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"ISLE OF WHISKY" Top 5 Page for this destination Islay by mtncorg

Islay Travel Guide: 59 reviews and 150 photos

There are four designated regions for whisky production in Scotland and for the most part, there is a definite distinction in the types of whisky produced in each region. One of those regions is comprised of the Isle of Islay - with neighboring Jura and its little distillery thrown in for good measure. On Islay, there are eight different distilleries and most share a similarity in taste that is defined by the peat that is used in kilning (drying) the barley, not to mention the tea-colored water used which is a result of the local waters percolating through centuries-old peat. The amount of peat in the individual whiskys vary by specific type and amount used in the kilning process plus the type of wood cask used to age the whisky and the amount of time the whisky is aged in the cask. From the new spirits distilled - which taste like a peat monster moonshine - the whisky sits inside its wooden casks - American bourbon oak, Spanish sherry, Portuguese port, etc. - seeping in the salt airs of the island in the dark warehouses for years (though truth be known, because of increased production secondary to increased worldwide demand, more and more distilleries have taken to storing some of their whiskey casks on the mainland near Glasgow or Edinburgh, far from their Hebridean homes, but closer to the end stage bottling plants). The aging mellows the peat and iodine marrying the sweetness and richness of the wood casks within which the whisky lies. Most Islay distilleries bottle their final product on the mainland though a couple - Bruichladdich and Kilchoman - have undertaken to bottle here on the island, as well.

Most foreign tourists and many from the UK come to Islay specifically to see where their favorite whisky derives its heritage, but to say Islay is only about whisky is to miss a big chance to explore one of the more bucolic - and history-laden - of Scotland's islands. Islay is one of the larger islands of the Hebrides and its relatively flat topography and fertile soils have encouraged settlement stretching back far into prehistory. In early historic times, Islay was home to the Lord of the Isles who ruled over an area of western Scotland from the Isle of Skye to the Isle of Man with parts of both mainland Scotland and northern Ireland included. The rulers were a Gael-Norse mix and the family best known was that of the Macdonalds. At their height, they were able to threaten the King of Scots themselves. That struggle lasted through much of the 15th century before James IV of Scotland overcame the Lords. While the Macdonalds retained much of Islay and neighboring Jura, the Macleans of Mull were given lands on both in return for being on the right side of the struggle. It didn't take long for the one time allied clans to fall on each other culminating in the death of Sir Lachlan Maclean, the clan chief of the Duart Macleans, at the battle of Traigh Gruineart in 1598. In response, King James IV gave the Macdonald holdings to the Campbells of Cawdor, the Macdonalds held guilty of flouting anti-feuding laws that James had helped to establish in an attempt to bring order to his western realm. The Campbells were not to be ousted. The island suffered during the Clearances with the population dropping from 16000 to the 3400 of today. For more on the history and life on the island, as well as a chapter devoted to each of the island's distilleries, I recommend Andrew Jefford's great book 'Peat, Smoke and Spirit' as well as the book by David Caldwell 'Islay, Jura and Colonsay: A Historical Guide'. For a good working map of Islay.

Nature-wise, bird watchers flock to the island to watch tens of thousands of geese whom fly in from Greenland for the winter. Eating from the fields near the middle of the island during the day - Government compensation for bird damage is a big factor in agricultural success - then congregating along the shores of Loch Gruineart in the evening. Rocky shores and sandy beaches can be found all over the island, so there is plenty to see and do before or after visiting some of the distilleries. Still, you can guess what the first six 'to do' tips will cover? Yes, the distillation of the water of life!

  • Last visit to Islay: Sep 2007
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (29)

Comments (11)

  • toonsarah's Profile Photo
    Nov 25, 2015 at 1:37 AM

    My favourite whiskies are made here but I have never (yet) visited. Really enjoyed my virtual tour!

    • mtncorg's Profile Photo
      Nov 25, 2015 at 11:49 AM

      Actually, the quieter the road, the more likely you are to wander to the wrong side when meeting someone. I was in the backcountry of Natal when I came upon a large flock of sheep using the road. The shepherd motioned me through saying they know to get over. Instinct had me favoring the right side which was the same side the sheep veered over to!

    • toonsarah's Profile Photo
      Nov 26, 2015 at 1:27 AM

      That's true - if there are other cars you tend to follow them but when you're the only one on the road it's easier to slip back to where you feel you belong. It's happened to us a few times in the US

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Oct 9, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    You got a great picture of where they make the elixer that gets you drunk. Nice job of showing the pictures and comments to enhance the sites.

  • evaanna's Profile Photo
    Aug 20, 2009 at 5:15 AM

    Excellent page on this lovely island. Enjoyed the local history lessons, the stunning pictures of the ports and ancient stone structures.

  • Nemorino's Profile Photo
    Feb 26, 2009 at 2:50 PM

    Glad to hear they are keeping up the traditional distilling process coupled with some new ideas like heating the MacTaggert Pool with hot water that has to be cooled anyway.

  • nickandchris's Profile Photo
    Jul 12, 2008 at 10:01 AM

    Are you by any chance interested in whisky?? Great page on somewhere we will have to visit, maybe in the motorhome?

  • iandsmith's Profile Photo
    Feb 20, 2008 at 6:37 PM

    Brilliant stuff. Good to see you've given up drinking.........water, that is! Just got back from Tasmania and dropped in to see how it's going. I feel my new tips are inadequate compared to these gems. Cheers

  • karenincalifornia's Profile Photo
    Oct 12, 2007 at 9:50 AM

    Wait just a cottin pickin sec -- is that Bowmore swimming pool water the SAME water that goes into the Scotch whiskey? (Also - how did it feel to be a feudal lord with your plot of Scottish land?)

  • tini58de's Profile Photo
    Oct 2, 2007 at 11:00 AM

    Mark, your page comes in so handy - I was just dreaming about Islay and plan to go there next year! Thanks for a delightful and informative page!

  • RhineRoll's Profile Photo
    Oct 2, 2007 at 7:37 AM

    Lagavulin -- my all times favourite Islay stuff!

  • travelfrosch's Profile Photo
    Sep 29, 2007 at 8:40 AM

    I managed to find a nice bottle of 18-year-old Caol Ila at the Zurich Airport Duty Free. It sounds like a lot more fun to try some Islay whisky at the source, though. Excellent, thorough page!


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