Why You Should Go To Islay’s Fèis Ile?
Lovers of all things whisky flock in their 1000's to Islay’s Fèis Ile and in case you haven't been before or you're tempted for 2020 we asked our man on the ground, esteemed whisky writer, Felipe Schrieberg to tell us the do's and don'ts.
Every year, I ensure that the last week of May is crossed out on my calendar, because the world’s greatest whisky festival takes place over the course of nine booze-soaked days closing out the month and kicking off June in style.
The Fèis Ìle (islayfestival.com
) is an annual showcase of the incredible whisky produced on the Inner Hebridean island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland, and each of its nine distilleries (10 if you count the neighbouring island of Jura) opens its doors to give away generous amounts of its best water of life. Returning from my seventh year at the festival (which has now been running for 34 years), here’s the reasons that you should start booking your trip there for 2020 right now.
The Joys Of The Fèis
Every day of the festival features a different open day where Islay’s distilleries give away plenty of great whisky, while also hosting special tastings and masterclasses that allow eager whisky fans to try unique liquid that’s hard to find of or that can’t be found anywhere else. Each distillery also releases its own Fèis whiskies, special bottles that usually can only be purchased during its corresponding open day. It’s also a wonderful thing to be a part of the wider Fèis community. Festival veterans that have been going for readily welcome newbies into the fold with hearty drams. Outside the distilleries, it’s easy to visit the world-class whisky bars on the island, including (and certainly not limited to) The Ballygrant Inn, The Bowmore Hotel, and Islay House.
There’s plenty more beyond great whisky, however. This year’s Fèis saw a serious push towards creating great whisky cocktails, with a stand serving drinks every open day. There’s also a fairly ambitious live music programme, especially at Bruichladdich distillery where some of the top Celtic music names play on its stage. The Final Fling ceilidh at the end of the festival is always sold out too. Don’t forget about the island itself. Islay, with its scenic landscapes, beaches, and Celtic ruins (The Finlaggan site, ancient seat of power for the Lords of the Isles, should not be missed) is a joy to explore, as long as it’s not raining too hard...
How To Do It Right
Though it can be thoroughly enjoyed if you decide to go on a whim the week before, early birds that are best placed to take full advantage the Fèis. Due to the thousands of people that descend on the island, it’s incredibly important to book your accommodation and transportation (this includes ferries, flights, and cabs on the island) immediately, as many book more than a year in advance. However, this isn’t set in stone. If you’re willing to go camping there’s a lot of flexibility on where you set up for the night, and the Port Mor campsite on Port Charlotte is excellent (there’s showers and laundry machines). Hitchhikers always get picked up too.
There’s a little less flexibility when it comes to making it to some official tasting events from distilleries, and also need to be booked early. Some of these are fun and creative. For example, this year’s masterclass with Kilchoman’s owner Anthony Wills included new-make spirit made from different kinds of yeast. If unsure about what events you’d like to make, distillery warehouse tastings are always worth your time and consideration, serving unique whiskies that can’t be enjoyed anywhere else.
The Fèis is a festival that can be done well on any budget. It is a special week where the best whisky in the world is made available to anyone who makes their way over, on one of Scotland’s most picturesque islands. See you there in 2020.
So there you have it, a short informative guide to why maybe 2020 is the year for you!? If you're going, let us know and we can sample a dram or two together.