Islay is a small island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. Although not as rugged and windswept as its counterparts, it is characterized by its barren landscape and dramatic coastline. Islay’s best-known export—and likely most popular Scottish whisky—is Laphroaig, named for the island’s largest town. Even if you have yet to develop a taste for Scotch, it is hard to deny that the flavors of peat, smoke, and seawater are intriguing.
This tiny island boasts nine distilleries–Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Kilchoman, Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Ardbeg, and Ardnahoe, each with its own unique smokey character, offering a chance to try the varying styles of peated whisky. Between them, they evoke anything from linseed to moss, pepper to purity, carbolic to floral palates. Some may also detect hints of salt and seaweed — a characteristic taken from the island’s coastal climate. A sip of any of these whiskies will evoke memories of a cosy campfire on the beach.
In addition, some Islay single malts are said to be the strongest-flavoured of all Scotch whiskies, a fact that earns them a spot in the collections of many enthusiasts. Most of the ‘malting’—one part of the whisky-making process—is done by Port Ellen Maltings to each distillery’s specification (peat level). Only Bowmore, Laphroaig, and Kilchoman have their own malting floors.
Peat is Islay’s signature in the world of whisky. Wherein peat is a type of soil that forms when plants and other organic materials (like mosses) are broken down by fungi and water. It is dark black in color and has a distinctive smoky flavor. On the other hand, the seawater saturates the peat, as does the salty ocean breeze, which also helps dry it out again after heavy rainfall. All these characteristics go into the whiskies of Islay.