I've been coming to Islay all of my life. As a kid at primary school in Glasgow, Islay as a destination was met with blank stares in the playground. I still meet people in Scotland who haven't heard of our magical island.
That's not to say that no-one has heard of the place. Far from it. For many years I travelled and lived abroad as part of my work. I was in Germany at one stage and, as ever, having a conversation with a German and trying to make sure my English was as good as his. I mentioned I was off to “one of the Scottish Islands” for the weekend.
“Oh, which one?”
“It's called Islay.” I assumed that would be the end of it.
“Which part of Islay?”
Eh? How could a German in a restaurant in Munich possibly know the geography of Islay? You've got it – Whisky. That was when I realised Islay was famous. Just not to some people in Glasgow. From that day on, I've met people all over the world who, when you mention Islay, will say “Ah, Lagavulin,” or “I just love Ardbeg.” And they don't mean the place although sometimes they've even been there too.
Whisky gives Islay world-wide fame (even if it doesn't get the fortune). It's a special part of Islay's heritage, history and culture. It gives Islay tourists another dimension. Islay visitors aren't there to climb mountains or to see the set of a TV program. The charm of Islay is in the cosmopolitan atmosphere right throughout the year. They're a sophisticated bunch, those Islay lovers.
So, even if you hate whisky, don't avoid the distilleries. A tour is always worth it, even if just for the stories.
And, if you love whisky, you're in for the treat of a life-time. Personally, I'd use the service bus and head for Ardbeg in the morning. Enjoy your lunch there after the tour and ride the bus all the way out to Bruichladdich for the afternoon session.
After that, the rest of the day will take care of itself.