This article on Scottish whisky – the country’s national drink – first appeared as “On Islay Time” in the April 2017 issue of Air Canada enRoute.
“Somebody want to be brave?” Ardbeg Distillery manager Mickey Heads has just thrown what could be described as a beer stein on a rope down into the humid recesses of a 23,000–litre washback – a giant barrel used in Scotland whisky–making – and drawn it up half full. This is how you test the character of both the wash, the product of the first ferment of barley that will eventually be distilled into whisky, and of the nosy Canadians who come poking around your distillery. I wouldn’t call myself a brave man, but I am certainly a curious one. The contents are frothy, opaque and warm with their own fermentation, the aromas yeasty and heady. The taste is like a rustic beer, with soft cereal sweetness, barely hinting at the peaty powerhouse it will become.