Now in its second year, The Islay Whisky Academy Diploma 2019 took place between 21-25th October for those lucky enough to have secured one of the very limited spaces on the course. Running just once a year, students travelled from all over the world to be a part of this detailed and in-depth journey of Islay whisky education founded by Rachel MacNeill (pictured below), where it was the knowledge, new friendships and mutual love of whisky that really made it such a memorable once-in-a-lifetime event.
Aimed at the novice, the enthusiast, the Islay lovers and distillers themselves, the residential course takes students on the complete journey through what it takes to produce a high calibre whisky on the island.
The syllabus itself provides in depth learning on the many factors influencing the finished scotch whisky product; morning lectures ranged from the role and importance of yeast, to whisky on the rocks – how Islay’s geology influences the water supply and how this in turn affects the whisky profile.
New in the 2019 Diploma was also a focus on how to start your own distillery, what it takes to plan, build, and begin to produce the spirit, and the successes and challenges faced by the different business models in this billion pound industry. There was a fantastic presentation from Alisdair Day of newly-opened Raasay Distillery (pictured above with Rachel), and an introduction to distilling at home, from Claire Fletcher, of award-winning Lussa gin on neighbouring Jura.
Students were treated to activities such as an immersive peat-cutting workshop and a fantastic and informative coopering demonstration, as well as evenings in the company of some of the whisky greats – John McCheyne, recently awarded Keeper of the Quaich, from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and the formidable Jim McEwan (video below) of, well, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Ardnahoe… the list goes on.
Activities such as the peat-cutting workshop and a coopering demonstration provide an unforgettable experience for those attending, and this is all part and parcel with the immersive Islay experience that founder Rachel MacNeill has set out to achieve. “I want people leaving with friends, not contacts” she says, and this is true of all her ventures. After founding both ‘Whisky for Girls’ and ‘Wild and Magic Islay’, Rachel added another string to her Bow-more based operation and brought them all together under ‘The Islay Whisky Academy’ in 2018, a venture that’s already making noise.
Afternoons were filled with walkthroughs of distilleries, visiting five of the nine producers that now span the length and the breadth of the island. New to the line up this year was Ardnahoe, which only started producing whisky late last year and is the only producer on the island to return to the once ubiquitous use of ‘worm tubs.’ Each tour is led by the distillery manager who shares extensive knowledge, history, and insight about the whiskies they produce. Several producers also offer up the expertise of their VCs and Master Distillers, who provide greater understanding of the challenges being faced by a growing market, and their plans for future success.
“We have developed and expanded the company, and are delighted to offer Whisky Education Courses, in addition to our amazing bespoke Islay Whisky Tours and Events” Rachel MacNeill, The Islay Whisky Academy
“We’re also looking to create two online certificates that can be accessed all over the world, allowing people to study at home and then come to Islay for their Diploma.”
Places on the 2020 Diploma are filling up fast, with six spots already taken. It will run between 26-30th October 2020; a five day in-depth format of lectures, workshops, elements, distilleries, production, and of course, lots of Scotch whisky.