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

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