Islay Whisky Academy Kinship Host, Neill Murphy, previews the 2023 edition of the IWA Residential Diploma.
Everyone at the Islay Whisky Academy is getting a little excited as we draw towards the end of October, and it’s not because Hallowe’en is coming (though there may be a few witches involved!). It’s because the 2023 edition of the IWA Residential Diploma takes place between the 23rd and 27th. Students that are as thirsty for knowledge as they are for whisky will descend upon Islay from all over the world to take part in a five day extravaganza of Scotch in context.
IWA founder, Rachel MacNeill, has put together an extraordinary program of lectures, talks, distillery experiences and tastings that will cover everything from the processes involved in making Scotch whisky to the Gaelic culture that birthed it. Students will learn about history, geology, language, culture and much more, including, of course, whisky.
Mornings will be spent at the beautiful Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle (Islay Gaelic Centre) in Bowmore, with lectures provided by industry experts like Graham Omand, Distillery Manager at Lagg in Arran. Graham spent 7 years at Arran’s Lochranza Distillery before making the transfer to the south of the island where he has guided Lagg to the launch of its first single malts in 2022.
Joining Graham will be Ron Welsh, Master Blender for Beam Suntory. Ron is responsible for more than 800,000 casks from distilleries like Bowmore, Laphroaig, Glen Garioch, Auchentoshan and Ardmore. He’ll be talking the students through his day-to-day job, working with some of the most iconic malts in the world.
The students will learn more about the role of independent bottlers from Artisanal Spirits, owners of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Laura Hardie, Gary McGrath and Calum Lawson will discuss everything from cask selection, warehousing and maturation to flavour profiling and bottling.
On Thursday, things will take a different approach, as the class goes “on location” with Geologist David Webster to learn about the formation of Islay and the effect geology has on the pH of the island’s water.
Perhaps most fun of all, afternoons will consist of distillery visits where the students will see theory put into practice. The course will visit Islay’s oldest distillery in Bowmore and its newest in Ardnahoe. They’ll see traditional farm distilling at Kilchoman, learn about the terroir of barley at Bruichladdich and enjoy some wonderful cask samples in the Ardbeg warehouse.
Evenings will offer the chance to take part in tasting events including The Enchanting Scotland Show, which explores the history of Scotland and its people through the medium of whisky, Ceòl agus Craic, a whisky and music pairing exercise with Kinship Host, Neill Murphy and a Scotch Malt Whisky Society Tasting with Master Ambassador, John McCheyne. Finally, the whole week will culminate in a special Graduation Dinner, held at the beautiful Port Charlotte Hotel, overlooking lovely Lochindaal.
There’s a magic to the Islay Whisky Academy Residential Diploma that’s hard to put into words. Complete strangers come together from different cultures and beliefs to immerse themselves in an intensive exploration of Islay and its whiskies. They find themselves surrounded by beautiful scenery, wildlife and ocassionally at the mercy of weather that could never be accused of predictability. They enjoy good food, fantastic whisky and on occasion, conversation that lasts into the wee hours. At the end of the week, those strangers leave Islay as friends, forever connected by the dreamlike time they spent together on the whisky island. I, for one, can’t wait.