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Monday 1 June 2009

Islay Festival 2009 - Day Nine- Ardbeg

The Malty-Millionaires....

Dictionary definition of Holiday: n: 'A day free from work that one may spend at leisure, especially a day on which custom or the law dictates a halting of general business activity to commemorate or celebrate a particular event'

7.30am: Joel's alarm rings throughout the lodge, signalling the start of Day 9. Or Saturday as it is known to most folk. On the mainland, our whisky WAGs and friends we're still snoozing, ready to awake to a sun-filled day of BBQ's and FA Cup Finals (both the original and the Scottish versions). We however, are greedily stuffing boiled eggs, Coco Pops, Sugar Puffs and toast down our cake-holes as a full days work awaits our eager hands.

After a beautiful morning drive through Port Ellen, we arrived at Ardbeg with keen smiles and full bellies, ready for our orders from Jackie. After donning our box-fresh Ardbeg polo shirts (Neil managing to find an olive green number to match his tweed), we were divided into 2 groups: Joel and Tim were to man the outside bar while Neil and Darrell were enlisted to be the official snappers for the day. A tough job that involved wandering around in the bright sunshine, taking pictures of smiling Ardbeg enthusiasts, printing them off and putting them on display for all to see. How they didn't run out of paper I will never know!

The day flew by, switching between picture taking, dram pouring and shelf stocking. If asked, we'd oblige. Soon it was time for a well deserved lunch break; Ardbeg had the wisdom to serve packed lunches (and we mean packed: a roll, McCoys, a chocolate bar, a (soft!) drink and one of your five-a-day) All this was missing was a miniature of Ardbeg 10 year old ! So we grabbed ours and headed up to the Highland Games to see folk tossing sheep (don't google images that!), throwing bags of bungs over a high jump and trying their hand at strongman stone lifting.

Later in the day, several teams competed to lift the much-sort-after Tug-of-War trophy, only for it to be retained by the Ardbeg workers themselves, with a (little) help from 'Big Barry' (literally the 'anchor' in the picture below)

After lunch we took and the chance to attended our only booked event for the day: the Ardbeg Twisted Tasting held in the old Malting rooms. On entering, we were presented with a menu containing 16 (yes, SIXTEEN!) different Ardbegs. The 40 attendees then ticked the box next to the 6 drams they would like to try and, as is Ardbeg and Islay tradition, it went to committee! The 6 most popular were chosen and drams poured. The Ardbegs that missed out were: 10, Uigeadail, Nam Beist, Still Young, Renaissance, Blasda, Corryvreckan, Supernova, Cask 1190 and MOR. This left Lord of the Isles, Cask 1189, 1975 cask 1375 and 1378. Plus a very exciting dram entitled "Warehouseman's Special":

Ardbeg - Warehouseman's Special - 1995 refill bourbon - 53.7% - cask 2761

N: Superb vanilla + fudge ice cream over flambéed bananas, coffee revels fresh orange juice, pepper. Fresh chopped mix herbs.

P: Heather infused fudge, caramels (hints of burnt sugar?), soft peat, effortlessly sweet notes, into bitterness. Malty cereals. The peat takes time to appear but breaks through to be fairly delicate and well balanced.

F: Classic soft Ardbeg fudge, smoke and light elegant peat. Juice from tinned pineapples / a hint of citrus.

O. Another sensational dram fresh from the warehouse. We have a soft spot for refill bourbon cask Ardbegs which gives excellent vanilla, citrus and tobacco notes to the peaty spirit.

After our long lunch and six drams it was back to work. Being from good music business stock, this didn't phase Joel and Neil in the slightest!

The afternoon continued apace and as the sun began it's decent into the sea, we called time on the bar and the photos, to retire for a BBQ with the hard-working staff of Ardbeg.

From manager to volunteer, every effort was given to ensure a good day was had by all. As the evening drifted off into darkening sky, many islanders headed to the Final Fling event at Ramsay Hall. But for the bloggers, Sunday morning was seen in with a brief walk along the coast at our lodgings, sitting with a dram in hand and listening to the Islay waves crashing on the rocks for the last time, dreaming of our next trip back.