Whisky Regions
Islay
Known as ‘The Queen of The Hebrides’, Islay may be small in relation to other whisky-producing regions but it still has nine distilleries and a reputation all of its own. Indeed, Islay even has sub-regions, because Scotch made in the north of the island and the south each have their own distinct flavours.
Here’s everything you need to know about Islay whisky.
History

Whisky production on Islay is reported to date back as far as the 1300s. Irish monks were distilling it after the Lord of the Isles married the daughter of an Ulster Baron and production began in earnest in the 17th Century on farms around the island. These were illegal, so Islay’s many caves and glens had a practical use when the authorities came to investigate.

Several of Islay’s modern distilleries began life this way and most distilleries were found near the coast so that grain and the finished spirits could be more easily smuggled. At one time there were reported to be as many as 23 distilleries active on Islay and one of the most famous to have closed was Port Ellen, which became a malting in 1983. However, plans are now underway to reopen it.

Islay Whiskies

Islay single malts are known for their smoky, peaty flavours, which comes from malting barley over burning peat. Northern whiskies are generally found to be milder than those from the south of the island. Unsurprisingly given its location, Islay whiskies often have flavours of the sea amongst the notes you can detect, including seaweed, brine and even kippers.

Some of the main distilleries on Islay include:
Bowmore Distillery - The oldest active distillery on the island, Bowmore was established in 1779. During the World Wars, the distillery hosted RAF Coastal Command so had to shut down production. Today, it has a capacity of two million litres and uses a medium-strong peating level and sherry-cask maturation.
Laphroaig Distillery - Founded in 1815 by the Johnston family, who owned it until 1954, Laphroaig was the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales because it is Prince Charles’ favourite Scotch and he visited the distillery in 1994. The Prince crashed his plane landing on Islay’s small airstrip, but was unharmed.
Bunnahabhain Distillery - Founded in 1881 near Port Askaig, Bunnahabhain Distillery saw the village of the same name spring up around it to house its workers. Whiskies from here are known for their lighter, fruitier single malts.
Caol Ila Distillery - Taking its name from the Sound of Islay, which separates it from Jura, Caol Ila was founded in 1846 and is one of the island’s lighter whiskies with peaty, floral and peppery notes. However, 95% of its produce goes into blends like Johnnie Walker’s Black Label.
Bruichladdich Distillery - Unlike most of its local competitors, Bruichladdich Distillery has been less well known for its peated whiskies over the years. Founded in 1881 on the shore of Loch Indaal, it was also rare on the island for being a purpose-built distillery when it opened rather than having grown out of traditional farm buildings. State-of-the-art at the time, it is vintage now and the modern distillery still uses much of the original equipment.
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