It is fitting that the first distillery open day of Feis Ile 2013, the whisky and music festival on the beautiful island of Islay, is Lagavulin.
As I’ve mentioned before Lagavulin formed my introduction to the world of whisky, and holds a special place in my heart. It’s also classically Islay; big, powerful peat flavours, rich in colour, and insanely drinkable.
Their open day had all the features you’d expect – drams, live music, tasty food. But despite being one of the big boys – owned by Diageo and with a branding that is definitely on the luxury side – the day felt more like a village fete. It was almost beyond understated.
There were a number of special tasting sessions running, which had fully sold out seemingly within seconds of them becoming available, but there was plenty of entertainment to be had for the rest of us too.
Two of their core range – the 16 year old and the 2012 Distillers edition – were freely available; a limited view of their range perhaps, but a good choice that contrasts the raw power of the 16 year old with the sweeter, richer and probably more approachable Distillers Edition.
Cocktail sessions were running through the day; whisky cocktails make a whole lot more sense to me than the oh-so-trendy beer cocktail, and I understand the logic of using the best ingredients when making anything but I have to confess that the whisky purist in me couldn’t help but feel a little distressed at the prospect of taking the magnificent Distillers Edition and adding stuff to it. I am forced to concede that the results were quite tasty, although I’d rather have it neat myself.
The cocktail session also gave me a chance to try Lagavulin’s new make spirit, fresh from the still that morning. I’ve had new spirit on occasion and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not usually a great taste. At Lagavulin, however, it was positively tasty – yes, incredibly strong but with a smoothness that would make many lesser whiskies blush, a wonderful oily texture, sweetness and smoke. I almost wish they sold it.
Just before we left, we bumped into the lovely folk from Master of Malt (who are also here all week) and they kindly gave me a chance to taste the festival bottling. Strong, smokey and delicious, it’s like a turbo charged Lagavulin and it’s going to make it very hard to decide which whiskies to take home!