Happy 2024!; Ardnahoe Changes; Talisker Dining; Kamiki Renovation; Feis Dinner
I hope 2024 is going to be kind to all of you and that you had good Christmas / New Year and any other recent festive seasons in your bars/restarants/hotels/whisky shops. I‘ve been happily but belatedly working my way through a whisky advent calendar from Master of Malt. My brother bought it for me as a late birthday/early Christmas gift which was delivered to him in November but I didn‘t receive it till late December. All the better for the wait! It‘s been fun trying the 3cl samples of the 24 whiskies and whiskeys, mainly Scotch but Irish, Welsh and bourbon too. One to think about for Christmas 2024 as a gift to yourself or the main whisky fan in your life.
No new whiskies to nose and taste this time as there aren‘t any samples of new releases but I wouldn‘t really expect any launches with the festive season just over and done. Maybe that will change before end of this month.
I noted from one of my news feeds end of last week that The Ileach, Islay‘s community newspaper, is reporting redundancies and other changes at Ardnahoe Distillery. Now, for those who aren‘t aware, Ardnahoe is the distillery most recently opened on Islay (others are being built but are not yet ready to open) and owned by Hunter Laing (not to be confused with Douglas Laing & Co.). It seems the plan is to concentrate on production (that’s why it was built, after all) and dispense with some of the staff on the catering and visitor side of things.
The company has been quite upfront about the reasons for this sad news. They point out they haven‘t been immune to the problems facing the hospitality industry all over the country. They have a huge and very attractive cafe space which served good food and great coffee, in my experience, but which has apparently not been in profit. The distillery opened in 2019 so faced the double whammy of Covid shutdown as well as the cost of living problems facing so many people. Therefore the cafe is closed and there are 14 redundancies to be made. This also affects some of the visitor centre staff though tours will still be offered. That‘s good as I‘ve found the VC staff there very helpful and pleasant to deal with. When I read the news I wondered if they perhaps could have kept it going till the Islay Whisky Festival was over as their visitor and catering usage numbers would surely have seen large increases then. Presumably, though, another 4 months of loss-making wasn‘t an option. It‘s surely hurt head office people emotionally too. This declaration early in the year does, let‘s hope, give those people affected time to find new jobs before Islay‘s busy season gets going and offer their experience to other hospitality/tourism outlets there and the distilleries under construction which are closer to opening. A real shame for those whose jobs must go but I hope Ardnahoe will be able to open it all up again in future. It would be a great event or wedding reception space as well.
Some good news from Talisker Distillery up on Skye. For any of you interested in a Skye trip this spring, the island‘s renowned restaurant The Three Chimneys has partnered with the distillery to offer a pop-up dining experience from February to April this year. The restaurant‘s website says, „This menu not only highlights the distinctive maritime character of Talisker whisky but also harmonizes it with the diverse, seasonally influenced fare of Skye. Our philosophy of local provenance and sustainability shines through every dish, promising an authentic and unforgettable culinary journey. For an exclusive experience, book a table for ‘The Journey’. Please note this carefully designed menu does not cater to dietary requirements and must be pre-booked. For those seeking a spontaneous taste of Skye, our seasonal lighter fare caters to all dietary requirements and is available to walk-in guests only.“ To have a look at both menu types, head to www.threechimneys.co.uk/talisker . To find out more about Talisker itself, go to www.taliskerdistillery.com .
A note just in today from Kamiki Shuzou Co. the makers of Kamiki whiskies from Japan that they „…reveal of its historic, over 100 years old, restored building nestled in the serene Soni Village of Nara into distillery. This announcement marks a significant moment in our journey as a distiller and also celebrates our deep-rooted connection to Japan’s early history. Soni Village: A Pillar of Japanese Heritage Soni Village, the foundation upon which our distillery stands, is renowed as a starting point of the Yamato Kingdom which is considered as the cradle of the Japanese nation. Surrounded by Nara’s historic landmarks, Kamiki Shuzou Co. finds itself at the intersection of tradition and innovation.“ Now, I‘m not at all well-versed in Japanese history but do find it a fascinating country and the restored building, part of the distillery, as well as its location are beautiful. Kamiki uses Japanese cedar wood for maturation bringing a perfumed and spicy note to its whiskies. They use whiskies from elsewhere to blend with their own spirit, softened by their spring water. The media release and website text do seem to be translated from Japanese and the use of one or two words is rather surprising in thier context but it‘s an interesting read. If you want to know more about the company and its whiskies find them at www.kamikishuzou.com / www.kamikiwhisky.com. Japan is on my bucket list to have a longer visit, including seeing some of its distilleries. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days there years ago on a mission round the world to look at deluxe packaging in duty free outlets and department stores in order to make more of The Glendronach but time in Tokyo was largely taken up with meetings and travelling from airport hotel to meeting rooms. One of these days…
Getting back to Islay, I‘ve been asked to do another Feis dinner this year at The Port Charlotte Hotel again. Always fun to do once I‘ve got over the stress of deciding the whisky and food matches! As ever, it was hard finding a room once we decided it was going ahead again but luck was with me. All I need to do now is wait for the ferry bookings to open and try to get in early. Calmac‘s reservations are delayed again this year with their website saying, „We were unable to prepare our systems to open bookings while we awaited the decision on 2024 fare levels from Transport Scotland. Transport Scotland has now confirmed fares will rise in line with the 2023 Consumer Price Index at a rate of 8.7% across all routes and fare types.“ Some of their routes open later this week and then in stages into February. However, for any of you thinking of visiting Islay at all in the summer period, the reservations opening date is not available yet as there will be infrastructure works at the mainland port of Kennacraig and at Port Askaig on Islay which will affect the timetable. Not ideal but I would hope we won‘t have to wait too much longer.
Meantime, I‘ll get round to finishing the contents of my advent calendar and some of the lovely bottles acquired during this last year. I‘m not practising Dry January – more, as a former colleague put it, „slightly moist“!