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Report of the Feis Ile 2008.

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May 23-24

After a long travel to Islay on May 23rd, I attended the Lagavulin Open Day on the following day, Saturday May 24th, which tunred out to be sunny too. My first event of the day was the Master Class (£10) given by the Distillery Manager Graham Logie. During this event, the Lagavulin 1991 Distiller’s edition and Lagavulin 16 YO were served with some cheese, chocolate and Christmas cake. The two highlights of the Master Class were the Lagavulin Single Cask 1993, from a similar cask as last year. This 2008 Feis Ile bottling was again selected by the head warehouse man Iain MacArthur. This bottling is even slightly better than the one of last year (more intense and rich). The approximately 580 bottles were sold within 2 days. The second highlight was the new Lagavulin 12 YO for the Friends of Classic Malts, to be sold in July this year. This bottling is round and smooth, but not very complex;slightly disappointing. During the tasting, we were asked to drink the Lagavulin 16 YO on the rocks with Soda. Not too convincing.
Later on, I joined the Warehouse tour given in one of the Lagavulin warehouses by Iain MacArthur. The master class was very entertaining and lively. Iain is a real showman, pouring and handing out some generous cask samples of Lagavulin 2000, 1997,1993 and 1967! The 1967 was getting quite light and thin. Not bad, but younger Lagavulin have more character (not about whisky, only people).
After a quick lunch, I went with a friend to Ardbeg for some shopping (Ardbeg Renaissance and Corryvrekan). We took the opportunity to try there the Ardbeg Corryvrekan (which I enjoyed very much) and the new Renaissance.

May 25

The Bruichladdich open day was held on Sunday. As always during the days I spent on the island, there was sun and the music was very good (e.g., the local band “Maverick Angels” and the whisky bard, Robin Laing, that I have always enjoyed listening to very much). A good surprise this year was the price of the drams at the whisky bar, which were considerably lower than the previous years, and I treated myself with a lovely Murray McDavid Clynelish 1976 Mission. Later that day, I participated to the first ever Murray McDavid master class.  Whiskies served were: Clynelish 1995 12 YO, Bourbon/Madeira/Sherry, Glen Scotia 1992, 15 YO, Bourbon/Rum, Highland Park 1989, 17 YO, Bourbon/Grenache Blanc, Caol Ila 1991 17 YO Bourbon/Chenin blanc, Macallan 1990 Bourbon/ Chateau Haut Brion, and Bunnahbhain 1976  31 YO Fino Sherry. I am not a wine drinker and not an aficionado of finishes, but the tasting was interesting and some whiskies were quite good (Bunnah and Caol Ila). I had a most interesting discussion with Andrew Gray who is in charge of Murray McDavid, and an interview might be published quite soon on this website. During the Bruichladdich Open Day, I had the pleasure of meeting with Hans Offringa and his wife Betty, who were visiting Islay to sign the latest book of Hans: The Legend of Laphroaig, one of the best whisky books (PS: it will NOT be available on Amazon). Hans is full of interesting projects and he is currently preparing a book about whisky and jazz. And yes, the Valinch for the festival was the X4+1 Deliverance, a 1 year old quadrupled-distilled spirit, which can be called whisky only after it has spent 3 years in an oak cask.

May 26

Monday, May 26, was my last complete day on Islay and the day started very early with a trip to Caol Ila distillery, where I arrived at 8h15, 45 min before the opening of the distillery. When I arrived,   already 100 persons were queuing in front of me and some were waiting  since 6 AM. The reason was the sale of the first bottling of a single cask Port Ellen from the producer. The price of this much wanted bottle was only £99.99, so cheaper than the Annual Release (£110). The staff wanted to sell the bottle at £240, but the marketing department decided differently. I do not complain. There was much anticipation regarding  this bottle, since only around  220 bottles were produced from the cask, nr. 1301. Since about 70 bottles were reserved for the Diageo employees on Islay, as well as for VIPs and Diageo’s shareholders, only 150 bottles were on sale that day and not everyone got his bottle. The Port Ellen was definitely the bottle to have from the Feis Ile 2008 and some had travelled from Edinburgh at 5.00 am, or even from continental Europe  the same morning in order to get one bottle. Unfortunately, not everyone got abottle and some therefore immediately tried to buy   one for as much as £400 from one of the happy owners, but without success.  A few days later, one person was selling his bottle for £500 during the festival. After more than 2 h of queuing, I left Caol Ila with one bottle in my hands, before rushing to Port Ellen for a tour of the malting. As they had had some problems last year with one visitor, no food and whisky were served during the tour, but we got a glass with the logo of the Maltings, which contained  succulent fudges. After the tour, I had a nice chat with Chris Stevens, Operation Manager at the Port Ellen Maltings, and  Gordon Homer, the friendly owner of the http://www.spiritofislay.net/ website.
In the afternoon, I went to Ardbeg for the manager tour with Michael Heads (Mikey), accompaigned by friendly French known as the “Les Passionnés du malt”dressed in bright yellow . After the instructive tour, we spent a considerably amount of time in the warehouse tasting a cask sample of a 6-YO Ardbeg, the Ardbeg Renaissance cask selection (“pre-production” batch), and a superb sherry cask sample of Ardbeg distilled in 1975! Finally, after 2 hours of questions and tasting, we let Mikey resume his function.  I can only thank Mikey for his openness and frankness.
After preparing my luggage for my departure , I enjoyed taking some photographs of the Port Ellen distillery and malting at sunset.

The bottle of the Festival: Port Ellen Single Cask for Feis Ile 2008, D: 1981, B: 2008, Cask 1301, 54.7%.

27 May

On Tuesday morning, I left Islay rather early , not without any difficulties in the Islay Airport, since there is a reglementation in UK limiting the amount of liquid that you can carry in one bag to 5 L. As for many whisky enthusiasts, this limit is quickly reached when you are flying back from Islay.
When  I was going to leave, I had the pleasure of greeting Iain McCallum, the bright young Master Blender of Morrison Bowmore, who informed me that changes are ongoing with Auchentoshan and that an aged single cask Bowmore will be bottled soon for one famous US retailer on the East Coast.
I really enjoyed my stay in Islay, tasting some very good whiskies during the Open Day, as well as outside (special thanks to Patrick S.), and managed to do most of the Festival during my short stay. Unfortunately, I missed the Open Day at Bowmore and Isle of Jura.  Also, during my shopping round at Ardbeg, I met Willie Tait, the knowledgeable Isle of Jura Brand Ambassador (and ex-distillery manager) and we had a nice little chat about his perception of the current situation of the whisky industry. Of note, during the Isle of Jura open day,  4 bottles were for sale, representing the 4 elements (i.e., earth, fire, water and air). At Bunnahbhain, according to Gordon Homer, the warehouse tour was as good as last year, with some cracking cask samples served. Bunnahbhain has some exceptional casks and I presume that the casks selected for the 21 YO Feis Ile bottling were of that quality, but the price (£216 on their website) was exaggerated to my opinion.

P. Brossard, 28 May - 03 Jun 2008