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Islay Whisky & Music Festival 2005

Another triumph.

photo of festival crowd at BowmoreAnd another mixed year for weather - lashing rain for Lagavulin on the first day, sunshine from Sunday to Tuesday and plenty more rain for the next three days. We believe Ardbeg had reasonable weather for the final Saturday but Helen was not at the Festival this time and Caroline had to come home on the Friday.

Our thanks for the photos on this page go to Dave and Marty Coffey, clients from Colorado.

As ever, most distilleries were open on weekdays and a few open on Saturday - just as outwith Festival time - to take the strain off those who were having their Festival day. One or two closed for the day or morning after their fest day to give staff time to recover and tidy up.

The order of days was much the same as last year with Lagavulin starting the Festival off. Tours were not self-guided this year and two Masterclasses were held again to accommodate the great interest in these. Food was available too but the rain did rather make it a little difficult! Nonetheless, everyone we spoke to had enjoyed it despite the weather. Ardbeg again ran a midnight tour on this first evening with much success.

As now seems traditional, Bruichladdich had Sunday and got the usual good weather and high turnout. With music, food, Masterclass and tours the place was buzzing. In an effort to add more to the week, Bruichladdich also put on short events on other days in case people could not get places on other tours - music from Norma Munro on the Tuesday and stories with Jim McEwan on Thursday lunchtime. These were late additions to the programme and did not appear in print. However, there was good attendance at both of them despite the lack of publicity.

Port Ellen Maltings and Caol Ila had Monday. The Maltings repeated their successful masterclasses introduced in 2004 and again, they were full well in advance of the Festival. So much so there was a waiting list in case of "no-shows". Caol Ila was in a similar situation. Two tasting talks had been set up and both filled up ages in advance of the week.

Tuesday was Laphroaig and a slight change of personnel here. Robert Hicks, Allied Distillers' Master Blender, was due to give a series of talks but had to cancel due to illness. However, Blender, Sandy stepped in and all was well. John from the distillery also ran talks and tastings during the day plus two at midnight on different days - one with a dram of 30 year old at the end and the other featuring a dram of 40 year old Laphroaig. There were plenty of takers for these special events. The usual Laphroaig Ceilidh was held on Tuesday evening again too. Also held on this evening was a whisky dinner at Ardbeg with French whisky enthusiast and chef Martine Nouet who always has interesting taste combinations for people to try.

As mentioned above, the weather took a turn for the worse again on Wedensday - Bowmore's day - but nobody lets things like that bother them on Islay. The tours, Masterclasses with the manager and stories and song in the vaults with Robin Laing continued this year with the usual large numbers. The music event with singers and dancers went ahead again in the evening too. Caroline has to admit she did not attend this year but clients who went enjoyed the show.

Thursday saw Jura's day. Unlike previous years they ran morning events too. On weekdays early on in the Festival they ran special Manager tours then their main event on Thursday afternoon. This was as good as ever with Master Blender Richard Paterson again in attendance to educate and entertain the audience with his great knowledge.

photo of Japanese clients at DD dinnerFor Distillery Destinations the highlight of the week was this evening where we ran a whisky dinner in conjunction with the PortCharlotte Hotel, as last year. This year it was our Director Caroline's turn to match the whiskies to the food and to talk about them. She chose to illustrate her menu with a few of the photgraphs she has taken on various visits to Islay. So you can see what we ate and drank the menu is shown here.



Canapes with Caol Ila Cocktail

Roasted whole Islay woodcock on a bed of sautéed wild mushrooms served with rocket leaves drizzled with a port and balsamic reduction
Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

Roasted yellow pepper soup topped with a nutmeg foam
Isle of Jura 10 Year Old

Loch Fyne smoked salmon filled with cream cheese and asparagus wrapped in seaweed presented with fresh salad leaves drizzled with truffle oil
Bowmore 1990 - Helen Arthur Single Cask Collection

Forest berry & lemon sorbet

Saddle of Islay lamb coated with rosemary and set with fondant potatoes and a rich red wine jus garnished with caramelised baby apples
Ardbeg Uigeadail

Chocolate whisky tart served with home made Bruichladdich ice cream
James McEwan's Special Selection Bruichladdich

Tea/coffee served with home made whisky tablet
Busty Nail - Laphroaig & Loch Fyne Liqueur

Caroline decided to call this "Expect the Unexpected or Just a Bit Out of the Ordinary". She explains, "This was partly because a lot of people still do not think to use whisky more adventurously in mixing or in cocktails - and I mean single malts as well as blends. It's one of my favourite complaints and I'm not sorry for going on about it. So I decided to have a whisky cocktail as a starter. I chose a Caipirisky - the whisky version of the cachaca based caipirinha from Brazil. Our friends at Diageo suggested Caol Ila or Talisker would work in this and, as it had to be an Islay, I used Caol Ila 12 year old. I think it is slightly bettter with 18 year old but a cracking opener for the evening anyway. I had hoped that the unexpected with the starter would be Bunnahabhain 12 year old in its new packaging but the company decided, quite rightly, that no one was to get a glimpse of the new pack till the following day. But we all enjoyed the whisky with the starter anyway. Jura might not be an obvious choice with soup but I chose it because I used it with cock-a-leekie soup at a whisky dinner I help set up in Washington DC a couple of years ago and it worked very well here too. Bowmore goes very well with some fish and seafood due to the slightly salty taste and this year's choice of partner worked well. It was the Bowmore from the Helen Arthur Collection that she does for Versailles Dranken in Holland.

photo of SSMW group at DD dinnerArdbeg Uigeadail was chosen to partner the lamb and its rich sauce as it contains some sherry cask matured whisky. This helped to stand up to the sauce but it does not have a cloying or overly rich sherry element. The real "unexpected" of the night was the Bruichladdich. Okay, the dessert had Bruichladdich ice cream with it so it was the obvious choice. However, I rang Jim McEwan in advance of the event and told him what the dessert was. We agreed it had to be something with plenty of vanilla, bourbon effect and real richness and unctuous mouthfeel. Jim came up with a beauty. It was a vatting of 21 year old sherry matured Bruichladdich, 17 year old bourbon matured and a dash of 12 year old matured in bourbon cask to give it a bit of zip. I picked up some ice cream from the Port Charlotte Hotel the day before the dinner and a group of us tried it in Jim's office. Stunning! I could wax lyrical about it for hours. And because it was a special vatting of a couple of bottles he did for me, it is not available to buy anywhere. Our "unexpected" for the coffee and whisky tablet was a Rusty Nail, which I have mentioned on our web site before. It's a mix of Laphroaig 10 year old and Loch Fyne Whisky Liqueur which has tones of tangerine, coffee and chocolate in it. Mixed with Laphroaig, it takes the edge off the liqueur's sweetness and makes a fine end to a good dinner."

And certainly not least, we have to thank once more the Port Charlotte Hotel. Brilliant food again this year with superb co-ordination of food and whisky service. Billy has moved over to a management role now in the hotel and the kitchen is in the charge of Ranga who arrived as second chef a couple of years ago. The transition is obviously silky smooth.

Bunnahabhain took Friday for tours and tastings during the day again as well as the launch of its new packaging. The Condenser Club evening continued in its Friday evening slot with music, drams, snacks and a chance to meet all the distillery managers once more. We should also mention that the new Kilchoman farm distillery was officially opened on the Friday morning with visitors being treated to a tour, talks, nosing and barbecue. That's one we hope to include more on our Islay tours throughout the year.

On Saturday there were some poor souls up very early following the Friday evening party. Reason being that Ardbeg, innovative as ever, decided to hold a dawn tour of the distillery this time. The day began at 05.45 with people able to depart in time for breakfast at their accommodations. Ardbeg's theme for 2005 was Join the Revolution, complete with Che Guevara-like publicity posters sent out in advance of the day. The time passed quickly in their splendid mix of events and tours - or so we are told as, sadly, we could not be there.

End of May next year will see the Islay Whisky Festival for 2006 and we look forward to returning clients and plenty of new faces. As ever, good accommodation books up fast so, ideally, get to us before Christmas 2005 if you want to go in 2006. Some of the events also book up very quickly once the distilleries announce what they will be doing - though some of that is not usually decided till two or three months beforehand. This year some other evetns were added at shorter notice. Ferries to get there in time for the first day book up quickly too once the summer timetable comes out so book with us early and we look forward to hearing from you.










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