Monday, October 26, 2015

JO LAWSON Guest blog: FEIS ILE = A Free Dram and a Piece of Cake, does not a celebration make!

Continuing with what many others thought of FEIS ILE this year, Jo Lawson (@alpacajo) was with us and like myself she had never been to Islay before. There were many days spent laughing and sharing some really great moments together. Personally, I can't imagine what it might have been like without her there. 

Ladies and gents, my friend Jo Lawson's rendition of the 10 question survey I sent out:

Question 1: I think every whisky geek should attend Feis Ile at least once because: You can't call yourself a true whisky geek if you haven't queued for 15 hours each time, often in the cold and rain, for: Beer, food, toilets, free whisky and often expensive whisky! 

Question 2: What was the best distillery day for you personally? For me I think the best day was Bruichladdich! There was just so much going on: Jim's Masterclass, distillery tours, music, food, local crafts, a beer tent, friends - old and new to meet and greet and everyone just having a right good old time. A proper celebration.

Question 3: What distillery day would you have a hard time recommending? As a true blue, or rather green and white fan of this distillery, it breaks my heart to have to say Laphroaig! The 200th anniversary celebration - A free dram and a piece of cake does not a celebration make!? Where was the music? Where were the people dancing? Where were the distillery tours?? 

Oh, they got booked up in what seemed like minutes of going on sale!?? Well, why weren't extra activities put on? Surely the distillery knew their events would sell out!? All in all, very disappointing!

Question 4: What did you appreciate the most about visiting Islay? The friendliness of almost everyone I met, local or visitor. The locals seemed to view the invasion of hundreds of crazy whisky geeks with good humour and understanding of those of us, like Thomas Speller, that were in search of a new frying pan! As to my fellow visitors, the whisky provided the starting point for many conversations, even if you hadn't met the 11 large Danish men you were touring Bowmore with, before!

Question 5: Of all the people you were fortunate enough to meet on Islay, the one(s) who stand out the the most was/were? Martine Nouet, whose house (the 6 of us staying in our wee cottage) we were invited to dinner with, one evening. Martine is truly a friendly and generous person who shares her vast knowledge of food, drinks, and the pairing of the two with anyone who asks. She welcomed a group of almost complete strangers into her home and made them feel very welcomed. One of the fellow dinner guest was Norma Munro. Hundreds of us had heard Norma sing at Bruichladdich on the Sunday, but that evening at Martine's, this kind and gentle lady (despite being seriously ill) shared her amazing talent with us, in the most intimate of settings. She has the most beautiful and expressive voice, which moved many present, including myself, to tears. These two ladies epitomise the people I met on Islay - Welcoming, friendly and generous of spirit.

Question 6: If you only had the 3 first days of Feis Ile to recommend what would you say? 

Bruichladdich distillery day for all the reason I mentioned earlier, but make sure you get on one of the distillery tours. A visit to Kilchoman so that you can appreciate the differences and similarities between a long established and new distillery. Some time to experience what else Islay has to offer, apart from distilleries. Its history, scenery and wildlife.

Question 7: Which distillery tour was the best? Laphroaig!! Despite the official events being rather non-existent, my first ever tour, of this, my favourite distillery, starting at the stillhouse and travelling back through the process of distilling, conducted by two my best whisky friends: Ansgar & Thomas Speller. It was brilliant fun with "someone" stealing me a very small piece of peat - SSSSH! As to any other shenanigans that went on, well, you just had to be there!

Question 8: What surprised you the most about Feis Ile? How quickly the accommodations booked up! I was very fortunate that Ansgar and friends had a bed available in their cottage because by the time I decided in January of 2015 that I was definitely going there were very few affordable accommodations left!

Question 9: After your first visit to Feis Ile the most valuable piece of advice you can give is? If you are thinking of going to Feis Ile for 2017 (yes 2017) BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS NOW! 

Question 10: What do you think the best kept secret is about Islay? The island itself. To any whisky drinker who has never been there, Islay may seem to be just about the distilleries but is truly is so much more than that. There is a rich history of human occupation, beautiful and varied scenery and a diverse array of wildlife. It is one of those special places that works its way into your heart so that the moment you step on the ferry and it begins to pull away from the island you are already planning your next visit. 

Right... that's it from me.  Thanks to Johanne for letting me share my Feis Ile thoughts with an unsuspecting world.  Me - I'm off back to Islay.... ;)

HUGE THANKS to Jo Lawson. Again, I will stress the importance of talking to a myriad of people if you are looking to get as much information about Feis Ile because as Jo stated: It's not just a free dram and a piece of cake that will make the celebration!

Cheers all!



  1. Replies
    1. Jo Lawson is an excellent writer, you should see some of the poems!!!

  2. Love the memories of Islay shenanigans :-)