It was Matt who introduced me to whisky, and he had to endure several months of me making faces and squeaking 'urgh, it tastes like bacon' before I understood why anyone would drink it out of choice. But I'm glad I persevered.
Islay is known as the Queen of the Hebrides. It's a tiny island, home to some 3,000 people and nine massively productive whisky distilleries, including some of the most famous and highly thought of in the world. It's really rugged and very beautiful, but not exactly crammed with things to do - the whole heartbeat of the island is obviously its whisky production, and its visitors tend to be devotees of this smokiest of spirits.
|The stunningly well stocked whisky bar at the Lochside Hotel, Bowmore|
|A Laphroaig peat fire. My hair smelt deliciously smoky for days afterwards.|
That 3 month temp job turned into 40 years at Laphroaig for Bessie, who eventually became manager and then owner of the distillery. Laphroaig's First Lady. She gave up her old life for that beautiful hollow by the broad bay; for mash tuns and great copper stills; for the dark bricks of peat and their bluish smoke; for heather and hardy, hearty island folk; for that last dram before bedtime; for night skies dripping with stars.
After only spending a week on Islay, I can begin to see why it was she stayed...