Islay single malt Scotch whisky: The basics

by PaulGoodman67

Some of the best single malt Scotch whiskies are distilled on Islay. I give my basic guide to Islay and its distilleries.

The Scottish island of Islay is located in the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.

Nicknamed: "The Queen of the Hebrides", the island has over three thousand inhabitants, who besides from whisky, also make an income from agriculture and tourism.

The island is a mecca for all single malt Scotch whisky enthusiasts and has eight active distilleries and a ninth which is due to open its doors in the near future.

Islay also hosts an annual Festival of Malt and Music, which celebrates the cultural heritage of Islay, including its whisky producing tradition.

The distilleries that produce the Islay single malt Scotch whisky are listed below.


This distillery was established in 1815. It traditionally produced whisky for blends, but now produces the peatiest single malt whiskies to be found anywhere. Due in no small part to its success, the Ardberg distillery is one of the fastest growing in Scotland. The brand has also won multiple international awards for its whisky at spirit ratings competitions.


The Bowmore distillery was founded in 1779 by John P. Simpson, a local merchant, and is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. They use water from the river Laggan, which is the largest river on Islay and is part of the reason for the whisky’s peaty taste. In 1963 the distillery was bought by whisky dealer Stanley P. Morrison, who restored the distillery’s mash tun. Japanese distiller, Suntory bought Bowmore in 1994.


Unlike most of the other distilleries on Islay, the Bruichladdich distillery is independently owned. Built in 1881, the distillery’s design was state-of-the-art for the time and its narrow-necked, unique stills give its whisky a taste that is quite distinct from many of the other Islay distilleries. Despite a major overhaul in 2001, the distillery has managed to maintain much of its Victorian decor and equipment.


The Bunnahabhain distillery produces one of the mildest whiskies on the island. It is located to the north of Port Askaig and was built in 1881. The distillery supplies employment for people in the Bunnahabhain village, which was built at the same time as the distillery to supply housing for the workers there.

Caol Ila

The Caol Ila distillery was founded in 1846. After changing hands a number of times and being mothballed once during the 1930s and again during 1940s, the original building was eventually demolished and replaced by a new, larger one in 1974.

Caol Ila is a pale, light whisky which often scores very highly in spirit ratings competitions. As well as being available as a single malt Scotch, it is also found in blends such as Black Bottle and Johnnie Walker.


The Kilchoman Distillery was built in 2005, making it the first distillery to be built on the island for over 120 years. They began began bottling three year old single malt Scotch in 2009 and also intend to release 5, 8, 10 and 12 year old spirits.


Lagavulin distillery produces a strong tasting, peat-smokey whisky. It was officially founded in 1816, but there is evidence that there were illicit distilleries on the site going back to at least 1742. Lagavulin is generally highly regarded, especially its 16-year spirit, which has achieved many awards at international spirit ratings competitions.


Laphroaig is one of the strongest flavoured single malt Scotch whiskies and is commonly aged to 10 or 18 years. The distillery was founded in 1815. Recently they have introduced smaller casks, known as the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, in an attempt to capture the type and taste of whisky distilled 200 years ago, when whisky distillation was illicit and smaller casks were considered easier to smuggle.

Port Charlotte

This distillery is being started up by the Bruichladdich Distillery on the site of the old Lochindaal Distillery, using equipment salvaged after the demolition of the Inverleven Distillery in 2003.

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Updated: 02/19/2013, PaulGoodman67
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