I Lagavulin I Bruichladdich I Caol Ila I Port Ellen I Laphroaig I Bowmore I Jura I Kilchoman I Ardbeg I

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The open afternoon of the maltings during the Feis Ile is the unique opportunity (normally closed to the public) to visit the Port Ellen maltings, the producer of (almost) all the malted barley used by the Islay whisky distilleries. Places are very limited so book well in advance if you plan to go there during a Feis Ile.

Port Ellen maltings during the sunny afternoon of the maltings open day... ...and the numerous whisky enthusiasts (mainly from Sweden and the US) queuing for the tour.

Not much is left from the former Port Ellen whisky distillery, at the exception of the kiln house (not anymore in production) and the warehouses currently, storing the casks of Lagavullin and the remaining Port Ellen casks (about 80 casks). Although the Maltings premises are much bigger than any of the other distilleries (including the Islay "monster" Caol Ila), its production only covers the needs of the Islay distilleries.

Without the agreement linking the Maltings to the Islay distilleries, the Maltings would be closed, since the barley they produce is more expensive than from its mainland competitors (£250/ton vs £150-200/ton).

The tourists with the white helms. When is this going to be obligatory for the distillery tours? The steeping tanks from Vickers were quite impressive, with enough capacity to fill the 51-ton drums.

Since very few distilleries (only 4, but 2 more to come) are malting (part of) their own barley, the malting process is almost as critical to the whisky as the distillation itself. If the barley being is too humid or has too much husk, the grinning will be problematic and/or the spirit yield will decrease.

The Vicker's boy Drums of Port Ellen Maltings that I managed to capture with my camera can only partly reflect the dimension of the drums. They are tall (about 5m) and very long (about 15m). Each drum has a capacity of 51 tons of malted barley and they revolve every 6 hours to homogenize the malt for a proper kilning.

The plant is relatively modern (from the eighties, but as you can see on the picutres below, the computers are also about that old!) and the Vicker's drums nicely looking. Each drum may contain up to 51 tons of barley and has its own kiln with a 5- ton peat capacity. The peat is mechanically cut on the island (close to the airport).

The control room was once very modern, but since the operations are relatively straightforward, you don't need supercomputers to run the plant. A very unique and pleasant nosing opportunity For each of the Islay distilleries as well as the Jura distillery, you could nose malted barley, new make spirit and regular bottling. To compair these new make spirits wich each other was very informative, as well as their maturation until bottling.

The tour was pleasant and was only interrupted by a fire alarm, forcing us to evacuate the premises until the source of the problem was identified. Afterwards, we had a nice display of barley samples used by the distilleries in Islay and Jura, as well as a glass of their new make spirits and regular bottling. We could nose the different samples, but unfortunately we were unauthorized to taste them!

The staff was very joyful and full of enthusiasm. Behind them and well hidden laid one bottling of each distillery, as well as bottles of Port Ellen 2nd edition (and one dram of PE was also included in the price of the tour). John Smoothing during the Master Class trying to capture the attention of some "students" more interested in emptying the bottle of Lagavulin Distiller's Edition!

Since we were in Port Ellen, a dram of Port Ellen 1979 was included in the £5 tour fee as well as a ticket for one additional dram of local whisky. Different local, cheap and homemade foods were served in one corner of the room before I moved to the master class led by John Thomson, the managing director of the Maltings. His presentation was covering the different peat cutting area in Islay as well as the kilning. We had the opportunity to smell some experimental "heavily" peated barley at a hefty 450+ ppm level !!! (10x the phenol level of the barley used by Ardbeg!)

The Port Ellen malting afternoon was a great experience and I highly recommend it to anyone going to Islay during the Feis Ile!