A few more days and the Islay Festival will be underway. The annual week to which whisky lovers from all over the world look forward to. A week to meet friends, to visit the distilleries and festivities, listen to great music, to buy a special festival bottling and to see Islay like you're not seeing it in the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a busy week, without a doubt, but fun as well. I myself am already looking forward to Skipinnish at Bruichladdich Open Day and those fabulous smokies at Ardbeg Distillery on the last Saturday of the festival! The weather forecast for the weekend and into next week looks fine, as far as it can be trusted of course!
The Islay Festival kicks off on Friday the 20th of May, that's in two days, with a Ceilidh in the Rhinns Hall and earlier the Islay House Hotel garden party together with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. There will be music, tastings and a chilli eating competition!
Saturday will see a very special celebration as Lagavulin has the first open day of the distilleries and they will also celebrate their 200th anniversary. It will be a great day for the visitors as there will be many activities in and around the distillery including music, a BBQ, crafts and a lot more. The first Big Fling will be held in the evening, unfortunately tickets for this event have sold out.
Sunday is traditionally Bruichladdich Open Day and they have a cracking programme too with great bands such as Skipinnish and Maverick Angels, just to name a few. Angela Paterson will sing too for the crowds and you can see and hear the Islay Pipe Band and Ella Edgar's Highland Dancers. This will be a busy day and as parking is limited try to make use of the free bus services from Bowmore and Port Ellen. There's also parking at Uiskentuie with a shuttle service to the distillery. Gates open at 12.30pm. Continue reading...
Monday is a busy day with the Caol Ila Open Day, Line Dancing classes in Columba Hall Port Ellen in preparation of the Ceilidh that night and the barn dance on Friday. There is a tasting in the Portnahaven Old School at 7pm, there are more of those during the week, and a Gaelic programme in the morning at the Gaelic Collage.
Tuesday is another day packed with events. It starts with a Gaelic event in the morning at ICCI. Laphroaig will open its doors for the public with music in the courtyard, locally supplied food and there are many ticketed events. Read their programme carefully! Douglas Laing will hold two events this day, one at the Gaelic College in the afternoon and one in Bridgend Hotel in the evening when there's also a Folk night at Ardbeg Distillery.
You'll need to be either flexible, fast, or both if you want to visit all the events on Wednesday as both Jura Distillery, Bowmore Distillery and Islay Ales have their open day. Perhaps a two week festival isn't such a bad idea? Douglas Laing will organise a Bridgend Brunch at the Hotel, there's a traditional concert in the Gaelic College in the evening, a Robin Laing concert in Bruichladdich Hall at the same time and you can also join the Ceilidh at Islay Ales at 7pm where Reely Jiggered will be providing the music and the beer tent will remain open. Entrance is free.
Time for a wee breather on Thursday. If you didn't make it to the Jura distillery you might want to do so today as they have two successive open days. Kilchoman, Islay's latest distillery, will have its open day too and they start early with special tours and master classes. There is live music throughout the day where you can expect Trail West, the Islay Pipe Band and The Blueswater & Reely Jiggered. Brandon McPhee and Fred Morrison will close the day with a concert in Bowmore Hall starting at 7.30pm.
Friday is Bunnahabhain Open Day and they are opening at 10am with tours, talks and walks throughout the day. Not far from Bunnahabhain is Finlaggan and they will have an open day too with whisky sampling, a whisky raffle and other refreshments. Ramsay Hall in Port Ellen is the place to be for cowboys and girls at the Barn Dance with Brandon McPhee along with Manson Grant & Dynamos.
Saturday the 28th is officially the last day when Ardbeg Distillery celebrate their open day (go try those smokies) followed by the Final Fling in the evening.
Most tours, masterclasses, special tastings, walks, talks, tastings and concerts are ticketed events. Please visit the Islay Festival website for full programmes and online ticket sales for the various events.
As you can see the festival week is a very busy one with many events throughout the week. It also means that the roads will be busier than usual, also with people who are maybe not used to drive on single track roads. For those who plan to drive to the various events please read our guide to drive on Single Track Roads. It's essential reading for those who are not accustomed to driving them. If you have a few drams too much you can always leave your car, get a taxi or bus, or try to get a lift. Most folk on Islay don't mind taking folk from one place to another. Make sure to have a copy of the Distillery Leaflet as it has phone numbers for taxis and restaurants, which need to be booked in advance, especially in this week.
As lambing season has just finished you'll find many sheep and lambs on the verges, on nearby fields, or on the road itself. Please drive carefully as cattle and sheep can be very unpredictable and around every corner! Please drive and stay safe and we'll hopefully see you again in 2017 when the Islay Festival will be held from Friday the 26th May to Saturday the 3rd of June.