The diamond-shaped island of Islay lies in the south-western corner of Scotland, west of Campbeltown, and south-west of the isle of Jura. The island is the southern-most island of the Inner Hebrides Islands. Despite being located on an island, Islay whisky is not considered to be part of the Island whisky region, but due to the number of distilleries on the island, it’s instead classified as a whisky region by itself.
While agriculture is the main source of income for the inhabitants, whisky is a close second, with (whisky) tourism providing a third pillar of income. On an area of roughly 620 square kilometers (240 square miles), making Islay the fifth-largest island in Scotland, no less than 8 distilleries (and two in the planning phase) can be found. In the past, the number was even higher, with as much as 23 active distilleries at one point.
Islay typically is known for its peaty, smoky whiskies, that make the whisky smell medicinal (Iodine), and carry hints of seaweed and brine. Typical examples of this style of whisky would be Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Laphroaig and Lagavulin (with the exception of Caol Ila, these are located on the southern part of Islay). These distilleries tend to expose their barley to long periods of peat smoke during the kilning process, leading to the phenols contained in the smoke to be absorbed by the barley. The level in which the phenol is present in the barley is known as the Phenol Parts per Million (or PPM). It’s measured when the barley is about to enter the mashing process. The smokey influences will be present during the entire whisky producing process, though the distillation diminishes the PPM typically with 60% of what it was prior to the mashing.
Current Islay distilleries:
- Caol Ila
- Gartbreck (Planned – on the site of Garbreck farm)
- Port Charlotte (Planned – on the site of the now closed Lochindaal distillery)
Closed Islay distilleries include:
- Hazelburn (Not related to the brand currently produced at Springbank)
- Lochindaal (on the site of the current Port Charlotte distillery)
- Malt Mill
- Port Ellen