Tradition on the island that if you’re putting on an event, like a céilidh you typically visit your distillery of choice on the island and ask for a couple of bottles of whisky so that when everyone arrives on the night they are handed a dram. That’s Islay life.
Similar story with funerals, once the service has finished everyone in attendance walks round the open grave telling stories and sharing memories of the deceased whilst drinking whisky. No one is allowed to leave the grave site until the bottle is finished so people sometimes make up all kinds of excuses to leave early!
Up until the 1970s, drams of either new spirit distilled that day or casks bottled that day were handed out to all distillery staff and all locals of legal drinking age five times a day, as a way to gauge how good the whisky was. Bear in mind the majority of whisky sales at this point was blends, distillery managers used to get the opinion of those sampling the drams each day as to which casks were worthy of keeping back and bottling as single malt vs. sending off to be blended.
There is a profound love for all things Islay by locals and something magical about the untouched land and scenery you find as you drive around the island. Speaking of which, you’ll notice that every time Islay locals pass another Islay local on the road they wave. It is weird at first but not uncommon, they do it in rural southern Ireland too.
The power of silence hits you in the evenings, aside from the occasional baa or moo, as does the purity of having relatively little technology interference or phone reception meaning that, aside from wifi, you can get peace from the ‘real world’.
Islay life is extraordinary; those who have ventured to the mainland for work and to live often pine to go back, missing the calmness and the closeness of their fellow inhabitants.
If you ever get the chance to visit, just make sure you wave to everyone.