I mentioned in a previous post that Bill and I aren’t church people. But we sure felt the spirit on Sunday morning, March 20th, when we visited Kilchoman Distillery on Islay. After a hearty breakfast at the Columba restaurant, many intrepid whisky enthusiasts clambered off the Hebridean Princess and back on the old schoolbus with the busted seatbelts and boogers for a trip for one of Scotland’s newest distilleries. The drive to Kilchoman was breathtakingly beautiful as we passed many fields of grazing sheep, lightning fast hares, wandering partridges, and majestic herds of deer.
We were originally scheduled to visit the Bowmore Distillery, but for some reason, that plan was changed in favor of Kilchoman. I am mostly glad we went there. I say mostly because I suspect that I picked up a nasty stomach bug at the Kilchoman Distillery. I will explain more about that later. For now, I will just say that I forgot my education at this lovely place as a very friendly staffer hopped on our bus near the distillery and guided us in.
The Kilchoman Distillery was founded in 2005. It was the first distillery to be built on Islay in 124 years. It is one of six Scottish distilleries still doing floor maltings (and I guess we must have seen two of the others during our cruise) and is unique in that all steps of the whisky making process are done on Islay. Our guide, Leha, explained that the owners had just purchased the adjacent farm, giving them plenty of room to grow their own barley and feed whatever’s leftover from the whisky making process to the farm’s own livestock.
More barley malting…
We were a little delayed waiting for people to use the restroom, which wasn’t such a good thing. The staff at the distillery had made fresh scones for us. One group enjoyed the scones while the rest of us toured the facility. We were supposed to flip flop, but ran short of time. I managed to grab a scone to go, anyway.
Here’s where things get a bit sketchy, though. At one point, Leha pulled a metal tubelike container out of one of the tanks. It was full of wort. She passed it around and invited people to try it. Though I had tried the wort at Laphroaig (whose staffers were kind enough to put it in little plastic communion cups for us), Leha simply passed the metal tube around. And I was dumb enough to try it. I think this is where I ended up picking up the stomach bug that made things go so awry on the last day. I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that I am not the only one who paid for that mistake.
I’m mostly pretty good about hygiene, especially on cruise ships. I wash my hands and use the alcohol cleansers, although those are not effective against Norovirus. I usually only share glasses with Bill. But I forgot myself while I was on this distillery tour and I think that’s what caused me to get so sick; not coming from the UK, I was not used to the bug that invaded my body so quickly. It didn’t even have to be someone from our cruise that spread the germ. Norovirus can survive a long time without a host. I hasten to add, I don’t even know that I definitely had Norovirus, but I sure had all the symptoms of it. And based on how long it took for me to get sick, then Bill, I have a feeling I got it at Kilchoman and then spread it to him and perhaps a few other unlucky people.
I thought the bottling machine was pretty cool. Also, I was surprisingly interested in how they came to choose their distinctive bottles.
Apparently, it’s hard to break those suckers, even when you drop them.
Sample time. Besides whisky, Kilchoman makes a liqueur that I immediately dubbed a “lady’s drink”.
It is possible that I got sick on the ship or somewhere else, but remembering what I did during the cruise, I really think I got the bug when I tasted the wort at Kilchoman. It takes a minute amount of the virus to infect someone and that seems like the most obvious time it would have happened.
But just because I got a stomach bug, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the tour and Kilchoman’s products immensely. In fact, Bill was very excited to pick up a bottle of Kilchoman to take home with us. It may be awhile before I want to drink any whisky, but I bet he’ll be opening it soon. And, if anyone from Kilchoman reads this, I loved visiting your facility. I just hope you’ll follow Laphroaig’s lead and provide little individual cups for people who want to taste the wort. And, I also hope I learned my lesson in hygiene. Fat lot of good that master’s degree in public health did me! The wort isn’t even that tasty, though on the bright side, at least my immune system got some practice.
Unfortunately, we were a bit rushed out of Kilchoman. We had to get back to the ship because we were headed for the Jura Distillery that afternoon. Jura is another island. But, at least until I started hurling a couple of days later, I had a glowing impression of Kilchoman and my experience there taught me to remember not to drink from communal containers.
Bill’s butternut squash soup.
More seafood for me…
I had a smoked salmon sandwich.
Bill had Irish stew.
Rice pudding for Bill.
Ice cream for me. I was blissfully oblivious about what was coming.