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Fèis Ìle Festival 2021: What is it, when is it and what events are taking place?

The Fèis Ìle Festival is to be held virtually again this year - here's what to expect.

Published: May 18, 2021
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For the second year running, the Fèis Ìle Islay Whisky Festival is being held online due to ongoing Covid restrictions.

What is Fèis Ìle?

Established almost 30 years ago, the festival of music and malt draws visitors from across the globe to the shores of the island each year to experience its community, culture, and its world-renowned whisky.

Fèis Ìle, which was initially staged to revive the island’s traditional Gaelic culture, has grown to become the major showcase for Islay’s food and drink operators.

Organised by a committee of volunteers and the island’s distilleries, the Fèis has recorded attendances of 9000 in recent years, three times its population.

When is it taking place?

Here's everything you need to know to join in with the virtual 2021 Fèis Ìle whisky festival, which the organisers have promised to be "bigger, better and more interactive than ever."

Over the course of nine days, from Friday 28 May until Monday 6 of June, the Fèis Ìle festival will be handing over the virtual stage to each distillery, mirroring what goes on at the real festival.

Each distillery puts on its own program of tastings, bottlings and musical events - and this year they're streamed into your home via a video link.

Although full details of the program are yet to be announced, three distilleries; Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Lagavulin; have unveiled their programs for their festival days.

What's on?

On the 29 May from 7pm the Lagavulin Distillery warehouse will play host to an evening of performances by Scottish singers, Joy and Andrew Dunlop and the Niall Kirkpatrick Ceilidh Band.

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Attendees, who can tune in to the virtual event via the Lagavulin Facebook page, will also get an exclusive first look at the highly anticipated festival bottling.

The live stream will also feature an adventure on Islay’s surrounding sea, a hike around the island showcasing the breathtaking scenery, and a behind the scenes look at a day in the life of warehouse manager Iain McArthur. 

Pierrick Guilaume, Lagavulin distillery manager said "While our celebrations at Lagavulin Distillery are slightly different this year, we still have a fabulous line up planned who will treat online guests to some of Scotland’s best music and entertainment, as well as an incredible bottling which will excite fans of Lagavulin and the festival"

Niall Kirkpatrick plays the accordian outside Lagavulin Distillery

Caol Ila will host its events on the 31 May, starting at 7pm on the Caol Ila Facebook page.

A night of whisky and music will take place with Glasgow based actor and musician, Patricia Panther, as guest host.

Mairi McGillvary, an Islay born award-winning Gaelic singer will share some of her latest music and Alasdair Currie, a Gaelic singer and piper also based on Islay, will join the line up for a special performance.

The evening is complete with a first look at the Caol Ila Fèis Ìle Festival bottling, delicious whisky cocktail recipes and a specially commissioned contemporary composition from singer-songwriter Beldina Odenyo.

Samuel Hale, Caol Ila distillery manager said: “This will be my first festival as distillery manager of Caol Ila and although we are unable to host the event in Islay, we wanted to continue to honour the occasion with not only a wonderful online event but also by creating a remarkable bottling.

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"We’re sure it’s going to be extremely popular with Caol Ila fans.”

The award-winning Gaelic singer, Mairi McGillvary is set to perform on the 31st of May

Later on in the festival week on 4 June, Bunnahabhain will host their event, giving fans their first chance to meet Brendan McCarron, who has been officially appointed as master distiller for Distell’s Single Malt and Blended Scotch portfolio.

Brendan's status as a Master distiller with of 15 years in the industry means he will be introduced ahead of the Bunnahabhain day at a live tasting event, on the eve of the festival.

Sarah McKeeman, global brand manager for Bunnahabhain Distillery said: "We’re really pleased to welcome Brendan McCarron as our new Master Distiller.

"His appointment ushers in a new chapter for the malt’s portfolio, and he’s already working on some really interesting projects which we know our community will love."

Bunnahabhain's new Master Distiller, Brendan McCarron

There will be two virtual tastings live from the distillery during the day on the 4 June.

The team also has a few surprises to unveil, with exclusive details on another new limited edition product to be revealed live during the evening.

Sarah added: “Fèis Ìle is the biggest date in Islay’s calendar, and we’ve put together an incredible programme of virtual events, new limited editions and some very special surprises to be announced closer to the time."

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The other distilleries promise an equally exciting array of events, all of which will be live streamed.

The ever-popular Ardbeg Day falls on 5 June, and the programme of events has recently been revealed.

Held annually on the final Saturday of Islay’s Festival of Music and Malt (Fèis Ìle), Ardbeg Day is the global celebration of all things Ardbeg.

The Distillery invites smoky malt whisky lovers and fantasy buffs everywhere to join them online and social media, as fans come together to uncover the myth and the malt behind their new limited edition, Ardbeg Scorch.

The programme for Ardbeg Day is as follows:

12pmDragon TalesNo Ardbeg Day would be complete without a few yarns. Enter into our witch’s lair as Jackie recites some of Islay’s oldest stories… along with a slightly newer tale in the heroic legend of the dog and the dragon.
2pmThe Dog & Dragon InnDiscover what alchemy our mixology master/innkeeper, Cameron George, has in store at The Dog & Dragon Inn.
3pmThe Feast MasterFill up your flagons and fetch your forks, the Feast Master, aka DJ BBQ, is hitting the pit to put on the smokiest spread in all the land!
4pmStillhouse Tour A dragon’s eye tour of Ardbeg’s new Stillhouse. 
5pmChairman’s Study Live TastingJoin Sir Colin Gordon, our Distillery Manager, as he suits up to sip on some of Ardbeg’s rarest drams. Join in on the live chat, and request your favourite Ardbeg expression for Sir Colin to taste. 
7pmThe Scorch Whisky Lair – Live TastingHosted live from the belly of the beast – the Scorch Whisky Lair – Dr Bill, our whisky wizard, will be performing a live tasting of Ardbeg Scorch. Tune in at 7pm (BST) sharp to watch as he ruminates over this fire breathing beast of a dram…

The distilleries and other drinks manufacturers participating in this year's virtual festival include Ardnahoe on Friday the 28 May, Bruichladdich on the 30, Cao Ila + Islay Ales + Nerabus gin on the 31, Laphroaig on the 1 June, Bowmore on the 2, Kilchoman on the 3, Ardbeg on the 5, and finally Jura + Lussa on Sunday the 6 of June to round off the 2021 Fèis Ìle.

The festival organisers have expressed their frustrations and sadness at not being able to host the event in person for the second year running but are determined to make the best of the situation.

On their Facebook page, they said: "We know it won’t replace the real thing, but we hope that you’ll be able to join us."

Further details are to be announced on their website and Facebook page.

Food & Drink Intern

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