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The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

It’s The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura time! Today we say hello to Jura and wave goodbye to the festival on its final day. Good thing…

It’s The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura time! Today we say hello to Jura and wave goodbye to the festival on its final day. Good thing we’ve got a range of delicious whisky cocktails lined up to toast another fantastic Fèis!

Sadly all good things must come to an end and the Islay Festival is no exception. We hope you’ve enjoyed the many virtual celebrations that have taken place over the last 10 days and still have some energy left to enjoy a cocktail or two with us and the folk at Jura Distillery.

The remote island whisky producer is home to more deer than Bambifest 2021 (we’ll see you there), George Orwell’s classic 1984 (he wrote the novel here on something of a writers’ retreat), and a distinctive brand of soft, fruity, coastal, and delicately peaty drams. While we can’t make the pilgrimage this year, we can still enjoy the fruits of the island’s labour in a variety of serves with Stephen Martin, global single malt whisky specialist for Whyte & Mackay, Jura’s parent company.

But first, let’s see what the distillery is up to and, one last time, we’ll remind you that we made this rad playlist on Spotify. It’s got the kind of music you’d expect to hear at the festival and some others fun tunes. What’s not to like? 

What’s going on today:

Jura kicks off its celebration with Brunch Cocktails, a relaxed cocktail session that takes place from 1.30-2.30pm on Instagram Live hosted by Stephen Martin, and Kyle Jameson, co-founder of Nauticus, Edinburgh. Then from 7.30-8.30pm on Instagram Live there’s the Jura Pub Lock-In. For this, Martin will be joined by Andy Gemmell, owner of The Gate, Glasgow, for an event that aims to recreate an afternoon down the pub.

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

Our final day sees us heading to Jura (virtually)!

Jura’s whisky cocktail masterclass

“To us, Jura is so much more than a whisky – it’s a way of life and Jura Day is a celebration of that. It’s a festival that celebrates not only our vibrant and lively whisky but the spirited community that crafts our whisky and makes our island home special. Usually, we’d be welcoming visitors to our shores to toast the day with us in person. While we’re not able to do that this year, we’re hoping our virtual cocktail and beer-pairing events will bring a bit of fun to anyone tuning in wherever they are in the world,” said Stephen Martin .

He has a busy schedule today. In two different cocktail events, he aims to showcase how Jura’s whiskies can be used in countless ways, from brunch-style cocktails to sippers to pair with a pint in a cosy pub, and everything in between. “Whilst Jura is an authentic, island single malt, we’re also proud of how accessible it is – it’s enjoyable and approachable for everyone. These sessions are designed to showcase the true versatility of the range. Ultimately, we want everyone to be able to enjoy Jura and get creative with how they choose to drink it,” he says.

Martin hopes that events like today’s will demonstrate there’s more to single malts than sipping a neat dram. “We’re slowly but surely seeing a change in attitudes in the category with a wider variety of people enjoying Scotch – including younger whisky fans – which has certainly helped to shake things up,” he says.

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

Grab your bottle of Jura and get mixing!

Changing perceptions

The progress being made is underlined by the fact that not long ago it would have seemed inconceivable to base a festival day around mixing peated whisky. But cocktail culture has firmly made it to Islay, despite it being a setting that is often presented as a traditional throwback. You won’t find a distillery that doesn’t offer cocktails at the festival now and each brand is very happy to recruit highly skilled bartenders like Jamieson and Gemmell.

Today Martin and co. will be playing around with whiskies from the brand’s Signature Series, including Jura 10 Year Old, Journey, Seven Wood and 12 Year Old. Martin says they have flavour palates that lend themselves well to mixology. “We like to say this range is full of whiskies that are smooth, bright and lively (just like the tiny island community who make them) which work fantastically in cocktails. Each whisky brings something different to the mix so it’s great to experiment with the whole range”.

If you’re interested in learning how to mix Scotch whisky like the best, then watching the sessions today should provide inspiration and a source of invaluable expertise. Martin says there’s also plenty of advice available online (such as on Jura’s Instagram page) and that should start with simple cocktails. “And remember to have fun with it.”

We can’t reveal all the recipes you’ll get to see today, but Martin has kindly revealed how to make the Journey in a Breakfast Martini and a Coffee Highball featuring the 12-year-old expression. They’re both delicious and easy enough to make. As for the rest, you’ll have to tune in to see those!

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

There’s plenty of virtual festivities to enjoy today.

Jura Coffee Highball

35ml Jura 12 Year Old
10ml coffee liqueur
15ml Amarosa
Cream soda 

Build all ingredients into a tall glass then top with cream soda and garnish with a dehydrated orange slice.

Journey Breakfast Martini 

40ml Jura Journey
10ml Lucky Liquor Orange
5ml Lucky Liquor Kummel
15ml lemon juice
1 tsp marmalade 

Shake all ingredients with plenty of ice. Double strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 8: Bunnnahabhain

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 8: Bunnahabhain time! It’s the eighth day of our celebration of all things Islay and we’re looking at what’s going on…

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 8: Bunnahabhain time! It’s the eighth day of our celebration of all things Islay and we’re looking at what’s going on at Bunnahabhain while Ian Buxton shares with us some of his memories of the distillery. 

Today, we’re moving the virtual party to Bunnahabhain, famed for its unpeated whisky though it does produce some smoky bottling. So let’s take a look at what the distillery is laying on before handing over to Ian Buxton for some Islay reminisces. But first, here’s a rain-drenched video we made in 2019 with distillery manager Andrew Brown. And if you want some music, why not listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify?

What’s going on today:

It’s all taking place on Facebook on Friday 4th June. Go here for more information:

4pm – A warehouse tasting of drams straight from the cask. 

8pm – A masterclass featuring a veritable class of masters including master blender Julieann Fernandez, master distiller Brendan McCarron, Andrew Brown, visitor centre manager Billy Sinclair and whisky writer Dave Broom. They will be tasting the 12 year old before moving on to the Fèis Ìle 2021 bottlings.

The distillery is also hosting a virtual tour of Islay, which will give viewers a chance to choose where the distillery visitor centre manager, Billy Sinclair, visits. He’ll speak with some of the island’s most famous residents, sharing tales about everything it has to offer and explain why we’re so taken by Islay’s landscapes, Gaelic heritage, whisky bars and nautical past. The distillery has also made Islay Roam Around and Spotify playlists to enjoy and will today unveil a third Fèis Ìle release live during its evening tasting – a super-exclusive bottling which one lucky fan will have the chance to win by taking part in Billy’s voyage around the island. All of the distillery’s events will be broadcast live on Facebook.

What are the distillery exclusives to look out for:

There are two whiskies, bottled just for the festival: a 2013 Moine (peated expression) finished in Bordeaux casks and bottled at 59.5% ABV for £85, and a 2001 Marsala Cask Finish, bottled at 53.6% ABV, which cost £199 but it is sadly already sold out. A third is also due to be announced…

Master blender Julieann Fernandez

Master blender Julieann Fernandez

Ian Buxton’s Bunnahabhain memories:

I have fond memories of Bunnahabhain.

I first visited around 35 years ago when it, like most of Islay, was in a sorry state. Production was at a very low ebb or had possibly stopped completely. The buildings, stark and functional at the best of times, felt almost abandoned, looking drab, unkempt and uncared-for. There was a somnolent air about the place, lacking even a Hebridean sense of urgency.

Bunnahabhain’s heyday

It was not always thus. Visiting shortly after its construction, that indefatigable Victorian whisky hack Alfred Barnard thought it “a fine pile of buildings … and quite enclosed”, noting also “a noble gateway”.  Much later his spiritual successor Michael Jackson went so far as to compare it, not unfavourably, to a Bordeaux château. But in Barnard’s day Bunnahabhain was second only to Ardbeg in output and Michael, ever the extravagant romantic and ready to embrace lost causes, saw only the best in places that a colder eye might have found harsh, almost brutal.

It’s the concrete, of course. The original builders, who landed here to create from the heath and bare rock a distillery and a community, made free use of it. The tiny puffers (small coastal tramp vessels, vital to the economy of all Hebridean islands until pushed aside by the larger ferries in the 1960s) could run up onto Bunnahabhain’s stony beach and land men and materials and, once the distillery was operational, bring barrels and barley (and tea and like necessities for the men and their families) leaving with barrels and whisky. Eventually, a pier was built, functional yet graceful and larger ships would call. Today most supplies and visitors come by lorry or car along the tortuous, twisting road that starts just above Caol Ila immediately before its precipitous drop into Port Askaig.


No shortage of concrete at Bunnahabhain

Summers on Islay

I recall long summer breaks, staying first in the old manager’s house high above the distillery itself and later in one of the rows of cottages to the left of the main building. It was the perfect spot for a holiday with small children – safe and quiet and with access to rock pools to explore, shipwrecks to discover and a deserted beach on which to build a makeshift barbeque. 

And it was cheap – tourism to Islay had yet to be invented. In my memory, the sun shone, though I am surely putting a generous gloss on the weather. Most days, we could at least glimpse the Paps of Jura and the fast-running waters of the Sound of Islay.

Once I traded with some fishermen and acquired two fine partens (edible brown crabs) which I intended to cook later that evening. The children had other ideas: having made firm friends with the doomed crustaceans, they argued long and passionately for their release. And so it came about that I threw my dinner in the sea, an enduring memory of this place. On better days we enjoyed Loch Gruinart oysters – with just a splash of Bunna and sea air to taste.

The wreck of the Wyre Majestic

I should think we visited the Wyre Majestic almost daily.  Walk just past the cottages and round the point and you’ll see her: a 338-ton trawler, looking slightly less majestic since October 1974 when she ran aground on the rocky shoreline, perhaps seduced by hints of whisky on the breeze. Here’s the thing: if you time your visit for low tide it’s perfectly possible to hit the rusting hulk with a well-aimed stone (there is no shortage of suitable missiles). It makes a very satisfactory noise and if you have small children with you, especially boys, they will be impressed by your manly skills.

Since 2014, Bunnahabhain’s ultimate owner is Distell, a major South African drinks company and owner of Burn Stewart whose name is on the door. But, with Heineken circling Distell and a takeover bid rumoured to be imminent, it’s unclear who will end up with the keys to Barnard’s noble gateway.

Bunnahabhain holds a special place in my whisky memories, its austere and apparently forbidding walls a part of my whisky soul. It’s unclear when I will return. But return I shall and take in the peace and recall the crabs and the sea trout I took off the beach – or nearly took, for it slipped the hook only inches from my over-eager grasp – and throw stones at the old Majestic in search of lost time and memories.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman time! So we’re taking a look at the history of one of the newer distilleries on the island but one…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman time! So we’re taking a look at the history of one of the newer distilleries on the island but one that has had a huge impact on Scotch whisky in its short life. 

Somehow we’ve got to Day 7 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021. To be honest, we’re flagging a bit but never fear, when there’s a dram of Kilchoman on the horizon our spirits lift and we’re ready to put out some more high quality content.

Today, we’re delving into the story of Islay’s newest distillery that has actually released some whisky, looking at how Kilchoman has gone from new kid on the block to justified and ancient (that’s enough ‘80s musical references), and seeing what the team has planned for Fèis Ìles this year. Don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify or watch the above clip of Anthony Wills talking to MoM.

What’s going on today:

Unlike some distilleries (naming no names) which are playing their cards close to their chests when it comes to Feis action, the team at Kilchoman has published a full list of all the online malty goodness going on. They’re dubbing it 360° Fèis Ìle – full details can be found on website or go to: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube for more information. Sadly tasting packs and the Fèis Ìle 2021 distillery bottling are all sold out but you can tune in. And there’s still plenty of Kilchoman goodness on the Master of Malt website.

Here’s a little taster of what to expect;

12 noon – Kilchoman ‘DNA’ Live Tasting 

A tasting of some of the core range including Machir Bay, Loch Gorm and Sanaig all at cask strength. Plus a preview of the 11th Edition of the 100% Islay release which is “distilled from our 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 barley harvests” and “matured for a minimum of nine years in 26 bourbon barrels and seven Oloroso sherry butts.” 

1pm – On the Farm 

The general manager at Kilchoman, Islay Heads (yes that really is his name), talks through how different barley varieties and fields affect the flavour of the whisky. Followed by a live Q&A.

2pm – Malting and Peating 

Fancy learning about how a traditional floor malting works? Of course you do, well maltman Derek Scott is on hand to show you how it’s done, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions too.

The Nightcap

The new shiny Kilchoman stills

3pm –  In the Stillhouse 

Now we move on to the next stage of the process as production manager, Robin Bignal, will give you a behind the scenes tour of the stillhouse from milling and mashing to fermentation and distillation.  And yes, you can ask questions. 

4pm – Maturing in the Warehouse 

This sounds fun, Anthony Wills talks all things cask maturation and delves into the dark corners of the warehouse. What might he find? Whisky probably. 

5pm – Vatting and Bottling 

And for the final part of the 360 degree tour, bottling hall manager Michal Besser takes you on a tour of perhaps the least glamorous, but extremely vital, part of the whole process. If you have a question about chill filtering, now is the time to ask. 

But that’s not all. There are still two more tastings to get through. Phew!

6pm – ‘Through the Ages’ Live Tasting 

Tune in for a tasting of our before following the journey of maturation with samples of 2006, 2011 and 2016 casks.

7.15pm – ‘Experimental Casks’ Live Tasting 

This sounds like enormous fun. A tasting of some unusual casks that whisky has been entirely aged in. No finishing here. Featuring Cognac, Calvados, Port and STR (shaved, toasted and charred) casks. If only those pesky tasting sets weren’t sold out. 

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Founder Anthony Wills at the opening of the new stillhouse and visitor centre

Kilchoman’s history

Kilchoman is such a fixture on Islay’s whisky scene that it’s easy to forget how unusual it was when it first opened in 2005. Back then, it was the island’s first new distillery for 120 years. Since then it’s been joined by Ardnahoe and there’s a tenth on the way courtesy of Speciality Drinks. 

From the beginning, Kilchoman’s owners, the Wills family, wanted to do things a bit differently using barley grown on the island and malted in their own floor maltings. And it worked, the first releases had whisky lovers in raptures over Kilchoman’s elegant, light-peated style. 

Indeed, the whisky proved so popular that the distillery began plans for expansion in 2018. It involved building an entirely new still house with identical equipment to the current one, doubling capacity to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol annually. This opened in 2020 along with a new visitor centre. We were meant to visit but the Islay weather had other ideas. Then Covid struck and as such we haven’t seen the expanded distillery in all its glory. Something we hope to remedy as soon as possible.  


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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 6: Bowmore

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 6: Bowmore time! Today, we’re taking a look at all the online excitement going on at the distillery while Millie Milliken delves…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 6: Bowmore time! Today, we’re taking a look at all the online excitement going on at the distillery while Millie Milliken delves into the dark art of mixing smoke with sherry.

For the sixth day of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021, we’re heading to the west coast of the island to visit Bowmore, the home of some of Scotland’s most revered whiskies. You can’t be there in person but you can get into the spirit of things by visiting some of the online events below, watching our video from Feis Ile 2019, listening to our Islay memories Spotify playlist and, of course, drinking some tasty Bowmore single malts. And we’ve got Millie Milliken below finding out how distillers balance smoke with sherry casks. What a line-up!

What’s going on today:

Visit the Bowmore Feis Ile page for the full itinerary.

11:30am A Warm Welcome – opening event

12:30pm Bowmore Distillers Art tour – learn how the whisky is made

1:30pm Cook along with Pete McKenna – top Scottish chef shows you how it’s done.

5pm Our Island Home – join the team for a tour of Islay

6pm Malting with the Manager – distillery manager David Turner talks about how malt affects the flavour of the whisky.  

7pm Live tasting – panel including master of spirits Iain McCallum, David Turner and others taste and discuss some fine Bowmore malts. 

There will also be a festival bottling. Sign up here to enter the ballot for a chance to buy it. 


Bowmore distillery on a glorious summer’s day

Smoke and sherry 101

What happens when you bring the flavours of smoke and sherry together in a whisky? Turns out, quite a lot. Millie Milliken spoke to the people in the know about how to marry the two together harmoniously.

As far as alliterative double acts in whisky production go, smoke and sherry is an intriguing one. Peat levels, sherry origin, barley strain, ageing time and cask wood all play their parts when it comes to that final liquid – be it Bowmore 15 Year Old, Talisker 2010 Distillers Edition or Ardbeg Uigeadail.

“Most of our expressions are a combination of bourbon and sherry casks,” David Miles, Bowmore’s brand ambassador, tells me. It is the 15 year old though that really stands out when it comes to smoke and sherry. “We do something different there. We do 12 years maturation in bourbon barrels then transfer everything to sherry casks for the final three years.” That final three years, Miles says, transforms the smokiness into something that more resembles cinder toffee.

It ain’t cheap though, he points out, but the reward for the whisky maker of having more opportunity to play around – and the added layer of flavour – make it worth it.

For Jason Clark, Talisker brand ambassador, he sees the addition of aging in sherry casks as “a subtle seasoning to enhance complexity without dominating our signature distillery character”.

Easier said than done. So, what key elements of the whisky making process do makers need to focus on when it comes to balancing the two?

Bowmore's floor malting

Bowmore’s floor malting

For peat’s sake

Peat, the source of the smoke, can come in many forms. “Mainland peat does have a more woody quality to it when you burn it, whereas Islay peat is more heather and seaweed,” explains Miles. When it comes to Bowmore, the team combines the two types of peat. They also have the advantage of having their own floor malting meaning they can peat about 30% of their Laureate barley using Islay peat, while what they bring in from the mainland (Concerto barley) will be peated using mainland peat.

Over at Talisker, the team uses a mixture of both peated and non-peated barley. “This means that the smoke is a layer of flavour and aroma amongst many others rather than being the dominant character,” explains Clark.

Get your fill

Sherry cask is, it goes without saying, a key factor too. For Bowmore, it’s nearly always Oloroso sherry casks (with a couple of exceptions) which are sourced from a ‘seasoning bodega’ in Jerez and have been used by the brand for over 20 years.

Talisker tends to use refill casks, “for a gentle maturation process that allows our distillery character to shine through, particularly the savoury salt, the spicy pepper and that classic maritime smoke,” says Clark.

And while the type of sherry, whether its super sweet like a PX or bone dry like an Amontillado, plays its part, so does the wood the barrels are made of. Something Miles is keen to impress: “More often than not, those flavours are probably more to do with the fact that it is European oak being used,” he explains of the dried fruit and spice notes of Bowmore’s sherry cask bottlings. “Lots of sherry casks are made with American oak and that will give you very different flavours. We as an industry just tend to talk about ‘sherry cask’, but we should probably be paying attention to the subspecies of oaks.”

Bowmore 15

Bowmore’s magnificent sherry-soaked 15 Year Old

Age is but a number… or is it?

While the time spent in barrel gives flavour, it can also taketh away. Miles points out that around the 16-18 year mark, the peat influence in Bowmore starts to decline. This fact is true for nearly all peated whisky, meaning everything past those years will mainly be coming from the wood.

When it comes to that Bowmore 15 Year Old, then, it is just at that tipping point: “because the smoke has started to decline it allows that sweetness to come through”.

For Clark, while the casks bring those wonderful winter spice and dry nuttiness notes to the liquid, In some instances, the influence of sherry can be overdone. Balance, he says, is key.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig! Today’s we’re using words like TCP and phenolic as we take a look at one of Islay’s most uncompromising distilleries…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig! Today’s we’re using words like TCP and phenolic as we take a look at one of Islay’s most uncompromising distilleries while Millie Milliken will take a look at matching different whiskies with food. 

Located in the south of Islay near Port Ellen, Laphroaig has been making heavily-peated whisky since 1815 when it was founded by Donald and Alexander Johnston. It’s now part of the Beam Suntory group and makes much of its divisive character. People who love Laphroaig, it has fans in high places such as Prince Charles, really love it, while some whisky drinkers can’t stand the stuff. 

Today, we’re taking a look at what’s going on at the distillery today, while Millie Milliken delves into the complicated matter of pairing peaty whiskies with food. They can surprisingly food friendly. As we can’t be there in person, we’ve posted a video we made in 2019 with distillery manager John Campbell. And you can listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the mood.

What’s going on today

You need to register on here to get the full rundown. There will be four events four events which include two sessions with distillery manager John Campbell, a food and drink masterclass and the unveiling of Laphroaig Cairdeas 2021. Events will take place at 2pm, 4pm, 6:15pm and 11:30pm all Islay time. 

Look for daily deals on Laphroaig on the Master of Malt site.  And now Millie Milliken takes a look at how to pair whisky with food – and even cook with it –  with advice from the experts, though not from anyone at Laphroaig as they didn’t get back to us in time. 

Laphroaig 10 Year Old goes brilliantly with seafood

Laphroaig 10 Year Old goes brilliantly with seafood

Whisky + food: How to pair and cook with whisky

Sweet, savoury; smoky, spicy: whisky comes with plenty of flavours to pair and cook food with. How do the pros do it? We headed into both the bar and the kitchen to find out

Have you heard of luging? No, not the Olympic sport, but in the world of food and drink, it means to use a previously food-filled vessel to consume alcohol. My most recent luging experience was at The Savoy’s pop-up Solas restaurant. In honour of the new art-deco style food offering from the hotel, Bowmore whisky rocked up and was being paired with oysters as a showcase starter.

We began by sipping oyster brine, then the whisky (Bowmore 12yo), we swallowed both, followed by the oyster and finally a rinse of the shell with more whisky. It was revelatory, with the whisky’s smoke, citrus and oily notes working wonders with the medley of Carlingford, Jersey and Maldon bivalve molluscs.

Whisky and food have a long-standing relationship, but where does one start? And with so many flavours to choose from, how do you pick out the ones that make all the difference?

Pairing principles

For Raffaele Di Monaco, bars manager at London’s The Berkley, pairing whisky and food comes with a few simple parameters. “Knowing the flavour profile of the whisky and its provenance is really important and will help you decide… and, of course, tasting is extremely important.”

From there, it’s a case of identifying which foods stand up to what styles of whisky. For example, Di Monaco thinks that peated whiskies can be both sweet and salty, so can be paired with savoury dishes as well as cheese. With drier styles, perhaps something more fatty and meaty. For Islay whiskies though, he thinks their versatility means they work best with seafood (oysters, langoustine, lobster) as well as mature cheeses or pear tarts – even, perhaps, banana bread (Di Monaco has made a banana cocktail with Laphroaig).

Specifically with Laphroaig, Di Monaco has had some great experiences: “I’ve been on Islay a couple of times and I’ve actually had a seafood platter with Laphroaig 10 Year Old, which is an amazing pairing. Its really balanced saltiness and sweetness goes really well with those delicate seafood flavours – it’s one of the best pairings I’ve ever had with Laphroaig.”

Roberta Hall from the Great British Menu

Roberta Hall cooks with whisky, but doesn’t drink it

Hot out the oven

Anyone who watched this year’s Great British Menu will remember two finalists who championed whisky in their competing dishes. One was Irishman Phelim O’Hagan whose main course featured a 100-day whiskey-aged côte de boeuf. The other, however, was Roberta Hall, owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh who made it to the final banquet with her fish dish. It was however, her dessert course (which she lost out on getting to the banquet by one point) that championed whisky, namely Arbeg 10 Year Old, in homage to the invention of penicillin: “The peatiness worked so well for that dessert,” she said of her choice.

Despite not drinking much whisky, as a Scottish chef, it does however pop up regularly in Hall’s kitchen. She mentions the obvious choices – “I’ve worked in lots of places where you have haggis with whisky sauce, and chocolate works fantastically with it – they really balance each other out” – but for Hall, barbecue food and whisky is starting to excite her.

BBQ time

“It’s something I‘m starting to see more of, for sure, as I’ve got a business now which does barbecue food. With Texan style in America, they use a lot of bourbon, so there are definitely whiskies out there that can provide the same flavours.” She suggests going down the glaze or sauce route, adding adding some sweetness to some whisky for a glaze before brushing some meat near the end of cooking and charring it at the end – “you could use a sweeter whisky, maybe something that’s used Caribbean casks.”

But the tried and tested method will, for Hall, always be desserts. She recalls a collaboration with a chef who made a warm chocolate mousse dessert and added a dash of neat Glenfarclas (which had been aged in Sauternes casks for eight years) on top. To be honest, I could make an Olympic sport out of eating that.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

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…

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!

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 3: Bruichladdich 

For Day 3 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021, we’re celebrating 20 years of the rebirth of Bruichladdich and looking in detail at its special Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle…

For Day 3 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021, we’re celebrating 20 years of the rebirth of Bruichladdich and looking in detail at its special Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle 2021 bottling. 

We’re at Day 3 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 and the next stop of our whistle tour around the Inner Hebrides is Bruichladdich. This distillery inspires some serious loyalty among whisky fans since it was revived by Jim McEwan, Mark Reynier et al in 2001. So this the 20th anniversary of the new Bruichladdich, and also its 140th anniversary as the distillery was originally founded in 1881. So many anniversaries. 

Today, it’s famed for doing things just a little bit differently such as experimenting with different types of barley – something Reynier has taken even further with his new venture Waterford in Ireland. But that’s another story. It’s also unusual on Islay for making unpeated whisky but it’s no stranger to smoke either, saving the peat for the Port Charlotte and Octomore brands. 

We try something special from the distillery below, but first here’s a look at the fun going on at the distillery today. And to get you in the island mood, don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify and watch our interview above with head distiller Adam Hannett from Fèis Ìle 2019.  Oh, and be sure to check out our daily deals! We’ve got discounts on Octomore 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)Port Charlotte 14 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)Bruichladdich Scottish Barley – The Classic Laddie and Bruichladdich 1985/32 – Hidden Glory.

What’s going on today

Well, it’s all a bit mysterious, but seeing as this year marks 20 years of the revived distillery, it’s sure to be a lot of fun. Bruichladdich is promising “one big virtual party to celebrate a whole swathe of anniversaries.” The event is called Times Travellers and you need to register here to find out more. But we do know there are two special bottles: a 10-anniversary cask-aged Botanist gin and a special 57% ABV bottling called Laddie Origins which we’re looking at in detail below. 3,000 bottles have been filled. Both are only available via a ballot from the Bruichladdich site. 

Bruichladdich Feis Ile 2021 - 30th May 2021 Poster Announcement

What is going on at Bruichladdich?

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle 2021 release

Here’s a bit of fun. We’ve been sent a sample of 2021’s Laddie Origins alongside six samples that go into this special expression. We aren’t allowed to say exactly what’s in the samples but will say that there’s an interesting mixture of casks, ages, barley types and even distillation techniques. We can’t say anymore. All will be made clear at Adam Hannett’s masterclass which is taking place at 2pm. It’s all booked up but we’ll update when we are allowed. 

So without further ado here’s what we thought:

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle 2021 tasting notes

ABV: 57%

Colour: Mid-gold.

Nose: Sweet-smelling, heavy on the toffee, with porridge-like cereal notes, ginger biscuits, baked apple, dried fruit and orange peel.

Palate: Lots of peppery alcohol but this is smooth considering the high ABV, creamy texture with salted caramel. Second sip and a drop of water brings out cloves, cardamom, citrus peel, fruitcake and some brazil nuts. 

Finish: Honey and lingering baking spices.

Overall: Deliciously complex. Needs a drop of water to be fully appreciated but this is a magnificent whisky. 

Now we’re going to taste through six mystery samples. Yeah, it’s all a bit of a mystery at Bruichladdich at the moment.

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Feis Ile 2021

Delicious and mysterious

Sample no. 1:

ABV: 57.1%

Colour: Very pale gold

Nose: Vanilla, fresh, lemon peel, clean and fruity.

Palate: Lots of spice, creamy vanilla texture, toasted almonds.

Finish: Toasted nuts with more vanilla and black pepper. 

Sample no. 2:

ABV: 58.4%

Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Touch of cheese rind, vanilla, and waxy notes, with white peaches.

Palate: Peppery, creamy texture, that waxy note persists. There’s a nutty almond flavour here too.

Finish: Creamy, quite short. 

Sample no. 3

ABV: 59.8%

Colour: Gold

Nose: Very fruity, peaches, apples and orange peel, there’s a herbal note here too, plus vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. 

Palate: Wow, super spicy! Hot chillies and then all the baking spices but particularly cardamom, some wood tannin here too and then fruity green apple and pears.

Finish: Creamy vanilla.

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Feis Ile 2021 - glass

It’s a fine drop

Sample no. 4:

ABV: 60.9% 

Colour: Pale green gold

Nose: Toffee, vanilla, waxy notes, touch of burnt caramel, fresh peaches, lemon peel.

Palate: Custard tarts dusted with cinnamon, sweet and fruity, has a nice refreshing citrus fruit lift to it. Lovely mixture of sweetness and spice. 

Finish: Peppery and spicy. 

Sample no. 5:

ABV: 61.5%

Colour: Pale green gold

Nose: Burnt caramel, more custard, cinnamon and other baking spices, 

Palate: Lively, lots of fruity new make character backed up with a delicious creaminess, spices present but less prominent than in other samples. 

Finish: That dark toffee note returns on the finish.

Sample no. 6

ABV: 69.3%

Colour: Deep gold gold

Nose: Highly aromatic, spicy/ herbal quality, camphor perhaps, and then lots of toffee, coffee and chocolate.

Palate: Salted caramel and milk chocolate, hedonistic sweetness here, mingling with big spices, both hot and mellow. Citrus fruit here too keeping it all nice and fresh. 

Finish: Sweet mocha coffee with a shot of rum in it.

Well that’s the Laddie Origins and some, though not all of its component parts. All will be revealed at around 3pm today, Sunday 30 May. Go to Bruichladdich’s website for more information, or we’ll update when we can.

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The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin! To mark the occasion we’ve got news on the distillery’s activities, an exclusive bottling, and the story of how…

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin! To mark the occasion we’ve got news on the distillery’s activities, an exclusive bottling, and the story of how the Smoky Cokey cocktail won over the hearts and minds of the whisky-drinking public.

It’s Day 2 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 and we’re virtually stopping by the legendary Lagavulin. It’s known for its picturesque distillery, celebrity fan base, and an array of intense, rich, and smoky drams that have won numerous accolades over the last two centuries or so. Lagavulin is  a fundamental part of Islay’s whisky heritage and attracts a huge number of visitors each year, not just at festival time. And while we can’t be there in person today, there’s still plenty happening at the distillery…

What’s going on today

Today it’s Lagavulin day and to celebrate from 7pm the Lagavulin Distillery warehouse will play host to an evening of performances by Scottish singers, Joy and Andrew Dunlop and the Niall Kirkpatrick Ceilidh Band. Attendees, who can tune in to the virtual event via the Lagavulin Facebook page, will witness an adventure on Islay’s surrounding sea, a hike around the island showcasing its scenery, and a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of warehouse manager Iain McArthur, as well an exclusive first look at the festival bottling. Speaking of which…

The distillery exclusive to look out for is:

Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2021 – 13 Year Old. A bottling matured in refill American oak casks and finished in high char Port-seasoned casks, there’s just 6,000 of these being released with an ABV of 54.4% at £160 per 70cl. They’re 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. 

Meanwhile, we’ve got a trio of daily deals to snap up. Lagavulin 16 Year OldLagavulin 8 Year Old, and Lagavulin 2005 ( bottled 2020 ) – Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish Distillers Edition are now all on sale. And while you’re reading be sure to check out our 2019 interview with former distillery manager Colin Gordon and our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the festival mood!

The Smoky Cokey: an unlikely success

Mixing booze with cola is nothing new. People have long paired rum or Jack Daniel’s with the classic fizzy drink. But a single malt like Lagavulin? 

Yes, we’re looking back at the surprising story of how Smoky Cokey became a fixture of Fèis. For those unfamiliar with it, the Smoky Cokey is essentially a Highball made with Lagavulin (8 or 16 Year Old, dealer’s choice) and cola. Given the whisky’s status as a serious drinker’s dram, a purist’s choice, it’s not a combination that you would ever expect to see. It sounds almost sacrilegious, like the kind of drink that would cause Nick Offerman to stare at you sternly if he saw you order one, reducing you to a blubbering mess begging for forgiveness for your transgression. 

Most people agree that the Smoky Cokey originated from an experiment Dave Broom conducted in his excellent 2014 book, Whisky: The Manual. In a quest to find the perfect mixer for each Scotch, he tried numerous different whiskies with drinks like green tea, soda, and cola, finding the latter paired perfectly with Lagavulin. It was a bold statement and a big deal. One of the most respected whisky writers in the world has just backed the strangest of horses. And people were forced to consider that he may just have a point.

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

You might not think to mix this beauty, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

Colin Dunn: cocktail pioneer

Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn is probably the other figure most associated with the serve. He has been a regular at Feis Ile since 2000, which means he’s had plenty of festivals to prepare for. Every year he looks for something fresh to bring. He’d already begun experimenting with serving Lagavulin with food  and thought that mixing it would be the logical next step. After reading Whisky: The Manual, he had the ideal serve to test this theory.

While at Lagavulin Distillery with guests prior to the festival, Dunn did something of a trial run. He popped 35ml of Lagavulin 16 Year Old in a Martini glass and topped it up with cola he’d allow to turn semi-flat to lose some of the bubbles. He put them on a silver tray, went out to Lagavulin pier, and gave the cocktail to his guests. “The first gentleman said ‘wow, what do you have in this, Punt E Mes?’ That opened my eyes to its potential and how receptive people can be if they don’t know what they’re getting,” recalls Dunn. 

Sensing an opportunity, he enlisted the help of Alessandro Palazzi of Duke’s fame to help create a menu of Lagavulin drinks to demonstrate its mixing potential. “Introducing Lagavulin in cocktails was a big challenge back then. People wanted it neat. Acoustic. But Alessandro and I wanted it to make it electric,” he says. Their menu included a Negroni in which Lagavulin replaced the gin, a smoky Old Fashioned with Tabasco, and a Smoky Cokey, as it came to be known. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

One of the first places the drink was served was this pier

It took a while to take off

The reception was good, if a touch slow. When Dunn would go to bars and order the Smoky Cokey, many would insist on serving the cola and Lagavulin separately. But word spread, and in an age where playing with whisky was becoming increasingly popular it soon developed something of a cult following. Over the last few years its reputation has continued to grow and it’s now a common sight at Lagavulin Day. 

Which raises the question, why does it work? Dunn believes that cola’s slight bitterness, minerality, and sweet notes work in harmony with earthy, damp, and muscular whisky. Compared to a traditional whiskey and coke, usually made with bourbon or Jack Daniel’s, Lagavulin adds a layer of complexity and intensity as well as some savoury qualities to balance the sweet vanilla and spice of the soda. It’s an unlikely success and yet it totally makes sense. It’s Daphne and Niles. And like any good marriage, it becomes a thing of its own instead of two other things just plopped together. It’s sacrile-cious, and for every purist that’s outraged by it, there are many new drinkers who adore it. Dunn wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“Scotch is about innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship,” Dunn says. “Distilleries like Lagavulin have been evolving since its creation. Whisky is not supposed to stand still. You simply don’t know if something will work until you’ve tried it. I can tell you now the team who worked at the distillery absolutely loved it, as did some of their parents and grandparents who had worked at the distillery and made Lagavulin decades ago. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. It works because thousands of people tell me it works”.

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

Happy Lagavulin Day, folks!

Making whisky accessible

The unlikely duo now represents something of a triumph for broadening horizons and reconsidering the stuffy and backward notions that Scotch whisky, and in particular Islay whisky, can’t be playful and fun. We should celebrate the Smoky Cokey’s ability to make a powerful and occasionally challenging dram accessible to those new to Scotch.

And it’s so delightfully simple. You truly only need Lagavulin and cola to make it. A wedge of lime or orange would work nicely as a garnish, and if you’re a true maverick you can go all out and ice cream to make a Floaty Smoky Cokey. But other than that there’s really no rules. You can use Lagavulin 8 or 16 Year Old, you can play with different premium colas and you can adjust the measurements as you see fit.

Dunn says to experiment and see what works for you. “My suggestion is to get a glass of Lagavulin 16 and then make a Smoky Cokey in another glass. Nose the straight whisky, then nose the cocktail. Take a sip of each, but don’t just swallow, give them a moment to compare the two flavours. Then you can adjust based on what you like”. Personally, I find the below works well.

However you make it, it’s the perfect drink to toast a remarkable distillery. Slàinte mhath!

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

It’s easy, it’s tasty and it’s the perfect way to toast the festival!

How to make a Smokey Cokey

35ml of Lagavulin 8 Year Old or 16 Year Old
A bottle of high quality (or just your favourite) cola
Wedge of lime

Add the Lagavulin to a glass (again, go fancy or as simple as you like) filled with lots of ice and then top with cola. Stir, then add a wedge of lime if desired. Enjoy.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 1: Ardnahoe

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 day 1. And we begin over a week of Islay whisky fun with a look at the island’s newest  producer, Ardnahoe. We find…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 day 1. And we begin over a week of Islay whisky fun with a look at the island’s newest  producer, Ardnahoe. We find out what’s going on at the distillery and take a look at  how difficult it can be to even reach the island.

Islay’s newest working distillery was built by indie bottler Hunter Laing and began distilling in 2019. We visited for the launch and had a particularly scary descent onto the island (though the old hands took it in their stride) so we thought we’d ask some industry types to share their own interesting journeys to Islay. But first, we take a look at what kind of online excitement the Laing family has waiting for you at Ardnahoe. And don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the mood.

What’s going on today

Events will take place on 28 May. The distillery will be running a virtual operator’s tour at 11am hosted by Stuart Hughes, then a Kill Devil rum cocktail session with rum expert Emily, followed by at 7pm the main event: a live tasting of rare Kinship single malts and the Ardnahoe new make. Tasting kits are available. Go here for more information. Below we have an interview we did with Andrew Laing back in 2019.

Islay travel stories

For an island that’s only 20 miles off the coast of mainland Scotland, Islay can be surprisingly hard to get to. Whether you’re flying in or taking the ferry, your journey may well be disrupted by the rapidly-changing weather. You might not reach the island at all. We’ve all had experiences of product launches on Islay being rerouted at the last minute. So we thought we’d ask some whisky veterans to share their stories of travel misadventures on Islay and Jura. 

Pay the ferryman

The traditional way to get to the island is via a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry or CalMac as it’s affectionately known. Though Paul Gordon from Ardnahoe hasn’t had much luck with this great Scottish institution “with the service consistently disrupted.” He puts the blame squarely at the feet of “Scotgov and Transport Scotland who have underinvested in the fleet and when they invested they built one large boat instead of smaller more flexible vessels.”

Meanwhile Felipe Schrieberg, drinks writer and co-founder of Rhythm and Booze project, warned: “Woe betide the poor soul that manages to book the Islay ferry far in advance but then proceeds to arrive even a minute late than the cutoff point for check in. Your assured spot then becomes meaningless, and in the purgatory of ‘standby’ you’ll have to wait most of the day before a berth miraculously frees up.” He went on to tell us that leaving the island can be no easier: “Our ferry, the last of the day, was cancelled due to bad weather which meant that rather than spend a pleasant night in our apartment we had to dash at midnight to wait all night in the standby queue to get on the first ferry the next day.”

Jura whisky distillery

On a clear day, there’s lots to see on Jura

Misty mountain hop

During Feis Ile 2019, Master of Malt’s own Laura Carl “spent a day on Jura without actually seeing Jura.” She explained: “It was an ABYSMAL day, grey, overcast, on and off rain. We were waiting to get the ferry over to Jura and it didn’t look too bad. We exited the ferry on Jura and started to climb, the higher we got, the further the mist descended upon us. It was so bad that we could only see about a foot in front of the car with fog lights on. It was honestly like driving through soup.”

Meanwhile Rachel McCormack’s, author of Chasing the Dram, problems started long before she even got to the island on the bus ride from Glasgow: “The driver turned up 20 mins late with bloodshot eyes, stinking of booze and didn’t seem to be entirely sure how traffic lights in Glasgow worked, but did manage to get us all up past the Rest and Be Thankful and down to Inveraray without incident. At Tarbert he phoned the ferry company and blamed Glasgow roadworks visible only to himself for the delay so the ferry had to wait for us.”

Nicholas Morgan, author of A Long Stride, and former head of whisky outreach at Diageo, is a veteran of Islay visits. He told me about one attempt to visit Lagavulin for the ceilidh: “We never got there; the Islay curse of low clouds and almost zero visibility.  Delayed take off, three white-knuckle ride attempts at landing (I swear I saw a very adjacent sheep’s arse as we lifted rapidly from the third) and off we headed to Glasgow, much to the relief of many on the flight.  I was told later that Iain McArthur had been standing out on the pier at Lagavulin with one of the cruise people, who, hearing the sound of a plane through the mist said ‘that’ll be Dr Nick heading in for the ceilidh’.  Iain listened carefully and said, ‘no, that’ll be Dr Nick heading back to London’”.

Ardbeg Distillery on Islay

Looks like there storm brewing over Ardbeg

And I said what about breakfast at Wetherspoons

Morgan isn’t the only one whose plans have been disrupted by the weather. Joel Harrison’s, from World’s Best Spirits, journey to the launch of Ardbeg An Oa was repeatedly delayed because of fog: “Eventually we boarded the small plane, and the flight took off. 20 mins later we were circling Islay, waiting to land. But the dreaded fog had returned. Informed by our captain that he was waiting for a break in the low-level cloud, it took an hour before he finally announced he had a gap and that he was going for it.” 

He continued: “The cloud was low, the expectation high. As we descended, from my window seat I could see nothing but the reflection of the fear in my own eyes staring back at me. Finally, the cloud broke. We were so low to the ground that I swear I was able to look a fisherman in the eye. Immediately, the engines roared once again, and we started to lift. No dice. This wasn’t to be our landing.” 

Eventually, the group had to head to a hotel in Glasgow, where the samples had to be hastily sent by Glenmorangie. “That day, instead of a slap-up seafood platter, I had breakfast, lunch and my dinner in the ’Spoons at Glasgow airport,” Harrison said.

Here comes the sun

It’s not all bad though, Christopher Coates from Whisky Magazine has been much luckier with his visits to the island:  “I’ve only ever had sunshine, clear skies and calm seas for my crossings to Islay. But I’ll never forget my first time: I had to get up at 5am to make the 7am Kennacraig-Port Ellen ferry and, shortly after boarding, fell asleep in the top-deck lounge. After what felt like only a few seconds of shut-eye, I was awoken by the sounds of some very excitable German visitors whooping and yelling out on the observation deck. The early morning mist had cleared and they’d just spotted the whitewashed buildings of Ardbeg. I went outside and cheered along with them. It was the start of a very good day.”

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Welcome to The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 celebration!

The world’s most famous whisky festival is returning in virtual form from 28 May-6 June 2021 and we’ve got plans of our own to mark the occasion. Here’s a rundown…

The world’s most famous whisky festival is returning in virtual form from 28 May-6 June 2021 and we’ve got plans of our own to mark the occasion. Here’s a rundown of what to expect from The MoM Islay Festival celebration.

In previous years we’d currently be packing our bags and bracing ourselves for the awkward journey to the Queen of the Hebrides to spend 10 days in the company of whisky, music and wildlife fans at The Islay Festival of Music and Malt, or Fèis Ìle.

Islay online

For the second year running, however, we’re stuck at home and left with the task of celebrating Islay’s spirit, culture and beauty from afar. But we’re going to champion what we’ve got rather than curse what we’ve lost by putting together ten days of festival-based content for you to enjoy alongside the virtual event itself.

Following the schedule of the festival, we’ll post a new feature on our blog for each distillery. From the origins of the Smoky Cokey to the tales of trains, planes and ferries, we’ll have an original tale for every brand to enrich your festival experience. We’ll also let you know what each brand is up to on its designated day and what distillery exclusives to look out for. 

Alongside this, there will be daily Islay whisky deals as well as cocktail and food recipes to enjoy and even an Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the festival mood while you read. All part of the plan to bring the magic of Islay to you.

Below is a timetable for each distillery day, be sure to add the following dates to your diary. Check out the festival website for a full breakdown of what each distillery will be up to, and bear in mind that event times and links could be subject to change.

So, come and join us on the Master of Malt blog every day with a dram in hand and a song in your heart to toast whisky’s most iconic celebration. Slàinte mhath!

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021

Wish we were here

Our Islay schedule

-Day One: Ardnahoe (Friday 28th)
-Day Two: Lagavulin (Saturday 29th)
-Day Three: Bruichladdich (Sunday 30th)
-Day Four: Caol Ila (Monday 31st)
-Day Five: Laphroaig (Tuesday 1st)
-Day Six: Bowmore (Wednesday 2nd)
-Day Seven: Kilchoman (Thursday 3rd)
-Day Eight: Bunnahabhain (Friday 4th)
-Day Nine: Ardbeg (Saturday 5th)
-Day Ten: Jura (Sunday 6th)

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