of the Argyll Islands are prominent in whisky production.
There are seven whisky distilleries on the tiny Hebridean
island of Islay alone! The landscapes in these unique and
unspoiled locations combine to give the areas island
whiskies their distinctive flavours.
What marks this island out is its unique ability to produce
the most powerful, challenging and ultimately, the most rewarding
malt whiskies in the world!
The principal driving force behind Islay whiskies is peat.
The island is covered in great swathes of blanket bog, and
the peat it produces contains traces of highly aromatic plants.
When used to dry malted barley, this pungent fuel imparts
a characteristic smoky flavour in the whisky.
Ardbeg (from the
Gaelic for "small headland")
Lying on the southern shore
of Islay the distillery was founded in 1815, but its
origins are even older. It is known that illicit distilling
took place in the area for centuries before that.
In 1981, the distillery fell silent and
was mothballed. Fortunately in
1997, to the delight of fans all over the world Glenmorangie
plc rescued Ardbeg. Now, once again Ardbeg flows freely.
And in the Old Kiln Cafe you can enjoy a dram and Mary's
Taste: Typical robust Islay aromas
of peat-smoke, sawdust, seaweed and iodine, with a hefty
bite and a rich finish. Subtler notes of lemon, rope,
Bowmore (from the
Gaelic for "big reef")
The distillery is almost
as old as the village itself, and was established in
1779 making it one of the oldest in Scotland. It has
produced whisky continually ever since which is one
of the factors that enable it to produce such a wide
range of different single malts. Bowmore is available
in 8, 12, 15, 17, 21, 25, 30 & 40 year-old bottlings,
as well as a range of finishes including sherry, port
and Bordeaux. The distillery is one of the few that
still malts its own barley, the distinctive peat reek
wafting over the village when the kilns are fired up.
It lies directly on the shores of Loch Indaal, and the
warehouse is below sea level which helps develop the
characteristically sea-salt tang of Bowmore's whisky.
Delicately smoky with hints of seaweed, iodine and chocolate,
this complex malt has a distinctly salty edge. As it
ages Bowmore becomes more complex and deeper, revealing
notes of rose petals and citrus fruits giving way to
biscuity, toasty and marzipan flavours by the time it
has reached maturity.
brook-laddie, from the Gaelic for "the brae by the shore")
The most westerly distillery
in Scotland, Bruichladdich looks rather like a French
chateau transferred to the storm-tossed shores of Loch
Indaal. Its stills are unusually tall and slender-necked
which, together with the use of lightly-peated malt,
original equipment and distilling techniques, produce
the most elegant of Islay malts. It is unique in that
it is the only Islay malt to be bottled on the island
using local spring water.
Mossy and grassy with hints of brine, lightly toasted
almonds and a distinctive rich texture. The faintest
waft of peat smoke comes through the honey and subtle
tropical fruit character of this most delicate example
of Islay whisky. An excellent alternative to its peatier
boo-na-hav'n, from the Gaelic for "the mouth of the river")
of Islay's distilleries, on the island's eastern shore
overlooking the Sound of Jura. It is, quite literally,
the end of the road: north of the distillery is nothing
but the wild headland of Rudha a' Mhˆil. It has
changed very little since it opened in 1883. Like many
of the distilleries on the island, a little community
has grown around it, and it is appropriate that both
share the same name. Bunnahabhain is unique among Islay
malts in that it draws some of its water from springs,
which means there is comparatively little peat in it.
This contributes to the lightness of the whisky, which
is often described as the least Islay-like of the island's
Taste: Sweeter and lighter than
other Islay malts, with lightly nutty and fresh, grassy
notes and a slight saltiness. It has the faintest hint
of smoke and a herbal tang.
Bunnahabhain distillery is also the home
of Black Bottle, a whisky which has been crafted over
time to fully embrace the intensity of Islay Malt Whisky
in a complex, satisfying blend. There are two excellent
variants, Black Bottle and Black Bottle 10 Year Old.
Caol Ila (pronounced cool-eela,
from the Gaelic for "Sound of Islay")
Originally established in 1846, the
distillery named after the narrow strip of water that
separates Islay from Jura on whose shore it sits, is
near the tiny ferry terminal at Port Askaig.
The distillery draws its water from
nearby Loch nam Ban, whose waters are richer in limestone
and lighter in peat deposits than those on the southern
and western sides of the island. Consequently, like
its near neighbour Bunnahabhainn, Caol Ila's whisky
is noticeably lighter and less smoky than most Islay
Sweet floral fragrances with a firm body and malty taste,
a long finish with delicate aromas and light smoke.
lag a voolin from the Gaelic meaning ‘the hollow of
Founded in 1861, although the grounds
of the distillery encompass an ancient stronghold of
the Lords of the Isles known as Dun Naomahaig. It is
thought that as many as a dozen illicit stills once
operated in the Port Ellen area where the Lagavulin
distillery still stands on Islay’s southern shore.
Over time, they slowly merged to form the modern version
which, by as early as the 1870s, was producing over
75,000 gallons of whisky a year!
Taste: A powerful peat-smoke nose
with seaweed and some sweetness, salty and sweet flavours
with hints of wood and a long peaty-salt finish.
Lafroyg, from the Gaelic meaning ‘beautiful hollow by
the broad bay’)
One of the best known malt whiskies
in the world. It’s fair to say with its intensely
medicinal flavours, Laphroaig is a whisky you either
love or hate!
One of the few distilleries to maintain
its own maltings. Laphroaig has many of its original
buildings which help to retain much of the character
that made it famous. It harvests its own unique peat
bogs and takes water from its own source to produce
the famous peaty, intense malt whisky that is its hallmark.
Taste: The most pungent and powerful
of all Scotch malt whiskies. Laphroaig’s hallmarks
are great wafts of TCP, carbolic soap, sea-salt and
peat smoke! More astute tasters may also detect hints
of coconut and vanilla in the younger bottlings, giving
way to subtler citrusy and rounded flavours as the whisky
becomes more mature. It has a noticeably oily mouth
Isle of Jura
In contrast to is near neighbour, Jura
is one of the most rugged, remote and mountainous of
Scotland’s Islands. With so much wildness it comes
as a surprise to many whisky drinkers to discover that
the whisky produced on the island is one of the lightest
island malts with an elegance and sophistication that
belies its wild surroundings.
Apart from the soft water, Isle
of Jura’s particularly long and slender-necked
stills are also credited for their contribution to the
lightness and tenderness of the whisky.
Taste: Much lighter and less peaty
than Islay malts, Isle of Jura has distinctive juniper/pine
notes with a hint of roasted almonds and the slightest
hint of smoke from its mild exposure to peat.
Isle of Mull
Third largest of the Hebrides and one of the most beautiful
islands to explore. It has a rich cultural heritage and some
of the most stunning land and seascapes to be found. The island’s
main town Tobermory, which shares it name with the local distillery,
is famed for the cheerful colours of its waterfront buildings
and yachts bobbing in the natural harbour.
One of the smallest
distilleries in Scotland, whisky making in the town
dates back to its origins in the 1790’s although
the present distillery was established in 1823. Originally
named Ledaig, from the Gaelic meaning ‘safe harbour’
the distillery still produces a suite of single malts
under that name.
Tobermory 10 Year Old is an unpeated malt, slightly
sweet and vanilla (even custardy) notes and a hint of
mint. Ledaig is peated and much more typical of island
malts, with characteristic smoke and spice becoming
deeper and more complex as it matures to its 15 and
20 Year Old varieties.
Isle of Arran
Arran is a unique island
known as 'Scotland in Miniature', for it has all of
the scenery of Scotland, with mountains and lowlands,
glens, lochs and royal castles (including one at Lochranza).
Early in the 19th century there were more than 50 whisky
distilleries on Arran, most of them illegal and carefully
hidden from the eyes of the taxmen!
The last distillery ceased production
in 1837 and Arran found itself without whisky production
for over 150 years until the Lochranza Distillery was
opened in 1995.
At present, as well as Arran Single Malt,
the distillery also produces Lochranza, a subtle smooth
blended whisky which has at its heart a proportion of
the acclaimed Arran Single Malt.
Floral and estery, with a citrus, fudge-like aroma,
with a background hint of sherry wood. A pleasant palate
with a light peat character followed by a clean aftertaste
of finished malt.