Just back from Islay

I’m just back from the 2007 Festival which, from my point of view, was very successful, so here's my story:

Day 1.
My friends and I arrived at Port Ellen at 09:20 after a fine crossing ‘cos the sea was very calm. When we were sailing past Ardbeg we saw that there was something abnormal with the wording of Ardbeg on the warehouse wall ~ it read Ardbig and had been specially changed to link in with the new festival bottling. At 11am we attended the Caol Ila distillery tour, where we also met “Peatjunkie” our Forum member from Ostend in Belgium with two more LWS friends. The tour was well organised and afterwards we were treated to the whole Caol Ila range. I tried the Festival Bottling which was a bit too young so I stuck with the 18yo. The afternoon saw us at Port Ellen Maltings which as usual is a great tour with loads of info about malting. The drams consisted of the 6th edition of PE and a choice of Islay Malts. This is where we met up with Gordon H. After the tour we walked with him to his bungalow where we sampled his Port Charlotte blood-tub bottling and my Ardbeg Adultery bottling. I must say that his Port Charlotte is just wonderful! We returned to Bowmore for supper, a pint or two in the local hide-out of the Harbour Inn and then it was off to bed for a good nights rest in preparation for another busy day.

Day 2.
After a good breakfast at Lambeth guesthouse (my 5th stay in 7 years) we visited Laphroaig distillery for our vertical nosing and tasting with manager John Campbell, sampling a 26yo and other drams from their range. However, we only got a Festival bottling to taste as the main dram which was very disappointing for all the visitors. At Ardbeg distillery (there’s no way I would leave the isle without a visit to my favourite distillery), we went to see the warehouse wall, now marked ARDBIG, and the festival bottling “Mhor”. In the afternoon we decided to have a break from drinking and walked from Bunnahabhain distillery to Rhuvaal lighthouse where you get a magnificent view of the Jura Paps and beyond, the weather was just grand.

Day 3.
And the sun was still shining when we crossed over to Jura for the best tour of the Festival. We were welcomed by Richard Paterson, Willie Tate and the new manager Wee Willie Cochran. The tour and events organised by them were fantastic and should be highly commended. We were invited to ‘make your own blend’, visit Jura Lodge (which is as it was in the 1800s) where we sampled the 19yo ‘heavy peaty’ Jura and after visiting the Lodge we sampled even more drams. Afterwards in the warehouse we were fed rolls with spit-roasted pig and more drams again. I must add that Whyte & Mackay paid the ferry costs for our car and passengers. Well done again! At 3pm we visited the Islay Ale brewery in Bridgend who had their ‘open day’ There we sampled ‘Single Malt Ale’ and the magnificent ‘Bruichladdich Peat Ale’ ~ what a cracker, made with heavy peated barley for the Octomore single malt! At 6.3% a real challenger for beer of the year, and as a Belgian I must say very good and outstanding flavour. That evening after dinner we visited the Lochside Hotel where we bumped into John McClellan, manager of Bunnahabhain who excelled this year by putting up many distillery tours and nosing & tastings in his distillery.

Day 4.
After another great breakfast we visited Kilchoman distillery where we had a tour with the manager. He told us that Kilchoman will double its production during this year due to a new kiln they’ve installed and due to the demand for ‘new spirit’ miniatures which are going like ‘hot cakes’ in the visitors centre. In the afternoon, in baking sunshine, we departed from Port Ellen back to Kennacraig and Kintyre.

A great Islay Festival again with lots of new events and the “Feis Ile” organisation should be congratulated on a job well done.

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Tuesday, 12 June 2007
Hi René, Thanks for your comprehensive and detailed report of the Islay Festival. I can only agree that it was a great festival. I particularly enjoyed the open day at the brewery on Islay House Square. What a lovely atmosphere and music and what a great weather we had :-)