Feis Ile 2015

Nickolls & PerksIslay, Tasting Events, Whisky4 Comments

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By Jerome Gardener

If you’ve been keeping an eye on our Twitter recently you may have noticed we’ve been over to Feis Ile, Islay’s annual festival of music and whisky, in Scotland. Each distillery have their own day upon which they celebrate the festival with plenty of drams, the freshest sea food you could wish for, and great music. What more could you want?
So, the first signpost you see when stepping off the ferry at Port Ellen on Islay certainly reassures you of your whereabouts; pointing right to Ardbeg and left to Bowmore. Perfect; a road sign proclaiming that you are on an island where one of your favourite things is completely integral to the place itself, directions defined by whisky!

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This year it was independent bottler, Single Malt Whisky Society’s (SMWS) first ever Feis Ile day, and it was their job to host the opening of the festival. Held at the stunning historical Islay House, where many of the famous have been accommodated in the past; ole’ Maggie Thatcher was a regular! Harold McMillan checked in often too, who also liked a ‘wee’ tipple.

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Single cask 17 year old Bowmore (SMWS).

The house hoped to open its doors for the Feis Ile day of SMWS – Friday 22nd May, however it is still under major refurb, nevertheless, once complete it will be spectacular indeed…A luxury hotel experience with magnificent views and lawns perfect for a whisky or two on a fine summer’s day. Imagine the fun!

Our first full day at Feis Ile was at the distillery home to the “sweet, peaty and meaty”, Lagavulin. This year their Feis Ile bottling was a terrific 24 year old single malt presented in a rather snazzy hessian sack.
The oyster stand and sea food shack was popular with hungry folk who were waiting to sunbathe with a dram on the bankside at Lagavulin. You’d find Colin Dunn (“giggidy giggidy”) and his wing man from the Cowbell cocktail bar in London, doing regular masterclasses, offering a different perception to whisky by knocking up plenty of Negronis and whisky sours. This kicked off the week in style. Everyone loves cocktails, especially whisky based right?

Bruichladdich put on showstopper on day 3, starting with the ‘Jim McEwan Last Stand’ masterclass – wild animals trying to make it to the distillery too, via public transport!

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The masterclass brought nearly 500 people together creating an atmosphere which at moments was simply breath-taking, as you sat surrounded by ancient casks dating back to before you and I were born. The drams that were tasted weren’t too bad either; the Bruichladdich 1992 La fleur cask finish was a particular highlight! We knew we were in for a treat when distillery manager, Jim McEwan stated “this is a tribute from me, to me”. Meanwhile, the courtyard was wall-to-wall filled with jolly folk accompanied with either a dram or a refreshing Botanist G&T, enjoying the lively bands that were on throughout. An awesome show was put on by the team at Bruichladdich.

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Both Laphroaig and Ardbeg were celebrating their 200th anniversary at Feis Ile 2015. Laphroaig were doing a number of masterclasses all day, in which we managed to jump in a ‘pick and mix’ class, an informal tasting featuring a few different drams. We savoured a 21 year old…yes, 21 year old single malt Scotch, from the Laphroaig distillery. Keep seated; you’ll have to wait until September before you can buy a bottle. Laphroaig’s Feis bottle was a tasty Cairdeas (Pronounced car-chase), matured in ex-Maker’s Mark casks. Yummy.

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200Years of Laphroaig

Tuesday was a gaunt to the other end of the island for Caol Ila day. Colin was keeping crowds in laughter and regular chocolate and whisky pairings were held on the day too which is always a great pleasure. The ladies swarmed this one.

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Bowmore is known for a queue containing the most committed whisky enthusiasts around, some queuing at 10 o’clock the night before to guarantee a chance to grab a bottle. Madness. The distillery have three different bottlings in their ‘Feis Ile Collection’, comprising a 12 year old first fill sherry butt, (which you got the pleasure of hand-filling if you wished), a virgin oak and a whopping 27 year old single malt, distilled in 1988!

Hand Filled Bowmore 12 Year Old from a First fill Sherry Butt.

Hand Filled Bowmore 12 Year Old from a First fill Sherry Butt.

Jura and Kilchoman share a day of the festival together so not all of us visited both distilleries. Dave managed to island hop to Jura to attend what was an inspiring masterclass with the legend Richard Patterson, known as ‘The Nose’.

On the subject of anniversaries, Kilchoman celebrated their 10th, on day 7 of Feis Ile. Kilchoman is a farm-based distillery, where the staff are the family owners of the joint. Anthony (Owner and Director) was helping flip burgers at lunch time, and George (Anthony’s son) was giving a number of intimate tasting sessions in the yard. A very homely place, Kilchoman.
On the Friday it was great music and slate sea views from the Bunnahabain distillery. Not forgetting the whisky of course; there was an 18 year old Moscatel finish and a 11 year old called ‘Bunna rubha A M’Hail’ for this year’s Festival bottlings. Both of which are packed with bundles of fruit and a classic maritime character.

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200years of Ardbeg.

Ardbeg day always falls on the last day of Feis Ile, this year marking their 200th anniversary! Greeted with whiskies poured from giant 6 litre bottles of their ‘Ardbeg day’ bottling, Perpetuum, was always going to be the sign to a cracking start. They were conducting tasting tours every half hour, and whilst you waited you could grab a drink from the impressive ice bar, yep a whisky bar made purely from ice. That’ll be on the Santa’s list this year.
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Until next year, Slàinte!

Nickolls & PerksFeis Ile 2015

4 Comments on “Feis Ile 2015”

  1. Colin Dunn

    The Islay Festival was kickin’ again this year, my 15th in a row ! It was nearly as good as THE MIDLAND WHISKY FESTIVAL !

    Roll on next year and Lagavulin’s 200th Anniversary…

    Giggedy

  2. Paul williams

    Excellent read Jerome!

    After reading this all I could think was I really want to go next year! It sounds like all the events are really well organised and the fact it was Ardbegs 200 year anniversary must of been a really nice touch knowing your love of the liquid! Next time get yourself over to Jura as a Richard Paterson masterclass is something special, Looking forward to the next blog and keep up the good work.

    Cheers

    Paul

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