Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Fèis Ìle 2018 - Islay's Days In The Sun

#OpinionsWelcome - Like a bright Spring day at Laphroaig.

The annual Fèis Ìle is upon us again. The world descends on the famous whisky producing Hebredian island of Islay for a week of events, whisky and music. Matt is amongst them and will be reporting back at various points during the week.


When arriving on the island on Sunday, the weather was lovely. The plane over revealed the wonderful Scottish landscape as we flew over Loch Lomond and the Kintyre peninsula, and finally the Paps of Jura and Loch Indaal. Popping in to the Bruichladdich open day quickly upon arrival saw many with a healthy glow from the sun. Some had a much redder and more unhealthy glow. Islay, and the Campbeltown festival before it, were threatening to put on a proper show.

The weather that we have experienced since has raised the bar above that warm welcoming day. The island has basked in late Spring sunshine and maintained a remarkable warmth that you can only normally dream of when in Scotland. It does not get better than this.

The contrast from last year's visit to Fèis Ìle, when the weather lurched from fresh and Spring-like to downright wretched and pouring with rain, is stark. Monday, the traditional open day at Caol Ila on the north east coast of the island, saw wall-to-wall sunshine and stunning views across the Sound of Islay to the neighbouring island of Jura and its famous Paps.

Whisky with a view - Caol Ila 12 years old with Paps.

Rewind 12 months and we were soaked through before we had even left the car park to get the shuttle minibus down the hill to the distillery. Guy from The Whisky Lounge, who I was with that day, donated his umbrella to the poor girl working there and then took a picture of me when we finally made it to Caol Ila, which later became a Facebook profile picture. The stunning views mentioned earlier were barely visible.

The same can be said for yesterday. The Tuesday of Fèis Ìle is the open day for Laphroaig, the biggest selling of all the eight Islay malts. Last year was a lovely day but this year ramped up the weather a bit. Another warm day saw large crowds lapping up the rays and the good whisky. A wonderfully chilled vibe was evident with people sprawled along the foreshore in front of the famous LAPHROAIG lettering on the warehouse wall.

The highlights have kept coming thick and fast, especially in the form of tasting events. The first was a private sampling of the special festival bottlings from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society with the effervescent John McCheyne, their Global Brand Ambassador. One bottle - the 29.244 "Weaving Wondrous Dreams' is a wonderful single cask eight years old expression of Laphroaig, bottled at 62.2% ABV - is only available on Islay during the festival.

Weaving Wondrous Dreams? Hell yeah!

I have also had to find my sea legs with a couple of tastings on Irene, a tall ship that spends the Summer running trips between the Hebredean islands. The warm welcome from Hannah and crew was only surpassed by a great sampling of six Islay whiskies with Dave Worthington, the UK Brand Ambassador for That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Dave has been a long time friend of WFE and it was great to see him in action finally. An exquisite Bunnahabhain 35 years old just about topped the list.

All aboard with Captain Dave.

The second tasting with Eddie Ludlow, the co-founder of The Whisky Lounge, saw us head out in to the open ocean on the Irene for a sample of his favourite Islay drams. Eddie has a penchant for peaty whisky, so this was always going to be good - the Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2014 bottling was a personal standout for me. Boats are not my natural habitat but it was a highly enjoyable experience.

- Matt.