Thursday, September 10, 2015

Fèis íle, the arrival - Part 1...

Islay is much more than an island off the main coast of Scotland. It is place unlike many people today have experienced because most of us live in large faceless cities where the word community has been lost or forgotten. Ileachs rely on each other for their survival. It's where a neighbour leaves a note that they took a few tomatoes but left a dozen stalks of rhubarb as payment or hundreds of people show up to help mend a blown down fence. It's where the weather dictates what you may or may not be doing for an entire weekend and if you check to make sure some of the more remote homes still have power and food. And, it's an island where it's a must to raise a few fingers to every car that passes yours on your travels. 

Be warned: When you land on Islay, you are officially on 'Islay time'.

Islay has been on my list to visit since 2009. I was super excited to finally make it happen in 2015 thanks to Ansgar and Thomas Speller. Two very good friends that invited us along for their adventure. The planning stages started in 2014 after we had spent a magical two weeks in the Speyside area of Scotland. Knowing how well the four of us got along made it an easy choice and we signed up for two weeks of a self catering cottage near Bruichladdich immediately. 

Of course to the rest of the whisky geeks in the world, we all know what Islay means: PEAT HEADS UNITE!!!  It's the ultimate pilgrimage to where gigantic fields of bogs are ageing as quietly and slowly as some of the whiskies and it's where Fèis íle happens every year in May. The island swells to capacity to the point where all the banking machines run out of money and some of the shelves at the small grocery stores are left almost bare. Where the staff at restaurants do their best to seat, serve and feed the loads of visitors that didn't make reservations with a smile and many apologies for being so full. Where you might not get on or off the island because the ferries are weather landlocked. But hey, you are on Islay time... so you roll with the punches, get to know your neighbour and share your happiness and whiskies with friends.

Friday May 22th we arrived at the ferry terminal to reunite with the Spellers... With tears of joy in my eyes and lots of "little girl" shrieking I hugged them tightly with excitement and true happiness. We all boarded the ferry and made our way to the lounge for breakfast and a quick catch up. As we got closer to the island we all decided to go outside to look around. But as luck or maybe Islay time would dictate we were enveloped in a mist of heavy thick fog with only small glimpse of sky or ground from time to time and then on cue, it seemed, we were approaching the ferry terminal and the fog had lifted just enough that we could see the outline of some of the distilleries. One by one, they came to life and were no longer just photos I had seen. We were finally "here"...

A quick lunch at Ardbeg (HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT), then a drive to the grocery store for provisions and off to the cottage to unload, relax and make supper together (we all love to cook and eat!) We had a few roommates we were anxious to see that would be arriving a little later in the evening: Jo Lawson (@alpacajo) and Crystal Coverdale (@EdgyLassie), both of which I consider very good friends of mine. Our cottage was spectacular! Lots of space, nice rooms, a fireplace, a great kitchen, within walking distance to Port Charlotte, Bruichladdich and with a stunning view of Bowmore across Loch Indaal. Supper cooked, eaten and off to our very first adventure:

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was marking their first visit to Fèis íle with the release of a commemorative bottling as well as a full day of activities at Islay House. We all chose to meet up at the Evening of Live Jazz event. Cost 10£. A four hour event where great jazz was played and sung while we experienced some of the latest SMWS releases, ate ice cream that paired smashingly well (I must admit) and had plenty of space to sit, stand or congregate on the grounds.

One by one, our beloved #whiskyfabric friends arrived and we cheered, toasted and drank with every new participant joining the group. The music was lovely, the company divine and the setting perfect. 

I was feeling like the evening was exactly as it should be: Spent with friends, sharing drams and looking forward to glorious times and memories about to be made together. We came back to the cottage and spent the rest of the night laughing and talking into the wee hours, as most of us were quickly acclimatizing and loving Islay time. 

This was the first time SMWS was partaking in Fèis íle so I do hope they do it again in the future because it was a great way to start the festival and the price tag was fantastic! Well organized, great venue, excellent value for $$. I would highly recommend this as a "must attend" event.

First whisky purchased SMWS 3.243 Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy

Available as a limited release for Fèis íle. This is a Bowmore 17 year old, bottled at 57.1% ABV, one of 594 bottles. Price paid 80£

I think many people will agree with me when I say that Bowmores can be a lovely triumph or a huge disappointment if you don't like the lavender soap sometimes found in older bottlings.  I mostly tend to find this on the palate of the 80's distillations.  I was glad to see this made in the late 90's.

Nose: A delicious smoked meat sandwich with rich sherry overtones. Quite beautiful on the nose.

Palate: Sweet peat!! Roasted coffee beans and bits and pieces of roasted almonds. Rich and full mouth feel!

Finish: Long, lingering with smoky anise seed. Very pleasant and tasty.

Well as our first purchase, I really felt like we got ourselves a bargain. My one regret: Didn't get two bottles!

So that I suppose is one of the things you learn about being on Islay... Take it easy, don't regret too much and simply be in the moment of Islay time.  Until next week...  


1 comment:

  1. I'm so jealous of your Feis Ile experience! It sounds amazing! If you had to pick just ONE thing, what would the highlight be? (I know, that's probably an impossible question!)