Maltings Floor at Laphroaig Distillery, Islay

This evening, I am providing information on the collection of world-renowned whisky distilleries on the Scottish island Islay.

Islay (pronounced Eye-la) is an island situated off the coast of Scotland, directly west of Glasgow. Origin of the name is uncertain; it may be derived from ‘island divided in two’,’ law island’ or possibly named after a Pictish princess named Ile. The principal activities on the island are tourism, farming, fishing and whisky distilling. Islay is renowned for its eight whisky distilleries the product of which is (with one exception) noted for its peaty or smoky flavours.

Helped by an abundant supply of peat (decayed vegetation which can be used as fuel) and water, Islay produces a range of classic malts from the following distilleries:

Ardbeg  (‘Little Height or Promontory’) – Founded 1815, located at Port Ellen and owned by Glenmorangie (Moet Hennessy). Uses a malted barley with a high phenol content and sources peaty water from Loch Uigeadail, about one mile from the distillery. Output includes a 10 year old (46pct and non-chill filtered) Uigeadail (cask strength) and Corryvrecken (cask strength).

Ardbeg Malts, Islay

Ardbeg Distillery, Islay

Bowmore (‘Sea Reef or Sea Rock’) – Founded 1779, located at Bowmore and owned by Suntory of Japan. Sources water from the peaty River Laggan and cuts local peat for its traditional floor maltings. Uses four onion shaped stills for distillation. Output includes Small Batch Reserve, twelve-year-old, Darkest 15 years, 18 years and 25 years.

Bowmore Malts, Islay

Bowmore Distillery, Islay

Bruichladdich (‘Brae of the Shore’) – Founded 1881, located at Bruichladdich and privately owned. Uses spring water with a high peat content. The malts, include an unpeated Bruichladdich, heavily peated Port Charlotte and ultra heavily peated Octomore.

Bruichladdich Stills

Bruichladdich Distillery, Islay

Bunnahabhain (‘River Mouth’) – Founded 1881, located at Port Askaig and owned by Burns Stewart. Unusually for Islay, this distillery produces an unpeated malt which sources its water from the Margadale Spring. The spirit, which is distilled in four onion shaped stills, is mainly used in blends.  Core range consists of 12, 18 and 25-year-old plus two peated versions: Toitech and Ceobanach.

Sampling Bunnahabhain Malts

Bunnahabhain Distillery, Islay

Caol Ila (‘Sound of Islay’) – Founded 1846, located at Port Askaig and owned by major drinks conglomerate, Diageo. Sources water from Loch nam Ban about one mile away and distills using six onion shaped stills. Historically the product has been extensively used in blending. Core range consists of 12, 18 and 25-year-old plus Moch and Distiller’s Edition.

Sampling Caol Ila Malts

Caol Ila Distillery, Islay

Kilchoman (‘St. Comman’s Church’) – First new distillery on Islay for 124 years, located about five miles west of Bruichladdich, close to Atlantic Ocean. Privately owned. First whisky (three-year old) produced 2009. Core range consists of Machir Bay and Sanaig.

Tour Guide at Kilchoman Distillery, Islay.

Kilchoman Distillery, Islay

Lagavulin (‘Mill Hollow’) – A sister distillery to Caol Ila which was founded 1817, located at Port Ellen and owned by drinks conglomerate, Diageo. Sources water high in peat content from a stream flowing from Solan Lochs situated north of the distillery and distills with four, broad necked stills. Output includes 12-year-old cask strength, a 16-year-old and Distiller’s Edition.

Tasting at Lagavulin Distillery, Islay

Lagavulin Distillery, Islay

Laphroaig (‘A Cave’) – Founded 1815, located at Port Ellen and owned by Allied Domecq. Malts barley on site with locally cut peat and sources water from the Kilbride dam. This malt is famed for its raw, pungent taste. Principal malts include a 10-year-old (40pct.), 10-year-old Cask Strength Quarter Cask Triple Wood and a 25-year-old.

Spirit emerging from the still at Laphroaig Distillery, Islay.

Laphroaig Distillery, Islay

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