Current global circumstances meant we were not able to celebrate in person with our wider community on the occasion of Bruichladdich’s 20th Feis Ile open day. Our festival open day exactly two decades ago marked the emotional first time spirit flowed again from our stills after a dark chapter in the distillery’s history. Instead this year, we had to find a new way to invite our whisky and gin lovers to the distillery, without leaving the house or having to book the taxi home. Lots of you took us up on that. Thank you. It’s great to feel that you are still on this journey with us, all in front-foot, improvised Bruichladdich style.
Our live ‘Laddie Lock-in’ was broadcast from the old production offices turned studio; hosted by sanitised and socially distanced, though not necessarily socially acceptable, members of the team.
The Laddie festival bare-essentials-starter-pack must always comprise of a few core elements. A theme, a sell-out festival release, a charity auction, good music, great craic, smashing drams, a plethora of cocktails and, of course; the sun must always shine. Did we manage to tick them all off? And then some!
We perhaps reached further than we ever have on Feis day via Instagram Live. Over four hours of good old fashioned fun were crammed in. Our anchors Christy Mc, Robert Mc and Lindy Mac kept the day ticking along with their charm, poise and surprising wit. For those of you who didn’t manage to tune in, we are happy to report there were zero technical hitches and it went perfectly to time.
Lindy’s Laddie Locator – Who’s Pin Wins?
Like a national newsroom, live updates streamed in via #laddielockin, Lindy’s Laddie Locator was set to track and trace all the web activities of our online followers sharing drinks, suspect lockdown haircuts, home-made festival t-shirts and even tumbling into the realms of the best-decorated dog. The locator stretched across six continents with, seemingly randomly picked, prize winners receiving a mystery prize from the dusty depths of Ailsa’s shop cupboard. The Locator winners were: Luiz Philipe (Brazil), Dodger the Rodger (Victoria BC, Canada), Hardy Martiz (Cape Town, South Africa), Drinky Hyde (Korea), Bossco Warner (Gold Coast, Australia), Mr. Single Malt (Hamburg, Germany). Best lockdown haircut was awarded to homegrown David Hope for his mullet and tache. Best lockdown outfit went to Cassidy Wingrove and finest lockdown drink went to Garth Pereira and his neighbour’s aqua VW Beetle.
The technical skills of the team never ceased to surprise throughout the day and so it was over to warehouse number 12 where ordinarily the festival day would start with over 200 people at the sell-out masterclass listening to head distiller Adam Hannett. In 2020, it was Adam alone in the draughty warehouse but online over 500 joined in the new masterclass format ‘Through the Bunghole’, creatively named by bottling hall manager Jonathan Carmichael. Throughout the afternoon the suspense was maintained by Adam appearing in three more ‘mystery’ locations. His most surprising dram of the day was our worst kept secret, Bruichladdich rye grain spirit. A first for Islay and distilled with 2017 Islay grown rye from Coull farm, aged two and a half years in virgin oak casks. Adam cruelly shared a dram that no one else had, commenting from the still house: “Why would we make a rye whisky at Bruichladdich, there are many reasons. The simple answer is because we can!”
Simon Coughlin showed us no glass is too big for a fine dram of Black Art, celebrating 20 years since he stood in the courtyard for the first open day with “it felt like thousands but it was only about 100 people”
As ever, the Laddie open day is never complete without a well-oiled auction. Nine lots were pre-announced online and bids taken through the day via email to Joanne Middleton. Beneficiaries this year wereBruichladdich Village Hall, Portnahaven Village Hall, Islay & Jura Sick Children’s Fund and Islay & Jura Youth Development Trust all receiving a quarter of the incredible total of £10,000 raised. Thank you to all our generous bidders!
Some very interesting and very entertaining blethers came across the wires including with former CEO Simon Coughlin showing us that a. Portnahaven holds the finest internet connection on the island and b. no glass is too big for a dram of Black Art. If you want to hear the insider knowledge from the Malt Bar, listen back to Lynne and Joanne who took the chance to break out from the hoards of festival-goers politely clambering for bottles; to pour and dram for themselves and reminisce over past festivals – they’ve seen it all (from the tent).
Something new to the show this year was a preview of future film release ‘Water of Life’, featuring many familiar Bruichladdich and Islay faces. Rab chatted to Greg Swartz creator and director of the film based in the US. The production team have been to Islay numerous times but didn’t want to miss a virtual chance, so while it was early doors over the pond, Greg was happy to imbibe in a little Classic Laddie breakfast whisky.
The old production offices – turned -studio
There were roving reports and musical interludes from far and wide. Raymond took us to a breezy Octomore field and while Farmer James Brown is a stalwart of the Feis courtyard, it’s not often the entire festival is taken into his field to see the barley shoots of a future Octomore.
The tunes were brought to us from some of our fantastic bands who kindly gave us some ‘sofa sessions’. From the rambunctious Rhythm and Booze Project; Maverick Angels brought us a few sets including a tune of Fraser Shaw’s; to the melodies (and technical mayhem) of Robin Laing. All ending with an emotional closing session by Robert Robertson of Tide Lines. What stellar folks give up their time for us.
Emotions continued to swell with a beautiful poem ‘Welcome’, written and read by Mary McGregor of Laddieshop fame. Reading it by the shores of Loch Indaal, she managed to somehow squeeze near everyone from the distillery into her delightful festival poem alongside a few festival old-timers, not to be forgotten too.
Of course, the festival would not be complete without cocktails galore. Regular bartenders and long time ambassadors Abi and Ewald dialled in from London and sunny Munich. Usually these two head up The Botanist tent where last year, over 4000 cocktails were prepped alongside B&Ts. So, with only themselves to make drinks for it was a more chilled affair. Abi shook up a Botanist Betty RnR and Ewald stirred up a Blood, Sugar, Peat, Magic. Between them, nearly 22,000 have now seen them making these original drinks. Recipes and pre-prep steps you’d need to recreate the cocktails at home are here, see Abi and Ewald in dialogue.
There was also a guest bartender this year with Katie and The Botanist forager, James Donaldson in conversation. James had whipped up a twist on a red-snapper cocktail using ingredients in the store cupboard and from his garden; from celery-like lovage to fiery water pepper.
Still one last thing missing. Sunshine. After a predictably dreich and stormy weekend, once again, as the afternoon wore on, the sun made its appearance. Are we surprised?
A monumental thank you to everyone in the team and beyond who helped to pull off the day. And to those of you who woke up, turned up online and celebrated with us. Here’s to the next festival, where upon we will celebrate the past two decades the absolute best we possibly can. Here’s a taster of the highlights.
Until next time, we leave you with these parting words from Mary’s poem:
We are apart just now but will be together soon we all agree
To share a dram with the Dream Team and have a huge party!
And when next you arrive at the Laddie shop door
We’ll be waiting for you with a welcome come in, and Slainte Mhor!
>> Here is a minute of audio madness created from the archive of the live broadcasts from the unrepeatable Festival 2020, by Kate. If it whets your appetite you can always relive the whole audio-visual extravaganza on our instagram TV tab.