From Ardnamurchan crossing the sea to Tobermory
TL;DR: Second day of our trip, and for the first time, we visited a recently built distillery: Ardnamurchan! It was also the first distillery we visited openly talking about sustainability. In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Mull, had a stroll in Tobermory, and visited the local distillery, of course!
(missed Part 1?)
On the second day of our long weekend we woke up very rested, after a great sleep in the very quiet Ardnamurchan Bunkhouse. The weather was overcast, so we skipped a potential walk in the woods and went directly for breakfast at the Natural History Visitor Centre, which also had a gift shop and a tearoom with delicious food (well, at the time at least…as we write it is closed for the winter, but there is a sign of business on sale). Then, a few meters away, the Ardnamurchan distillery.
The distillery was funded and built in 2013 by the independent bottler Adelphi. According to the very knowledgeable guide, the decision was prompted by increasing difficulties in sourcing whisky casks. They started distilling in 2014, similar to many others (Wolfburn, Kingsbarns, Ballindalloch, Annandale) in what we can now consider the first wave of new distilleries (well, if we exclude the handful built in the ‘00s, like Kilchoman, Glengyle, or Daftmill). We liked the distillery, it is a combination of modern and classic styles, with a couple of classic pagoda roofs, one for aesthetical purposes (it’s above the visitor centre) but not the other (mystery…). A particularly interesting detail is that they use vegetable biomass collected in the area to heat up their boiler and rely on heat exchanges, showing how the whole production process was set up with sustainability in mind. They also have warehouses on site, so after the production tour we could take a sneak peek at the maturing casks.
The tour ended in a very cosy tasting room/bar, where we were given two drams: the Adelphi house main blended whisky (NAS, 40% abv), and the Ardnamurchan spirit, aged for a couple of years in octaves. Because these casks are very small, the wood/spirit contact is higher and thus maturation is faster than in bigger casks – definitely a good strategy to get an idea of the direction the spirit is taking. Considering the age, we were impressed by the spirit, although the price was above the amount we’d spend on a 2y spirit. Well, we caught up afterwards. Since the first release of Ardnamurchan single malt in September 2020, we had more than a few drams, including a bottle of AD/07.21:05 we shared with friends in Italy over Christmas 2021, which “evaporated” in just over three weeks.
We left the distillery towards Kilchoan. We looked around a bit before going to the pier, where we got on the ferry to the Isle of Mull! About 40 minutes later, we were in the village of Tobermory, which probably many of you will be familiar with because of the very picturesque row of coloured houses on the waterfront. Well, fame deserved, it really is a special place!
We drove straight up to the camping, where we had booked a pod for two nights. The camping was only 20-min walking from the harbour (and the distillery), so we could both enjoy our drams, finally! On the way to the distillery, we stopped quickly by a shop to get oatcakes … a move that will turn out to be very smart.
So, the Tobermory distillery was where the non-automatic booking system almost failed us (remember, this was back in 2019, now you can book online!). We had booked via email a tour with an extended tasting (4 drams each), however we were warned that tours were at risk of cancellation because of renovations. We checked in at the visitor centre, and the (a bit cranky) lady told us that there was no tour because of the renovations, and that someone should have told us before getting there. More worryingly, she said that there was no tasting, as the last one of the day had already started (indeed, we could hear the cheerful laughs coming from one of the tasting rooms). The tide turned when we showed her the email exchange, and it turned out that the person we had been in contact with (and that was supposed to tell us that there was no tour) was her! A bit of an awkward moment, but then she opened the door of a second tasting room, where she made space for us (apparently it was used as a storage room) and got eight bottles for the tasting: instead of both of us having the same set of four drams, she gave us a dram of eight expressions! Very well played, although, after a very quick description of the drams, she kind of disappeared…
The tasting consisted of three Tobermory single malts (unpeated) and five Ledaig-s (heavily peated). We started with the main flagship, Tobermory 12, to move on to an 11y distillery cask (ex-bourbon) and then to a 17y finished in Madeira casks, which was awesome. We also started the Ledaig series with the main expression, the Ledaig 10, followed by a 15y finished in ex-Rioja casks, and the 18y finished in ex-sherry casks, part of their core range and arguably one of the best drams ever. We finished off with a single cask expression, a 19y finished again in ex-Oloroso casks, and a 20y finished in ex-Moscatel wine casks. Being newbies at the time, we were mostly chasing big flavours, peat and strange finishes, so this combination of expressions literally blew our palates off! We came out of the tasting very happy, purchasing something for us and something to gift (and paying the tasting an extra fiver for some unknown reason, but we didn’t want to be bitchy about that).
Soon after (the tasting was at 4pm!) we went for an early but delicious dinner at Cafe Fish. We were outside the restaurant afterwards, enjoying the later afternoon sun, when a seagull landed on an apparently abandoned plate, grabbed something and left. When the unfortunate lady returned (nope, not abandoned), we had to break the news to her: she almost threw up and the waitress had to take her plate away, looking not too happy about that. After this “funny” scene, we slowly headed back to the camping (the return was uphill, d’oh!) to find another of the Highlands’ curses, after single track roads: MIDGIES! Gianluigi, as usual, got bitten a lot, Teresa much less…at the time it was surprising, after the n-th time, not so much.
We spent the following day visiting Mull. We left the camping mid-morning, drove towards Dervaig, Calgary and then along the west coast all the way to Fionnphort. We stopped a few times to admire the incredible landscapes, for a sneak at The Inn at Port nan Gael (delicious local mussels!), and another time to avoid driving over an incautious lamb. At Fionnphort, we crossed the sea to Iona, where after a quick stroll we visited the rest of the island running, trying to stay on a path along the perimeter. Unfortunately, at some point we ended up in a peat bog, but we were still able to return to Baile Mór, where we took the ferry again back to Mull.
We then crossed the island eastward, to Craignure, and we returned to the camping in Tobermory, amazed by the incredible visit we had! Mull is definitely one of those must-go-back places!
Stay with us for the last day and the other distilleries. Until then, slainte!