Our time to depart Islay came far too soon for my liking. As I said in a previous post, I think we could have stayed here an entire week and been perfectly okay with it. After another amazing breakfast from Andrew and Alison at Bowmore House, it was time to pack our bags (including finding a home in said bags for our whisky haul), load up the bus, and get on the road to Port Ellen for the ferry back to the mainland. Andrew was kind enough to give us some of his whisky boxes to make transporting our liquid gold a safer proposition.
The Finlaggan Mystery: Finlaggan is a conundrum. Bottles from the Finlaggan brand (a product of the “Vintage Malt Whisky Company Ltd.”) contain a single malt from an Islay distillery. The company keeps a very tight lid on the identity of its source, breaking silence only to insist that Finlaggan does now, always has, and always will contain whisky from the same distillery. If we are to believe the company, we must trust our nose and not our ears in order to divine the secrets of this pale liquid. A favorite topic of whisky forums, the identity of Finlaggan’s source is thought to be Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, or Caol Ila. It’s very likely that the OR (Old Reserve) contains younger whisky – perhaps in the 6 year range – although a bottling of 10 year-old is available in some markets. The fascination with this whisky comes primarily from its absurdly low price. A bottle at my local Trader Joe’s (the primary reseller of Finlaggan in the U.S.) costs $18. This makes it, by a wide margin, the cheapest single-malt available to me. The astounding part is that it’s actually QUITE GOOD. A good, peat-forward, single malt for $18 a bottle? Mystery aside, that makes Finlaggan a rarity in a world where Ardbeg can sell out of $100 bottles of 10 year-old malts named after reptiles. Finlaggan itself is named after the ruins of Finlaggan Castle, a historic site on Loch Finlaggan on Islay, which was the residence of The Lords of the Isles.
My personal philosophy based on what we tasted and heard during our time on Islay is that it’s a young Laphroaig. A lot of people, however, seem to think it’s a Lagavulin. During our warehouse tour with Iain at Lagavulin (by the way, did y’all see the season premier of Parks & Rec where Leslie sent Ron to Lagavulin?! I found myself so happy for a fictional character. And then to see him hanging out with Iain? Oh, it brought a huge smile to my face), we tasted a young Lagavulin and based on that experience, I don’t think it was the same as what I tasted with that Finlaggan. Also, there’s a story that when one of the more recent owners sold to Jim Beam, part of the deal was that he got to keep 5% of the whisky produced to do what he wanted with so now that’s what goes into Finlaggan. Now obviously, I don’t know if this is heresay or if there’s any actual truth in it. Another theory is that because Caol Ila makes so much whisky – remember, it’s the largest producer on the island – that it is the supplier for many of the mystery malts, including Ileach and Port Askaig.
Our next quick, stop-to-stretch-your-legs break was at Loch Lomond, the largest freshwater lake in all of Britain. Loch Lomond is also part of the boundary between the Scottish Highlands and the Lowlands.
Princes Street Station was a mainline railway station which stood at the west end of Princes Street, in Edinburgh, Scotland, for almost 100 years. A temporary station was opened in 1870, with construction of the main station commencing in the 1890s. The station was closed completely in 1965 and largely demolished in 1969-70. Only its hotel remains, but it is no longer in railway ownership. The Caledonian Railway company’s main line reached Edinburgh, and was ceremonially opened on 15 February 1848. Its initial Edinburgh terminus was located at Lothian Road. The track was extended slightly and the temporary Lothian Road station, opened in 1848, was replaced in 1870 by another temporary station in Princes Street. After nationalisation of the railways in 1948, it was considered logical to concentrate all rail services in Edinburgh on one station. With Waverley Station a short distance along Princes Street beyond Princes Street Gardens, by the 1960s Princes Street Station was seen as surplus to requirements. Although its street-level entrance was rather more convenient for travelers than that of Waverley (which is in a deep cutting and requires a steep climb to reach street level), the latter was much larger, more conveniently located within the city, and (crucially) had access to the East Coast Main Line. After closure of Princes Street, the west of the city would continue to be served by nearby Haymarket Station. Local services were gradually withdrawn, starting with those to Balerno in 1943, followed by those to Barnton in 1951, Leith North in 1962, and stopping trains on the main line to Carstairs in 1964. The remaining services to Glasgow Central, Stirling and English cities were then diverted to Waverley, allowing Princes Street Station to be closed in September 1965. The station was demolished in 1969-70, with the West Approach Road being built along the track bed in the early 1970s. The hotel still operates on the site and has been renamed the The Caledonian, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Part of the station space still remains within it and the grand entrance arch is still visible at the side of the hotel. The former Parcels Office survived, on Lothian Road between the hotel and the Western Approach Road, until a major office development was constructed on its site in the 1990s.