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Islay whisky is Scotch whisky made on Islay (// 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. There are eight active distilleries and the industry is the island's second largest employer after agriculture. 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.
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. 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.
|Ardbeg||// ard-BEG||small headland||1815–1981, 1990–1996, 1997–||5 km east of Port Ellen||owned by Glenmorangie, / LVMH|
|Bowmore||// boh-MOR||great sea reef or sea rock||1779–||in Bowmore, the island's capital||owned by Suntory, sells 7-year-old malt as McClelland’s|
|Bruichladdich||// bruuk-LA-dee||bank on the shore||1881–1995,‡ 2001–||on western Loch Indaal, across from Bowmore||reopened as an independent distillery; Purchased in 2012 by Remy Cointreau|
|Bunnahabhain||// BOO-nə-HA-vən||mouth of the river||1880/1883–||4 km north of Port Askaig||owned by Burn Stewart, a notable part of the Black Bottle blend|
|Caol Ila||// kuul-EYE-lə||The Sound of Islay (between Islay & Jura)||1846–1972,‡ 1974–||1 km north of Port Askaig||owned by Diageo|
|Kilchoman||// keel-CHOH-mən||St. Comman's church||2005–||on the Atlantic coast||first all new distillery since 1881|
|Lagavulin||// LAH-kə-VOO-lin||the hollow where the mill is||1742/1816–||4 km east of Port Ellen||owned by Diageo|
|Laphroaig||// lə-FROYG||beautiful hollow by the broad bay||1815–||2 km east of Port Ellen||owned by Beam Inc.|
|Port Charlotte||—||named after Frederick Campbell's wife||1829–1929, 2011–||in Port Charlotte, 3 km south of Bruichladdich||owned 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)|
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. For example, Port Charlotte distillery operated from 1829 to 1929 and Port Ellen is also closed although it remains in business as a malthouse 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.