Nine days, 12 distilleries and open events, and one magical island. It can only be Fèis Ìle! Join us as we relive all the Islay (and Jura!) whisky fun. Back…
Nine days, 12 distilleries and open events, and one magical island. It can only be Fèis Ìle! Join us as we relive all the Islay (and Jura!) whisky fun.
Back in May, an intrepid team of five headed north from MoM HQ to the island of Islay for Fèis Ìle. The annual spirits extravaganza (there was a lot more gin around than you might expect) takes in all nine distilleries, plus open days at the Port Ellen Maltings and Islay Ales, as well as a focus on neighbouring Jura. It really is a bucket-list trip for whisky-lovers!
Every day we packed the car (with a designated driver, obviously) and decamped with full film kit at each location. We got fully involved in distillery, tours, tastings, and even putting YOUR questions to the great and the good of the island distilling scene.
The theme for this year’s Ardbeg Day was built around their Drum festival release, matured initially in ex-bourbon casks before being “rested” in ex-rum casks (a first for the distillery). It made for a tropical-tastic event with live steel drum bands, a carnival atmosphere and plenty of fun as always!
We also spoke to distillery manager – and “drum major” for the day – Mickey Heads about the Islay and Caribbean flavour fusion that is Ardbeg Drum (which is available on the site now!)
It wasn’t all plain sailing for us today though! As the MoM team left the house – sans Kristy, who was already en route to Spice (Girls) up her life – we discovered a flat tyre! Not what you need when you’re on your way to a distillery day on the other side of the island!
Could the person who answered the hire car’s emergency number understand that the likelihood of them “being there in a minute” from the mainland was fairly low? Could we get hold of anybody from either a taxi firm or the local tyre fitters on an Ardbeg Day Saturday? No. Could we find a neighbour with a hand pump and then reach somewhere that stocked puncture repair spray sealant? Yes. On to Ardbeg!
Welcome to Ardbeg Day!
Once inside, many familiar sites could be found from bars to the pizza van we’ve visited almost every day, and live music from the trailer of a lorry. Ardbeg always go all out with their theme for the year, though, so all the distillery workers were in fancy dress with maracas and huge smiles, and the place was full of games including a pineapple shy and everybody’s favourite 2018 sensation: hoopla! (The first time we saw it this year!) They even managed to make the sun come out, and it really did feel tropical compared to the rest of the week. Of course, there was still space for Iain Spink’s famous Arbroath smokies, and the queue for those went right around the lawn.
It’s not just the staff who took it seriously (by not taking themselves too seriously) though, the number of appropriately colourful shirts on display was impressive. Not least from the Jesteśmy Boat City Whisky Club from Łódź, who were out in force all week, as they are every year!
We’ve seen these “unpaid whisky soldiers” every day and they were getting into the carnival spirit today!
And so, another action-packed Fèis Ìle has come to an end. It’s been an amazing week and we’ve loved meeting so many friends, old and new, throughout. Also, keep your eyes peeled for all the Q&A interview videos where we put your questions to distillery managers each day, which we’ll start publishing soon!
Better end on the last distillery doggos of the week.
The one on the right has little protective booties.
Time for some unpeated fun at Bunnahabhain’s and Jura’s open days – and some peated fun too, because why not?! – as well as more boats, dogs and rain! We…
Time for some unpeated fun at Bunnahabhain’s and Jura’s open days – and some peated fun too, because why not?! – as well as more boats, dogs and rain! We had a blast.
It’s been a busy day at Fèis Ìle, with the team getting down to Bunnahabhain nice and early before splitting up so we could be at Jura’s open day too! We’ve also lost Kristy. She loves whisky, of course, and was gutted to miss the fun that’s yet to come tomorrow, but like many of us she has other passions. In her case that takes the form of a musical group called the Spice Girls, and even a cancelled flight wasn’t going to stand between her and their gig in Manchester tomorrow night!
Godspeed Kristy, we miss you already!
Grey sky at day, whisky maker’s delight. Or something like that.
Before we delve into today, however, there’s the (not) small matter of last night’s activities. After the blog post went live we headed back over to Ardnahoe for Hunter Laing‘s Kinship Collection evening with the one and only Jim McEwan. Those who’ve been following our Instagram stories may already know that we found the range – which is made up of a Bruichladdich 27 year old, Bunnahabhain 30, Caol Ila 40, Bowmore 30 (all soap and violets as you may hope/fear, depending on your tastes), Ardbeg 26 and Laphroaig 18 – very impressive indeed.
A very special tasting of Hunter Laing’s Kinship Collection of Islay malts
Friday morning at Bunnahabhain then brought rain. More rain! Last year was glorious sunshine throughout the festival, *BUT* this year the grey skies are actually welcome. As mentioned earlier in the week water sources had been getting worryingly low across the island, with some distilleries having to cease production, so it’s all for the greater good! (We are all whisky fans, after all!)
Cue taking cover in the distillery’s office, where we caught up with distillery manager Andrew Brown and Distell International master blender Dr. Kirstie McCallum. Kirstie talked us through the first two festival bottlings, which you can check out riiight… here:
Another place it doesn’t rain is in the cabin of a tall ship, and we were back on the Flying Dutchman for the first official tasting of the day. Some great drams, memorable yarns and even a couple of songs later, and it was time to split up. Well, once we managed to get off of the ship. Some of us took longer than others negotiating the (admittedly treacherous) soaking wet ladder up to the pier as the ship lurched up and down.
Kristy, Laura and Kenny then headed off to Jura, while I was able to enjoy the Bunnah Warehouse No. 9 Experience. Which was a bit good. 5 cracking casks – an ex-bourbon 6 year old, Manzanilla 10 year old, Palo Cortado 11, Pedro Ximénez 12 and a peated Mòine 15 – all available as hand-filled 20cl distillery exclusives. I impulse bought a PX shortly after, but would have happily taken any of the sherry cask options off their hands. It was also great fun, Colin (affectionately known as ‘Butthead’, or so I’m told), I salute you!*
“It’s all about the dram!” It is, you know.
Meanwhile, over in Jura, the team attended a tasting with blender and whisky maker Gregg Glass, taking in its new make, a couple of 21 year-olds from its Tide and Time series (keep an eye out for the fruity, ex-peated Jura cask Tide on the site soon…) and a distillery exclusive peated sherry cask number with a big charcoal finish.
Time ‘n’ Tide
As with last year, this wasn’t any ordinary tasting though. There were atomisers, scents trapped in bubbles, popcorn pairings and even prizes! We didn’t win anything, but photographic evidence suggests we were quite taken by the chocolate and honey scented bubbles.
My final masterclass of the day (the awesome folks at Bunnahabhain looked after us extremely well) was a chocolate and whisky pairing event with Kirstie and Julieann Fernandez that afforded an opportunity to taste the distillery’s third festival release. A 1988 Champagne cask, which was ridiculous in the best way possible. Think Champagne, actual Champagne, but a spirit – with people who don’t like Champagne loving it. Notes of brioche, melon, zesty real lemonade, cashew, green apple skin, some toffee – a weird note that I’ve somehow categorised as ‘silver birch’ in my brain over the years – just great, unique stuff. Hats off to those who queued up overnight and managed to bag one.
We got tees and drams into some new friends’ hands too, of course!
So, what have I missed? Ah, yes. A distillery poochie, of course! Apparently we can’t do one of these without one. Did I start this? It no longer matters, the whisky people need their doggos and who am I to deny them?! Meet Alfie. This pic came from @Belsnickel222 with the message “We will accept this one in the blog.” As will we my friend, as will we.
A Bunnah good boy.
Another awesome day on Islay and some more much needed water for the distilleries. They have enough now though, right…? Fingers crossed for some clear skies as we head to Ardbeg‘s Caribbean flavoured day tomorrow!
Shiny new distillery expansion, cocktails galore, and more drams than you could shake a stick at. It can only be the Kilchoman Open Day at Fèis Ìle 2019! The sunshine…
Shiny new distillery expansion, cocktails galore, and more drams than you could shake a stick at. It can only be the Kilchoman Open Day at Fèis Ìle 2019!
The sunshine couldn’t last forever. Fèis Ìle 2019 Day Six dawned mightily murky, with no end in sight to the drizzle. It was the dedicated Kilchoman day, and Islay’s self-styled farm distillery seems to have little luck with the weather – as I recall it was the only grey day of the Fèis last year. But! Festival goers are more than prepared for the elements. A little bit of Islay sogginess wasn’t going to put anyone off.
We rose moderately fresh – last night’s activities involved a brief jaunt to the Lochindaal Hotel, only to discover festival-goers had quite literally drunk the bar dry. Beer was off. After a swift one, we decamped to the Port Charlotte Hotel for beers. (Don’t worry, Rinns residents – we were assured the Lochindaal was due to be restocked today!) By the time we arrived at Kilchoman, situated right out west, towards Machir Bay, we were ready for a dram (anyone else now alarmingly comfortable with sipping whisky at 10am?!).
Behold, Kilchoman’s 2019 festival bottling!
First thing on the day’s agenda was an interview with Kilchoman founder Anthony Wills. Kilchoman was born out of Wills’s vision and started producing spirit in 2005. Fast-forward to 2019, and the distillery has big news! Last year, Anthony shared distillery expansion plans with us. Today we were itching to see the results of the project in the flesh! The only thing standing in our way was a tasting of the Kilchoman Fèis Ìle 2019 release, and 11 year old, 54.4% ABV expression! A delicious distraction. Wills chatted us through it, and you can watch it below!
After the tasting and a Q&A with Wills (we put your questions to him), it was time to give away t-shirts and drams. The shiny new stills would have to wait a little longer! We’ve seen a handful of t-shirt selfies – do keep sending them our way, we’re @masterofmalt on social. We want to get your thoughts and tasting notes on our All Islay Blended Malt, too!
The Kilchoman team really had thought of everything today. As well has covering the courtyard with gazebos (useful, as the rain was flat refusing to stop), they had also made a handy guide to proceedings, complete with a map of where you could nose your way round the distillery, and grab a dram in the process!
Mapping out the day!
We headed over to the Comraich Blend Bar (so named after a distillery-only expression) for a refreshing sipper to accompany our plan-making. The guys from Blend Whisky Bar, off of actual Italy, were on it! We sampled a few, but particularly recommend the Machir Bay serve, made with green tea and Abbott’s Bitters. Green tea really is the cocktail ingredient that keeps on giving!
Ciao, Blend Whisky Bar chaps!
Cocktails done, and we plotted our route, making our way to the Kilchoman stillhouse with haste. Last year, Wills said the plan was to knock down the end wall of the existing production space and create a carbon copy, almost like a mirror image. That’s exactly what’s happened! Production capacity has soared from 240,000 litres of alcohol a year to 480,000 litres. Still tiny compared to the likes of Caol Ila, which produces in the region of 6.5 million litres! There’s a brand new mash tun, two fermenters, and two very sleek and shiny new stills. And we got to taste the new new make! So fruity, deliciously oily, and with that characteristic waft of Kilchoman smoke. We approve.
Gorgeous new Kilchoman stills!
After the stillhouse, we meandered our way through to Warehouse No. 1, where myriad casks are maturing. We then popped in to check out the malting floor, which opened last year (our mini-tour was not in production order, but who cares?!). We even tried our hand at turning the locally-grown barley, with only medium levels of success!
Inside Warehouse No.1
We popped back outside, dodging the raindrops, to explore the full Kilchoman line-up on the dram bar. Punters could choose from a whole range of liquid, including distillery-only bottlings, and the 2019 festival release! Such a treat to be able to sample from such a wide range!
As we’ve come to expect on a distillery day, there was not only ace tunes from myriad bands, but also a whole host of excellent doggos!
Kilchoman truly knows how to do a distillery open day. As well as all the fun and games we took part in, the team had all kinds of tastings on offer, plus farm tours. The best bit was being able to explore so much of the distillery, dram in hand, at our own speed without waiting for an organised tour. It was brilliant. Job well done, team – thank you for a tremendous day, and congrats on the distillery expansion!
Next up: a tasting at Ardnahoe this evening, before checking out both Bunnahabhain and Jura tomorrow. We’re excited!
We love a double Fèis Ìle distillery outing! And on the fifth day of the festival we joined the party in Bowmore, before taking in Islay’s newest whisky-maker, Ardnahoe. After…
We love a double Fèis Ìle distillery outing! And on the fifth day of the festival we joined the party in Bowmore, before taking in Islay’s newest whisky-maker, Ardnahoe.
After a moderately late night (an early morning for some in!), Fèis Ìle dawned on a fairly sedate note. The evening before we’d joined our good friends at The Whisky Lounge over at their Ellister abode for pizza, Negronis, drams, and a marvellously good time (although no hot tubbage this year). It was rather helpful, then, that we didn’t need to be in Bowmore until late morning! (Serious kudos to all of you who camped out in the legendary queue for the super-rare Bowmore bottling. We gather the line started at 10am yesterday when we were all sunning ourselves over at Laphroaig!)
Bowmore’s Open Day is always a lot of fun, and this year was no different. The distillery knows how to do it responsibly too though, handing out separate wrist bands to designated drivers (in fetching orange) and non-drivers (complete with dram tokens!) as people arrived on-site. Today, I can confirm I was NOT the Des, and swiftly made my way to the dram tent to suss out the bar. And I was not disappointed! Bowmore No.1 set the scene, with Bowmore 10 providing a tasty follow-up a little while later, both complimentary, with a whole haul of other drams on offer, too. Great stuff!
What’s better than a dram? A complimentary dram!
Did you grab a dram and t-shirt from us at Bowmore? We were swamped! If you’re in possession of either (hopefully both!) we want to see you in your shirt, and hear what you think about our All Islay Blended Malt, made with our pals at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Drop us a line on social or leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
Back to the distillery day! Next on the agenda was checking out all the fun of the Fèis, and Bowmore was pretty much rammed. There was a coopering demo, which pulled in the crowds…
Noisy lot, those coopers…
…a kind of cask bung shuffleboard-type challenge (we were rubbish).
You could also engrave a bung, which seemed far more sensible to us! (Not sore losers at all…)
Better to engrave than slide…
And if that wasn’t enough of a souvenir, you could even get a group snap taken against a green screen! Who knows what those Bowmore folks might put in the background…
But what’s behind you?!
After a super speedy prance about (and dance, the music was ace again!) we met distillery manager David Turner for a catch-up and a taste of both festival bottlings* (yep, folks – we got to sample both the highly sought after 1995 vintage, 55.2% ABV 23 year old sherried single cask, of which there are just 325 bottles, and the delectable 15 year old 51.7% ABV bourbon cask release). You can check out Turner’s assessment of them both right here!
We also put some of your questions to him – the Q&A vid will be out on the blog and the old socialz ASAP post-Fèis!
From the oldest warehouse to the newest distillery
The arrival of a new distillery on Islay doesn’t just mean more whisky. It means an even more tightly-packed Fèis schedule, too! After a quick bite (our Laura especially loved the paella on offer at Bowmore!) we packed the film kit into the car and hurtled up the island to Ardnahoe.
Ardnahoe in all its glory
The distillery, founded by family-owned company Hunter Laing, only started production six months ago, and officially opened its doors in April (Henry even stopped by for a visit!). So 2019 is the team’s first Fèis Ìle! Nothing quite beats the excitement of visiting a distillery for the first time, and if it’s brand-spanking new, the thrill is somehow even more intense. And Ardnahoe lived up to the hype!
We were met with a goodie bag (hello drams!) and, with the sun just about still out, we made the most of the views. This distillery is in a seriously spectacular location (and Islay is so stunning it’s easy to get blasé). But the scenery across the Sound of Islay and across to the Paps of Jura is genuinely astonishing. We highly recommend popping over for a dram on the open-air terrace!
That view though…
We quizzed Hunter Laing export director Andrew Laing with your questions on plans for the distillery, and then had a good nose around. The still house makes the most of that incredible view – sadly it was raining by the time we popped our noses in; we’re desperate to return on a sunny day!
The newest stills on Islay!
After chilling in the bar, taking in the gift shop, and checking out the obligatory Fèis Ìle band, it was about time to head back to Port Ellen for an evening in. Cheese and drams are on the agenda. But we may head up to the Loch Indaal for a dram if we’re feeling adventurous enough to brave the rain. Cheers to both Bowmore and Ardnahoe for a mega Islay day!
Whatever you’re up to this evening, enjoy – and see you at Kilchoman tomorrow!
*Apparently there’s a mystery third bottling?! Let us know if you’ve spotted it in the wild!
We go again! Laphroaig Open Day is known for its tasting experiences and mellow vibes – and 2019 was no different. The sun even came out for us! Team MoM…
We go again! Laphroaig Open Day is known for its tasting experiences and mellow vibes – and 2019 was no different. The sun even came out for us!
Team MoM had a quiet one last night, and we collectively woke up fresh as daisies for Fèis Ìle Day 4’s Laphroaig Open Day. Good job really – in order to nab some time with distillery manager John Campbell we needed to arrive before the gates even opened/the crack of dawn. He’s a popular man!
It’s John Campbell! We chat to Laphroaig’s distillery manager
Made it we did, and the day started as all should – with a dram down on the beach in good company. John was on excellent form as he chatted us through this year’s distillery release. So the first drop of the day was Càirdeas Triple Wood Cask Strength, the 2019 festival bottling! It’s a no-age statement 51.7% ABV release matured in ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks, and then European oak ex-Oloroso casks. An absolute bargain at £77. And there are 36,000 bottles available, from the distillery and through its members’ society, Friends of Laphroaig. The sheer number of bottles available really added to the relaxed setting – no queuing overnight here! Wondering what it tastes like? We’ve got it all in John’s own words:
John hung around with us a bit longer to answer the questions you all put to him via Twitter and Instagram – the Q&A will be released shortly after Fèis Ìle!
With the interviews in the bag, it was time to dish out some t-shirts and drams! We LOVE chatting to you all as we hand them out. We’d also really like to hear what you think about our All Islay Blended Malt, made with our pals at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. We’d be especially excited to see your t-shirt selfies, too. Just tag us in – we’re @masterofmalt on Instagram and Twitter, You’ll find us on Facebook as well!
What next? Drams, of course! We checked out the bar (tip-top selection), and frequented the warehouse where you could even win a measure or two. Spot of bung tossing, anyone?! Then, two things caught our beady eyes. Firstly, VisitScotland’s Coo Van (have you ever seen such a vehicle in all your days?!)…
Behold: Visit Scotland’s Coo Van!
…and a cheese tent! Yes, really! Campbeltown-based (and excellently-named) Scotcheese was there with its delicious wares, and we hoovered up all the samples going before nabbing some for later on. Already getting hungry thinking about it.
Cheese? Yes, please, Scotcheese!
After all that cheese sampling we needed a refresher. Luckily Islay Ales was on hand! For those not into the beer, Laphroaig was on it with the cocktails (much like the other Open Days. Are consistently good cocktails the big Fèis trend of 2019? I reckon so). There were two Laphroaig Select-based, part pre-batched options: a Fruit of the Fèis, made with raspberry, lemon, apple, mango and lemon juice; and the Fizzy Ginger, with ginger cordial, sugar syrup, and an orange and lemon juice. We plumped for ginger, and it made a tasty refresher out in the sunshine.
Cocktail hour at Laphroaig
The music was on point once more (shout out to The Coaltown Daisies who were especially excellent!), and sitting out in the sun you could have been almost anywhere in the world (once you take the pesky windchill factor out).
Cheers, The Coaltown Daisies!
And it was another ace distillery day when it came to dog-spotting opportunities! Here are two of our faves from the day:
Surely takes Sirius Stardust’s crown as the fluffiest poochie of the Isle?
Our Laura makes a new friend
With an excellent day over at Laphroaig in the bag, our Jake had another mission: head off to catch fancy boat The Flying Dutchman for a voyage/tasting around the Scottish island distilleries with That Boutique-y Whisky Company! He was last seen rowing over from the distillery. The legendary Boutique-y fellow Dave Worthington even dressed as a pirate for the occasion. And we snuck our All Islay Blended Malt into the line-up, which also included a 22 year old Springbank*, 18 year old Highland Park, and a 22 year old Arran. Fab whisky, ace company and the high seas. There’s no better way to round off a distillery day!
All aboard the Boutique-y boat!
*apparently a canal cuts them off so the locals consider themselves islanders
A double dose of fun and games on the Isle! On the third day of Fèis Ìle we joined the craic at Caol Ila before chilling out with a refreshing…
A double dose of fun and games on the Isle! On the third day of Fèis Ìle we joined the craic at Caol Ila before chilling out with a refreshing pint at the Islay Ales Open Day. Great stuff all round!
We always try to bring you an authentic view of Fèis Ìle here on the blog. So, in the interests of full disclosure, we did not have an early night and hit the hay after we hit ‘publish’ yesterday evening. Adventure awaited. We scoffed our dinner down and headed out to experience the Islay nightlife! Our Laura headed into the evening in Bowmore, while Kenny, Jake and I headed all the way out to Portnahaven for a Rhythm & Booze Project pub gig. Don’t think the fun stops once the distillery gates close! We had a dead nice time, a particular highlight being percussion extraordinaire Paul’s washboard solo, before the guest horn section took centre stage for a battle. Team MoM could not control their feet.
Rocking out with the Rhythm & Booze Project
After a bougie few days at The Machrie (we know, swish) Monday, AKA Fèis Ìle Day Three, saw Team MoM up sticks for pastures new. Don’t worry, it was planned – there was no epic catastrophe; in fact, we entirely recommend Islay’s luxe golf hotel. But before we could check into our new Port Charlotte home, we had a whole load of fun and games to attend to and not one but two distillery days: up north for Caol Ila, and then back to Bridgend for the Islay Ales Open Day!
Our advance party (oh haaiii, Kenny and Laura) headed off early to get the car with all the film kit down and back up the winding road to Caol Ila before the shuttle buses started their worthy work ferrying Fèis-goers to and fro. The rest of us followed shortly afterwards, making use of the handy field car park at the top of the hill. That was where we encountered our first surprise of the day – car park drams! The distillery team had brekkie measures of Caol Ila 12 ready to go for the bus queue. Huzzah and hurrah! And double huzzah, because there were even closed measures for designated drivers (AKA the Des) like me. MEGA!
Car park drams!
Drams down, on the bus we went (intrigued by the journey down the hill? Check out the timelapse on our Instagram story. It’s worth it for that view. Caol Islay surely ranks highly in the distillery surroundings charts) and we arrived at the distillery in fine spirits, ready for the day ahead. After a brief mooch around, we decided to go in search of Pierrick Guillaume, Caol Ila distillery manager, our video victim interview subject for the day. We popped into the distillery office on our travels, discovering Georgie Crawford hard at work. Georgie is set to lead the team at the revived Port Ellen Distillery, an incredibly exciting new role. But there wasn’t much opportunity to gossip about that as someone else made her presence felt: adorable [unofficial] distillery cat, Sushi! She demanded lots of fuss and head scritches, before plonking herself down on non-cat person Georgie’s lap. We rate her sass highly.
The gorgeous Sushi
After meeting and falling for Sushi, we found Pierrick! We also found a room with a glorious view – a little lounge space above the office (i.e. Sushi’s domain) overlooking the incredible Sound of Islay and on to the dramatically craggy Paps of Jura. The sun wasn’t quite shining, but the light was still bright enough to require all kinds of jolly japes from Kenny to get the shot. But persevere he did! We had a great chat with Pierrick, putting a whole bunch of your questions to him. And we got to taste the distillery bottling, a 58.4% ABV 22 year old which has spent time in sherry-treated freshly-charred American oak hogsheads. It costs £130 and there are just 3,000 bottles. What’s it like? Check it out the vid right here!
I cunningly got one of the team to enjoy my takeaway 12 Year Old Caol Ila from the car park so I could replace it with the festival release in my dram carrier – needless to say I am VERY excited to settle down properly with it later on once the Des duties are complete!
But that’s not all. Pierrick revealed (well, he first let the Sushi out of the bag on Instagram at the weekend) that there was a second Fèis Ìle bottling! Behold: a 180-bottle outturn, 55.3% ABV 28 year old, filled on 24 May by his own fair hand. Exciting stuff! Here’s a snap off of his Instagram (check out @pierrickatcaolila and give him a follow!). People had even been camping overnight to get their mitts on it.
Behold the secret festival bottling!
Post-interview we cracked out the drams and t-shirts, and had lovely chats with a whole bunch of you. Big shout outs to our Friends From Falkirk (not an official name) who shared some delectable Glen Keith with the team, and Connas off of The Whisky Lounge who found this old gem from somewhere!
One of our new Friends from Falkirk with the mega-old MoM bottling!
The Caol Ila Open Day isn’t the largest of the week, but Fèis-goers are clearly a super-creative bunch. The drams were flowing, but instead of simply gathering up used cups, a group formed this incredible sculpture! Forget a sandcastle, I declare this a whisky citadel!
Would the real king of the castle please stand up?
Then there was the dancing. We all know it’s not a distillery day at Fèis Ile without music, and we were especially impressed by a group of women who cracked out their synchronised dance routines before lunch. Props to you all! If you made the whisky citadel or can lay claim to dancing, do make yourself known on social or in the comments below!
Dramming is on
Other highlights included a lively and loud coopering demo area (spoiler alert: it’s HARD), and, of course, the dram bar. Caol Ila was on point when it came to getting whisky to the good people! The cocktails were on too: we especially enjoyed the Banana Old Fashioned. Yum.
Bring on the Islay Ales!
After all that indulgence by the sea it was time to head back in land for a little bit of R&R. Which is what the Islay Ales Open Day feels like! Set in Islay Square, it’s a village fête-beer festival hybrid with music, pizza and crafts all spilling out in the space surrounding the brewery. We were welcomed by a very dapper pug, complete with bow tie. He definitely takes the title of dog of the day!
Across the square, we bumped into the team from Lussa Gin, a distillery on the neighbouring island of Jura. But never fear, whisky fans. Even among all the beer and gin, malt could be found. Just ask the Whisky Boys – we spotted Flatnöse and Bårelegs and Rona’s Cask among the super-relaxed mêlée. Winning!
Music makes the Islay Ales Open Day go round
Time for a quick stroll around the neighbouring Islay House Gardens (foxgloves, beekeeping, a garden kitchen and all-round enchantment behind a mysterious-looking wall) and we were away to check out our new abode! We’re now right by the waterfront in Port Charlotte. It’s feels most serene.
What’s on the agenda tomorrow? Laphroaig! See you there!
It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form! “It’s…
It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form!
“It’s always sunny on Bruichladdich Day.” It’s a saying often heard on Islay. And when we first set off this morning, windscreen wipers essential, it seemed this was going to be the anomalous year. We parked up early, all ready for Kenny, our filmmaker, to get set up, and the drizzle was ON (luckily for the hordes of festival release-seekers lining up down the street, there was no return to the deluge of Lagavulin Day).
First up: the Octomore Event Horizon masterclass with head distiller, Adam Hannett! We wandered up to Warehouse 12, located round the back of the distillery, and we were in for a right treat. We knew in advance that this year’s Fèis Ìle release was an Octomore, and, in fact, the whole day was largely Octomore-themed. What we didn’t know was that the distillery bottling was the oldest liquid ever released from the brand, and we certainly didn’t anticipate the other treats that were in store!
The masterclass drams. DELISH.
The Bruichladdich day masterclass has proved so popular that this year places were allocated via ballot. As you arrived, you were funnelled through a dark corridor filled with really rather ethereal sounds. Kind of fitting then that the audio setting the scene, a recording of the sounds actual stars make, was supplied by NASA (yes, off of the space agency)!
There were 250 other whisky geeks packed into the cathedral-like warehouse. Among us was none other than Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet, CEO of Bruichladdich’s parent company, Rémy Cointreau! No pressure on Hannett, then..! The tasting was also streamed around the world on the distillery’s social channels. Do check out the Bruichladdich YouTube page if you fancy getting the full shebang!
He introduced the six cask-strength, natural colour drams for the session (practically breakfast) but declined to say much about two of them. Interest was certainly piqued at this point! Dram one, according to Hannett, was “too young, too peaty, too strong” – it was a tongue-in-cheek statement designed to provoke a response. We tasted the five year old expression, peated to 107 parts per million (ppm) and bottled at 59.8% ABV. I think it’s safe to say he got his response – one that confirmed that whisky can be seriously tasty at any age, ABV or ppm count.
Adam doing his thing
Dram 2 was similar to dram one – except it had been left to mature for another eight years, making it 13 years old. It had spent time in both ex-bourbon and ex-sweet wine casks, and was rich and oily, yet simultaneously confectionery-led with a subdued smoke element. It was peated to 167ppm and bottled at 57.5% ABV, proving the point that what you do with the liquid post production has a huge impact on how easily perceived peat is. Dram 3 was peated to a whopping 309.1ppm – the peatiest Octomore, and indeed Scotch single malt, ever. Distilled in 2011 and matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks, the 60.7% ABV liquid was as complex as it was bewildering. Despite the hefty malt specification, the smoke was barely there on the nose; instead it was like a syrupy cinnamon bun. It did arrive on the palate, but it was much more relaxed than expected. Even the ABV contributed a textural prickle, rather than an all-out alcohol frazzle. What is this Octomore alchemy?!
The next dram was fully matured in virgin French heavily toasted oak for a smidge over three years – and again it proved confounding. Despite its youth, it was rich and rounded (the only thing to let slip its age was that rubbery bounce often found in younger spirits). And, despite the ppm measure only reaching a fraction of dram 3 at 88, it was a bit of a peat monster. “It challenges the convention” of three year old whisky, Hannett said. He is not wrong.
The final two drams were, for me, the absolute highlight. Dram 5 was the festival bottling! We collared Hannett himself for a chat about it afterwards – you can watch it all right here:
Then. Wow. What can be said about dram six?! “It’s a Black Art style of Octomore,” Hannett explained, meaning the cask type is kept largely under wraps. What he did disclose is that the youngest spirit was distilled in 2011, and, because of the range of casks its drawn from, the ppm measure is “impossible to calculate”. Here’s the fun bit: not only was it seriously delicious and really quite elegant (all coffee, toffee, vanilla notes, with apple pie, milk chocolate and cinnamon doughnuts, the 59.5% expression has a “backbone” from one of the only two Octomore casks filled in 2002. For that reason, it’s never going to be released. It’s magic though, and it was an honour to get to taste it.
Sunshine of Bruichladdich
Guess what? We emerged from the masterclass and the sun was shining! We descended to the main Bruichladdich yard with haste! The bands were on, there was all kinds of food (including both vegan and gluten-free options!) and, of course, the drams were flowing. Punters could go and check out the dram tent, with an array of complimentary options from across the Bruichladdich portfolio. Or, head up through the yard to the Botanist Cocktail Tent. The flower-filled space had garnish-your-own B*&T options and an enormous cocktail bar with whisky as well as gin serves (we highly recommend the Laddie Tea Time, made with Classic Laddie, lemon balm, Verveine tea, sorrel, and ginger. Yum). Opposite in the Malt Bar was almost the full Bruichladdich portfolio available to buy by the dram, plus an enormous range of Islay Ales – the perfect refresher after all that Octomore! (There was a whole host of local wares for sale in the Islay Arts & Crafts space, too. Ideal for gifts!) Speaking of gifts, we had our freebies for you lots too. We’re at every distillery open day this week giving away drams of our exclusive All Islay Blended Malt and matching t-shirts. Because everyone wants to co-ord with their drink. Come and find us to bag yours!
Cocktails! The Laddie Tea Time and a Bee the Botanist
It wouldn’t be Bruichladdich Open Day without a stellar music line up, and this year did not disappoint. Skerryvore kicked things off, before Trail West took to the stage. And then our Rhythm and Booze Project pals rounded things off once more! The whole yard was grooving. Add in the sunshine and that array of boozes, and there was nowhere else on the island to be! And as well as giving folks the best time, Bruichladdich also did its part for the local Port Charlotte primary school. A bunch of incredible bottles (and a clootie dumpling) were auctioned off to raise funds for the school, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and other brilliant causes. Great stuff, folks!
We were, of course, also on dog look-out once again. From a parade of very fancy poodles to the waggiest and fluffiest of mutts, and even an actual doge(!) the quality of hound was once again high. Bravo, whisky-loving poochie parents!
We even rounded off the day with a motoring feat**, Turns out, Kenny, our filmmaker, is not a one-trick pony. Not only can he shoot, cut, stitch together and the like, he’s also a car manoeuvring fiend. We all know parking is tight at distillery days, but he managed to wiggle the car out of the tiniest of spots. Well done, sir!
*The Botanist, obvs.
** No bollards were harmed in the making of this blog post.
It’s the first official day of Fèis Ìle 2019, so we did the only appropriate thing: headed south to Lagavulin to kick off the celebrations in some significant style! After…
It’s the first official day of Fèis Ìle 2019, so we did the only appropriate thing: headed south to Lagavulin to kick off the celebrations in some significant style!
After a day of sunshine yesterday (Bruichladdich, Port Ellen and Islay House looked amazing in the brightness), Saturday dawned murky and drizzly, with midges lurking about ominously. Grey, low visibility… typically Islay, perhaps, and the rain is certainly needed. Distilleries across the island are struggling with production due to low water levels. We* embraced the ‘greater good’ mentality, loaded up the car in full waterproofs, and jetted off back to Lagavulin for the first official distillery day of Fèis Ìle 2019!
Whisky has arrived!
I say ‘back’ because after we hit ‘publish’ on Day 0’s post, we headed to the distillery for an absolute treat: a tasting of the full Game of Thrones single malt collection in the Malt Mill! Donald Colville, Ewan Gunn and newest ambassador recruit TJ talked the packed hall through the whole shebang, finishing on the House Lannister & Lagavulin 9 Year Old – I know whisky always tastes better where it was made, but this one truly was delectable! We rounded off the night with an array of Lagavulin-based cocktails; a dream way to round off Day Zero!
Make way for the SMWS Tour of Islay!
But back to today! We parked up, grabbed the camera kit from the car (more on that shortly!) and made our way over to Lagavulin. But we didn’t get far because behold! The Scotch Malt Whisky Society peloton came through, fresh from starting their Tour of Islay challenge from Ardbeg. Lagavulin was stop number two. Thankfully they seemed fresh-legged and full of energy – we sent them off on their (not yet) merry way with a stash of our All Islay drams!
All you need is Rhythm and Booze!
After waving the SMWS team off, the Ardview Inn pipe band arrived! Processing round the distillery, they kept the hordes Lagaqueuelin-ing for the official Fèis Ìle bottling (a 19 year old – more on that shortly) entertained. We then headed down into the yard. It was only 10:30 but the crowds had already gathered! Team Lagavulin was more than prepared for the soggy weather and were armed with free ponchos, so people could party and dram in the rain without a care in the world. Good job too – the bands, including The Rhythm and Booze Project, had everyone up on their feet.
TJ wowing the crowd
Well – it was partly the blues, and definitely partly the drams. Lagavulin super-generously had free pours of its core range on offer. Plus an incredibly exciting 10 year old expression, not set to launch in the UK for another six months! Keep your eyes peeled – it’s a good one.
PONCHO! (And Jake)
Adjacent to the dram hall was the cocktail bar – there was a major focus on mixed drinks this year, and rightfully so. Lagavulin is a great dram for mixing (we’ll send you to TJ if you even mutter the world ‘sacrilege’!) and the results were delicious. Ali Reynolds (off of Diageo Reserve and World Class) and the team cooked up some classics old and new, including the Smokey Cokey Floaty (with Lagavulin 16, complete with ice cream and a cherry!) and the really rather refreshing Queen of Islay, made with the 2017 Jazz Festival edition, ginger, hibiscus and soda. Yum. It was genuinely exciting to see cocktails properly take front and centre at a whisky festival – which they truly were in the (free!) cocktail sessions throughout the day, hosted by TJ and the legendary Colin Dunn!
Our Laura with the Lagavulin Piña Colada and Queen of Islay!
It wasn’t all about the boozes, though – there was an epic selection of food available, including a number of delectable vegan options, much to our surprise and delight. Round of applause, Lagavulin! There were also free, reusable metal flasks given out along with loads of water stations, a welcome addition to various distillery open days in recent years. Responsible (sip, don’t gulp, folks!) and great for the environment (no plastic!).
We escaped from the melee to grab some time with Colin Gordon, Lagavulin’s distillery manager. You sent your questions for him on social, and we put a whole load to him! Keep your eyes peeled for the results. But also! He gave us a guided tasting through the 2019 Fèis Ìle bottling – a delectable 19-year-old expression. And we’ve got the footage with everything you need to know – and you can see it RIGHT HERE!
Aside from the brilliant crowd and the tip-top whisky, there was another major highlight. All the excellent doggos! Not put off by the rain, the hounds were out in force. A distillery really is an ace place to go if you want to make friends with a poochie!
Bravo, Lagavulin, and thanks for an epic day. We’re off for a hearty dinner and to dream of drams. Next stop tomorrow: Bruichladdich Open Day!
*An apology. In our blog yesterday, I neglected to introduce you to the 2019 MoM Fèis Ìle dream team! We are a five-strong band of whisky enthusiasts and media geeks, with the mission to bring all the fun of the Fèis to social, the blog and through the medium of video. We have Kenny, our film-maker, Dan, our social media manager, Jake and Laura from our campaign team and me, Kristy, our editor. If you see us out and about on Islay, come and say hi (and bag some whisky swag!).
Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch…
Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at Islay House!
First things first: it feels mighty strange calling this blog Day 0 when actually it was mega action-packed and full of fun. But traditionally the first day of the Fèis has been Lagavulin so… maybe the whole shebang needs a bit of shaking up? But that’s a debate for another time. Preferably over a dram…
Right. So, Team MoM is on Islay! Our main home for the first part of the week is ever-so-fancy. Yes, yesterday we checked into The Machrie, and no joke – it is stunning. Gorgeous rooms, great service, lots of whisky. But! We did manage to lure ourselves away first thing in the morning because the lure of Bruichladdich was strong.
Filming up at Bruichladdich
Those of you with half an eye on the Islay calendar will well know today is NOT Bruichladdich day. But Christy McFarlane, malts communications manager, enticed us over early with promise of barley news. And it was cool. We had a good chinwag as we wandered up to the new croft, taking in the views across Loch Indaal and back towards Bowmore as we climbed. The views were spectacular and the barley trials exciting indeed. Watch this space – a video with all the deets is coming soon!
No real time for a stop though as we traversed back across the island to the Port Ellen Maltings (via the all-important Co-op in Bowmore for a vital sandwich stop). This was Mega Exciting (capital letters very much intended) for both me and Jake – we’d never visited the site before, and it is integral to the island’s whisky industry. The Diageo-owned facility malts barley for seven of the nine distilleries – not just its own, Caol Ila and Lagavulin. The team had put on their own almost-distillery day, complete with music, gazebos and all manner of malting facts. And, of course, there were tours.
It’s Port Ellen!
Before we had a nose about, we went down to Port Ellen beach with the maltings’ site operations manager Sam Hale and Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global scotch whisky master. In front of the old Port Ellen distillery we put your questions to them both, covering production at the maltings and the revival of the distillery itself. Videos to follow! (If you’ve got questions for any of the Islay distillery teams, send them to us on social or pop them in the comments below!).
Dogs of the day!
Then Hale showed us round the maltings and the scale was something else. Super impressive, indeed! From the eight 25-tonne steeps to the enormous drums, and the gigantic kilns, which take in 6 tons of peat per batch, it’s clear that the operation is something special. We popped into the control room (like a spaceship) and even out onto the roof overlooking the old Port Ellen distillery. It was like glorious, peat-scented magic.
SMWS ‘s Highland Games at Islay House
Time for a quick ice-cream break, then it was up towards the other end of the island for another village fete-type set up: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Islay House takeover! There was bunting, drams galore, and a whisky-themed Highland Games, complete with axe-throwing and archery. We did not partake, but we did spot a trio of excellent dogs! We also caught up with the SMWS team, including the intrepid Richard who is taking on the recently-established Tour of Islay tomorrow. If you see a bunch of folks in SMWS cycling kits pedalling along, give them a wave or hoot – they’re aiming to cover all nine distilleries and 65-ish miles in one day!
That’s all too much energy for us. We’re off for tea. And a dram or three. Roll on Lagavulin Day tomorrow!