So I devised a plan where I would contact people that I met while on Islay and ask them 10 simple questions. They are from all walks of life, background and nationalities. The first person to answer me was Peter Moser. We actually met on the very last day in the Ardbeg Warehouse tour where we enjoyed a very old dram together while we walked around exploring.
Peter (@MrSingleMalt) writes for: www.fosm.de which is not in English but has a decent translator so I mostly make sense of what he loves to write about, which in case you didn't know is whisky! So here are the 10 questions I asked Peter about Islay and what he thought...
"Islay was always a place I wanted to go and never did. Eight working distilleries on a tiny little island and a ninth just on the next island called Jura. It is not only the number of distilleries but as well the landscape and people that brought me back after my first visit in 2012. This year was my third visit and it will not be my last. All three times I was joining new and old friends for the Feis Ile – the Whisky Festival on Islay.
1. Do you think every whisky geek should attend Feis Ile at least once and if so why?
Definitely and then see if they can actually resist coming back. I have met a lot of people since I have visited Islay 11 to 14 times and some of them love the island so much they have moved there part or full time. Decide for yourself but be prepared, it's addictive!
2. In your opinion, what is the best option during during Feis Ile for accommodations?
There is not too much available as far as luxury accommodations but the rest has a varied range. So it really depends on your budget and the lead time to get what you really want. Staying with a group in a self catering cottage can be a lot of fun, but most of them are outside of the villages so someone has to drive. I found a B&B in Bowmore and have stayed there ever since. They treat me like family and when you are a first timer they tell you a lot about the island, the people and since they know many of the locals they can arrange things for you. If you have a tent or a caravan you might be lucky enough to stay directly on the grounds of some of the distilleries if you ask them nicely.
3. What distillery day do you think is the best?
This is a hard one. There is no 'THE' best but if I have to choose one it would be Ardbeg. I will also mention that you should not miss Bruichladdich either. Ardbeg has the best day program for all levels of people which includes more than just pre-booked events. They do a great job at providing entertainment for everybody. These are the only two distillery days where I stay on the grounds for the full day.
4. What things did you appreciate and enjoy the most about visiting Islay and why?
It is a magical island and it's not as simple as stating one thing. Visiting Islay the second time was a bit like coming home. I cannot describe it any better and there are several people I have spoken to with the same feelings. It’s a lot about the landscapes. Light and shadow, sun and rain (even hail showers), distilleries, whisky, meeting friends, finding new friends and lovely local people.
5. What restaurants would you recommend for quality, service and/or price?
There are several with new ones popping up every year. One new one for me was the Lochindaal Hotel Restaurant in Port Charlotte. We had a group reservation (Highly recommend doing that) and we ate some fantastic fresh seafood platters. Just perfect.
6. Of all the people you were fortunate enough to meet on Islay, who stood out the most?
I could easily choose several like Jim McEwan, Mickey Heads, Georgie Crawford, John McLellan or John Campbell. All great people to meet. Same to a lot of local characters but the one that has impressed me most is Jackie Thomson (Visitor Center Manager at Ardbeg). On my second year visiting Islay she recognized my face and asked me “I’ve seen you before. What’s your name?”. I told her and since then she has greeting me by name every time. She meets thousands of people every year! But to be honest it was quite impressive to meet somebody like her.
7. If someone only had the three first days to visit Islay during Feis Ile, what would you recommend and why?
Buy a bottle at Lagavulin Open Day (Saturday). They will have their 200 years anniversary next year and will bottle something very special. Say “Hello” to Georgie Crawford. Then drive further on to Ardbeg, eat in their nice Kiln Café and say “Hello” to Jackie. Go on in direction Kildalton Cross but stop before entering the woods. There will be Seals on the rocks. Take a break. Go on to Kildalton Cross and appreciate the history you will find there. Then further on to Ardtalla and down to the beach. On your way back visit Laphroaig. Have a nice dinner at one of lovely local restaurants. You can repeat this the other two days, but on Sunday there is Bruichladdich open day. Very good option to choose. If you are lucky you booked (be quick and book really early!) a masterclass ticket. It might be different next year but I’m sure they will give you a great time. The rest of the day will be full of drinks, eating, music and a lot of talks. You can take your own distillery tour and just go through Bruichladdich on this day. This is very unique. If you did not have enough distillery visits yet, you can visit all the others. You can have some nature walks instead – beaches or the Oa with the American Monument. Be prepared: there is enough you can do that will not fit in your three days.
8. What has been the best distillery tour you received on Islay and why?
From the standard tours I would say Laphroaig as they do have their own malting floors and you can go into their kiln even if it is “on fire”. There are a lot of special tours at some distilleries and they are always changing over the years. One I really can recommend is “Deconstructing the dram” at Ardbeg. You end up in Warehouse 3 and “rebuild” there standards with cask samples. Great experience. My personal best one was a whole Shift at Ardbeg, but this was a once in a lifetime event.
9. Did you visit Kilchoman and would you recommend it?
It is at the moment (till Gartbreck is finished) the only Farm Distillery on Islay. It is small and is doing its own floor maltings. Keep in mind you need some kind of transportation to get there as it is quite remote and there is no public transit. Also in that area is some lovely scenery at Machir and Saligo Bay. Be prepared for a bad narrow road and a busy place during the open day.
10. After your first visit to Feis Ile the most valuable piece of advice you can give is what?
Plain and simple: Don’t go there if you are thinking it's a once in a lifetime trip! If you do not follow my advice chances are might get addicted and go back and back and back".
Stay tuned for my adventure to Jura... It was another fantastic highlight that I can't wait to share!
Until then... Islay time calls you.