Feis Ile 2003

Once again it’s the end of May
So it must be the Islay Whisky Festival !

Saturday 24th May

This year our little adventure started on the friday evening , leaving Newcastle at 8.40pm we had to travel over night in order to get to Kennacraig for the 7.15am ferry . The one thing you do get to see travelling overnight is a wide range of wildlife that only appears in the small hours , The Otter at the ferry landing ,the deer at Arrochar and the wonderful fighting women at Inveraray ! we weren’t the first to Arrive at the terminal at 2.30 am , i can tell you it was a very long restless night (apart from the Otter ! ) till the ferry departed .
When we eventually got to the Isle (at 9.30am) we headed straight for ardbeg distillery to say hello to everyone and pass a bit of time till we could get into our hotel room for a bit of proper sleep. We also managed to get booked onto the Ardbeg Candlelit dinner (thanks to Tamara ) , we gave Lagavulin a miss but we did hear it was a very good day .
So onto the candlelit dinner , 40 lucky people , lots of great food and some fantastic whisky ! Once again Martine (Nouet) was in charge of getting the old taste buds going with Stuart (Thomson) matching up whisky from the Glenmorangie stable .

The Menu

The spirit is coming….

(A dram of Ardbeg 10 years old to welcome us in)

Scottish Sushi served with (chilled) Baille Nicol Jarvie on the Ardbeg Pier

Pan-fried Local Scallops on Parsnip Rings , laced in a Whisky and Ginger Sauce.
Ardbeg 10 years old

Brochette of duck marinated in whisky and Spices with an Orangey Sauce and wild rice .
Ardbeg 1975 (from a fino cask)

Apricot Blancmange laced with Whisky and a light Macaroon Crumble.
Glen Moray 16 years old

Coffee with Dark Chocolate Ice cream Balls
A mystery Ardbeg straight from the cask…
(A 1976 sherry casked Ardbeg , cask No.2398.)

The Scottish Sushi was the most unusual course (Barley used instead of rice) , but i think most people were raving over the Duck (we certainly were !) . Once again The meal was one of the highlights of the festival , A great way to start off the week , Again all the stops were pulled out by Martine ,Jackie and her staff. the two 1970’s Ardbegs were outstanding and a great choice to go with the meal .

Sunday 25th May

Once again sunday is Bruichladdich day , a pretty hectic one as well . there were two valinches on offer , a 1984 to commemorate the opening of the bottling hall and a 1988 to mark the visit of the Bruichladdich Babes .Various bits of entertainment were provided including a barrel rolling competition , the Islay pipe band and Robin Laing launched his new CD . The new bottling hall was formally opened and Jim held another of his Masterclasses in Warehouse No.5 . The whiskies tasted were mainly from the Murray McDavid Mission range , they were a Bunnahabhain 1966 , a Glenlivet 1968 , a Lagavulin 1979 , a Macallan 1968 and the standard bottling of the 1970 Bruichladdich . It was done in the form of a competition , you had the 5 whiskies , the 5 names and you had to identify which was which , the only thing was the Macallan was from a bourbon cask , a bit of a ringer ! I only got one right . the revealing of the casks was a sight in its self , a bit quiz showy (John, reveal the cask !) .I also had the pleasure of sitting next to Ruaridh McLeod (the 79yo ex- still man ) what a character , he left me with the quote of the festival at the end . Giving me his Laddie 1970 he said ” here son have this , I made it me self !” ,priceless! By the way the warehouse the tasting was in was the one where M.McD stores their stuff ,some different casks in there including a load of Springers !
Another good day at the “Old Lady by the shore” . Then back to the Lochside for a bite to eat and a few drinks .
(Click on photos to see larger versions)

Bruichladdich Babes ! Babe Valinch
Jims Masterclass John.....Reveal the cask !
Laddie Day Mel and the Distillery Cat

Monday 26th May

A day of two halves , first a morning spent at the top of the isle at Caol Ila , a tour i hadn’t done for a while , it’s nice to see the less popular distilleries but i have to say this was the worst one of the week (in my opinion ) , i think Caol Ila should have a sit down before next year because there were just too many people around and organisation was a bit lacking . it totally spoilt the tour .

Caol Ila Mash Tun Caol Ila Wash Backs
Paps from Caol Ila Stillhouse Caol Ila Stills

After a bite to eat at The Old Kiln Cafe , a late afternoon tour of Port Ellen maltings was on the cards , it’s a great place to do , you get to see a bit of the process you don’t get to see normally and you get a peat smoked Venison burger thrown in to boot ! There seemed to be quite a bit of the second Port Ellen release floating about as well .

Port Ellen Maltings Steeps Port Ellen Maltings Steeps Port Ellen Maltings Kiln Fire
Port Ellen Maltings Control Panel Original Tub From Port Ellen Distillery The remains of Port Ellen Distillery

The evening was finished in the usual style , a night in the Lochside , Tamara and Richard joined us for a drop or two of the good stuff .

Tuesday 27th May

We didn’t attend jura Day , we had a day of rest , so to speak , in the morning we went back to bruichladdich to visit the casks i’ve got shares in and to draw a sample out of my own .At 2yo its coming along very nicely , should definetly be ready at about 6yo . We also got to try someone elses 2yo PC out of a Re-fill sherry hogshead , it hadn’t changed a great deal , on talking to John the warehouseman about it , his opinion was that it might take well into its teens to mature , so it could be a long wait for some ! We also managed to sample a bit of Octomore (very fruity and peaty) and had a try of some 10yo Jura (not one of my Favourites ).

My Bloodtub Spirit of Islay Cask In the Laddie Warehouse.....

In the afternoon we went to the Old Kiln Cafe (again ! Emma wanted to know if we were after part-time Jobs there !) for a bite to eat , then had a drive along the south shore to Kildalton . After watching the seals for a while we stumbled across a herd of deer just beside the cross .
In the evening we hit the new Indian restaurant in Bowmore , very good it is too , then at 11pm went off for one of the highlights of the festival , the Midnight tour of Ardbeg . What a great idea ! It was a different way of seeing the distillery , only lit by candles and hurricane lamps . needless to say we got to try a few malts including the 1975 fino again and an outstanding 1990 bourbon cask , it was after 2.30am by the time we left !

Kildalton Deer More Kildalton Deer

Wednesday 28th May

Bowmore day ! The easiest in the fact that its only a few hundred metres from the Hotel ! Met up with Christine (the visitors centre manageress ) for the first time this year then went off on a tour . It was a great tour , collecting little bags of stuff as we went around and visiting the N0.1 warehouse where we tried a 1995 Sherry cask and a 1989 bourbon cask .

Bowmore Floor Maltings Bowmores Smoking Kiln Bowmores Kiln Fire
Bowmores Mash Tun Bowmores Wash Backs Bowmore Stills

In the afternoon we were lucky enough to get tickets for the tasting with Percy the distillery manager . It was a treat and a half , we tried New make , a 5yo from a bourbon cask , a 18yo (bourbon) and the new 1964 release (bourbon) . all were great , the 1964 was outstanding but i still think its not worth £995 a bottle .
By this time the week was starting to tell on us and instead of the Bowmore Celidh we chilled out in our hotel and had a visit from Aussie Craig Daniels .

Bowmore Warehouse Bowmore Warehouse

Thursday 29th May

Ardbeg Day !

Clann an Drumma at Ardbeg Ardbeg Boat Trip
Yes it was that time of the festival , this year i decided to leave the car at the hotel and Craig gave us a lift down . The morning got off to a quiet start , but not for long ! the arrival of Clann an Drumma got things going , they are a group from Glasgow comprising of 4 drummers and a bag piper (as brian from The Ileach said “i like the odds !) , they are great and have just signed a years deal with Ardbeg to promote the whisky . They appeared several times during the day and had everyone bopping around. 

This was perhaps the best day at a festival that Mel and my self have had , everything just fit into place , the weather was fantastic , red hot all day (lots of lobsters spotted the next day ! ) . The company was great , its the most relaxed i’ve seen a large group of people ever . The Boat trip we eventually took along the south shore was unbelievable , a great way to see the 3 distilleries , we even had a dolphin for company ! The one thing i really enjoyed was sitting on the pier , a dram in hand , the sun shining down , watching the world go about its business !

Without a doubt Jackie , Stuart and the staff made this a day to remember . Just for good measure we went for another Indian meal (can’t recommend this place enough ) and returned to the hotel for a dram or two .

Ardbeg Distillery
Ardbeg Distillery
Clann an Drumma
Swan at Ardbeg
Ardbeg Distillery from the sea Lagavulin from the Sea Laphroaig from the Sea

Friday 30th May

After all the excitement of yesterday again we opted for a quiet day , in the morning we went down to bid good-bye to all at Ardbeg , then headed over to the walled garden at Forelands , a lovely place which we’ll be revisiting in the summer . Then we had a drive down to Portnahaven to see the seals and returned via the coastal road , a beautiful drive in the afternoon sun .

The final evening was spent in the hotel in the company of Ann and Alistair , a bit of a sad night as this was the final night we would be spending under their ownership and boy did we have a party ! I spent some of the night serving behind the bar (an honour for me , all them whiskies ) drunk quite a bit and i think we went to bed at about 3.30am , there was also people dancing on the bar at one point……..

i gather there was a good night at the managers ball as well .

Saturday 31st May

So off homeward , luckily we were on an afternoon ferry (see above ) , another day another Islay whisky festival , will we be back ? i hope so . At this point i would like to thank Stuart for introducing Mel to the delights of 1976 sherried Ardbegs , cheers Mate , i’ll have to hide the bottles now !

TO BE CONTINUED ……. SOON

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