The Feis Ile, Islay's festival of malt and music, kicks off this weekend, here's everything you need to know.

What is it?

Feis Ile or the Islay Festival of Malt and Music as it is also known, is one of Scotland’s biggest whisky festivals.

Every year they have a diverse programme featuring traditional music, ceilidhs, Gaelic lessons, golf, bowling and, most importantly, well for us at least, whisky tasting.

The Islay distilleries all join in by holding open days throughout the week of the festival, including Lagavulin which enjoys its 200th anniversary on Saturday (21st May) – which also happens to coincide with World Whisky Day.

Where is it?

The Southern Hebrides island of Islay, which of course is famous for having no less than eight functioning distilleries (with a possible two more to come in Gartbreck and Ardnahoe) despite only being 240 square miles in size.

When is it? 

The Festival is held in the last week of May every year. The 2016 Islay Festival will be held from Friday 20th May – Sat 28th May.

Highlights

Friday 20th May 

Islay House Open Day with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society will be back at Islay House to kick start the Islay Festival of whisky and music on Friday 20 May. With breathtaking views over Loch Indaal, beautiful gardens and some amazing single cask whiskies including the  excellent new 127.44 ‘Cantina Mexicana’, bottled especially for the festival, you are sure to have an awesome time.

127.44 Cantina Mexicana
Tasting Notes: The nose was snout-grabbing – woody, like old sea chests or a dusty Mexican cantina floor (including leather boots and fag-ends), lots of liquorice; figs and oriental spices, then a beef stew with sherry and smoked paprika in it. The neat taste was simply huge – smoke, ash and burnt sticks; Moffat toffees, Liquorice Allsorts, balsamic pears and Amontillado sherry.

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Helen Stewart, Senior Brand Manager for the Society, said: “After a great year last year, we’re back on the Island. The Islay Festival attracts the world’s most passionate whisky fans and each year we release an exceptional whisky just for the event.

“This year is no exception with ‘Cantina Mexicana’, which was matured on Islay, packed full of flavours that perfectly showcase the delights of single cask whisky.”

Saturday 21st May 

The Lagavulin Feis Open Day 

If you can make it then the Lagavulin Open Day is surely going to be a cracker. Celebrating 200 years of this excellent distillery owners Diageo are sure to be throwing a huge party.

Warehouse tours, tastings, Whisky & Food Masterclasses, cocktails and a few tales – with drams – from Donald Colville, be sure not to miss this.

Sunday 22nd May 

Port Ellen Maltings Open Day

Port Ellen’s mysterious Maltings plant throws open its doors and allows the public to take a peek behind the curtain and see what happens in this vital cog in Islay’s whisky industry. Learn the secrets of the malting floor, peat and enjoy a BBQ too!

Bruichladdich Open Day

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Picture: Wikimedia

A festival favourite, Bruichladdich really know how to throw a party with music from the Islay Pipe Band and festival stalwarts Skippinish, drams by Bruichladdich, beers by Islay Ales and gin from the Botanist tent, this Open Day has it all.

Wednesday 25th May

Kilchoman Open Day

Take an in depth tour of this wonderful little distillery – which refuses to be overshadowed by its larger neighbours – with distillery manager James Wills before taking the chance to check out their excellent new tasting room.

Saturday 28th

Ardbeg Night

Ardbeg distillery. Picture: DeviantArt

Ardbeg distillery. Picture: DeviantArt

Expect the unexpected as Ardbeg’s Open Day becomes Ardbeg Night with this enigmatic event celebrating the whisky smugglers of the past. What you can be sure of is fun, music and some delectable drams.

Advice and a note of caution

Please drink responsibly. The whisky festival is well staffed and the utmost effort will be made to take care of you while you are there but should you begin to let it all get to your head, take a break and get something to eat or drink some water, or even head back to your hotel or tent for a rest.

And remember – just one last drink after you think you might have had enough, is never a great idea.

Luckily, the festival runs over seven days so you have plenty of time to enjoy it.

Bottles to look out for:

Other than the afore mentioned SMWS Mexicana Cantina bottling, here are some other excellent bottles you should look out for:

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 (Madeira cask) – 51.6% abv

Laphroaig always produce some cracking whisky for the festival and this year it’s no different with the arrival of the Cairdeas 2016 – an ex-bourbon matured cask strength whisky that is married/finished in Madeira seasoned hogsheads.

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Bowmore Feis Ile 2016 release – 1500 bottles, £55

Described as an “extraordinary and curious marriage of 4 American Virgin Oak Barrels and a 1st fill Oloroso Sherry Butt re-racked and married together in the original oak”, if we know Bowmore (and we do) this will definitely be worth checking out and at £55 it won’t break the bank.

Bunnahabhain Moine Pedro Ximenez 12-Year-Old – £95

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Named after the Gaelic word for peat this 2004 vintage is a peated Bunnahabhain that was aged in Bourbon casks for nine years before being finished for three additional years in PX casks, expect a sweet and smokey collision that will more than likely be entirely moreish.

• Keep up to date with information about the Islay Festival of Malt and Music by following:

• Their Facebook page

• Their website

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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