It’s coming around again already! To get us in the mood for Islay’s 2019 festival that starts next month, here’s my own insular & obscure view of Feis Ile 2018.
It was only my second time on Islay and my first Feis Ile. All I’ve ever known of this special island is wall-to-wall sunshine. It’s been a common theme ever since I started visiting Scotland with regularity in 2008. With the sun in full blaze-mode, spirits were high for open day no.1 at Lagavulin.
Though the hordes of flippers certainly grated on me, on reflection, it is those queues that contribute to the festival atmosphere – and they aren’t normal queues. As Dave Broom says “friendships are made”. It also means more non-Feis Ile bottles for the rest of us!
On free-pour in the barn [with more queues], was this number.
- C: Really, it smells like Sauvignon Blanc, and with dry smoke, tastes similar to soft new-make. There must have been some seriously inactive cask[s] involved or did I get out on the wrong side of bed?
Scores 82 points
Incredibly, the festival bottling wasn’t available to try on the day. That opportunity came two days later on the tour of the distillery.
Lagavulin Tour [two days later]
We know the drill. First we get shown a Saladin box, smell the malted barley then the peated malt. Then it’s onto the mill to be told how these ultra-reliable machines put the Porteus company that built them out of business. Less mentioned is Ronnie Lee, a man who has his plaque on many a mill, mobile phone number included. Ian Buxton [from his book Whiskies Galore], says of Ronnie Lee:
“,.. he is a freelance millwright, spending most of his working life in maintaining, servicing, and on occasion, restoring Porteus Mills for the brewing and distilling industry. When I met him, he made a dramatic arrival in his fabulous red Aston Martin and regaled me with stories of his weightlifting days. It turns out he had been a Welsh Champion and a real contender for a Commonwealth games medal. He doesn’t give masterclasses, doesn’t blog and he’s definitely not part of fashionable crowd that is increasingly follow whisky these days. Yet he’s one of the most interesting people in whisky that I have met in a very long time’.
I heard one-man-band Ronnie Lee was due to retire this year or last. A job for life anyone?
Now in the fermentation room, [against her better judgement], I persuaded our guide to pour us some of the wash whilst the owl was busy watching someone taking a cheeky photo. It’s always worth asking & trying, as every wash is different. It gives a further insight into the underlying profile of the matured spirit.
Lagavulin Wash  [Lagavulin Feis Ile tour & Open Day]
- C: Really creamy and a little fizzy with a sleek & stable body and vivid apple>cider vibes. The smoke comes through a little later.
Back at base, we try some proper juice.
Lagavulin 8yo  Ob. 48% WB83.57
- N: A soft almost soapy resinousness [texturally speaking], with light summer fruits and light smoke.
- T: Light and very simple compared to last night’s Caol Ila [blog].
- F: Light barley smoke.
- C: Not greatly fussed but I know many rave about it. Batches vary!
Scores 82 points
Double-matured in PX sherry casks with charred barrels ends.
- N: A sweeter, older-styled sherried number likened to a smokey fruity wine.
- T: A predictably pleasing spicy & fruity arrival, the smoke more prominent here than with the younger 8yo.
- F: A winey lozenge-fruitiness accompanies the light smokiness.
- C: A successfully ‘treated’ malt.
Scores 84 points
Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive  Ob. (7500 bts) 54.1% WB89.08
This one’s triple matured – the best a man can get?
- N: Despite a heavy charring, the barley speaks freely. Also, there’s a little cream and a slight fusty fruity (sock) pong.
- T: With bits & bobs, we’ve a very whisky-ish whisky with malt smoke and a fruity-firm body.
- F: Displays the same dryish wispy smoke character shown through the whole flight, the smoke lingering and clean spirit concluding.
- C: I tried another sample later on with The Foz on Port Ellen beach. Equally decent yet totally forgettable juice, the setting far less so.
Scores 86 points
Crazy as it may sound, some people actually buy to drink! Can you imagine buying a pair of £100 shoes and not being able to try them on first? – just look! The apparent lack of opportunity to try the Feis Ile bottlings was a frustrating theme that continued throughout the festival. However, if you went on the [Lagavulin] tour [not actually available on the Open Day itself], you got to try it. So here we go.
- N: A unique combo of oyster sauce & cherry aid sweetness – not one for the cookbook, but it works here.
- T: A similar savoury sweetness to the nose, the barley intact with sweet light smoke.
- F: A dryish malty oaky, decent length & competent finish with a medicinal touch.
- C: I get why people can buy blind, a bottle-in-a-bag from Lagavulin. They have faith in the integral quality of the distillery and its output, and this festival release will surely reaffirm their belief.
Scores 88 points
Tomorrow is Bruichladdich day, a guaranteed sunny day!