Friday, June 1, 2018

Fèis Ìle 2018 - Something Old, Something New

The one photo of Ardnahoe we can show.

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.

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The locals were beginning to tell us that Islay was always like this. It was difficult not to believe them as the sunny and warm weather continued through the annual Feis Ile week and in to the Bowmore open day on Wednesday.

Of course, those of us that have visited before knew that Islay can be a fickle beast – fine one minute and then truly wretched the next. So far, we kept our fingers crossed for the rest of the week.

Bowmore has long been a favourite of us at Whisky For Everyone – the first edition of Tempest was one of the first ‘proper’ whiskies that we ever purchased and I have visited twice before, enjoying both times immensely.

Bowmore in silhouette.
The distillery sits in a great location and right on the shores of Loch Indaal. It is picturesque to say the least. It also oozes history – Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay and was founded in 1779. In fact only two currently in operation in Scotland are actually older.

Despite our particular liking for Bowmore as a place and the whisky they produce, it has to be said that the open day is not the best. Most open days throughout the week offer the same fare – the same local crafts, the same local food stands, the same bands – and after four previous days of it, most festival goers seem a bit weary of the formula despite the quality drams being poured. Me included it has to be said.

Bowmore from above.
Therefore, I decided to do something new and take a walk along the coastal path that stretches away behind the famous Warehouse No.1 and up a small cliff. The views back down to the distillery were simply stunning, especially in the sun, with the curve of Loch Indaal and the Paps of Jura far off in the distance.

The weather was not to hold however. Kilchoman, the youngest distillery on the island, were the ones to pull the short straw for the week as cold and damp weather swept through overnight. On a positive note, the weather was not as bad as the same day last year. Then, it lashed it down from start to finish and had people huddling to warm up in the still house.

No sun but still fun at Kilchoman.
This year was drier but much colder and greyer than the rest of the week. A lively atmosphere was well on the go when we arrived, fuelled by some excellent music that had some undertaking what looked like a tiring form of dance. The still house was visited again for a quick dram and a highlight was checking out the new malting floor in operation, which was just foundations and a steel frame last year.

A quick trip down to the nearby sweeping Machir Bar was brisk and chilly, but again not as wretched and drenching as the previous year. A dram of the Kilchoman 2009 Vintage and some good company helped to keep us warm.

Prior to this, I had a real treat – a private tour around the new Ardnahoe distillery, which is still two months away from beginning production. Most of what I was shown and told remains under a strict embargo but it was fascinating to see how the site is developing and hear about Hunter Laing, the distillery’s owners, and their philosophy for Ardnahoe. The views across to Jura are extraordinary and left me lamenting that I went on the one bad day of the week.

- Matt.