Islay whisky

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Whisky producing regions of Scotland
Distilleries on Islay

Islay whisky is Scotch whisky made on Islay (/ˈlə/ EYE-lə) or Ìle in Gaelic, one of the southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Islands located off the west coast of Scotland. Islay is one of five whisky distilling localities and regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law.[1] There are eight active distilleries and the industry is the island's second largest employer after agriculture.[2][3] Islay is a centre of "whisky tourism", and hosts a "Festival of Malt and Music" known as Fèis Ìle each year at the end of May, with events and tastings celebrating the cultural heritage of the island.

Styles of whisky[edit]

The whiskies of the distilleries along the southeastern coast of the island, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, have a smoky character derived from peat, considered a central characteristic of the Islay malts, and ascribed both to the water from which the whisky is made and to the peating levels of the barley. Many describe this as a “medicinal” flavour. They also possess notes of iodine, seaweed and salt.[4] Caol Ila, on the northern side of the island, across from Jura, also produces a strongly peated whisky.

The other distilleries on the island make whisky in a variety of styles. Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich make much lighter whiskies which are generally lightly peated, though Bruichladdich also produces several heavily peated expressions. Bowmore produces a whisky which is well balanced, using a medium-strong peating level (25ppm) but also using sherry-cask maturation. The newest distillery, Kilchoman, started production in late 2005. In location it is unlike the other seven distilleries, which are all by the sea.


Active distilleries[edit]

DistilleryPronunciationMeaningYears activeLocationNotes
Ardbeg/ɑrdˈbɛɡ/ ard-BEGsmall headland1815–1981, 1990–1996, 1997–5 km east of Port Ellenowned by Glenmorangie, / LVMH
Bowmore/bˈmɔr/ boh-MORgreat sea reef or sea rock1779–in Bowmore, the island's capitalowned by Suntory, sells 7-year-old malt as McClelland’s
Bruichladdich/brʊkˈlædi/ bruuk-LA-deebank on the shore1881–1995, 2001–on western Loch Indaal, across from Bowmorereopened as an independent distillery; Purchased in 2012 by Remy Cointreau[5]
Bunnahabhain/ˌbnəˈhævən/ BOO-nə-HA-vənmouth of the river1880/1883–4 km north of Port Askaigowned by Burn Stewart, a notable part of the Black Bottle blend
Caol Ila/kʊlˈlə/ kuul-EYE-ləThe Sound of Islay (between Islay & Jura)1846–1972, 1974–1 km north of Port Askaigowned by Diageo
Kilchoman/klˈmən/ keel-CHOH-mənSt. Comman's church2005–on the Atlantic coastfirst all new distillery since 1881
Lagavulin/ˌlɑːkəˈvlɪn/ LAH-kə-VOO-linthe hollow where the mill is1742/1816–4 km east of Port Ellenowned by Diageo
Laphroaig/ləˈfrɔɪɡ/ lə-FROYGbeautiful hollow by the broad bay1815–2 km east of Port Ellenowned by Beam Inc.
Port Charlottenamed after Frederick Campbell's wife1829–1929, 2011–in Port Charlotte, 3 km south of Bruichladdichowned by Bruichladdich,
Although Bruichladdich is currently bottling a peated scotch whisky under this name, the new Port Charlotte distillery is not yet built.
Except during the Great Depression (~1930–1937) and World War II (~1940–1945)

Closed distilleries[edit]

Whiskies from eight distilleries on Islay. When this photograph was taken in August 2004, one of the distilleries had ceased production.

The oldest record of a legal distillery on the island of Islay refers to Bowmore in 1779 and at one time there were up to 23 distilleries in operation.[6] For example, Port Charlotte distillery operated from 1829 to 1929[7] and Port Ellen is also closed although it remains in business as a malthouse[6] that supplies many of the Islay distilleries.

In March 2007 Bruichladdich Distillery announced the reopening of the distillery at Port Charlotte (Port Sgioba in Gaelic), which was closed in 1929, and was also known as the Lochindaal distillery.


  1. ^ "The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009". The National Archives. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  2. ^ Newton (1995) p. 32
  3. ^ "Whisky Regions & Tours". Scotch Whisky Association. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  4. ^ Jackson, Michael, Michael Jackson's Complete Guide To Single Malt Scotch, (Running Press Book Publishers, 2004), 48.
  5. ^ "Remy Cointreau to buy Scotland's Bruichladdich". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 July 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c Newton (1995) p. 33
  7. ^ "Port Charlotte Distillery". IslayInfo. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d "Islay's "lost" Whisky Distilleries". Retrieved 1 December 2012.


External links[edit]