Islay Malt Whisky Across the Islands

Islay malt whisky is what initially draws a lot of the visitors to our island home. Over the years the distilleries have flourished, and have risen from moth balled buildings, as production has been re-introduced, then increased, encompassing new warehouses and visitor centres, restaurants and shops. New distilleries have been built, a whole range of new malts introduced, as the island’s whisky market has grown.
My journey into whisky has not been through the drink, but through an appreciation of what Islay malt whisky embodies. To me the character of a dram goes deeper than the amber nectar hitting the palate. The character of the whisky captures the island, the peated landscape, encompassing a wild rugged coastline, with huge waves from the Atlantic crashing across the shores, shaping the rocks and inlets, creating raised beaches, over millions of years.
The malt whisky goes far deeper than the landscape. It is rooted in the character of the people who have lived and worked on these shores for generations. The strong, close knit community. A community that has thrived on fishing, farming and distilling.
As the Islay malt whisky hits the tongue, the flavours emanate across the palate, spreading, like the island’s mist. Glasses are raised as people come together. The whisky celebrates a union of people, lifestyle and landscape, captured in a bottle. Across the world Islay malt whisky is never far away.
Islay has become a place of connections. A tiny island welcoming people from across the globe. A couple of weeks ago the Happy Farmer and I hopped on a plane and headed for the shores of Hong Kong island. It was a long haul, but an amazing trip. One that captured all that Islay malt whisky embodies as we enjoyed fabulous hospitality, reconnecting with people who are passionate about Islay and malt whisky.
When a bus pulled up at my pottery studio last summer, with  a lovely group of people from Hong Kong, little did I know that, in just a few short months, I would be in Hong Kong, sat in the Bankers Club, sharing an Islay dram with them. Whisky tasting at its very best. Panoramic views across Hong Kong harbour, along with a collection of the finest aged malts. Whisky so smooth, it melted on the tongue, filling the palate with a bouquet of flavours. Shared over the most delicious dim sum, with friendship and laughter that will last a lifetime. One tiny island to another. Each bottle handled with love and respect, each sip tantalisingly smooth and warm. Islay whisky is so much more than a drink. It not only encompasses the peaty character of the landscape, it encapsulates a caring community filled with characters, companionship and a warm hearty welcome. From Islay whisky to Hong Kong living.
Hong Kong is indeed a very beautiful island. In sharp contrast to Islay it has a huge population, skyscrapers blend into the greenery of the hills beyond. Junk boats and ferries line the harbour. The friendliness of the people will be a lasting memory.
In the skyscrapers of Kowloon, we spent an evening at the c4mel bar. Jack and Iris visit Islay each year, and in their lovely apartment have their own private bar where they host friends and family. An evening of laughter, amazing food (thank you Iris) and great whiskies all served with a huge hearty welcome from Jack. An evening to remember and we are already looking forward to their return visit to Islay this summer.
Next up came an evening of fine dining, tasting the most delicious Chinese dishes, in a bustling restaurant in Causeway Bay. The couple, whose car the Happy Farmer had duly rescued from the ditches of Persabus a few weeks earlier, just happened to be from Hong Kong. With their local knowledge the dishes were an absolute feast of flavours. A sharp contrast to the menus of water snake’s head soup and pork belly from our own dabble with the local restaurants. Back to their apartment, with yet more panoramic views of the harbour, and drams were poured, as friendship was toasted. A lasting connection of food, whisky, travels, community, love and laughter. Friendship at its very best.
Happy Valley is home to one of the world’s most famous horse racing venues. Overlooking this spectacular racecourse is the magnificent home of the Hong Kong Football club, a private members’ sports and social club. It was here that we were treated to an amazing afternoon’s hospitality, enjoying a world buffet, from lovely guests who stayed with us in the late summer. The venue itself took my breath away, marble clad, floor to ceiling. Apparently, the racecourse needed to purchase land from the Hong Kong Football club a few years back and presented them with an open cheque book, which led to this spectacular building, with amazing facilities, being built. For us though, the highlight was about connecting with these lovely people again, getting to spend time and share stories, creating lasting memories and friendships.
Our visit was all about catching up with family and friends, immersing ourselves in the sights and culture of this remarkable island, but what we appreciated most was being taken into the heart of this community, the friendship, warmth and hospitality will remain with us.
The whisky connection is a strong one. For the Happy Farmer it is rooted in the heart of his island culture. Very few people will have visited Persabus without enjoying one of the Happy Farmer’s drams. We are already looking forward to creating more connections and welcoming our friends back home to Persabus.
Until next time…