"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!
Buy a bottle of Laphroaig single malt whisky at home and go online with the bar code from the bottle in hand. Then you,... more travel advice
The restaurant here provides quite a varied menu and local foods are given a priority. Oysters come from nearby Loch... more travel advice
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