Whisky lovers, pay attention. The Islay Whisky Festival (Fèis Ìle) is coming. Here’s how to plan your trip to our favourite Scottish whisky festival.
The first conversation I had six years ago with my now-fiance ended up with us both gibbering excitedly about how much we both loved punchy and peaty whiskies.
Fast forward a year, when we were planning a February road trip around the UK (yeah, we’re totally badass like that), we decided to go to Islay – the home of peaty whisky.
Islay is a beautiful island in the Southern Scottish Hebrides that happens to be blessed with nine distilleries dotted across its relatively small area.
It’s the perfect location for making whisky, thanks to its pure waters, fertile earth and abundance of peat, something the monks cottoned onto in the 14th century.
It’s been the home of peaty (and some non-peaty) whisky ever since. Of the nine distilleries, many are known for their all-out peaty whiskies: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Caol Ila to name a few.
Unfortunately, we had to cancel our Islay leg of the road trip that year, thanks to a complete underestimation of distances between our destinations. No sadness though, because it meant that we changed our B&B stay dates to coincide with the Islay Festival of Music and Malt.
And so a love affair was born. That first year opened my eyes to everything that I love about the Islay Festival of Whisky. The music, the workshops, the tastings and, of course, the whisky.
Islay Whisky Festival
The Islay Whisky Festival is an annual series of events held in the distilleries and other locations on the island. It celebrates the whisky and culture of the island through music, dances and whisky tastings. Plan ahead – it’s very popular.
Each year, a selection of Islay’s whisky distilleries hold an open day throughout the festival. In addition, there’s a day hosted by Islay Ales and another held by the distillery on the island of Jura, a stone’s throw away from Islay
Planning your trip to the Islay Whisky Festival can be a bit confusing if you’ve never been before. Here’s a handy Q&A to help you get on track.
Fèis Ìle 2020 Dates?
The Fèis Ìle dates in 2020 are Friday 22nd May to Saturday 30th May.
If you’re thinking of going to the festival , be warned, the accommodation books up pretty quickly. Book sooner rather than later or you might find that it’s camping or nothing!
Islay Whisky Festival: What you Need to Know in Advance
There are two sets of events happening throughout the Islay whisky festival, the main programme (non-distillery specific) and the distillery programme.
You can book for any of the non-distillery specific events here . You need to book distillery events directly with the relevant distillery using the contact details provided.
What is the 2020 Islay Whisky Festival Programme?
The 2020 programme hasn’t yet been released. I’ve included the 2019 programme below to give you an idea of what will be going on.
Here is the 2019 programme for the Islay Festival of Malt & Music.
Friday 24th May – Opening Whisky Tasting, Port Ellen Maltings and Islay House
Opening Whisky Tasting. A whisky tasting with Rachel MacNeill at the Gaelic College. 7.30pm.
Port Ellen Maltings. Location and price TBC. Check the festival site for more details.
Islay House. Details TBC. Check the festival site closer to the time.
Saturday 25th May – First Fling and Lagavulin Distillery Day
First Fling. At Ramsay Hall in Port Ellen. 9pm
Lagavulin Distillery Day. Book tickets here.
Sunday 26th May – Bruichladdich Distillery Day
Bruichladdich Distillery Day. Note: entry to Bruichladdich’s distillery day is £5 and includes a free dram. Check here for details of tasting events and more.
Monday 27th May – Caol Ila Distillery Day, Whisky Nosing & Ceilidh, Nerabus Islay Gin EventC
Caol Isla open day. Book tickets here.
Whisky Nosing Event & Ceilidh. Ramsay Hall, Port Ellen 8-9pm. Followed by Ceilidh till 12pm.
Nerabus Islay Gin Event. Bruichladdich Village Hall. 12pm – 5pm
Tuesday 28th May – Laphroaig Distillery Day, The Fèis Ìle Committee Whisky Tasting, Feis Ile Tasting and Folk night at Ardbeg
Laphroaig Distillery Day. Book tickets here.
The Fèis Ìle Committee Whisky Tasting. Gaelic College, Bowmore. 2pm.
The Ultimate Feis Ile Tasting. Hosted by Dave Broom and Ballygrant Inn.
Ballygrant Hall, 7.30pm
Folk Night – Ardbeg Distillery. Port Ellen 7-11pm
Wednesday 29th May – Bowmore and Ardnahoe Distillery Days, Clootie Dumpling Ceilidh
Bowmore Distillery Day. Book events here.
Ardnahoe Distillery Day. Book events here.
Clootie Dumpling Ceilidh. Ballygrant hall. 7.30pm.
Thursday 30th May – Kilchoman Distillery Day, The Indie Whisky Fèis Ìle, What Washes Up
Kilchoman. Tickets can only be bought over the phone – call +44(0)1496 850 011 to book.
The Indie Whisky Fèis Ìle. Hosted by Feis Ile & Bruce Farquhar (Dramfool)
What Washes Up. Gaelic College, Bowmore. 7.30pm
Friday 31st May – Bunnahabhain and Jura Distillery Days
Jura open day. Details TBC. Check for information here.
Bunnahabhain open day. Details TBC. Check for information here.
Saturday 1st June – Ardbeg Distillery Day and Final Fling
Ardbeg open day. Details TBC. Check for details here.
Final Fling. Ramsay Hall. 9pm.
Do I Need to Book Events?
For distillery days, you can simply turn up at the distillery and enjoy the music, have a few drams and enjoy the atmosphere with no booking necessary.
That said, the events hosted by the distilleries are really interesting so it’s worth booking onto at least a few of them.
If you want to go to any of the events, book as far in advance as possible as they do sell out. It may be that you can nab a ticket from a cancellation on the day though.
What’s the Islay Music Festival and is it Different?
Feis Ile’s full name is actually the Islay Festival of Music and Malt.
There’s a lot of live music during the day at the distilleries, but there is also a separate programme of concerts and ceilidhs going on throughout the week held in different locations across the island.
How do I pronounce Fèis Ìle?
Faysh Eeyla. It’s Gaelic you know.
How to get to Islay?
There are two ways to get to Islay from the mainland: fly or drive and take the ferry.
Ferry to Islay
The ferry is run by Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries (CalMac for short). You’ll need to drive to Kennacraig, which is the port on the mainland. From Kennacraig, you can take the ferry to Port Ellen or Port Askaig, the two ports on Islay.
If you are planning on taking the ferry to the Islay festival of whisky, try to book as far in advance as possible. They do sell out of spots quite early for some of the days during the festival. A ferry journey for a car and two passengers costs around £90 return to either of the two ports.
Kennacraig is roughly a 2.5 hour drive from Glasgow. It’s about a 9 hour drive from London.
The road to and from Kennacraig can become congested during the festival, so you should factor that into your driving time to ensure that you catch your ferry.
Kennacraig is in the area of Argyll and Bute – there’s plenty to see in this area, so it can also make a good stopping point on the way to or from the festival.
Flights to Islay
There’s a range of accommodation in Islay. You can book accommodation for the festival here.
That’s it. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt in a nutshell. See you there!