The Islay Whisky Festival

Bunnahabhain Warehouse Experience

The Islay Whisky Festival

The Islay Whisky Festival comes around once a year and falls on the last week in May. During this fantastic celebration of all things Islay whisky, thousands of excited enthusiasts make their way to the magic Isle of Islay for a week of whisky events, tours, tastings and masterclasses. It is difficult to measure how many extra visitors, and how much extra income, the island gets due to the festival but it is commonly thought the island population rises from 2000 to over 10000 during the Festival week, in no means insignificant for the economy of the island.

Islay Whisky Tours

Each of the 8 malt whisky distilleries and Jura distillery too, have their own dedicated festival day. There is some overlap, Bowmore day is also Bridgend Square day and Islay Ales and the other businesses there also arrange events and enjoy a busy day of music, drams and general merriment. We love the Islay Whisky Festival and as well as hosting whisky and gin tastings and events in Leek, Staffordshire and throughout the UK, we will always host Islay whisky tastings at the Islay festival in the years to come.

Islay Whisky Festival Distillery Days

Each distillery publishes their festival events and releases tickets a few weeks before the Feis week. Most put on extra tours, special tastings and masterclasses and also other activities such as fast RIB boat rides and special guided water source walks. As the festival has become more and more popular, tickets tend to sell out faster, especially at the Kildalton distilleries of Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig, it is not unusual for all tickets to sell out on the first day of release. So if you are looking to attend an event, you’ll need to be quick!

Islay Whisky Tours

Islay Whisky Festival Bottlings

To celebrate the festival, each distillery has a special, limited release whisky bottling. In recent years, because the festival has become so well attended, these releases are not as small batch as they used to be. Only 5 or 6 years ago, distilleries were able to release single cask bottlings which enthusiasts would snap up and quite often sell at a profit on auction sites. Now distillers have decided to increase the size of the releases in an attempt to ensure that there are enough to satisfy the demand of visitors. There are still a few gems to be discovered though. During Feis Ile 2017 Bunnahabhain released a run of only 1596 bottles.

The peated spirit was distilled in 2004 and matured in American oak and then transferred to port pipes for a short finishing period. The resulting whisky, ‘Bunnahabhain Moine Port Pipe Finish’, as well as being a beautiful dram, was also a real small batch rarity for festival visitors to buy, and very good value at £95.

Islay Whisky Festival

As well as official distillery bottlings, it is now not uncommon to find festival releases from independent bottlers who arrange events during the festival. Quite often visitors arrive on the island during the festival only to find that all the distillery events are full. The independent bottlers, who only promote Islay whisky during the festival, are often able to accommodate these visitors on their tastings and masterclasses and therefore offer a valuable addition to the Festival.

I became Distillery Manager of Caol Ila Distillery in 2013 but before that, in 2008, I began releasing my own Islay Festival bottlings for the Queen of the Moorlands Single Malt Whisky brand which I owned at the time. The first was this delicious 1982 26 year old Caol Ila single cask whisky, which was to be the first ever independent Islay festival bottling.

Whisky Masterclasses at The Islay Whisky Festival 2017 – Distilled Events

In late Autumn 2015, I decided to leave Caol Ila and to start my own customer facing whisky events company, Distilled Events. This year this gave me the opportunity to arrange my own events at the whisky festival, and with the help of friends on Islay, we held two very well attended masterclasses at the Gaelic College in Bowmore.

Islay Whisky Masterclass

I was incredibly surprised and pleased at the support that my friends in the whisky industry were willing to give me. Guests were treated to ‘As We Get It Islay’ from Ian Macleod Distillers, an incredible pair of drams from Wm Cadenheads in the form of a 26 year old single cask Caol Ila and a 16 year old single cask Bowmore. Port Askaig Malts supplied us with a great young peaty dram, Port Askaig 8 year old, and just like ‘As We Get It’ the cat was really amongst the pigeons with guests arguing about the provenance of these tasty whiskies. From Chorlton Whisky we had an awesome 23 year old single cask Bunnahabhain which, just like all the other drams on show, went down a treat with our guests.

Islay Whisky Festival 2018

We are already making plans for our events at the Islay Whisky Festival 2018, the months will slip away and before we know it we will be enjoying festivities once again on Islay. Keep an eye on our tastings and events page and also on our Distilled Events Facebook page and you will then be able to buy tickets online once they are released.

We also arrange bespoke Guided Islay Distillery Experiences throughout the year, taking groups of enthusiasts to Islay on 5 or 7 day whisky trips packed with tours, tastings and masterclasses and enjoying all that Islay has to offer. If you are interested in joining us on a trip or if you would like more info about our bespoke Guided Islay Distillery Experiences, please click here.

Here are some pics from our events at the Islay Whisky Festival 2017. Enjoy.

Slainte

David

Islay Whisky Festival

Islay Whisky Tours

Islay Whisky Tour

Islay Whisky Tours

Islay whisky tour

Bunnahabhain

David Wood Islay

Bespoke Islay Whisky Tours With Distilled Events

Feis Ile 2018

The first time you visit Islay is a magical experience, there is nowhere in the British Isles quite like it. I first visited in 2005, having fallen in love with a whisky called Caol Ila a couple of years before. I didn’t think I liked whisky, until the then landlord of my favourite pub, The Earl Grey in Leek, thrust a glass of Caol Ila in my hand. I nosed it, tasted it, and right there Islay introduced herself to me and it was a life changing moment. Little did I know that ten years later I would be the Distillery Manager of Caol Ila.

There is nowhere quite like Islay not least because of the fact that there are no less than 8 working distilleries on this relatively small island. There is so much to see, from important historical sites such as Finlaggan to the beautiful, empty Atlantic beaches at Machir Bay and Saligo. The scenery is breathtaking and the wildlife abundant, you are more likely to see golden eagle and white tailed sea eagle here than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Islay has become the eagle island.

If you are a lover of seafood, there is plenty to wet the appetite on Islay. The local fishing fleet brings in crab, lobster and all kinds of shellfish on a daily basis, and there are always oysters available for those who wish to try them as fresh as possible straight from the brine.

Why Join Us on an Islay Whisky Trip?

Islay is the perfect base for any holiday. If you have a week or two to spare, and if you are intending to return again, then you can spend your week leisurely exploring the island, visiting distilleries, joining a tour or two, and sampling the local delicacies and drams.

If on the other hand you want to pack as much in to your trip as possible, whatever your time constraints may be, to visit as many distilleries as possible and enjoy the very best of distillery tastings and experiences whilst seeing as much Islay as possible, we can host and plan your trip for you.

Fresh Local Islay Seafood

If you join us on an Islay whisky trip, and take part in our Guided Islay Distilleries Experience your accommodation is a very comfortable, spacious, traditional Scottish sporting estate house with roaring fires and beautiful spaces to relax with a dram with friends in the evenings. The house is very well equipped and we ensure that it is packed with all the provisions that you need. On our most recent trip, guests enjoyed a seafood banquet, all freshly caught local shellfish, matched perfectly with Islay whiskies.

Islay whisky tour

Each of our Islay whisky tours is different. Many of our trips are bespoke to our clients requirements. Some of our guests like to relax in front of the fire after a busy day visiting distilleries, and we’ll enjoy dinner there. Other guests prefer to enjoy the hospitality of local pubs and restaurants, meeting the locals and enjoying traditional Islay music. Whichever you prefer, we can arrange it for you.

Islay Whisky Distillery Tours and Experiences

We carefully plan your itinerary to ensure that you get the very best use of your time whilst on Islay. We try to fit in as many of the special distillery tours, warehouse experiences and tastings as possible on each Islay whisky tour. Each of the 8 distilleries has a visitor centre and each offer tours and experiences from a simple guided tour of the distillery to an in-depth masterclass with someone who works at the distillery.

Distillery Tours

On a distillery tour you spend about an hour walking through a distillery with a very knowledgable tour guide. Your guide will show you how the whisky makes the very special journey from field to table. After the tour you will enjoy drams with your guide and then be able to ask any questions that you may have about the process and the whisky.

Distillery Warehouse Experiences

We love warehouses, they are the most wonderful, atmospheric places. Each cask sleeping on an Islay warehouse is a piece of history. Each cask end has its own story to tell. Spending time in a traditional dunnage warehouse is an absolute treat, and when you are back at home enjoying a Islay dram, it is to these warehouses that you will be magically transported such an impact they have on your senses. Dunnage warehouses are often earthen floored, the atmosphere is damp and full of sea air, and whisky vapours from the casks of course, otherwise known as the angels share. We like to take guests to Lagavulin where the legend of Lagavulin, Iain MacArthur is your host on the warehouse experience. We also like to take guest to Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich where similar wonderful experiences can be enjoyed, at Bunnahabhain guests also have the opportunity to fill their own bottles straight from the cask.

Islay Whisky Tastings and Masterclasses

In between visits to distilleries, I will be on hand to answer any questions that you might have about distilling on Islay and the whisky industry in general. Guests enjoy masterclasses where we taste rare single cask whiskies and distillery only bottlings from each of the distilleries. I’m often accompanied by my infamous wooden sample box containing rare delights from the past, and one or two cask strength drams.

Islay Whisky Tour

Islay Whisky Tour

Your Transport Whilst on Islay

We arrange transport for our guests while they are on Islay. We work closely with a local coach company when designing each itinerary to ensure that your Islay whisky trip runs smoothly and that your time is used efficiently. All of the drivers are extremely friendly and knowledgable, some have even worked at Islay distilleries. I always accompany guests on the coach so that I can point out places of interest as we travel between distilleries and so that I can answer any questions that guests might have. We ask guests to make their own travel arrangements to Islay, whether by ferry or plane, and we then collect from the ferry terminal or Islay airport.

Islay whisky tours

Other Islay Activities

It isn’t all about the whisky (although most of it is!). There are many other activities that we can arrange for our guests. As well as sightseeing, guests can enjoy bird watching, sea safaris, fishing, shooting and stalking. All of these can be included in your itinerary should you wish. Each of our bespoke Islay whisky tours is different and we can quote to include as many activities as you like.

Book Your Bespoke Islay Whisky Trip

If you are interested in joining us for an Islay whisky trip of a lifetime on one of our Guided Islay Whisky Experiences please get in touch. We can answer all your questions about arranging your special trip to Islay. We can put together a suggested itinerary for you, just let us know the duration of the trip you require, how many guests will be in your party, any dates that you have in mind, and we will set to work!

Call David on 07875 405 980 or send an email to david@distilledevents.co.uk for more information or to book a bespoke Guided Islay Distilleries Experience.

We would love to host your very special trip on Islay, we hope to see you there soon.

Slainte

David

Islay whisky tripIslay Whisky TourIslay Whisky TourIslay Whisky Tour

Islay – An Incredible Experience

Stag party whisky tastings

 

We’ve been lucky enough to live and work on the magical Hebridean Isle of Islay. After owning and managing our own busy Wine Shop in Leek, Staffordshire, and after launching our own brand of Single Malt Whisky, I was given the opportunity of managing the visitor centre experiences at Lagavulin and Caol Ila Distilleries and later of managing Caol Ila itself.

Our home was the old Exciseman’s house at Caol Ila Distillery, on summer days the view along the Sound of Islay (Caol Ila) was breathtaking, on winter days one storm followed another up the Sound. The scenery and wildlife was incredible. Seeing white tailed sea eagle, golden eagle and otter was almost a daily occurrence.

As well as my love for the breathtaking Islay scenery, the great whiskies and wonderful people, I also fell in love with the fishing. There can’t be many places in Europe or maybe even the world where the keen angler has such ease of access to so many different species of fish such as brown trout, salmon, bass and my favourite, the elsewhere ellusive sea trout.

 

The Sound of Islay

My love of Islay began in the late 1990s. There’s a fantastic pub in Leek called The Earl Grey Inn, under its current ownership it is famed for its many real and craft ales, service and friendliness. In the 90’s it was famous for its peculiar interior, its toilets, its rather eccentric clientelle and its extensive range of single malt whiskies thanks to the landlord’s enthusiasm for the product. I had only recently tasted single malts and didn’t think I liked them, I thought they all tasted the same, I thought they all tasted like whisky. Until one evening when John thrust a glass of Caol Ila 12 year old into my hand and instructed me to taste it. I will never forget that moment and it was a life changing one.

The Isle of Islay introduced herself to me through that glass of Caol Ila 12 year old. The intense, smokey aromas and flavours told me about where this incredibly complex whisky had been made, it told me about Islay, and I had to visit.

In the coming years at The Wine Shop, we began to bottle whisky, lots of it, and most of it from Islay. We bottled everything, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich and even Port Ellen. We were lucky enough to get the chance to bottle some incredible whiskies, and this in turn took us to Islay, exhibiting our single cask bottlings each year at the Islay Festival of Malt and Music and delivering them to shops and bars on the island so that they could be enjoyed by many visiting enthusiasts.

In June 2012, I was given the chance to work at Lagavulin and Caol Ila Distilleries and I jumped at the chance. 8 months later I was joined by Leonie and Heather, once the Wine Shop had been sold. Leonie joined Kilchoman Distillery where she managed the busy visitor centre and Heather enrolled at the local primary school with circa 25 other pupils.

Lagavulin Distillery

Caol Ila Distillery

We had an incredible time on Islay and met and worked with lots of wonderful people. The experience we had will never be forgotten and was truly life changing. As a whisky enthusiast, to end up working at the distillery where your favourite whisky is produced is absolutely Living The Dream.

Islay is the true whisky Isle and there are currently 8 working distilleries on the island with advanced plans for at least 2 more to be built in the next couple of years.

Islay is often thought of as the island that produces the heavily peated drams, but actually, it is the array of different spirit characters produced by each of the distilleries which makes it so diverse and therefore of such interest to the whisky enthusiast. Anyone who has tasted Bunnahabhain 12 year old and then compared it to Laphroaig 10 year old or Lagavulin 16 year old will understand that.

Because of my love for Islay, my tastings will always have an element of Islay bias. We are however hosting a series tasting events in the near future that feature single malt whiskies exclusively from Islay. During the tasting, as well as experiencing many whiskies from the Isle of Islay, I’ll be talking about whisky production and maturation, and give an overview of each of the distilleries on Islay. I’ll also be touching on controversial issues such as the dreaded question about water, ice and other additives!

It would be great to see you at one of our future events and to share a dram with you. Please click on the links below if you would like to find out more about our Islay Malt Whisky Tastings or to buy tickets.

Click here for our upcoming events.

 

Slainte

David