Tag Archives: Islay Whisky Festival

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Nov. 23.

What’s in a Whisky Festival?

There are many different types and syles of whisky festival. If you can’t find one to suit you, then perhaps you should return to drinking milk…

Glasgow Whisky Festival ~ exactly what it says on the tin. More drams than you can shake a stick at. A well run, whisky presenting event. No faff, no falderal. This whisky festival reminds me of the shipyards on the Clyde in days of old. Engineered, good craic, full of wit and camaraderie. Haggis and Neeps to eat, and friends are well looked after.  A good Scottish Festival.

We have the glamour of Paris Live… HUGE number of stands, big names, expensive whisky tastings. A lot of glitz and glamour –  fur coat and no knickers….? the people who ran the stands were complaining they were packed in too tighty…. all for style, never for comfort. Lots of World drams and glamour. A place to see and be seen.

Then, we have Maltstock & Dramboree ~ whisky hippy dreams. Fires, Birkenstocks, sharing bedrooms, and swimming with whisky!   Do you need to be young or have a beard for these? A celebration of friendship and whisky. The whole weekend is a session.

Next we have Independent European Festivals – mostly Dutch, German and now, Austrian.   A celebration of Scotch and Scottish culture. I love how people are playing the pipes (sometimes with more luck than judgement..) are singing Scottish songs, have kilts on, and there is tartan and shortbread all over the place. And lots of obscure Independent bottlings. This is good. These people are way ahead in whisky repertoire.  Big commercial festivals can be rather generic in relation to drams..

Then, we have the Speyside Whisky Festival. So overwhelming because everything is so far apart. But, if one has a driver who knows where they are going it is fantastic. Cooperages are opened up, Maltings are available to view. This is a mixture of the practical side of whisky and whisky drinking, with big names and glamour thrown in for good measure.

Next up,  we have our very own Feis Ìle.  A celebration of the culture of Islay, which has been hijacked by the distilleries. However, this is good. This grounds people in the distilleries and lets them experience whisky where it is made. A week of  mayhem involving Islay distilleries, whisky and friendships.

Last, but not least we have a newcomer to the festival scene. My very own THEATRE OF DRAMS Whisky Symposium . An Educational Celebration of Whisky.  An alternative, or a complement, to the week of the Feis.  Whisky drinking & whisky heritage. Pick and chose the events you want to attend. Create your learning schedule. 

There is a place for ALL kinds of festivals. We need a variey of events. These are a few to demonstrate diferent STYLES.

There are hundreds of whisky events world wide. 

Seek them out!

Enjoy your #Scotch.

Slàinte!

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Jun. 14.

A Close Encounter with Malt Whisky

 

 

Gold, amber, copper, silk, velvet …..

some of the words heard frequently at the Islay and Jura Whisky Festival ~ eight days, nine malt whisky distilleries, dozens of drams.

The Isle of Islay, off the West coast of Scotland, during the last week of May every year, is the place to be.

The Feis Ile agus Diura began as a celebration of the music and malts of the islands, and quickly became appropriated by the distilleries as their week. Each distillery hosts an open day. Visitors participate in whisky master classes, food and whisky pairings, barbecues, boat trips, and talks and tastings by blenders, managers and warehouse keepers. Music; local and otherwise, is played through out the day and nights, and dozens of delicious malt whisky expressions are sampled, analysed, discussed and enjoyed.

Many visitors return year after year. Friends are made with people from other countries, with people from Islay,  distillery workers are greeted like long lost relatives. Visitors feel a sense of belonging to their favourite distillery. There are clubs the guests can join. One of the distilleries gives club members a square foot of distillery land. Visitors build miniature wooden houses, and plant trees and flags, on their squares.

This year the sunshine pouring from the sky matched the liquid sunshine poured into the countless glasses held by visitors from Germany, Holland, America, New Zealand, to name but a few.

Islay has a population of around four thousand, Jura has a population of around one hundred and twenty. During festival week these figures more than treble, and unless you have booked accommodation well in advance, you’ll not get a bed for love nor money.

 

Islay is called ‘The Queen of the Hebrides’, she is also named ‘The Whisky Isle’. Islay is a bewitching, fertile island, the most southern of the Westen Isles, being found twenty two nautical miles from Ireland.  Her seven established distilleries hug the sometimes rugged coastline, and, Kilchoman, the new built farm distillery is about a mile inland.  In Islay, at any given time, it is impossible to be further than a handful of miles from the sea.

The neighbouring island of Jura is rugged, with the western side of the island being beautifully uninhabited. Jura has her distillery in the village of Craighouse, where one will also find the village shop, post office and hotel.

Ileachs (collective noun Ilich) ~ people from Islay, say that the only inhospitable thing about Jura is the midges ~ one Islay girl is quoted as saying: ‘the midges in Jura wear tackety boots!’

Jura whisky has a style of it’s own, being distinctly different from the characteristically more ‘peated’ Islays. The generic brand, Islay Malt Whisky, is famous the world over. Whisky lovers and enthusiast flock to the islands each year to purchase the limited edition Festival Bottles.  People even queue over night to ensure a purchase.  Locals are bemused and amused by the enthusiasts, and in measure respectful and scornful of the avid collectors who appear sometimes to have more money than sense.

The whisky is old, new, fresh, fruity, peaty, golden and plentiful. Anyone who says they don’t like whisky hasn’t yet found their dram.

In the past, whisky could be rough, coarse, and perceived as a man’s drink. Now, it is sophisticated, classy, complex, and a sensate experience enjoyed in equal measure by both sexes. Indeed, one Islay distillery boasts that they produce, ‘The world’s sexiest whisky!’

The week of the Islay and Jura Whisky Festival is an occasion to immerse oneself in malt ~ literally. The air around one smells of vanilla, spice, peat smoke, fruitcake. The liquid one drinks is velvet smooth with a short finish, dry with an amazing complexity, strong, light, soft and as varied and different as the dozens of people around you sharing the experience.

Some people call this liquid and this experience:

 Malt Whisky.

The Ilich have a better name for it ~

 they call it the Water of Life ~ they call it Uisge Beatha.

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Jun. 02.

FEIS ILE ~ ARDBEG

 Ardbeg Open Day entertained with good music, huge festival bottles of whisky and a great crowd.

 Manager Mickey Heads and Stillman Neil Philco gave masterclasses where the participants tasted six drams ~

 Still Young ~

10 year old  Cask no 2163 57.8% from 2002

14 year old from a sherry cask Cask 2722 53.9%

16 year old refill Bourbon Cask no. 2763 50.2% bottled in 1995

21 year old from a sherry cask bottled in 2002   1975

1975 ~ 36 year old  in warehouse  Cask No.4714

 

Frank from  Whisky Freunde Club in Cologne described the Ardbeg Festival Dram 56.7%

~ Long dry finish, fresh on the nose, young, sweet in original mouthfeel, and fruity with a bit of spice.

 In the festival bottle queue,  Whisky for Girls met John and Glenis ~ a couple whose love affair with whisky created their own love affair. They were married in Islay in a romantic ceremony with a couple of strangers as their witness. They have an amazing collection of rare Ardbegs. Glenis hunts them down, presenting John on his birthday with bottle number 4700 from the Japanese market, released in 2002. ‘I hound people until they give me what I want’  Glenis told me!

 People danced with the flags from their country as the band played

 And Manager’s wife, Margaret was crowned Queen of Ardbeg

 

 

Another great day where the sun shone and the drams flowed.

Whisky for Girls would like to thank everyone  who joined  ITS NOT JUST WHISKY FOR GIRLS CLUB.

We would like to thank everyone who granted us an interview, and/or  gave us some lovely drams to taste.

We would like to thank everyone who supported Whisky for Girls in any shape or form over the duration of the festival ~ and we look forward to welcoming you all back next year.

SLAINTE!

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May. 30.

FEIS ILE ~ BOWMORE

Bowmore Distillery Open Day ~ The day kicked off for Whisky for Girls with a  food and whisky pairing masterclass with the great Rachel Barrie, Master Blender at Bowmore.

 As I hadn’t had time for breakfast, I was, as in the title of Robin Laing’s song, having ~ Whisky for Breakfast  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivIFaaDNux4&feature=colike 

Rachel and Chefs, David from Rufflets Country House Hotel and Craig Millar @16 West End made us an amazing breakfast.

They took elements of the dram and took the same elements in food form ~ so we had :

Bowmore 12 years, a balanced dram with vanilla and fresh meaty saltiness, which has an underlying layer of something crisscrossing with toastey smokey flavours

and we ate it  with vanilla cream, fresh clam and crispy bacon.

The food really was the manifestation of the dram! How clever I thought. I really like Heston Blumenthall and the way he desconstructs food flavours then remakes dishes.  Rachel and the chefs did this dish and the whisky in a  very similar way.  But the great thing was that, many times I have had clams and bacon and probably had a dram with it too ~ but I really tasted the same flavours and textures in the whisky and then in the food this time, because Rachel and the chefs made me aware of it.

So in the first instance of this class I learned to look at the world and experience food and whisky in a new way ~  Not a bad start to anyones morning!

The class took us through a 15 year old Bowmore, a 17 year old Bowmore ~ the managers favourite, and a wonderful dram from 1985, natural cask strength at 52.3%, which was honey, rich and chocolatey with a smell of old wooden fence posts and some saltiness coming in. This is a sweet, honey like, complex, strong yet light airy open whisky. An absolute delight. This dram was paired with a chocolate sweetie and a sliver of vanilla biscuit sprinkled with freeze dried raspberries.

 I can safely say that it was one of the best breakfasts I have ever had!

Next Whisky for Girls met Margaret and Islay Campbell in the reception centre. Islay used to be the Manager of Bowmore, so it was nice to see him and Margaret still supporting the distillery.

 A wee while later I met up with Whisky Bard Robin Laing and he gave me a taste of his own bottling of pink whisky from somewhere else ~ and again I was draming out the back of a car!

(This is the real festival, where the drams are unexpected and unusual and belong to an individual) ~ experience it where you can…..

We met up with  whisky dogs ~ Meg, Jess and Murdo. Whisky for Girls have seen them at nearly every open day this Feis, so we felt they deserved their picture in the paper ~ so to speak.

 

Next we wandered up to the lounge where everyone was tucking into whisky cocktails, we met the Chief of Staff ~ Ginger Willie himself,  and  four guys who tell it like it is ……………………

 Later, I had a great conversation with @islaybart  and his friend about draming not tasting. Sometimes people get so caught up in analysing the drams they forget to drink them!

That’s where Whisky for Girls come in ………….. we have SLOW DRAM WHISKY TASTING which  reminds people that their whisky is here to be drammed, not dissected!

 Bart and his friend ~ the whisky drammers.

Bowmore Distillery Open Day ~ elegant, quiet (because they sold all their bottles before the open day!) and still going on ~ Islay Pipe Band and Skerryvore are calling……………………………

Slainte!

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May. 29.

FEIS ILE ~ LAPHROAIG

Laphroaig Distillery Open Day ~ just another day in paradise ~ lots of interesting people and a great Festival bottling.

And that much sunshine we are getting fed up with it now (~ only joking; we LOVE it!)  

Columns and columns of people wearing wellies streamed past the Whisky for Girls stand. They followed manager John Campbell as though he were the pied piper of Laphroaig!

 There were walks wearing the wellies, and hunt the bottle in the barley in bare feet…………..

There was a hansome barman and a dresser full of drink

We spotted a handy cupboard to look out for when visiting the peat shed…………….

 Pauline and tiny daughter with glamorous glasses, queued for the Cairdeas Origin 51.2%, the Laphroaig Festival bottle

and we saw the best number plate for a Friends of Laphroaig member ~

Whisky for Girls met a group of friends with their own private supply of drams in the back of their van……………

 Tony and Loes from Amsterdam and Robert and Shona from Glasgow have know each other ‘too long’!  after having met at the festival years ago.  Tony said I could have a dram from his cask as long as I didn’t tell anyone…….as it wasn’t from Laphroaig and he didn’t want John Campbell putting him out………!  

I said of course I wouldn’t (and I haven’t told a soul, I have only written about it on my online festival diary

 

They buy all the festival bottlings, and Tony likes the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Loes drinks whisky from Laphroaig when she is on Islay ~ but not when she is in Holland.  Robert is a member of glasgow’s Whisky club ~ ‘a dram not a drama’  and Shona doesn’t get a dram at all, being the designated driver.

Islay artist Jane Taylor www.islaywhiskydistilleryprints.co.uk  and Laphroaig Manager John Campbell pose in front of the Whisky for Girls stand, and the festival bottling tastes pale golden, thin, briney, sweet, peaty, with honey and power then oak and is yummy!

      It could hardly have been a better day. Thanks to all at Laphroaig.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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