After spending a glorious first couple of days on Islay with some great whiskies and a fantastic distillery day (Bruichladdich), it appeared like the rest of the festival was going to be awesome! Well, distillery day 3 and 4 simply didn't stand out and if anything by the time we reached Caol Ila day I was suffering from 'idiot overload'. Let me explain.
I try not to judge people who choose to do the following however by Sunday I was fed up and ready to punch a few in the head. Why you ask: Simply said I don't like "BFK's". Big Feeling Knobs. What is that you ask: It's the idiot who sits beside you in a tasting and never shuts up. The one who loudly talks incessantly about his HUGE whisky collection or the fact that the only reason he is at the festival is to buy as many of the Fèis ìle Limited Release Bottlings so that he can sell them on E-bay for 5X the price AND he's the guy who cracks the same stupid joke while the assistant pours the next whisky: "Hey sweetheart if you could pour just a little more of that in my glass because I'm drinking for two, snorts and laughs loudly..." FFS and huge sigh...
I didn't pay $50 to come to a tasting to listen to you be an asshole. I don't give a rat's ass how many bottles of rare and expensive Japanese whiskies you have in your cucking follection and I certainly don't care how rich or important you think you are in the country of your birth.
So... back to Caol Ila day... While I sat in on the manager's dram selection tasting I was once again seated next to a BFK! He complained about the seating arrangement, the line up of whiskies, the lack of water, that the drams being offered were sub par and for all I know he could have been complaining about the big stick he had shoved up his arse that seemed to be causing his whisky constipation issues because by then I had completely zoned out and made pretend I was reading something very important in my journal... I tried desperately to salvage what little bit of sanity I had left as I nosed and tasted my way through a very nice line up of whiskies. I especially enjoyed the Caol Ila 25!
But.. like I said with the loudmouth ding dong sitting at my table it really took away from the whole experience so by the time I left the class I was downright grumpy. Outside in the distillery yard the festivities were in full swing: Food, music, drams, and plenty of people to talk to and that's when I started to relax and have fun. Steffen Brauner and the rest of the wonderful #whiskyfabric ended up being my saving grace for the next couple of days on the island. You'll notice that I haven't said anything about Laphroaig day yet and with good reason. It was packed with way too many people, slightly better than disorganized mayhem and honestly for a distillery that was celebrating it's 200th anniversary I expected something special. That was my first mistake: Expectation. The truth of the matter is Bruichladdich Day was so huge, wonderful and well done that, in my opinion it made the next couple of days pale in comparison. As I sat and thought about the things I could have/should have said about the Laphroaig Distillery day, nothing came to mind. Nothing really stood out. Sad isn't it. The crowds got to me, the BFK's were really getting to me. Caol Ila and Laphroaig days were at best mediocre in nature, except for the wonderful company of friends.
I did many things while we were on Islay that didn't involve waiting in line for a limited release bottling while listening to a boring BFK and it didn't cost me a fortune: We hiked up to the American monument and drank whisky together as friends. We walked along the seashore and took some breathtaking photos. Ate at little cafés and had fantastic conversations with the locals. (I loved the deep fried haggis balls and hand cut chips). Made plans to meet up with other whisky friends on the island - THANKS for the great night at Bowmore House -> You all know who you are!!!
The most memorable and thought provoking moment came when we ate lunch in an old church that was converted into a self catering cottage. Steffen's friend John came in and he was greeted with warm handshakes/friendship all around. He asked if we wanted a whisky with our pepperoni pizza and of course we all said yes. He went over to a box near the door, popped open a brand new bottle and poured us all a dram.
I'd like to take a moment to mention that John didn't really know any of us all that well other than Steffen (which again speaks volume about the fabric). Lots of laughing, stories ensued and we all enjoyed the whisky immensely. I think it was Bryan who asked to see the bottle and that's when my mouth dropped. You see, John owns quite a collection of whisky and the one he chose to open for us to share over pizza was this one:
So there I was eating a store bought $5.99 pepperoni pizza paired with a 1982 Port Ellen. The lesson in all that: John, like many of us, enjoys his whiskies. He doesn't spend an hour sitting beside you bragging about his collection. He, like many of us, chooses to open and share them with likeminded people. And he, like many of us didn't bat an eye to open something wonderful to enjoy with a slice of pizza. That my friend is the epitome of the #whiskyfabric I keep talking about. The ability to look past the snobbery, the pomp, the hooplah and the stupidity that surrounds us sometimes and simply say: "You know what, it's just whisky"...
Later that day, we all piled into a couple of cars and went on another hiking trip where I experienced a little bit of Scottish history at the Kildalton High Cross site. It was a lovely moment spent reflecting, learning and remembering all those who came before us.
Piling back into the cars we continued our afternoon of exploring and ended up finding a beach that could have easily been mistaken for the Caribbean. Again, just a bunch of friends taking their shoes off (errr, one took off his pants) and wading through crystal clear azure coloured waters. Whisky samples and Glencairns came out yet again, and we toasted and drank with a lust for the life and moments we were experiencing. What did we drink? Doesn't matter. It was good and it came from the heart of the people who shared it from their personal collections (Thanks Steffen, Bryan, AND PETER... don' forget Peter).
I had expectations before i left for Islay that it was going to be 8 days of whisky, whisky and even more serious whisky! And to some extent it was. But taking it way too seriously is another thing altogether. So, by day 4 I had come to realize that some of the distillery days would be... meh... but the memories, and the time away from the distilleries spent with friends proved to be much more valuable and precious to me. The amount of times that bottles were popped, shared and truly discussed amongst friends happened way more often when we were not at a distillery day and the best part: No BFK's!
I want to thank every single one of you (way too many to mention them all) who thought nothing of sharing a Port Ellen, Laphroaig 30 or your 1976 Ardbeg. The point that was important was that you shared, willingly, proudly and because... it's not about huge collections of unopened bottles, bragging rights or price tags.
So if you plan on getting to Islay for Fèis ìle for the entire festival be prepared for a few ups and downs, some great and not so great distillery days. Word of advice: Make friends, do some sight seeing, take the time to talk to the locals and remember: Sometimes it's not even about the whisky.