The Islay Festival is always a special time of the year, there is just something about that jewel of an island, its distilleries, the people, the remoteness… the list just goes on. Let’s not forget the whiskies of course.
One thing that Islay does best, and I guess it goes with most island travel, is thwart the best laid plans of mice and men, and this year it was my turn to be caught up by Mother Nature.
There are only a few things worse than standing in the departure lounge waiting for a flight to board, then to see the word ‘delayed’ spring up in luminous green on the board. One of these is when, and for those of you that know Islay’s very small and intimate airport I’m sure can relate to this, the check-in staff disappear in a quick huddle behind the scenes for what seems like a very long time. Then they return holding official looking forms and with sympathetic smiles. Add to that one of your friends is hanging out with the airport manager at a tasting and sends you a pic with the caption, “You are not getting off this island!” Then watching the weather close in and hearing your return flight circle back, then fade quietly into the distance.
Thus began this year’s escape from Islay; a 40 minute flight at best that turned into nearly 24 hours, three missed flights, one ferry, one taxi and eventually one flight and a drive home. Epic stuff and certainly one of those trips that won’t be forgotten, especially trying to hitch-hike from the airport to the ferry terminal in some heavy rain.
One highlight, thanks to those poor souls on the evening flight that had to turn back, was getting to stay in the certainly reopened and refurbished Machrie Hotel. A plush and lovely place to stay indeed, with a whisky collection that will help ease the fact that you don’t play golf.
Kudos and many thanks has to go to the airport staff who worked like Trojans to accommodate people in a calm and efficient manner under stressful circumstances for all.
In other matters there is a quiet revolution happening amongst friends, acquaintances and people I follow on social media channels. Something that the whisky world is starting slowly to pick up on in a way.
As a close friend said the other night, “People are not taking things up any more, they are giving things up.” Specifically in the circles I, and if you are reading this I gather you as well, move in, alcohol. It seems Lent has become cool again.
Several people I know take at least a couple of weeks, a month, even two or three months off the booze to reset and recalibrate their palate and senses.
Taking a longer sabbatical from drink can only be beneficial in many aspects of life. For those returning to whisky after some time away, be prepared. I remember taking a few weeks off last year, and my return was a dram of Lagavulin 16 Years Old. A small measure in a Glencairn in bed and wow. What had become routine became this huge nuanced drink.
The giving up thing is an interesting movement and seems very much driven by strivings to improve health, mentally and physically.
As I said, the whisky world is reacting slowly to this, with the likes of Seedlip and Everleaf getting the drop. Most reformed whisky drinkers I think will start looking for savoury-based drinks they can still mix as cocktails.
A recent stint in the Cotswolds with my other half confirmed that, certainly in this rarefied part of the UK, Seedlip is appearing as a standard on cocktail menus and bars.
For me the shift away from social drinks has pointed me and my partner to explore flavour and combining flavours a lot more. We have a few things up our sleeves but more on those later this year… possibly.
One final thought: the joy of spittoons. Obviously not cleaning them, but for tastings why not use them. Yes you have to relearn how to assess a finish, but that is quite a fun trial. It has started to make sense given the alcoholic content of our chosen tipple. I know I have often said that they do spit during wine tastings, and finish is not as important in wine (I’m very happy to be proven wrong on this), so why not in whisky? Give it a go, have some time away, use spittoons and best of luck.