I immediately informed my mates about this revelation and we started to get excited. We contemplated approaching him and introducing ourselves to him, but as he was seated with someone whom we correctly guessed was his wife and was in the middle of his lunch, we decided to let him finish his meal in peace and approach him after.
Surely enough, ten minutes later he stood up and was about to make his way above deck when we stood up and approached him. We introduced ourselves and mentioned to him that we had travelled from Singapore and Australia in order to visit the distilleries on Islay.
His first question to us was, “What possessed you boys to travel to Islay during this horrible time of the year and with the weather being this bad?”, to which we replied that we hadn’t anticipated that it was going to be as bad as it was.
We assumed that Jim was going to wish us a wonderful time on Islay, that he’d see us around the distillery and he’d then proceed above deck to join his wife. To our enormous surprise (and excitement), he actually sat down at our table and engaged us in conversation!
We told him that we were staying at Port Ellen and intended to visit all 8 distilleries on Islay as well as the Isle of Jura during our 6 days on the island. He said that the weather was rather bad and that it was best to check if the ferries were running if we were heading to Jura. His words were rather prophetic as the weather was too bad to make the trip to Jura in the end. Oh well, next time then.
He then asked us what our plan was during our stay on Islay and we informed him of our itinerary. He then asked us when we were scheduled to visit Bruichladdich and we told him that we were heading there 2 days later on a Tuesday afternoon. To our immense surprise and delight, he told us that he would be happy to speak to us more at the distillery AND share a dram with us.
He told us to make our way to the distillery on Tuesday afternoon and head to the Laddie Shop, where we were to let the shop manager Mary know that we had met Jim on the ferry to Islay and that he had promised us a dram of something special. We couldn’t be happier at this arrangement and thanked him profusely for the offer.
We then waited for the ferry to reach the island and went outside to enjoy the gale force winds. Once we had reached the dock on Port Askaig, we waited to disembark the ferry and then made our way to the carpark, where our driver Stuart was waiting for us to arrive.
Stuart was a good natured and excitable bloke who was very informative about the history of the island as well as the distilleries. He provided us with many useful nuggets of information and even gave us an idea of how life on Islay was on a regular basis. One of the points which he mentioned was that since the island only had a population of 4000 people, the locals were rather tight knit and everyone knew everyone else.
He also informed us that it was customary to greet anyone we saw on the island and that it was also basic courtesy to wave at drivers who were making their way to the various parts of the island. My mates and I really took this advice to heart and we made sure that we spoke to as many people as possible during our six day stay on the island.
We found out from Stuart that our residence for the duration of our time in Islay, Traigh Beag East, was once the home to one of the prominent members of the old Port Ellen distillery. We were delighted that we were about to stay at a historic residence and that made our trip that much more amazing in my opinion.
Stuart also mentioned that our residence was located just past the old Port Ellen distillery, which made us even more excited (if that were possible) as we were intent on visiting the grounds of the old distillery and explore more.
After checking in to our residence, we proceeded to take a rest and prepare ourselves for the distillery tours which awaited us. We toured Bowmore on the Monday and went to Kilchoman and Bruichladdich on Tuesday. Wednesday took us to Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain before we proceeded to Ardbeg on Thursday.
Friday, which was our final full day on Islay, was devoted to Laphroaig in the morning and Lagavulin in the afternoon. We had arranged for Stuart and his friends to bring us around Islay to visit those distilleries which were either inaccessible by public transportation or were too far away from the main road. The distilleries in question were: Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Kilchoman and Bruichladdich.
On the morning of the Kilchoman/Bruichladdich double header, our driver Freddie picked us up and brought us to the distillery, filling us in with more information about the island as we headed to Kilchoman. Freddie is a friendly bloke who really went out of his way to make us feel welcome during our stay and I can’t imagine that our tours would’ve been the same without his knowledge, affable nature and expert driving skills.
We arrived at Kilchoman distillery only to find out that it was largely closed. However, we met some of the distillery staff in the shop and they were more than happy to show us around and give us a quick tour of the facility before treating us to some stellar tastings in the shop. We then proceeded to acquire our souvenirs before once again meeting up with Freddie, who then took us on to Bruichladdich.
When we had reached the distillery, we realised that we had arrived more than 2 hours before our scheduled warehouse tour at 3pm. We therefore decided that we’d make our way to the distillery shop and speak to Mary about our meetup with Jim later that day. Walking to the distillery shop itself was a challenge as the snow on the path had turned into ice and had the ability to quickly turn into a massive slip and slide, which it did in some ways.
After struggling to walk the 30 metres from the distillery entrance to the shop, we reached the nice, warm confines of the shop and looked for Mary. The shop manager, Mary McGregor, is a really sweet lady who definitely loves her job and she was an absolute delight to deal with. We told her about our chance meeting with Jim on the ferry and that he had promised to meet up with us and share a wee dram.
She told us that Jim was one of the nicest people around and that he was well known for sharing quality whisky with visitors and locals alike. Mary then phoned Jim at his office, but unfortunately he was in a meeting at that moment. He did tell her that he’d be done in an hour and that he’d see us after that and we agreed.
We then decided to grab some lunch and so Freddie brought us to one of the grocery stores down the road which had sandwiches and rolls for sale. We also noticed that the shop’s proprietor had a bottle of Bruichladdich Nostalgia Barolo Cask, which was a relese for the 2012 Feis Ile, on her shelf and it was retailing for a cool £280.
After grabbing our lunch, we headed back to the distillery shop to eat while we waited for our appointment with Jim. In the meantime, we took as many pictures as we could of the bottlings within the shop as well as pictures of the distillery surroundings. After a while, Mary received a call and then told us to proceed to Jim’s office, which was located on the second floor and was accessible by a set of wooden stairs just outside the distillery shop.