If you know your Scottish whisky, you will know that Islay whiskies are among some of the most famous, and the best tasting, whiskies in the world. What we want to know is how this came to be, what makes the most famous among them so recognisable and how the island is coping now big business is involved. From your Lagavulin 16 year old to your Laphroaig 10-year-old, discover all of Islay’s whisky heritage now.
On the West coast of Scotland, Islay is a very small island that is about a two-hour journey away from the mainland by ferry. On one side of the island, the coast hits against the Atlantic and the rocks here are said to be formed 1.8 billion years ago. It is also the furthest South of Scotland’s larger islands and is only 22 miles from Ireland as the crow flies. This made it a centre for smuggling, particularly of the (then) illegal whiskies being distilled.
The geographical closeness to Ireland and links to the mainland made it a centre for smuggling, particularly of the (then) illegal whiskies being distilled. The biggest names among whisky today started as unlawful home distilling and production.
The main factor if Islay whisky’s unique personality is the smoky flavour. This comes from peat, which is a prelude to coal, formed of decaying plant (mosses and shrubs) matter. The peat is cut out in dense black blocks and dried so it can be burned as the barley grains dry and give the whisky this rich, smoky flavour.
Nowadays, there are 10 distilleries open, and one set to, on the island: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe (planned to open May 2018), Caol Ila, Bowmore, Port Ellen, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin. For a population of only 4,000, the island has more than it’s fair share of whisky producers.
Two of the distilleries on the island are owned by Diageo- the huge multinational company who owns the largest amount of spirits worldwide. Some are owned by Glenmorangie, another well-known whisky brand.
Lagavulin 16 Year Old
Being one of the two distilleries owned by Diageo, Lagavulin (with the other being Caol Ila) is a massive part of Islay’s heritage. Especially the Lagavulin 16 year old. Lagavulin is probably one of the most peated whiskies the island has to offer and is therefore probably not recommended for a beginner.
Incredibly, you can still find rare bottles of the Lagavulin 16 year old from the 1980s, before the distillery was bought by Diageo. Well worth buying if you would love to own a piece of history.