Food & Drink Interest Guides U.K.

Planning a Trip to the Islay Whisky Festival 2017

April 25, 2017
Laphroaig Distillery during Feis Ile

Whisky lovers, pay attention. The Islay Whisky Festival (Fèis Ìle) is only a month away. 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.

Views from Islay, in the Scottish Hebrides United Kingdom

Views from Islay

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.

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

Islay Whisky Festival - View of the Paps of Jura

The Paps of Jura

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 2017 Dates?

In 2017, the dates for Fèis Ìle are Friday 26th May to Saturday 3rd June.

What is the Programme for Fèis Ìle? How Can I Book Tickets?

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.

Friday 26th May

Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Islay House Garden Party. 1pm-late.

Colin Dunn from Diageo and Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes London showing us how it's done at the Lagavulin Cocktail Masterclass

Colin Dunn from Diageo and Alessandro Palazzi from Dukes London showing us how it’s done at the Lagavulin Cocktail Masterclass

Saturday 27th May – Lagavulin 

Lagavulin Open Day. View programme and buy tickets here.

Ceilidh Dance featuring Tide Lines & Rowan Bros. Ramsay Hall, Port Ellen. Tickets £15.

Sunday 28th May – Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich Open Day. View programme here and buy tickets over the phone on +44 (0)1496 850 190. Note: entry to Bruichladdich’s distillery day is £5 and includes a free dram.

Monday 29th May – Caol Ila 

Caol Ila. View programme and buy tickets here.

Whisky Nosing/Ceilidh Night. Ramsay Hall, Port Ellen. Tickets £20.

Tuesday 30th May

Folk Night, Ardbeg Distillery.  Tickets £12. Book using the general Islay Festival booking page below, not the Ardbeg page.

Rare Malt Whisky Company – Whisky and Cheese Tasting. Portnahaven School.  7pm-10pm. Tickets £39. Book by calling +44 (0) 1360 550 482 or emailing lesley@theraremaltwhiskycompany.com

Whisky Tasting with Jim McEwan of Ardnahoe Distillery. Ballygrant Hall. Tickets £150.

Wednesday 31st May – Islay Ales 

Islay Ales. View programme here and buy tickets by phone 01496 810014 or email  info@islayales.com.

Clootie Dumpling Ceilidh, Ballygrant Hall – Tickets £10 children free.

Rare Malt Whisky Company – Whisky and Cheese Tasting. Portnahaven School.  7pm-10pm. Tickets £39. Book by calling +44 (0) 1360 550 482 or emailing  lesley@theraremaltwhiskycompany.com

Cask at Kilchoman Distillery during the Islay Whisky FestivalThursday 1st June – Jura & Kilchoman

Jura. View programme (full programme yet to be released, you can sign up for updates). Reserve tickets here.

Kilchoman. View programme. Tickets can only be bought over the phone – call +44(0)1496 850 011 to book.

Traditional Concert. Islay High School. 7.30pm. Tickets £15.

Rare Malt Whisky Company.  Whisky and Chocolate Tasting. Tickets £39. Portnahaven School.  7pm-10pm. Tickets £39. Book by calling +44 (0) 1360 550 482 or emailing  lesley@theraremaltwhiskycompany.com

Whisky Tasting with Jim McEwan of Ardnahoe Distillery. Ballygrant Hall. Tickets £150.

Friday 2nd June – Bunnahabhain 

Bunnahabhain. View programme and buy tickets here.

Islay Festival of Whisky - Bunnahbhain

Finlaggan Trust Open Day, supported by The Vintage Malt Whisky Company. 12 – 4pm. Tickets £5.

Disco featuring Playboys. Through the Decades themed party night. Ramsay Hall. Price £15.

Saturday 3rd June – Ardbeg

Ardbeg. View programme and buy tickets here.

Final Fling featuring Hugo Duncan. Ramsay Hall.  Price £15.

Do I Need to Book Events?

You can simply turn up at the distillery (or brewery for Islay Ales) 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. 

Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to 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. You can view the full timetable here. 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. I’d suggest breaking the drive up with a night at Knockinaam Lodge near Portpatrick.

Flights to Islay

Flybe fly from Glasgow to Islay. The flight takes about 40 minutes. You can book your tickets here.

Accommodation

There’s a range of accommodation in Islay. We’ve always stayed at Kentraw Farmhouse – the rooms are comfortable and the hostess, Geraldine, makes some pretty wonderful breakfasts. They do book up in advance for the festival.

Alternatively, you can book accommodation for the festival here.

That’s it. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt in a nutshell. See you there!

Islay Whisky Festival. Plan your trip to the home of peaty whisky for the Feis Ile with this step by step guide.

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