As we approach Islay on the ferry, I am sitting with the wind still stinging my cheeks and my hair in much worse shape than Kate Winslet's (David's Leo impression was stunning). I can see why people talk with such reverence about the island. It rises like a monolith out of the fog, barren and wind scoured. It hardly seems suitable for people to live on, let alone produce some of the finest malts in the world. Islay is so much more than Scotch though, it is a ruggedly beautiful backwoods, as well as surprisingly cultured and friendly.
People are friendly, they're not jerky or buried in their iPhones (here comes the corny small town example, "it takes you back to a better time," yadda yadda…but it's true!). Here is a shining example of why I love Islay: they take the time to wave to people when they drive by. Small, I know – not a life altering experience, true – but it is the "The Islay Wave," darn it! This quaint, heart warming practice consists of raising one to three fingers of your hand that is on the top of the steering wheel as a brief greeting to the driver barreling past you in the other direction. From the head distiller at Ardbeg to the kid with pink hair, everyone waves, and it warms my cold introverted Silicon Valley heart. Such a small gesture but it lends a sense of community and closeness that you rarely find these days. It is an island of many surprises.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things that we discovered on our trip was the plethora of absolutely stunning places to eat. Form David's Ploughman's lunch that came with about two pounds worth of cheese (doggie bag asked for, but they had no idea what that was and gave us tupperware), coupled with some of the freshest oysters I have tasted, to fine dining (yes, in real life) at the Harbour Inn. I had an amazing wood pigeon terrine followed by roasted chicken with chorizo cassoulet (please and thank you!). I waddled away form the table a very sated Scotch salesman. Simply not an experience I thought possible in the middle of the North Irish Sea.
It takes serious commitment to scratch out a living on such a barren place, but the rewards are apparent with a little time spent on the beautiful island of Islay. Come for the whisky to be sure, but plan some time to experience a place that stands alone it a beautifully rustic and sophisticate way. I will always think of this sparkling windswept place whenever I have a dram of Scotch in front of me, for it is a place that sinks into your bones.