What is Islay -
Savage, stern & uncompromising: Islay is the conscience of Scotch”. If you love whisky there’s one trip you need to take – to the magical Hebridean, Isle of Islay (pronounced “eye-luh”). Islay, the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, is also known as the “The Queen of the Hebrides”. One of the 5 Scotch whisky producing regions of Scotland, Islay is probably the most mysterious and formidable of all in many ways.
While the Speyside region accounts for over 50% of distilleries in Scotland and is the most prolific whisky producing region, for most whisky fans the enigmatic Islay is the Mecca of scotch whisky. Islay has had an outstanding historic relationship with Scotch whisky, which according to a lot of historians was born in Islay.
Islay’s tryst with scotch whisky has been rather tumultuous , from the boom in 1870s and 1880s to periods of multiple busts in the 20th century. Ardbeg closed entirely between 1981 and 1989. Bunnahabhain was shut for two years in 1982, Port Ellen was mothballed permanently in 1983 and Bruichladdich was shut for between 1995 and 2001.
Islay Facts: -
- And while Islay is many things, the story is Islay is incomplete without the mention of Peat. The abundant availability and use of Peat in the whiskies is the single most significant factor of Islay’s immense popularity. As polarising as peat it maybe, it is synonymous to Islay and rightly so. To do justice to the significance of peat in the history and heritage of Islay’s Whiskies, in a few words in impossible. Hence, we will have our next newsletter dedicated to what makes the cult of Islay so magnanimous- its Peat.
- Bowmore is Islay’s oldest distillery, is home to the world’s oldest whisky maturation warehouse, the No. 1 Vaults. the old stone warehouse sits on the edge of Loch Indaal, and it has more maturing history within these walls than anywhere else in Scotland.
- The first spirit-safe was used in Port Ellen and was in use for several years before the idea was adopted by H.M. Customs and Excise. The earliest duty-free warehouse in the United Kingdom is still in use at Port Ellen.
- In 1907 , Lagavulin owner Peter Mackie lost the sales agency for Laphroaig’s whisky and decided to make his own Laphroaig. He built a small replica of his rival on-site at of the now Lagavulin and named it “Malt Mill”. Despite considerable effort, the whisky did not taste like Laphroaig and the project was a failure. However, the distillery survived until the 1960s, at which point the equipment was removed and integrated into Lagavulin – the Malt Mill building is now the visitor centre.
- In the late 1908s, Allied Distillers (the then owners of the Laphroaig) launched the category-defining ‘Love it, Hate it’ campaign which promoted the cult of Islay, and encouraged whisky drinkers to visit the island on a peaty pilgrimage.
- The Fèis Ìle evolved originally as part of the Drama Festival local Mod, with extra events being introduced like workshops for traditional instruments. The early days of the Festival were very exciting with Communities competing for the Best Dressed Village to the culminating Carnival Day. In 1990 the first whisky tasting event took place which interestingly was won by a local man. In 2000 the Distilleries became more involved and introduced their special Open Days and ultimately their Special Fèis Ìle Whisky.
- Bunnahabhain, in Gaelic means ‘mouth of the river’ symbolizing the location of the distillery. It stands at the mouth of the Margadale Spring, on the shores of the Sound of Islay. Bunnahabhain’s logo is a tribute to the seafarers / helmsmen who had braved the Sound of Islay to bring supplies in and out of Islay.
- Caol Ila has a production capacity of 6.45Mn litres a year, which is close to 30% of the total capacity for Scotch Whisky production on the Island. The 2nd and the 3rd distilleries are Laphroaig and Bunnahabhain which have a combined capacity of 5.9mn Litres
There are two new distilleries that will start in the region. One new distillery from the founders of The Whisky Exchange and revival of the legendary Port Ellen are underway which will take the total count to 11.