The Whisky Tasting Club

Saturday 1st. Ardbeg Day

Although Tony and Michelle had notionally booked two tickets for a tasting today, they never got to use them (long story) so Bex and I set off ahead with the plan to meet up later. And we managed to park. Blimey!! There was lots of parking at Ardbeg, and, with the sun bright and hot, everyone was there, even people from other distilleries. Clearly, this final day is a special one for the island and it was good to see so many illeachs turn out.

The theme this year, in case you hadn’t noticed, was the world cup. The festival bottling was called Auriverdes (green and gold) and there were lots of footie related activities, ending in bog football, which, with the lack of rain, looked more like a bad council pitch than it did a bog. No matter. The colours were green and yellow so we felt right at home, given that our local premiership team wears more or less the same strip.

Never let it be said that the Scots are penny-pinching. At several points around the distillery, you’d see an employee carrying either a huge gold bottle of Auriverdes or the 10, dishing out free samples. You also got two free drams with your entry ticket (actually, it was a footie-style programme, done with Ardbeg’s typical humour, and only £2) plus an Arbroath Smokie from the legendary Iain Spink. God, that was good. We went back for seconds but alas…..

We were content to sit and soak it all up, the atmos and the sun, and, as we weren’t booked in to any events, this meant we didn’t have to move and lose our rather comfortable barrel-style seats. We sat next to a lady who evidently makes a decent living from her investment whiskies. Her partner is a school teacher on Islay who knows all the distillers, who give him advance warning of any new potentially investable expressions which are about to be released. Nice work, if you can get it (apart from the teaching!!).

This was our last day on the Island and so I went mad in the shop, buying two bottles of Auriverdes (which I still haven’t tried, thanks to the cold), an Ardbeg football scarf, a Rollercoaster baseball cap (only a fiver!), and an Ardbeg/Brazil-style t-shirt, plus a job lot of seafood from the adjacent van. Tony, of course, could drink to his little heart’s content as he, Michelle and Lottie were booked into the Ardbeg storm pod, about a mile’s walk away at Lagavulin (wtf?!) so all free whiskies went to him.

The day finished with the ‘bog football’, to which anyone could enter a team to challenge each other and the Ardbeg team, captained by head distiller Mickey Heads. Well, that was the idea. Mickey made the mistake of showing off by riding out of a warehouse on the Ardbeg chopper and putting his leg too close to the exhaust pipe and receiving a bad burn for his troubles. Ouch! That was him out.

The pitch itself was, to say the least, agricultural. They had tried to water it to achieve the required bogginess but no luck.

Four teams entered, I think, and, after a press conference with the Ardbeg team and a highly dodgy speaker system, it was time for action. I left halfway though, but judging by some of the tackling that went on, I’m glad I wasn’t tempted to enter and wrekc what little cartilage I have left in my knees.

All in all, a great day, and a good way to finish the Festival.

Final thoughts: I’m not convinced the festival bottlings are worth the wait, except maybe Lagavulin. I’m certainly not convinced it’s worth queuing up for them on the day. There appeared to be lots of the Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and even the Octomore left at the end of the week. The Ardbeg will be widely available, too. Save your queueing energy for the Bunnahabhain, Bowmore (one of which was available two days early) and the Kilchoman. Of course, this could all change next year, but it seems the trend is towards larger batches of each expression which means there is little point in buying them an investments. This is probably a good thing. It certainly means that fewer people feel they have to be stuck in queues not able to make tasting events or buy from the numerous traders that populate the distillery days. If it means that everyone can buy a bottle, everyone’s a winner.

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