Fèis Ìle 2024 with Ardbeg + surprise release: The Abyss

PR invite // All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own. 

I had the pleasure of traveling to Islay to attend my first ever Ardbeg Day during the Fèis Ìle whisky festival on the island – and it definitely is one to remember!

Let’s jump right in. Not only did I get to visit the celebrations of the distillery that made the first whisky I ever enjoyed – but I also got to be one of the first people to see and taste the brand new release Ardbeg: The Abyss! And let me tell you, this was one of the tastiest whiskies I’ve had the pleasure to try from this distillery. 

But let me tell you this story from the beginning. I am a really lucky girl as I had also got an invitation to attend Bunnahabhain’s day as well so I traveled right from their distillery to The Machrie hotel to meet up with the rest of the group. The first evening 

After a very good nights sleep (I had been getting up at 04.30 the day before which made for a very long day) and a delicious little salmon + cream cheese bagel for breakfast we headed down to the Port Ellen harbour where Islay Sea Adventures awaited with their boats. We had only been told that this was a little boat trip to see the distillery from the sea and that there might be a little surprise tasting along the way. We set off in the sunshine and saw the water glittering past us. How we got so lucky with the weather, I’ll never know. And then came the moment I had been waiting for – we saw seals sunbathing on the rocks as the boat drifted past. Seals are some of my favourite animals but I’ve never seen them in the wild before so I was just freaking happy about this. Shortly thereafter a little surprise tasting was revealed and brand ambassador David brought out a bottle of the original 2008 committee release Corryvreckan. For those of you who may not already know, Corryvreckan is now part of the core range of Ardbeg whiskies as is named after a well known whirlpool off the north of Islay. It’s a cask strength, non age statement whisky but was once upon a time in 2008 a committee release. This is a whisky with ashy smoke and charred oak notes full of spice – and it is undoubtedly an Ardbeg. 

Whilst we are sitting in the sun enjoying our dram, one of the guys from the other boat – a man called Gus – is putting his diving gear on and suddenly jumps into the water and disappears. A wee while later he pops up again with a net full of scallops, sea urchins and crabs! A few friendly star fish had also managed to grab onto his head as you’ll spot in the photos below. If the Ardbeg whisky wasn’t an experience already on its own, it certainly was whilst tasting fresh raw scallops right out of their shell. They are surprisingly sweet. 

We were definitely set for lunch with all those treats from the sea, but before we got to that Gus jumped back into the water…

Once Gus resurfaces the whole boat were on their toes, curiously keeping an eye on his bubbles, trying to figure out what he had fished out of the sea this time around. We were not disappointed. 

Out of the sea Gus drags up a silver metallic box, ensured by seaweed and rope. The seaweed is returned to the sea and the ropes are cut off to release the box of its shackles. They carefully open the box and a distinct green glass bottle emerges. Ardbeg The Abyss. 

If you’ve read the text so far, you can probably guess that I have a thing for storytelling and a touch of dramatic flair so I was on the edge of my seat watching this performance. As if the presentation wasn’t entertaining enough, when we turned around the team had also unveiled the display case for the whisky which was in the style of old time-y divers. The case is designed by the team at creative agency Story and features a design where you have to push the big button on the top and twist it to open the top – similar to an airlock. The whisky itself is spirit from 1989 (34 Year Old) aged in ex-bourbon casks before finished in French oak casks that have been heavily toasted to an exact specification. Most of these unique casks were used for the Ardbeg Corryvreckan 2008 limited bottling (it all makes sense now, as to why we tried that earlier…) the team at the distillery chose to put a handful away to continue their maturation. 

It certainly is the darkest Ardbeg spirit I’ve ever seen and the liquid is excellent. Such a shame I don’t have a mere €25,000 (£21,250) laying around to pick up one of the 400 bottles… But someone will be thrilled to have this in their home! In each of the cases there will also be a comic book by artist Tradd Moore who has interpreted the story of Viking prince Breacan and the treacherous Corryvreckan to go along with the whisky.

I got a real old and dignified character on the nose with plums, marmalade mixing with cloves, orange peel, sweet dunnage warehouses, chestnuts and fresh apricot. On the palate it almost reminded me of the saltiness ans fruits of a manzanilla sherry with toffee, some bitter wood for balance alongside golden stone fruits and peach sweets. 

I really had a moment on the boat where I just looked out over the waves, dram in hand, and thought to myself how incredibly lucky I am that my life steers me into moments like these. First seals and then whisky like that. Wow – what a day!

But the day was not yet over, we hadn’t even arrived at the spectacular festivities at the distillery!

The theme for this years Ardbeg day was a spectacular circus and they went all in. The team were all dressed in fabulous outfits with the well known and absolutely wonderful Jackie (Ardbeg’s visitor centre manager) as the ringmaster. Acrobats and performers were entertaining here, there and everywhere from silk aerial in the shop to hula hoops in the courtyard. There was also a massive “helter skelter” built in the courtyard, but I was definitely not brave enough to go. I decided to park myself in the sun with both a smoky Pina Colada milk punch and a Bramble and just people (and dog) watch to soak in what a lovely day it was. 

After the festivities ended, we got to stick around and enjoy a lovely bbq and even more stunning cocktails by Jas Scott from The Mothership. 

Safe to say that I’ll bring so many happy memories with me from this trip (as well as a solid sunburn on my back where I couldn’t reach with my factor 50 sunscreen…).

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Moa Nilsson

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