The Whisky Tasting Club

Day 8: Ardbeg day

Ardbeg is my favorite distillery and I’ve bought all festival bottlings except Kilchoman, so surely I would get the Ardbeg one? Well no.  Firstly, this is our last day on Islay,  so didnt fancy racing down and back and secondly, I’d heard they were selling at £250 per bottle. Too rich for my blood on a point of principle, very expensive for a 10 year old. Turns out they were only £125, which I would have gone for, but  hey, I’ve bought 24 bottles of whisky anyway so lets pretend I’m fine with not getting the Ardbeg festival bottle.

So we sauntered off to ardbeg around noon after a quick visit to the vets to get the dog de-ticked. Ticks are ubiquitous here, make sure your dog has been treated with frontline prior to coming.

It was raining when we arrived at ardbeg, which was a shame because they had put on a marvellous show (the sunny photos are from our visit on weds). The theme was fairground (rollercoaster) and there was a helter skelter in the central courtyard.

There were also several fairground/whisky based games which in true fairground tradition were impossible to win. It cost a fiver to get in, for which you got an ardbeg glass, a baseball cap and 5 drams. Bloody good value! Whats more the drams on offer were 10 yo, blasda, still young, rollercoaster, corryvekan, uigadael and the new supernova. I could have spent the whole day here and got very drunk, but couldnt. Lets hope michelle has learnt to drive by the next festival (that gets raised eyebrows)!

They raffled a 4.5 litre rollercoaster bottle which appropriately was won by a fella from port charlotte. Its one of only a hundred special bottles that were produced for charity events, imagine it will fetch a pretty penny if he sells it. They had a band, various tastings which we couldnt book, several seafood stalls and free popcorn.  We had some some squat lobster (whatever that is) and crab claws. Upset I missed out on the oysters, simply forgot because I was chatting.

We made a new  friend today! Festival regular martin has been reading out blog. He got caught out by the shift of dates to the week before the bank holiday and is booked in for a week starting today. He had to go for the ‘methodone option’ of vicarious festival participation.  He wont be reading this until he gets home since the cottage he always uses has no electricity! Just like to say it was great to meet you, glad you liked the blog and hope you enjoy the lagavulin warehouse tour as much as we did.

I think some people get a false impression of the scale of the festival, I certainly did before I came. We live in a small provincial city in the very rural, relatively unpopulated county of Norfolk. Even so, there are seven times more students at the university I work than people who live on Islay. Given the number of people we have observed at the festival events, I would estimate the total number of festival vistors to be about 1000. Now that is a large infux for a population of 3000, but I reckon thats about the number of people who visit the town centre macdonalds in norwich on a saturday. To put it another way it’s the crowd for a poorly supported non league football team.

Nothing is really busy by anything but island standards. The only busy element is firstly accomodation and secondly the interaction with the distillery staff.  Their normal trade is about a quarter of the festival trade, hence queues can form and special events sell out quickly. Now you could argue that they should take on more staff and optimize for the festival vistitors (even I could handle selling the festival bottlings better than all the distilleries) but really, why should they? It all gets sold in the end, casual labour is complex on a small island and special events require specialists who are probably very busy doing their proper job.

Anyway, thats our last day on the island, writing this from the galley of lorne in argyll. Festival was fantastic, I’ll post a final round up tomorrow, then try sorting out booking for next year!

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