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 nine 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 on the last week 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. Trees, other than plantations, on these islands are scattered and the peat is free of rotting wood. (Normal peat bogs are invaded by trees and periodic fires kill the encroaching tree line.) Islay peat is reputedly the best flavoured for scotch production.

The other distilleries on the island make whisky in a variety of styles. Bunnahabhain makes much lighter whiskies which are generally lightly peated. Bowmore produces a whisky which is well balanced, using a medium-strong peating level (25 ppm) but also using sherry-cask maturation. The Kilchoman distillery started production in late 2005; in location it is unlike the other distilleries, which are all by the sea. The newest distillery is Ardnahoe, the island's ninth, which opened in 2019.[5]


Active distilleries[edit]

Distillery Pronunciation Scottish Gaelic form†† Meaning of Gaelic form Years active Location Ownership
Ardbeg /ɑːrdˈbɛɡ/ ard-BEG An Àird Bheag small promontory[6] 1815–1981, 1990–1996, 1997– Ardbeg village, on the south-east coast of the island Glenmorangie Company Ltd, a subsidiary of LVMH
Bowmore /bˈmɔːr/ boh-MOR Bogh Mòr the big bend[7] 1779– In the town of Bowmore, the island's largest settlement on the eastern shore of Loch Indaal Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd, a subsidiary of Beam Suntory
Bruichladdich /brʊxˈlædi/ bruukh-LAD-ee Bruthach a' Chladaich brae of the shore[8] 1881–1995, 2001– Bruichladdich village, on western shore of Loch Indaal Reopened as an independent distillery in 2001 and purchased in 2012 by Remy Cointreau[9]
Bunnahabhain /ˌbnəˈhævən/ BOO-nə-HAV-ən Bun na h-Abhainne mouth of the river[10] 1880/1883– Bunnahabhain Bay, on the north-east coast of the island Distell Group Limited
Caol Ila /kʌlˈlə/ kuul-EE-lə Caol Ìle The Sound (Strait) of Islay[11] 1846–1972, 1974– Close to Port Askaig, on the north-east coast of the island Diageo
Kilchoman /kɪlˈxmən/ kil-KHOH-mən Cille Chomain[12] St. Comman's church 2005– Close to the village of Bruichladdich Independently owned and established in 2005 as the first new distillery on Islay since 1881[13]
Lagavulin /ˌlɑːkəˈvlɪn/ LAH-kə-VOO-lin Lag a' Mhuilinn the hollow of the mill[14] 1742/1816– Lagavulin village, on the south-east coast of the island Diageo
Laphroaig /ləˈfrɔɪɡ/ lə-FROYG Laphraoig

(Believed to be Gaelicised Old Norse)[15]

slope of broad-bay[15] 1815– Laphroig village, on the south-east coast of the island Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd, a subsidiary of Beam Suntory
Except during the Great Depression (~1930–1937) and World War II (~1940–1945)

These reflect what are often anglicised re-spellings of Scottish Gaelic. Pronunciation of the Scottish Gaelic from which they are derived may be different.

†† The Scottish Gaelic from which the distillery's name was anglicised if applicable, according to Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba. Not necessarily an official name of the distillery.

New distilleries[edit]

Hunter Laing's Ardnahoe Distillery, located between Port Askaig and Bunnahabhain, opened in April 2019, becoming Islay's ninth distillery.[16][5]

A new distillery at Gartbreck Farm, just south of Bowmore, was planned in 2014 by Jean Donnay of Glann ar Mor Distillery[17] in Brittany, France, as a joint venture with Hunter Laing of Glasgow but as of December 2018 the project was stalled over a land and management dispute.[18] It is thought another distillery may open in Port Ellen in the future, possibly under the name of Farkin Distillery.[19]

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.[20] For example, Port Charlotte distillery operated from 1829 to 1929[21] and Port Ellen is also closed although it remains in business as a malthouse[20] 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.

  • Ardenistle (1837–1849) / Kildalton (1849–1852) / Islay (1852–1852), subsumed by Laphroaig 1853
  • Ardmore (1817–1835), taken over by Lagavulin 1837
  • Daill (1814–1830), ruins on road between Port Askaig & Bridgend
  • Freeport (1847–1847), location unknown
  • Kildalton (1817–1837), merged with Lagavulin
  • Killarow (c.1760–1818) / Bridgend (1818–1822), ruins in village
  • Lochindaal/Port Charlotte/Rhinns (1829–1929), near Bruichladdich
  • Lossit (1821) / Ballygrant (1826–1860), ruins south of the village A846
  • Malt Mill (1908–1962), now part of Lagavulin[22]
  • Mulindry (1826–1827), at the junction of the Neriby Burn and the River Laggan, now in ruins[22]
  • Newton (1819–1837), ruins immediately south of A846 between Port Askaig & Bridgend[22]
  • Octomore (1816–1852), ruins near Port Charlotte
  • Port Ellen (1825–1929, 1967–1983), large port village of Islay, converted to a malting[20][22]
  • Scarabus (1817–1818), no evidence of production
  • Tallant (1821–1852), Tallant farm south of Bowmore


  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. ^ a b "Ardnahoe Distillery on Islay officially opens". BBC. 12 April 2019. Retrieved 13 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Ardbeg". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Bowmore". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Bruichladdich". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Remy Cointreau to buy Scotland's Bruichladdich". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  10. ^ "Bunnahabhain". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  11. ^ "LearnGaelic - Dictionary". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  12. ^ "LearnGaelic - Dictionary". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  13. ^ "Distillery History". Kilchoman Distillery. 17 April 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
  14. ^ "Lagavulin". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Laphroaig". Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c Newton (1995) p. 33
  21. ^ "Port Charlotte Distillery". IslayInfo. Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  22. ^ a b c d "Islay's "lost" Whisky Distilleries". Retrieved 1 December 2012.


External links[edit]