Islay lies in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It might be just 25 miles long and 15 miles wide, but Islay punches well above its weight for producing excellent single malt whisky with Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Bruichladdich being some of better known.
There are nine whisky distilleries on the island, including the most recently opened Ardnahoe Distillery and also Bowmore one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, dating back to 1779. The region is known for its peaty single malts, and it's believed that whisky distillation reached Scotland from Ireland via Islay in the 13th century. Because Islay was a fertile island for growing barley with excellent pure water sources and plenty of peat, the island had everything in favour to distil whisky.
The island is very largely composed of peat, layer upon layer of spagnum mosses and other vegetation have been rotting away and created the compact black banks of peat which are used for home fuel and the whisky industry. Most of the water on Islay is brown, even the water in the burns is brown, and winter gales drive salt spray far inland, and this saturates the peat, which is dried again by the briny, seaweedy breeze. All these characteristics go into the whiskies of Islay, to a greater or lesser extent.
The Islay Whisky Region
The Isle of Islay lies off the Argyll coast in the west of Scotland and is sometimes known as the 'Queen of the Hebrides'. It's the easiest whisky region to identify, as its boundaries align with the island itself. Alongside fine single malt Scotch whisky, Islay is also renowned for its beautiful broad beaches and wildlife, especially migratory birdlife in autumn and winter.
Islay Whisky Character
The island is covered in peat which is exposed to rain and sea spray. Harvested and used to malt the barley used in distilling, the peat and the maritime climate gives Islay whiskies their characteristic pungent peaty, smoky and oily flavours, with just a hint of salty sea air and seaweed. The island is probably most famous for the 'big smokes' of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.