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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!