It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila time! Do you know what Caol Ila means in Gaelic? The sound of Islay. It’s fitting then, that the brand is marking its distillery day with a night of whisky and music. We found out why these two worlds collide so beautifully, what the distillery exclusive bottling to look out for is and what the distillery has planned for today.

What’s going on today: At Caol Ila on 31 May, starting at 7pm on the Caol Ila Facebook page, a night of whisky and music will take place with Glasgow-based actor and musician, Patricia Panther, as guest host. Mairi McGillvary, an Islay-born award-winning Gaelic singer will share some of her latest music and Alasdair Currie, a Gaelic singer, and piper also based in Islay, will join the lineup for a special performance. The evening is complete with a first look at the Caol Ila Fèis Ìle Festival bottling, delicious whisky cocktail recipes, and a specially commissioned contemporary composition from singer-songwriter Beldina Odenyo.

What’s the distillery exclusive to look out for: Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2021 – 12 Year Old. A bottling matured in refill American Oak casks and finished in high char Moscatel-seasoned casks, there’s just 3,000 of these being released with an ABV of 56.6%, and an RSP of £130 per 70cl. It’s available to purchase at Lagavulin Distillery and online on malts.com from 1 June with a pre-sale for subscribers at 2pm (BST) 31 May. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

It’s Caol Ila day!

Coal Ila: the marriage of music and malts

“I was over in Islay last week recording and it’s a wonderfully noisy place. The wind was blowing. The waves were crashing against the rocks. That’s very much the sound of the island. You expect those natural sounds of the island. But during Fèis something changes in the air, the pubs get busier and it’s really noisy. There are incredible bands and musicians everywhere and the place really comes to life”. 

Diageo brand ambassador, Ervin Trykowski is telling me why Caol Ila chose music as its theme for its distillery day this year. He says Fèis is in essence a music festival as much as it is a whisky one. As much we love our drams, we’re inclined to agree. It’s in the name, for goodness sake. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt. It’s an integral part of the celebration. There’s so much going on, you don’t have to be a whisky drinker to get involved. 

Music and whisky have long been entwined. Think of stars like Frank Sinatra, Keith Richards or ‘Lemmy’ Kilmeister (who was so associated with Jack Daniel’s over the years that an online petition to rename a JD-and-Coke as ‘a Lemmy’ after his death got about 50,000 signatures). While Bob Dylan, Slipknot, and more have entered into the world of booze production. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

Mairi McGillvray grew up surrounded by music and malts

The sound of Islay

Few musicians can be as steeped in whisky lore as Mairi McGillvary, who is performing for Caol Ila tonight. She was born on the island, her dad was a warehouseman at Bunnahabhain for over 30 years and she even worked there as a tour guide. Since a young age, she has been highly involved in Fèis Ìle, as a singer, fiddler, and highland dancer. “I believe that music and whisky are two of Scotland’s most important exports,” McGilvary says. “Whisky has played a huge part in my life. Growing up on Islay, it is all around you. To be able to tie that in with my love for music is a real privilege”. 

We often think of pairings for whisky solely in terms of food. But settings, sounds, and company enhance and change your dram as much as any dish. There’s a whisky for every genre of music. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

Grab a dram and enjoy!

“Everyone’s got their own favourite whiskies and they’ve got their own wonderful taste in music,” Trykowski says. “Music can change your mood, it can change the way you feel about different whiskies, and the whisky can do exactly the same to the music. It’s a partnership that works together in harmony”. 

Perhaps whisky and music go together so well because they share a great many things. Both cannot be crafted without a degree of care, intellect, and technology, but ultimately they’re works of art with ethereal qualities; an ability to transport; to elicit visceral, emotional, and instinctive responses; to make you want to share more moments with the people you love; to make you want to dance, even if it’s painfully obvious to everyone that it’s a terrible, terrible idea. 

So, grab a dram, pop our playlist on and celebrate a festival that brings the two together so brilliantly. Slàinte mhath!