Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Feis Ile 2015

I am just back from my first Feis Ile.

You can skip to the bottom for a review of the 2 rarest Feis Ile bottlings

I have been to Islay a few times before, and I must admit that after a few days I usually get cabin fever. This year I decided to go to Islay for twice the length of time I usually stayed there. So I was a bit worried

And this time I also didn't stay in one of the major urban hubs as I usually do. Before I stayed in Port Charlotte, Bowmore or Port Ellen

This time I stayed in a cottage 2 miles outside Port Ellen

But it's hard to get cabin fever on Islay during Feis Ile. It's a bit more crowded than usual. The Island is loaded with happy whiskyentusiast. This is what makes the festival what it is.

It's an 8 days festival. Every distillery has their own "Open Day". This also includes Jura who shares its day with Kilchoman.

The biggest problem with Feis Ile is accomodation and event tickets in my opinion. Accomodation must usually be sorted a year in advance, if not earlier if you want a specific place. Event tickets sell out too fast online, so if you don't sit in front of a PC 24-7 you won't get any. Not for the good events. The Islay distilleries should look to Campbeltown to see how this is done. They just set up more similar events when things sell out. On Islay you need to be fast, lucky or know someone.

The different Open Days are somewhat similar . There's a bit of music, quite a bit of whisky, the same seafood shack, and a lot of queues. Especially for bottlings.

I managed to get to Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Ardbeg Open Days. I visited Bunnahabhain and Jura outside the open days and also had a tour at Port Ellen maltings.

Lagavulin Warehouse tour

I did the Lagavulin Warehouse tour twice. It's one of the best distillery events to do, and you can do it outside the festival as well. This is a must for all whiskyfans. Iain McArthur does a cracking job presenting a handful cask samples

Here is my short review of the five Open Days

Free whisky, Lagavulin 16yo and Lagavulin DE to be tried. A fun blind tasting competion where you had to guess age on three cask samples as well. There was a long queue for buying bottles and no queue for being served whisky, so there is no price guessing where I was :-)

Caol Ila
Similar style as Lagavulin.Well organised. Big thumbs up to Diageo for their two open days

Another great event. They hosted a big array of "Pick and Mix" tastings lasting twenty minutes. There was tickets enough, as far as I could see. I came down late and still got a ticket for one of the ones I wanted. It was three whiskies with the theme 2015. It was the Cairdeas 2015, The new 15yo and the upcoming 21yo. Three magnificient whiskies and that's for just a tenner. I should have come earlier

Many small fun events all over the distillery. People were throwing sheep, dipping their hand in a barrel ofsheep shit for a lottery to aee what they could find. Vaporized whisky, Ardbeg museum, food stalls, music, several themed bars and loads of Ardbeg whisky

Very crowded, You paid to get in. 5£, but that entitled you to one free dram whisky. Weather was not the best, but not too bad either. This was my least favourite event, probably because I had to drive home...

I went to their events the day before the open day. Great they decided to offer events on other days so it was possible to get in and do something there. I did a boat trip where we tried a few of the current Jura's, and a beer/whisky tasting that was great fun. I was especially fond of the Jura Tastival beer made by Drygate. Lucky to taste that one, only 500 bottles. Jura also had a bar where you could taste some of their whiskies, including their festival bottling

I did a warehouse tour outside their festival, but there was a chance to get some BYO whisky from their new warehouse setup and that was great whisky. 3 casks to choose from, with 20cl bottlings

I think most distilleries sold one or more special festival bottlings. Some were cheap, some where expensive, Some were good, some were not. My favourites were the Laphroaig Cairdeas and the Laphroaig 15yo. The latter isn't really a Feis Ile bottling, but a special one-off to celebrate Laphroaig 200 years 1815-2015. The Cairdeas is made 100% from floor malted barley and they didn't use their big spirit still in the production but a balanced distillation of their other 6 stills. That means they paired the three wash stills with the three spirit stills.

I wasn't a big fan of Ardbeg Perpetuum which I found added nothing to their current lineup and I didn't like the Bruichladdich Open Day bottling. The Caol Ila and Lagavulin was basically their DE versions aged for about 7-8 more years in inactive (their own words) Puncheons and were good drams. I also had a wee sip of the Bowmore Virgin Oak, which I really liked, The Jura tastival was also a good one. Especially if you like Jura whisky in general and the style of Whyte and Mackay malt whiskies.

The worst thing on Islay is probably the lack of good beer. I am not a big fan of Islay Ales and not much exciting goes on beer wise on the island otherwise. At Ardbeg they had Beck's and Miller's, it's a bit like if the Brewdog bars only sold Bell's in their pubs

Highlight was, as mentioned above, the beer tasting at Jura, and then cleaning out the Coop's for good beers. Which I wasn't the only one doing. The good shelves were usually empty or almost empty at most times. Whiskyentusiasts love their good beer for sure. Luckily we stocked up on good beers at Loch Fyne Ales on the way over, but that stock dissapeared to fast really

The distilleries wasn't the only ones bottling special Feis Ile bottling. SMWS and Douglas Laing both had special Feis Ile bottling out

1. SMWS 3.243
Bowmore 17yo 57.1%
Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy

Photo by J. Hamilton

Bowmore's are hit and miss for me. The further away from the eigthies they are distilled the bigger chance for a hit. This was distilled 25 Spetember 1997 and bottled April 2015. This whisky is warm, gentle, sherried, quite peaty, floral and very drinkable. There is a hint of lavenders growing on a bed of newly molten lava in there. It has a major sherry influence, licorise especially, and a long finish

Rating 88/100

2. Old Particular Laphroaig
Feis Ile 2015 14yo 48.4%
Douglas Laing

Photo stolen from DL facebook page

As expected for a Laphroaig this punches a lot of peat. This is bottled at around the same strength as Ardbeg Perpetuum. It has a little more oomph though. It resulsts in a tender and flavourful whisky. Beneath the peat, there is a lot of wood-cinnamon like spices, some citrus and vanilla. Easy drinking peated whisky, quite complex with a lot of flavours and with a medium-long vanilla-peaty finish

Rating 88/100

I would like to thank the deerhunter(s) for the samples

But the best thing at Feis Ile is all the whiskyentusiast present. They really makes this festival great. I will say I LOVE you all for making this a great week and for all the good whisky you decided to share with me

A sunny day at Caol Ila