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Sunday 24 May 2009

Islay Festival 2009 - Day One

"Your balls are bigger than mine"

Day 1- Well, this is it. Over 6 months of planning and many excited emails, the 22nd of May has arrived - our first day on the trek towards Islay and 2009's Feis Ile. This year’s reports are a collaborative effort between and The Whisky Exchange Blog, and will be published on both sites, so apologies to those of you who subscribe to both of our RSS feeds! No rivalry here. Our collective goal is to bring you interesting, irreverent and informative information on all things whisky!

This year, our 4-strong crack team is somewhat akin to the A-Team (in the same way that my local pub football team are in someway akin to Manchester United) - each with our own specialised skills:

Colonel Neil Hannibal, ‘I-love-it-when-a-plan-comes-together' Ridley:
The master of disguise. Special proficiency in facial hair, cravats and tweed.

Joel 'B.A. - I pity da fool' Harrison:
The muscle and gold jewellery. Has left his Snickers tank in the garage and swapped it for a metallic blue Ford Focus. Likes milk, dislikes flying. Enjoys snack treats.

Tim 'Howlin' Mad Murdock' Forbes:
Busted out by the crew from a maximum security desk at The Whisky Exchange. The lunatic fringe of whisky tasting. Specialist in off-the-wall aromas (detecting rather than emitting).

Darrell 'Faceman' Sheehan aka- 'The Voracious D'
Skills: Charm offensive, swordsmanship and good Karma. Peat enthusiast. Popular with the ladies.

An early start of 6am presented no problems for the intrepid whisky foxes and the liaison at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 started well enough, until a light snack was mentioned. A morally reprehensible sausage sandwich and the most ill-prepared Eggs Benedict ever (possibly made with a Curate’s Egg) were the rewards for our 40 minute wait at the Tin Goose restaurant in the departure lounge. Take note for the future, hungry travellers!

A rare and random sighting of Billy Davies, manager of Nottingham Forest, made us chuckle and reminisce about last year’s Feis Ile trip and our encounter with Liverpool legend Bruce Grobbelaar- perhaps an omen of good fortune for this year?? Even the 2 hour delay did little to dampen our spirits and before we knew it we were taking off and looking forward to our wonderful drive down the Kintyre peninsula – little did we know what the mischievous SatNav held in store for us.....

Now, following SatNav is often like taking advice from your girlfriend. Listen, nod, agree, but ultimately you should add in a dollop of common sense, some man-maths and go your own way. Ignoring all our own advice, we followed the SatNav to the letter which took us to a ferry port we’d never even been near in recent trips to Islay. Confused, we paid our toll and made our way across a Mull and onward for a beautiful drive towards our first stop, Loch Fyne Whiskies.

Fortuitously, what seemed like a navigational disaster turned out to be a blessing in disguise: when we docked in Dunoon we suddenly realised that by taking the ferry instead of the mountain drive we’d originally planned we now had a clear run up to Inverary, escaping the Bank Holiday weekend traffic out of Glasgow. Back of the net!

An Alan Partridge discussion ensued during the drive through the heart-stoppingly gorgeous countryside leading up to Loch Fyne. A profusion of bluebells lined the roadside and swept up into the rolling hills of Argyll, and at one point it seemed like every corner we took revealed another stunning vista. In between elucidating the finer points of Inner City Sumo, Youth-Hostelling with Chris Eubank and Monkey Tennis, the team agreed that we were indeed blessed to have such a drive on such an unexpectedly sunny day. The car resounded with cries of ‘Smell my cheese, you mother!’ and ‘Stop telling me what to do!’

The welcoming folk at Loch Fyne and their, as always, impressive array of bottlings started a slight itchy feeling in the wallet – one that Mr Ridley found too alluring to ignore. From the corner of his eye, he spied the ultimate in gentlemanly accoutrements since the advent of the mobile trouser press; the ‘Tippling Stick’, an antique looking walking cane with a covert liquid-centred heart (basically a long glass phial for filling with one’s favourite dram). Ideal for those long tube journeys back home in London!

Onward we drove, finally reaching our destination for the day, the Hunting Lodge Hotel. No real need to say much about this place as we stayed there last year. Pretty much the same, with fantastic food and a good night’s sleep. Between dinner and bed, we were able to raid their selection of whiskies at the bar, indulging in:

Imperial: 1991 15yo 43% (G & M bottling) – Ripe melons grain present themselves on the nose followed by some sooty smoked bananas. A little Sulphured on the palate, leading to a sharp, woody and sherried finish.

Craigellachie Provenance: 1991 12 year old 46% - light swimming pool like peat with some cream and summer fruits on the nose, leading to some lovely cream soda and cereal notes and floral flavours on the finish.

Glen Grant-Glenlivet: 1989 13yo 62.4% (Cadenhead’s) – A nose of vanilla cream and green apples with coffee and tobacco moved to an oily mouthfeel reminiscent of rhubarb & custard boiled sweets. A strong fruity finish of red jam and dessert wine.

Ardmore: 1990 G+M 55% - Medium-bodied with cereal and strong smoky notes. Good length, mostly on turf and coal, with a hot, spicy finish.
Longmorn 15yo – Pretty much as remembered, although the bottle seemed to have been open for a while. Restrained sherry, treacle tart, raisins and a hint of smoke.

Longrow 100 proof – Medium-bodied , quite hot with white pepper and hot cinnamon apple. Long, peaty finish and packed a weighty punch. Darrell was a big fan of this.

Royal Lochnagar 1985 18yo 43% (Provenance) – Rich tea biscuits, banana and biscotti on the nose. Bran flakes on the palate, with freshly baked bread and copper tones, before a deep rich finish of cooking apples and cinnamon.

With a 6.30am alarm call we retired for a quick dram of SMWS Rosebank on the sea view balcony of one of our rooms and then it was off to sleep...