot on the Eastern shores of Islay, choosing Bunnahabhain bay as our destination as other anglers on previous trips with us had enjoyed quite a bit of success there.

On the point, just around the bay from the sad wreck of the Wyre Majestic, Pointon, Wesser and JT began to cast and it wasn't long before they were in to fish, mackerel at first, the biggest I've ever seen. It soon became clear that we would not be short of food over the days to come.

Every so often, huge shoals of small silver fish would make massive boils on the surface of the sea, thousands of silvery flecks being chased, cornered up by packs of hunting fish, and occasionally, these predators would leap out of the water, huge olive green pollock feet from the rocks where we stood. Quickly the lads focused their attention on the pollock, casting precisely with their heavy lures, and quite soon, pollock and laithe began to come in to the 3lb mark.

When we first arrived at Bunnahabhain distillery, we were lucky enough to watch a sea otter feeding close in, and earlier in the day, Andy, Ron and I had watched a pair of white tailed sea eagles hunt, kill and eat a hare near to our accommodation at Finlaggan. As if these close encounters with Islay's abundant wildlife were not enough, we were about to experience another of the islands rare inhabitants.

Andy Heath has long been a keen bird enthusiast, and I've never met anybody who knows as much about them, and as much about how to handle them. When we arrived at the rocks, he'd commented about the gannets that he'd seen fishing just a little way out from where we were, and we were all amazed by the way these gigantic birds were making steady rising flights to 80 to 100 feet above the sea then making a short flick of the tail and wings before diving vertically for their prey in the waves beneath.

JT had just made a long arching cast with his lure, a good distance out from the shore, and from nowhere, one of these huge gannets dived into the water, 20 feet into the water according to John, and reappeared seconds later with the lure in its beak. We would all panic, swear, and shuffle about on the rocks where we stood and we wondered how the hell we would avoid hurting this beautiful bird, all that is except Andy. Coolly and calmly, JT and Andy brought the bird in, and after a very careful retrieve (with no side strain), the bird was in Andy's hands and the hooks removed. They look big in the sky but you cannot truly appreciate the size of these graceful hunting birds. An event that I shall never forget, and neither will the gannet.

The gannet safely unhooked by Andy

The gannet takes to the air.

The tail end of the hurricane arrived on Monday and seemed to last most of Tuesday too but a good deal of fly tying, eating, drinking and generally being merry was achieved. I took Andy and Ron on a couple of distillery visits and I managed to make final arrangements for a cask of Bruichladdich Malt Whisky to be bottled in readiness for me to collect later this month. A few drams of this amazing whisky was enjoyed in the evening...more news about this to follow.

On all of the fishing trips I've organised in the last few years, there has always been at least one person who enjoys cooking for the group and the food has always been very good but this time we had Wesser. His attention to detail was amazing, whether he was cooking the brown trout we'd caught that day or local meat, all agreed that his food was incredibly good. All the veg was Islay grown from the walled garden at Islay House, all the meat was local and fresh. All washed down with a good Islay dram made for a truly unforgettable experience.

Can't wait to be back.....next week!

Thanks lads



Friday, 9 September 2011

Islay Time

Well it seems a fair while since I've been to Islay but thankfully, the waiting is now over. I've been over to Islay a couple of times this year which is less than I usually do but now I'm set to visit twice this month. The first of the two trips begins today and is largely a fishing jaunt with pals Pointon, Wesser, JT, Andy and Ron. There is plenty of experience amongst the group and if this bunch can't bag up on the lovely Islay lochs, no one can. We're hoping to fish for Brown Trout, Sea Trout, Salmon and all manner of sea fish.

I'm also there to have a final check on a cask of whisky that we are hoping to bottle in the next couple of weeks for our Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask range. I've been keeping a close eye on it over the past couple of years, and this stunning Islay sherry matured whisky could be one of our best bottlings yet. If all goes well and It tastes as good as I expect it to from the cask, a few hundred bottles of this amber nectar will be heading back to the Staffordshire Moorlands with me in a couple of weeks time.

I have 5 spare seats in the van so anyone who would like a lift to Islay and back, please let me know...

Keep an eye on this blog, and Glen Pointon's to see how we get on with the fishing and how well we cope with Hurricane Katia and Pointon's bad habits.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Islay Trip May 2011: A Week of Angling and Dramming

It's just over a week now since we got back from our amazing trip to Islay. I thought I'd post the remaining pics on the blog and once again it's thanks to Jason Snape for most of them.

Right through the weekend, the weatherman had been warning us of a gale that would hit us on Monday, and he wasn't wrong. I was up at 7am to get myself ready for a day's work at Caol Ila Distillery's festival open day, where I'd be pairing Caol Ila 12 year old single malt with smoked salmon and Caol Ila Distillers Edition moscatel finish with Catriona's amazing clootie dumpling. As ever, good old Terry was up making sure the stove was fired up with a good sized tray of sausages cooking within. Outside the wind was blowing and it was sure to be a wild day. It was gusting up the loch straight towards the house and the trees around Finlaggan House were bent right over in the 80mph breeze. It was sure to be a wild day, a day for folk to be at the tying table in front of the fire I thought...we'd got no one mad enough to fish on a day like this with us this time.....

Later in the week I was invited to a whisky dinner at Lagavulin Distillery where I was chatting to a whisky enthusiast. I told him that my party was staying at Finlaggan and he said that he'd visited the castle on Monday during the storm and he remarked that he'd seen two crazy anglers attempting to fish the loch amidst the chaos of the storm....it was Pointon and Kev....desperate to get on the loch to prove that a fish could be caught in such conditions, and they did. There were a few times during the week when I found myself thinking that there would be no way on earth that I would be fishing in some of the conditions we were experiencing on Islay, on our rivers back home, it would be pointless. However, when the wind is up and their are huge waves on the loch, the fishing can be spectacular. There's no problem getting a line out and the fish are on the hunt for terrestrials blown off the heather on the banks of the loch. These were ideal conditions for the lads to try the newly developed LTD 'mouse pattern', a scary looking fly that you would imagine using to catch huge angry Rainbows in the wild rivers of Kamchatcka or Alaska. Sunday and Tuesday, for me were ideal conditions and it saw all the lads taking fish. They were certainly my best two days and I wouldn't be surprised if we had a 100 fish between us.

Sometime during midweek, 'Islay time' prevents me from pinpointing exactly which, we headed out in search of a little small stream fishing and ended up gazing at the Atlantic rollers on Saligo beach. It is always a beautiful place to be but we'd just hit conditions right in the early evening for the light to be beneficial to our resident photographer, Snapey, who ran about all over the dunes taking hundreds of snaps.

It wasn't long before Pointon was seen gazing West into nothingness and beyond like a lost poet....posing for the camera basically but some nice pics were had nonetheless.....

We'd asked the landowner if it was ok for us to wet a line on the narrow Saligo river that spills out onto Saligo beach. A river that when in spate has a plentiful sea trout run. Today there was a fair amount of water in it and it's many small, dark, peaty pools made sure that my heart was in my mouth every time an angler gently flicked a wet fly into them. Pointon turned to me whilst drifting a tiny fly through the depths of a pool with a look of excitement on his face...."you know what could happen here brother!".

A take from a sea trout holding up in one of these small pools would give a fisherman the run around of his lifetime. If one of these strong fish of 3lb or more smashed at one of our flys, all hell would break loose.

It wasn't long before Glen got a take. Alas it was no monstrous sea trout but it was the most beautiful tiny wild Islay river trout that I've ever seen, and a real achievement to catch it in such a snaggy small stream.
 Later on, James missed a take from a much bigger brownie that came up from the depths and displayed a swirl of gold as it smashed at his fly. We were all gutted that we never saw the fish come to hand, but there would always be another day.

The wee troot gave Snapey some great opportunities and he's hoping to get something out of Greys and Loop for this magazine cover shot.....

Later on in the week it was time to get Herman on to the loch for the first time. It was a real dreach day but he was determined to catch a fish, even though it had been years and years since he'd wet a line.

I set him up with a single fly set up with a bibio on the point, a fly that had been performing well all week. He soon began to get takes but struggled to connect with the angry wee Finlaggan trout. Glen spent a good hour with him which saw Herman drop a good size trout and then, finally, his first Islay trout.

Ace Islay angler David Morris was on the loch preparing for the open competition that was due to take place at Finlaggan a couple of days later. He was keeping his team of 5 flys a secret, incase we told any other of the local lads what he was catching fish after fish after fish on. I was lucky enough to be taught the basics of fly fishing by David way back when I first started to visit Islay, he had me out on Finlaggan, Skerrols and Ballygrant and it was fishing alongside him that I caught my first wild brown troots. There's no pretence about these local anglers no Orvis gadgets, no fly fishing fashion just all the stuff that is required to catch and dispatch a fish quickly and to win the competition. He is a regular choice as a ghillie by the Scotland fly fishing team when they visit Islay to practice for their own competitions.

And so the final pic....and it was always going to be one of GP with the biggest fish of the week...although not the best for that was the wee one from Saligo. This fish was taken from a stretch of bank renowned for harbouring a few bigger trout. Whilst only being around the 1.5lb mark, these angry loch trout put up a huge fight and landing one is a real achievement. Well done youth!

Another great week spent with a fantastic bunch of lads, who, I'm happy to say, should all be returning with us next festival time when we'll reunite to fish the lochs of Islay and Jura, and have a laugh and a drink or two along the way!



Monday, 30 May 2011

Islay May 2011 Trip: The First Weekend

We've just had a great week on the Isle of Islay. How do I know that it was great? Well you only need to look at some of the comments that are being left on Glen's blog and my blog to know that there will be one or two extra folk returning to the magical Isle of Islay during Feis week 2012. I sent an email out to all attendees asking if they'd seen my fishing cap that I'd accidentally left in the cloak room of Finlaggan House, our home for the week, desperately hoping that someone might have picked it up. The response I got gave me a wee giggle and summed up the week in a nutshell....

"ps...didn't find cap, but had to throw away someone's pants from cloakroom floor !!??!?;-)"


Thursday 19th May was spent packing the van with way too much stuff as normal...8 rods, one of which I'd use in the week to come. 4 reels, ditto. Far too many clothes and far too much booze. The weather has always been good to me during the week of the Islay Festival of Malt and Music, but this year, the weather forecast wasn't as promising so I'd packed enough to cope with the hottest of summer days, to the coldest of the winter months.....At 4am, Pointon and Snapey arrived at Highfield and, after a few load "Wooooodddddyyyy"s and an appropriate swear word or two, we pointed the van Northwards and off to pick up Kev from Macc, and then on to the Motorways 6, 74 and 73 calling in Glasgow to collect Glen's newly purchased Sage rod that he was keen to try out on the wild lochs of Islay during the week ahead.

I had agreed to work at the Lagavulin Distillery open day on Saturday which required us to be on Islay in time for my 8am start at the distillery, and so, we camped at Port Mor campsite for the night, our accommodation at Finlaggan House not being available to us until late Saturday afternoon.

During the early evening, Glen took Kev to have a look at a nearby stream, and began casting to the wee rising troots......the perfect start to their fishing week, although Glen managed to leave his new Greys scoop net that he'd desperate miss in the open fishing competition, the following day on the famous Loch Gorm.

The campsite was very convenient for the Port Charlotte hotel and later that night, whilst Snapey and Pointon caught up with some much needed rest, Kev and I met up with Mark and Helga Unsworth and Ian Gray in the pub and checked out the Islay ales and enjoyed some local music......I'd need the ale to help me to sleep as the wind whipped and whistled about the tiny tent in which I attempted to sleep and eventually struggle out of at 6am the following morn...the facilities are great at Port Mor, under floor heating in the shower blocks and red hot showers soon warmed me up and prepared me for the day's work ahead. I was really looking forward to getting in to Finlaggan House though, the van was full of the kit of 4 blokes, most of which were geared up for a week's wild angling and one of which was geared up with a multitude of photographic equipment....it had become impossible to find anything in the back of the van, that was if you could get in to the bl@@dy thing, the doors having decided to refuse to open. How the boys laughed as my OCD reached dangerous levels.

The lads took me down to Port Ellen and dropped me off at Lagavulin Distillery, where, during their Feis Ile open day, I'd host a whisky tasting for attendees, paring Lagavulin 16 year old with Catriona MacGillivary's home made treacle tablet and Lagavulin Distillery Edition with Rochefort and Stilton cheeses...winner...

Glen was itching to enter the Feis Ile open fishing competition on Loch Gorm and Kev had decided to join in too. The pair were dropped off at the designated meeting point on Gorm and they met up with the other local anglers....Glen had met some of these local lads before, among them some of Scotland's finest fishermen. These guys put us English anglers to shame....down our way, a lot of anglers chose fly fishing because they think it gives them a certain status, they chose to do it instead of golf...they talk about the 'ethos of fly fishing' whatever that is, and thankfully, these Scotch lads fly fish because there is no other style of fishing available, that's it, so they are all normal guys, not a jot of pretence amongst them, and that's why Glen thought it appropriate to walk in the the barn full of them and say....

"Well, I've met all sorts of blokes in my time, I've met Scousers, I've met Geordies and I've met Mancs but you Jocks are the biggest c@nts of them all!"....nice one brother....

I'll let Glen tell you / explain about (delete as appropriate) the competition on his blog....seemingly it was a near run thing. One thing I will say...all the lads were incredibly brave out fishing in those conditions which was basically a storm that had blown in off the Atlantic and was reeking havok on the loch. I reckon Kev must have thought he was in Heaven when he eventually reached the comfort of Finlaggan House, and tucked into his first Islay

I finished my day's work and headed of to Finlaggan. Throughout the evening, more and more members of our party started to arrive. Glen and Kev had much to tell us about the competition and, at about 9pm, we were joined by the Luxembourg contingent which consisted of Terry, Mark and James. Introductions were made, drams were had and later, Herman and Katey joined us for drinks in the large dining room where we planned the week ahead and shared our expectations. Pointon, as ever, giving it the big 'en, kept everyone's feet firmly on the ground and it was obvious from the start that we'd managed to bag ourselves a bunch of normal people, all wanted to fish, all wanted to drink, all wanted to have fun and all wanted to enjoy the experience of eating freshly caught wild loch trout, from loch to pan to plate all within a few minutes.....

Once again we were lucky enough to be joined by Jason Snape. All the good pictures on this post (and the ones to follow) are taken by him. Jase kept an eye on things for us whilst we were out on the loch. He made sure the house was warm and that the kettle was at the ready when we got back at the end of the day. He also kept Pointon under control and at times I wondered if he'd slipped some medication into Glen's tea, so uncharacteristically chilled out he appeared to be.

On Sunday we took it easy during the morning. It was a good opportunity to get a good breakfast, settle in to our wonderful accommodation and to sort through our fishing gear. Some of the group were keen to talk about and indeed tie some of the patterns that Glen and I were recommending. At about 12 noon we left the house. The conditions were looking quite good, although a little breezy, and after a team photo or two, off to Loch Finlaggan we went....

From left to right....Mark, Glen, Me, Terry, James, and Kev.

We all dropped in to the loch in the visitor centre bay and immediately started to see fish rising to our dry flies. Islay is great for dry fly fishing, in most conditions and the rises are often spectacular. Even if fish are not freely rising to insects floating on the surface it is worth casting a dry fly even during a gale as we'll see later on....

The LTD orange tag was a favourite and some had opted for the recently launched LTD Mouse variant which received much interest from the wee angry Finlaggan troots. Mark was the first of the Luxembourg contingent to catch and he was over the moon. It was great for me and Glen to see that the lads were catching so early on, it took the pressure off us a little, there would be nothing worse than the lads blanking all week having made so much effort to be there......It was ace to see the looks on their faces each time they landed a fish..

It had been a long day and we had managed plenty of fish between us. We decided that a good feed was required and we agreed to head in to Bowmore for a curry. It was 7.30pm. I could see that conditions were improving all the time and as we walked back towards Finlaggan Castle and the house, I remember turning to Kev and Mark and saying that Glen could be on for an amazing evening if conditions continued to improve. Glen decided to stay and fish and when we got back from our huge feast in Bowmore, Glen told us how he'd had 26 fish in an hour or so worth of electric fishing and I knew he wasn't exaggerating, I'd seen how the conditions were improving and have been on the loch before with David Morris and with Glen where there have been fish rising everywhere, battering the naturals in the calm warm breeze of a quiet Loch Finlaggan Evening...superb. Glen got back to the house before us and met Herman and Katey. Herman got the stove fired up and set about turning Glen's catch into a feast. Glen told me later that it was the best fish supper he'd ever had, and washed down with a glass or two of Black Bottle, he went to bed later in no pain at all.

What a start to our Islay trip May 2011, and there would be much more to come....

To be continued....



PS nice video of the trip by Glen......Click Here

Sorry....had to raid Glen's comments again as Terry left this great message....

"What a week! Fishing Islay was incredible! First and only time in my life I've been able to shoot my entire line with only one false cast but then I suspect I won't be casting in Gale Force winds with gusts of 120 Km/H too often! The memories are incredible: Shooting the bull with Glen and the guys in the evening over numerous pints and drams while the wind and rain pounded against the windows, fishing up to my ass in water while the wind and rain pounded against me, Glen cooking eggs on the Aga with a headlamp when the electricity cut out, the looks we got when we walked into the curry house and the pub wearing waders and boots, letting myself be persuaded by Mark that an eight mile hike through the woods during a gale was a good idea, watching trees and branches come down in front and behind us while hiking, watching Jase striding along with his jacket wide open and no hat while James, Mark and I looked like drowned rats, those two nice kids who gave us a ride back to Finlaggan house so we didn't have to walk the last two miles, discovering the ultimate death sauce and, maybe just maybe, adding too much to my pasta sauce, (I did noticed that everyone was walking around bowlegged the next day) turning the air blue with curses when I lost those three lovely trout on Gorm due to my lousy tippet material, bringing that first lovely fish to the net on Finlaggan, the heart stopping rises on the infamous LTD SEDGE. tying my first flies in over twelve years, the pleasure of having fish take them, the torture of having Mark and James taking swigs of Laphroaig's Quarter Cask while I was driving us from the airport and couldn't drink and most especially the memory of a bunch of fantastic people who made this a magical moment in time! I'm there next year with a cheeky smile and a glint in my eye...."