Islay and neighbouring Jura are famed worldwide for their whisky. But it’s not just uisge beatha – the water of life – that’s made here. In addition to ten whisky distilleries the islands are home to three gin distilleries plus a brewery. On top of that there’s a vibrant community of producers, making everything from jams to pies. And did we mention the seafood? Given these epicurean riches, it should come as no surprise that the islanders have decided to celebrate their incredible local larder with a new food, drink and foraging festival. Taste Islay & Jura takes place from 20th to 22nd September and it promises to be an unforgettable foodie adventure. Here’s why you can’t miss Scotland’s newest food festival!
The spirit of Islay and Jura
Islay and Jura are full of spirit! There are so many options for sampling the local gins, whiskies and more, as well as hearing the fascinating back stories of the people behind the product. On Friday catch the ferry to Jura to visit Lussa Gin. Meet the three women of Lussa who created the gin and enjoy it paired with locally sourced venison and shellfish, all with a juniper influence. On Friday evening Islay House, in collaboration with The Botanist Gin, are putting on a five-course taster menu with gin cocktails.
Laphroaig is putting on a special daily tour. Book onto the 2.30pm Laphroaig Food Pairing Tasting Tour and enjoy some fantastic locally sourced appetizers created by local chefs paired with four Laphroaig drams. On Saturday night Port Charlotte Hotel in partnership with food and whisky connoisseur Martine Nouet, is hosting a Whisky Tasting Dinner with each local produce course paired with whiskies from Islay and Jura.
Meet the producers
Get ready to tantaslise your taste buds! Saturday is market day in Bowmore Square and the Harbour Inn. Running from 10am – 4pm, this local producers’ market brings together food and drink producers from Islay, Jura and further afield in Argyll. You can browse and buy local meats, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, preserves, coffee, seafood, pre-cooked foods and meals direct from the producers. Try produce from Mull Cheese, Argyll Coffee Roasters, Kate’s Pies, Islay Oysters, Dunlossit Estate (venison) and much more. There will also be some scrumptious lunch options. Colin Hinds, Patron Chef of The Kilted Lobster in Edinburgh, will be cooking up a storm with a sumptuous lobster BBQ during the market – not to be missed.
Inside the Harbour Inn you’ll find a bevy of brilliant beverages! There will be three gins, whisky, wine, ale, rum and cocktails all to try. Drams, tastings, pairings and demonstrations will be running from 11am. Find out how to prepare syrups from foraged plants with The Botanist Gin and get a lesson in cocktail making with the Harbour Inn team. Cheers!
As well as all the pairing menus on offer in restaurants as part of the food festival, writer, broadcaster and food anthropologist Ghillie Basan will be creating paired canapés to enjoy on market day. She’ll be using local food and drinks and will tantalise your taste buds with oysters, scallops and lobsters, venison, lamb and beef, smoked, preserved and roasted produce. During the day Ghillie will be talking about her new book, Spirit and Spice.
You don’t get much fresher than the seafood on offer on Islay and Jura. It’s plucked fresh from the surrounding Atlantic waters and goes straight to your plate. There will be so much delicious seafood on offer at the festival and so many great ways to experience it, from a lobster BBQ to catching your own fish. On Sunday join Islay Sea Adventures for a special Islay seafood tour. This is a unique chance to enjoy the scenery and wildlife from the sea while sampling some of the best local seafood available. Hand dived scallops will be the star of the show and you can also try and catch a fish for the onboard barbecue.
Islay is a beautiful island and the festival offers some fabulous opportunities to get out and experience food and drink in the wilds. On Friday join Kayak Wild Islay at Machrie Hotel for a Fat Biking Experience along the Big Strand, stopping en route for a wild kelly kettle brew with Argyll Coffee Roasters coffee. After a bike on the beach, head back to the Machrie Hotel to enjoy some exquisite local food.
The wild coastline and ancient woodlands of Islay are great fun for foragers! Head to the Islay Nature Centre at Port Charlotte for a Celebration of Seaweed on Sunday. Learn about the different seaweeds that can be found around the coastline of Islay and Jura, discover tips and advice on how to forage for seaweed safely, A session will run from 11am – 12noon where the team will prepare and cook seaweeds giving you the chance to taste some and inspire you to experiment at home. Later on, you can join the Botanist Gin’s professional forager, James Donaldson, on a guided walk through Bridgend Woods. The foraging walk will culminate in a Botanist gin and tonic served with your own foraged garnish.
If you have a sweet tooth, there’s plenty to satisfy your saccharine cravings at the festival. Book yourself onto a two-hour Chocolate Making Session at Islay High School on Saturday with chocolatier and tutor Chris Wolfe. Learn about chocolate, its history and make your own truffles to take home at the end of the day. Across the three days of the festival, Bowmore Distillery is offering a special tour at 2.30pm with specially selected drams paired with chocolates from The Oban Chocolate Company.
This is a family friendly festival! On Sunday, Port Ellen Playing Fields is the place to be with the kids. With ‘star baker’ and sandcastle building competitions, a local produce BBQ and mocktails for all, this 12 – 4pm event is fun for all the family.
You can find out more at Taste Islay & Jura. Many of the individual events can booked ahead here.
Getting to Islay
You can find places to stay at http://www.islayjura.com/stay.php