A Guide to Fèis Ìle (The Islay Festival)

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

The Fèis Ìle

One of the world’s best whisky festivals – Fèis Ìle – is fast approaching. The annual event takes place at the end of May each year and defines the whisky calendar for many people.

It spans ten days and brings the small Hebridean whisky island of Islay to life. Fèis Ìle (pronounced fesh-eel) translates from the local Gaelic language as ‘Islay Festival’ and sees single malt fans flock to the island from all over the world.

All about Islay

Islay is known for its smoky, peaty style of single malt and its flavours are unique in the world of spirits. The ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ is home to 10 operating distilleries. Bowmore, the oldest, was founded in 1779, while Port Ellen, the youngest, reopened back in March. The island offers an intriguing glimpse into the history of Scotch whisky through its use of traditional ingredients and working practices.

Annual event

Every year Fèis Ìle sees each distillery host an open day. This traditionally kicks off with Lagavulin Day on the first Saturday (May 25th this year) and finishes with a huge party for Ardbeg Day. The neighbouring island of Jura and its distillery even get in on the act these days. Each distillery will release a special bottling or two to celebrate and these are only available to those attending.

This year is no exception. Here are four of the best limited edition single malts released for Fèis Ìle 2024.


Ardbeg | Spectacular

One of the most eagerly anticipated releases each year comes from the iconic Islay distillery of Ardbeg. Its special Fèis Ìle bottlings have gained cult status and rather than keeping them just at the distillery, they send them out to the wider world. This year’s Islay Festival limited edition is named Spectacular. Each release has a quirky twist and is celebrated at Ardbeg Day (Saturday 1 June) events around the globe.

Spectacular represents the first ever whisky from Ardbeg to feature ex-Port casks. A marriage of spirit matured fully in ex-bourbon and ex-Port barrels create a heady experience. The result sees pungent peat smoke and drying seaweed combine with notes of salted caramel, poached pear, and milk chocolate. Whisps of menthol, lavender and eucalyptus linger to add further character. A fabulous dram of whisky.

Ardnahoe | Inaugural Release 5 years old

OK, so this is not technically an official Fèis Ìle bottling but is a very exciting new whisky none the less. The first ever to be released from Ardnahoe, the distillery owned by family-owned indie bottlers Hunter Laing. The distillery sits on the rugged north-eastern coast of Islay and looks across the Strait of Islay to neighbouring Jura and its famous Paps. Ardnahoe began production in 2018.

The Inaugural Release 5 years old marks the start of a series of whiskies planned by Ardnahoe for 2024. It has been matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks and was released in early-May. The new whisky exhibits bold peat smoke that entwines itself around fruity notes of baked apple and lemon zest. Hints of gingerbread and a sophisticated mix of baking spices add depth and complexity. A very promising start.

Caol Ila | 13 years old

The distillery of Caol Ila, nestled on the rugged north-eastern coast like Ardnahoe, is somewhat underrated it seems. Despite being the largest of Islay’s distilleries (it has a capacity of six million litres, which is almost double the next largest), its whiskies can be overlooked. They should not be as the quality is excellent. The reason – Caol Ila single malt is one of the main components in famous blends such as Johnnie Walker.

The 13 years old is a limited edition of just 1,400 bottles. The whisky has been matured in a small batch of French oak ex-Ruby Port casks sourced from the Douro Valley in Portugal. These were selected from the warehouse by Eva Cumming, the Distillery Manager at Caol Ila. It is released at its natural cask strength of 54.5% ABV and will be available exclusively from the distillery from Caol Ila Day (May 27) until sold out.

Lagavulin | Skies of Fèis Ìle 29 years old

Lagavulin is one of the older distilleries on the island and sits alongside two famous neighbours – Ardbeg and Laphroaig – on the rocky south-eastern coast. The distillery sits on a small bay that is dominated by the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle. Seals can often be seen basking on the rocks. The ashy bonfire-like spirit produced at Lagavulin is highly revered and the 16 years old expression is an absolute classic Scotch whisky.

The Skies of Fèis Ìle is rare. Lagavulin whisky of this age is not often released. The whisky will come from a heavily charred ex-Amoroso sherry hogshead. The single cask will be bottled by hand on Lagavulin Day (May 25) by Jordan Paisley, the Distillery Manager. He will also sign every bottle. The precious cask is expected to yield around 250 bottles, and each will cost £2,500. This will be highly collectable and desirable.


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