Our last full day on Islay (and Jura) today, off in the morning back to reality! Today’s trips included Jura Distillery, Islay Ales and finally Bruichladdich.
First off, down to Port Askaig to get the ferry over to Jura. Fairly bad weather today, wet and windy, but the crossing was pretty steady. What more to cheer up the day but a visit to the Jura Distillery.
I’ll try to be balanced / factual here as best as possible, as I know others have had great tours… But I’m sad to say ours was decidedly depressing.
We entered the shop and identified the tour lady blending in at the back of the room. About 7 of us on the tour today. If we wanted to know any history of the distillery we were pointed in the direction of some text on the wall of a corridor on the way to the toilets. Whilst reading, some more people came in to the shop who were booked on the next day’s tour to ask if they could swap to today. They could have joined us but that option wasn’t given and they were told that she’d (the tour lady) cancelled the afternoon tour and they’d just have to see if tomorrows would happen at the time. They left unimpressed not knowing if they had a tour or not. We were then told that the mash room was being painted so we couldn’t go in there…
The tour started by taking us directly to the still room, with a warning that phone’s must be turned off and no pictures could be taken (how very Diageo!). 2 out of the 4 stills were running and there was a very quiet explanation of what was happening, I strained to listen. Once over we set off to the filling room. No mash room (as expected) but no look at any milling or washbacks, etc. In the filling room we looked at an empty bourbon cask, and were shown spaces where other casks were going to be later in the year for visitors to look at. No explanation of the filling equipment. Back to the shop, no look in any warehouses or anything. In the shop a single free dram of choice from the main range (thanks very much!), but no particular further patter from the lady; a shop full of people but no additional sales interaction or conversation, all very odd. And not a price to be seen anywhere which always puts me off, although I must congratulate the distillery on the shop being very smart and well displayed. Sadly I left without buying anything.
The tour lasted 15 mins, I’d normally expect 45 to 60. I understand there was maintenance work on going there, and some staff sickness, but as such they shouldn’t have taken our booking for the tour as we’d have avoided any disappointment.
After reading some negative reviews on trip advisor and talking to other locals on Islay, I can only say that it seems our poor experience is down to the tour guide we got, the regular one (who is apparently great) was off sick… I’m sure we would have been a totally different experience with her.
To balance things back up… I know people have had great tours (see @galg on Twitter), and I do love Jura whisky… I have at least 4 on my shelves, so I’m sure I sadly got a blip.
Please see the update at the bottom of this post for some more info…
After, we popped to The Antlers next door for lunch… Breakfast baps were good, but hot choc was made with water and scones were burnt on the bottom. Hey ho, just not my day… We hot footed it back to Islay…
A quick stop at the Islay Ales factory shop… And how glad we were to go there, 3 chaps busily working away with great, cheery banter. Tried 3 or so ales and bought a box full… That’s the way to do it. If your coming to Islay, don’t forget these chaps, a great respite from whisky. 🙂
Bruichladdich!! Last and favourite distillery. And what a difference. Smiley happy and engaged Helen (who I’d met on Monday) took us around with lots of enthusiasm. Lots of people everywhere being very busy. Lots of painting happening, but we were advised what was wet and where to take care, but continued happily on our way with staff making jokes with us on the way around. Sadly no spirit being made, but a good look around all the same; mash, washbacks, stills, warehouse, filling room, the full works. Back to the shop for a dram of Laddie 10, a try (and later a self fill) of a single cask 20yr Oloroso, and a try of their gin. Very nice it is too!
I left happy, only moan would be how busy it was with tourists, but that’s got to be a good thing for all, right?! 🙂
After a drive to Portnahaven (lovely pub there, An Tigh Seinnse, which I wish we’d stayed in with hindsight) we went for dinner in the Port Charlotte Hotel… A dinner which came well recommended but was rather average in our opinion I’m afraid… Veg not fully cooked and half cold, etc. Lots of folk there tho and a cosy bar with a good fire going.
And that’s about it really from me for tonight… Ferry back in the morning and the long drive home. :-/
UPDATE: I originally rated this trip as “poor” on TripAdvisor, for very good reasons. However, I have to give Jura Distillery and Whyte and Mackay (Jura’s owners) top marks for listening to my comments and taking them constructively (thanks Rob and Willie!). I think various members of staff may get extra training, and as others return from sick leave, and the distillery maintenance is completed, other people visiting will have a much more positive trip. As such I altered the review to “ok”… The company has done a great job of listening to me and taking action, and although my experience was still poor, I’d like to consider that it was more of a one off with any luck, so don’t let me put you off too much, and if you happen to go and also have a bad experience, then let them know!