Any day is a good day to be on Islay in our estimation, but that’s especially so during Fèis Ìle, the Islay Festival of Music and Malt. This year marks the 34th year of the festival, held the last weekend of May and into June. All distilleries on the island will have events during the festival ranging from live music to tours, whisky tastings and master classes, with master distillers and brand ambassadors holding court.
The two newest distilleries to the isle, Ardnahoe and Gartbreck, don’t yet have whiskies of their own. But expect Ardnahoe to participate in the event anyway. Whisky legend and Ardnahoe production manager, Jim McEwan, will lead a couple of tastings of Kinship bottles at the distillery during the fest. Additionally, as Jura is only a short ferry away from Islay, they too participate in the fest.
Of course, we’re here to talk about the special bottlings released by the island’s working distilleries. All are highly sought after by those who attend the fest (and for those who can’t, by way of whisky auctions). Each release is sold at the distillery, typically on their respective Open Days with some distilleries creating more than one bottling. Some details (pricing, ABV, and images) may not be available at publication time, but we’ll make sure to update the post once we get the information from the brands.
For those of us [sobbing] who cannot attend, bottlers such as Douglas Laing and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society have a few bottles we can enjoy without having to be present for the fest. So without further ado, these are the Fèis Ìle bottles for 2018!
Open Day Saturday 26th of May
This year’s Fèis Ìle bottling is the result of a marriage of refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads and ex-bodega European oak butts, all aged a minimum of 18 years. Only 6000 bottles produced. (£130)
Open Day Sunday 27th of May
This is one of two bottlings created by master distiller Adam Hannett created for the 2018 Fèis Ìle (Islay Festival). This is “the last of the first”, meaning it is the last five casks which were distilled in 2001 for the first year Port Charlotte was produced. Port Charlotte is Bruichladdich’s “heavily peated” line. This bottling is a marriage of five casks which were aged either in former American whiskey, rum, or French wine barrels. Only 1300 bottles made and will be sold on Bruichladdich Open Day on the 27th of May 2018 at the distillery. (£125)
The Distillery Valinch is a single cask, heavily peated bottling with the whisky having been distilled in 2005. It aged in an oloroso sherry butt. Only 956 bottles (50cl) were produced. They will be sold at the distillery on the morning of the 27th of May 2018, Bruichladdich Open Day. (£75)
Open Day Monday 28th of May
This single malt was aged in a combination of refill American oak hogsheads and rejuvenated European oak butts for a minimum of 10 years. It will be released the morning of the 28th of May 2018 for Caol Ila Open Day at the distillery. Only 2496 bottles were produced. (£100)
Open Day Tuesday 29th of May
The single malt matured in Warehouse 8 and 10 at Laphroaig and originally was placed in first-fill bourbon casks. It then finished its maturation in Fino sherry casks. Bottled at 51.8% ABV.
Open Day Wednesday 30th of May
This release is made from a marriage of single malt aged in oloroso casks. Only 3000 bottles were made, with the first 1500 bottles to be released the morning of the 26th of May 2018, the first day of the festival. The remaining bottles will be sold at the distillery on the 30th of May, Bowmore Open Day. (£85)
Distilled in 1989, this single malt aged in a single ex-bourbon barrel for 28 years. Only 212 bottles were produced. They will be available on the 30th of May, Bowmore Open Day, at the distillery only. (£400)
Open Day Thursday 31st of May
This year’s bottling is a marriage of cask numbers 34, 65, 82, and 83. The single malt was distilled in March 2007 and filled into ex-bourbon barrels. Aged for 11 years, the whisky is bottled at cask strength of 55.5% ABV. Only 744 bottles created.( £111)
Open Day Thursday 31st of May
The distillery passed on releasing a special bottling this year and instead focused on their new Signature series releases instead.
Open Day Friday 1st of June
This release was distilled in 2007 and finished its maturation in oloroso sherry casks. Mòine reflects the line of peated whiskies for Bunnahabhain. Bottled non-chillfiltered at cask strength of 59.5% ABV, only 1881 bottles were produced. (£95)
Distilled in 2002, the whisky first matured in refill American oak before it was transferred to Spanish oak Gran Reserva barrels in 2013. It was bottled non-chillfiltered at a cask strength of 58.2% ABV. Only 1458 bottles created. (£250)
Bunnahabhain Fèis Ìle Bottles / Photo Credit: Bunnahabhain
Open Day Saturday 2nd of June
This is the general release of Ardbeg Grooves with a previous release sold only to Ardbeg Committee Members. Both were created in honor of Ardbeg Day 2018 (June 2) held during the Islay Festival of Music & Malt (Fèis Ìle). The theme for Ardbeg Day this year is “Peat & Love”. This “groovy” bottle gets its name from the grooves obtained after heavily-charring the former red wine casks used to age a portion of the whisky. The Committee Member release was bottled at 51.6% ABV while this comes in at 46% ABV to a much wider audience. (£98)
Big Peat is the bottler’s Islay blended malt whisky brand. This year’s version includes illustrated decals in each tube which the purchaser can use to personalize and decorate their own bottles. Only 3000 bottles produced. (£50)
SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY
All Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles are single cask releases bottled without chill-filtration. The distillery names are not listed, but rather indicated with a number system followed by the cask number. Each release is given a name to help the whisky buyer get a sense of what to expect. For the 2018 Fèis Ìle, they have selected three Islay whiskies to commemorate the event.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Fèis Ìle Bottles / Photo Credit: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Distilled in September 1997, this is one of their “Peated” bottles. The single malt was aged for 20 years in a refill oloroso sherry butt before bottling at cask strength of 55.9% ABV. ($225)
This single malt was distilled in 1996 and is one of the society’s “Oily & Coastal” bottles. It was aged for 20 years in a first-fill oloroso sherry hogshead before bottling at cask strength of 49.3% ABV. ($270)
This single malt was distilled in July 2006 and is one of the society’s “Lightly Peated” bottles. It was aged for 11 years in a refill hogshead before bottling at cask strength of 57.8% ABV. ($130)