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The variable in a tour is the person giving the tour and the persons on the tour. What are the backgrounds of these people and how does the interaction influence the outcome. What I'm trying to say is that these are my experiences and when (not if) you are visiting the experience will be different for you!
One of the variables is me and this variable had let his battery of his phone go dead just at the beginning of the tour!! Nooooo!! Luckily I brought a camera and so did my fiend. Tip: check your batteries.
Why had I chosen the "deconstructing the dram" tour. I have been trying to figure out by tasting, reading, studying where flavour components in a dram come from. How are these flavours what they are? The tour, that would give me some of the information i wanted out of my trip to Islay, was this one.
|Our Tour Guide|
|Image by Cool Hunting : http://www.coolhunting.com/food-drink/ardbeg-whisky-distillery-visit|
Dionne, our tour-guide, explained the process in detail. How a fixed amount of milled barley is sifted and weighed in order to get the right mixture of components. I really need to think hard how this worked again, but I will probably remember when watching the photos. Everything gets recorded. Not only for internal process efficiency calculations (alcohol per ton barley ratio) but also for legal purposes. Tax and stuff.
So Dionne made us remember the amount of tons of barley that went in the mill for future reference. Naturally I can't remember! Lol! It's not really that important. What I take with me is that the "mash-bill" of Ardbeg is different compared to the "mash-bill" of, for instance, Bruichladdich. This mash-bill works for Ardbeg! This is the unique beginning of their process. Just like a mash-bill at a bourbon would contain fixed amounts of corn, Ardbeg milled their barley to a combination that works for them. The milled barley is transported to the next stage of the process.
|Stainless steal vat|
The water is from Islay. It is collected form the Uigeadall and another lake. This explained one of the names of the core expressions of Ardbeg.
|Me in front of a wash back|
It smelled fruity, peaty and malty. It also had a beer-like smell to it in a way. It's great to experience this and let your nose do its job. I spooned the wash back as often as I could in an attempt to get as much smell in my brain as I could. Unfortunately you cannot bottle this. You have to be there. The wash backs are steam cleaned after use in preparation for the next batch.
Next Dionne asked of we would like to taste the wash. Are you kidding? YES!! It tasted like a fruity beer. I hinted on banana on the nose. This taste I tried as often as I was able too. Keep it in my mouth for as long as I could. Closing my eyes. Fruity, banana. The other taste must be malted barley and yeast as main components. What else could it be! Loved this experience!
Dionne did a alcohol gravity measurement and together with the numbers collected at the milling she was able to calculate the alcohol to barley ratio. I will have to look that one up again and describe it better. It made sense.
|No pictures beyond this point|
The process was explained. The distilled liquid before the first cut is made is collected for re-use.
We were waiting for the operator to make the first cut. He did. We applauded! It felt nice!
The feints are also collected and redistilled at the next run. I wont give much detail here about the distillation process. The general principle is well documented. The one thing that makes the process unique for Ardbeg is a junction downwards in the beginning of the line arm that feeds back the heaviest alcohols into the still.
What surprised me is that there is no difference in this process for any of the Ardbeg expressions. All are produced in the same way. Only the casks make the difference between the final products. I did not expect that, but this entire process up to this point is a constant. This I find particularly interesting because it means that the flavour differences between Ardbeg expressions only can be explained by the casks and the time spend in the casks.
The produce of this process is transported to the area where the casks are filled. Not all casks are matured at the Ardbeg location, but a lot of them are and Ardbeg was working on expanding the local capacity.
|The filling station|
Next was a moment to get a photo of yourself and the Ardbeg sign! If we wanted to have our picture taken ...
Just before going on to the next blog I would like to mention the excellent charity started by Ben Bowers for a children's heart surgery Hospital. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/adramaday