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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!).