Awards & Events

A week in paradise

The Islay Festival is the highlight of the Scotch whisky year. Martine Nouet looks ahead to this year's activities
By Martine Nouet
The Islay and Jura Festival is not only a true highlight in the whisky lover’s calendar, but it is a particularly generous affair time-wise. It stretches over a week and each distillery has its own prominent, though not exclusive, day.Here are some of the highlights:Let’s arouse our sensesAll distilleries host extensive tours, some of them at midnight for spooky fun (Ardbeg and Laphroaig). They all have special tasting sessions.Expect great knowledge but also good stories and fun from all the experts who will take you on the nosing path.Let’s keep on learning• Sunday 30th May: join in the whisky culture olympics at Bruichladdich: a whisky game competition with teams of three.
Neil Wilson’s whisky map and the presentation of a new DVD will also take place at this time.• Monday 31st May: Tour the maltings. Healthy too: countless stairs to climb up and down.• Tuesday 1st June: Demonstration of the traditional art of dunnage stowing by the warehousemen at Laphroaig.• Wednesday 3rd June: Whisky bard Robin Laing sings, tells stories and reads poems from his great bedside book, The Whisky Muse. He will entertain visitors in the Bowmore vaults.Let’s keep fitWhat about a healthy walk to the source of whisky ?• Saturday 29th May: Lagavulin manager Donald Renwick takes you up the hill to Solum Lochs.• Thursday 3rd June: Caol Ila manager Billy Stitchell leads a three hour walk to the distillery’s water source. The reward? A tasting (not only of the water).Let’s go whisky shopping Some distilleries offer you the chance to fill a bottle from a selected cask. A limited number of hand labelled, numbered and signed bottles will be available. Check with Ardbeg (a 1976 sherry butt), Bruichladdich (it was the pioneer of the offer in 2001 – it also sells casks), Bunnahabhain (a 1997 peated one), Laphroaig (a 17 year-old cask strength for £ 150 a bottle), and Jura.Let’s enjoy Islay fare• Saturday 29th May: Don’t miss the Lagavulin scallops by the shore.• Monday 31st May: Peat barbecued venison hot-dogs in the kilns at Port Ellen maltings.• Tuesday 1st June: Romance in the air... The now traditional candlelight dinner in Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Café awaits those who like whisky on the plate as well as in the glass. Gastronomy delights and of course, damn good whisky.• Saturday 5th June: Indulge yourself with a robust brunch at the Old Kiln Cafe at Ardbeg. Let’s strip the willow TThe week offers at least one ceilidh every day. Pick your favourite:• Saturday 29th May: A blues night at Lagavulin distillery with 95°Proof. • Sunday 30 th May: Clootie dumpling ceilidh sponsored by Loch Fyne Whiskies from Inveraray at Portnahaven Hall with Skipinnish. For the tireless ones, a day ceilidh in Bruichladdich courtyard with local musicians and singers• Monday 31st May: The traditional whisky tasting ceidlidh at Port Ellen Hall. North European and Japanese whisky enthusiasts are brilliant at blind tasting. Don’t expect whisky-writers to stand out at this guess-what game. We are far too busy blethering !• Tuesday 1st June: Laphroaig will host a ceilidh in the filling store.• Wednesday 3rd June: For the romantics, a moonlit ceilidh in Bowmore distillery car park with local and mainland artists. The group Dannsa will even teach the beginners a few gaelic dances.• Thursday 4th June: One ceilidh on Jura with the Howff Band and one family ceilidh at Port Ellen with the Islay Accordion and Fiddle Band.• Friday 5th June: The famous eight on stage. The distillery managers alias Condenser Club host the farewell party : expect a major surprise. This last evening is the most informal and friendly and is also dedicated to a local charity appeal and auction. And away from the distilleries• Go for a chaser. A brand new microbrewery is now producing Islay ale in Islay House Square at Bridgend. Come and see the two brewers (Paul & Paul) in action.• Drive to Rockside farm at Kilchoman to see the first stage of the farm-distillery buildings.• Go and admire seals at Portnahaven.• Taste Loch Gruinart oysters.• Buy the local artists’ CDs in the
distillery shops.• Pay a visit to The Port Charlotte
Museum of Islay life• Enjoy a piping recital at Gaelic College
on Bowmore on Thursday 3rd.