Known as The Queen of the Hebrides, Islay is the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides and has a truly incomparable reputation when it comes to exceptional, recognisable and famous single malt whiskies. The peaty, smoky depth of Islay whiskies is renowned around the world with fans including HRH Prince Charles.
Islay is exceptional because of the disproportionate amount of distilleries spread across the isle. There are currently 8 active producers with more on the way and the distinctive peaty character of Islay whisky also marks them out amongst the others available from different locations.
Just over 3,200 people inhabit this island that is 239 square miles in size.
The History of Islay’s Style
History suggests that distillation may actually have reached Scotland from Ireland via Islay in the 13th century, when the Lord of the Isles married the daughter of an Ulster Baron and this cemented the connection between the two lands the emergence of Scottish distilled whisky.
The unique style of the whiskies produced on Islay is due to the barley used for their creation being malted over burning peat, giving flavours known technically as phenols.
The South of Islay is known for the smokiness of the whiskies it produces. Ardbeg is one of the cult status distilleries in this region, with the maritime peaty flavour truly world famous. Close by you will also find the famous distillery of Laphroaig and Lagavulin, all of which combined truly represent that authentic Islay character. Of course each distillery produces malts with significantly different flavours, the peaty depth with a hint of smoke truly pinpoints a whisky as an example of the south of Islay.
Heading to the north of Islay introduces you to a different style of Islay malt. Bunnahabhain and Jura face each other across the shore and both are known for switching between using and not using peat throughout their history. Bruichladdich is known as an Islay malt which is unpeated but every now and again they return to the true nature of the isle and produce a smoky offering or two, just to show they can.
The other distilleries on Islay are Caol Ila, known for the fragrant smoke of their offerings, Bowmore whose smokiness is teamed with a rich yet fresh fruitiness and the youngest of the lot, opened in just 2005, Kilchoman, whose bright young malts are made from their own barley.
Islay has a fascinating history and it’s even more fascinating when it is clear production is set to continue for years to come.