Islay Festival / Fèis Ìle 2016

May 21, 2016

For the 32nd year, Islay will hold its Fèis Ìle, or Islay Fest, the last week of May. It is a celebration filled with music, golf, Gaelic lessons, and of course, its main export–whisky! This celebration lasts eight days, enough to celebrate all eight distilleries on the island (Gartbreck Distillery is a new work in progress).

One of these years, we’ll make it up there to celebrate with the hundreds who make the trek. Until then, we’ll just have to be transported there through the magic of drinking the whisky from whence it came. Each distillery has an “open” day where they have events and tastings along with special Fèis Ìle bottlings for sale. As I can’t be there, this will be my way of living vicariously through all of the lucky souls who are.

Stephanie’s Islay Fest picks by day

SATURDAY MAY 21st: Lagavulin Open Day
My dram of choice: Lagavulin 16 Year

It’s perhaps, an obvious choice, but one I’m proud to make. This whisky never goes out of style; it is meaty and smoky and shows brilliant seaweed and sweet tobacco. A polarizing whisky, yes, but one I can use to sort out who in my circle are up for a challenge.

SUNDAY MAY 22nd: Bruichladdich Open Day
My dram of choice: Bruichladdich Black Art 4

It is certainly not easy to create a list of your favorite Bruichladdich whisky as there are literally dozens (perhaps hundreds?) from which to chose. But Black Art is special. Perhaps it is because Jim McEwan is the only one who knows exactly how this whisky is made and I like a bit of mystery. At the end of the day, it is damn tasty. Besides, the bottle is cool enough to purchase with or without the whisky (I’ll take mine with, please.)

MONDAY MAY 23rd: Caol Ila Open Day
My dram of choice: Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve 2013 Special Release

A special release to honor Billy Stitchell, Caol Ila’s Distillery Manager after 39 years of service. An unpeated release for Caol Ila, it is one which is bottled at cask strength of 59.6% ABV. It is enjoyable as is, but blossoms with just a few drops of water. Slàinte, Billy!

TUESDAY MAY 24th: Laphroaig Open Day
My dram of choice: Laphroaig 18 Year

Discussing Islay whiskies, if I were really pressed to choose, I’d have to say that Laphroaig is my favorite Islay distillery. I fell in love standing on the shores just steps away from the distillery, taking big whiffs of sea spray, the wind blowing my hair back, and seaweed at my feet. It was then that I really understood why their whisky tastes the way it does. It’s a product of its environment. Terroir. Naturally, my favorite whisky of theirs has been discontinued (pass the tissues, please), but we live once. I’m not talking my bottles with me to the grave; the time is now!

WEDNESDAY MAY 25th: Bowmore Open Day
My dram of choice: Bowmore 18 Year

Yes, another 18 year old. It’s my sweet spot for island whiskies, it seems. Bowmore has a little bit of all that I love…a mix of salty and sweet, fruity and spicy with just a splash of peat smoke thrown in for good measure.

THURSDAY MAY 26th: Kilchoman & Jura Open Day
(as Jura is just a five minute ferry ride away, it also joins in on the festivities)
My drams of choice: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2015 & Jura 1984

Two whiskies with large age gaps between them, Kilchoman is a 5 year old whisky and the Jura is a 30-year old bottling. My yin and yang. The Kilchoman is young, peaty, and scrappy and the Jura is unpeated and elegant with rich dried fruits throughout the dram.

FRIDAY MAY 27th: Bunnahabhain Open Day
My dram of choice: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

With most of their bottlings are unpeated (2-4ppm) Bunny always seems like the underdog to me fighting for attention to stand out next to its peaty neighbors. This however, released at the end of 2014, goes back to its early days of making heavily-peated whiskies. Rich and peaty, this is one that’ll keep your fires burning.

SATURDAY MAY 28th: Ardbeg Open Day
My Dram of choice: Ardbeg Uigeadail

This has always been a favorite to drink. A no age-statement whisky done well. Not just a peat-bomb, this whisky has something else to say. For its price and availability, always a good choice, Islay Fest week or not.

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