For years I'd heard about the Islay Festival of Music and Malt aka Feis Ile, and last year I finally was able to attend courtesy of Bunnahabhain. (All pictures on this post of from Bunnahabhain's distillery day.)
During Feis Ile, each of the distilleries on the island hosts a party one day, with live music, food, special tastings, demonstrations, and tours. Each distillery also puts out a special edition of whisky just for the festival and usually only available for purchase by attendees.
During Bunnahabhain's distillery day, I had a chocolate and whisky tasting as well as a whisky and food pairing with bites by a notable Scottish chef.
I did a high-speed distillery tour with the distillery manager, and watched as they had a ceremony for presenting proceeds from the sale of their special edition whisky to the Fishermen's Mission.
When To Visit Islay?
So the basic question I hope to answer is if the Feis Ile is a good time to visit Islay. This is assuming you love scotch whisky and want to visit Islay at some point. It's held in May each year so the weather can be nice.
Consider Visiting During the Islay Festival If:
- You are a collector of scotch whisky. There were tons of collectors from countries around the world buying their maximum allocations at the Bunnahabhain day. You can only get most of these bottles on the island during Feis Ile so they're quite rare.
- You're traveling with family members and/or less-enthusiastic-about-scotch-whisky people. I met a few families of people with one scotch fanatic and other family members along for the ride. With the live music, seafood, food pairings, etc. there is a lot more going on than usual on Islay so they will be able to keep themselves entertained while you geek out.
Consider Visiting Islay Another Time If:
- You are a technical distillery geek. You'll probably only get a quick group tour of distilleries during the festival, since so many people will be passing through them. If you're like me and want a long time at each place to ask your ridiculous amounts of questions, another week would probably be best.
- You want a larger choice of accomodations. There aren't a ton of hotels on the island, and many people just come to Feis Ile on the ferry for the day. I don't know that the hotels charge more during the festival but it makes sense that they would. I'd imagine restaurant reservations and the few taxis on the island would be harder to book as well.
But either way, go to Islay. They make great stuff there.