The Hebrides, on the west coast of Scotland, and the Orkney Islands, in the far north, are not only popular destinations because of its beautiful landscape with secluded bays, their strange rock formations, their bogs and their pretty little ports. It is also here that the most characteristic single malts of Scotland are produced.
The island of Islay (pronounces Eye-La), the most southerly of all the Hebrides, lies on the east coast of Kintyre.
It is flat, green and largely composed of peat (water on the island is brown with it mixed with peat). The harsh winter winds push the salty clouds far on the island, allowing the peat to soak in water, which is again dried by salty breezes of the sea. All these features make the charm of whiskeys from Islay, of great importance for some and less for others.
It has undoubtedly a privileged position in the world of whisky. The island has nine distilleries in activity and is carried by many whisky’s specialists as an autonomous region. It still remains parts of the installation of two other distilleries, such as warehouses, or in one case, an oven. In the best of times, there were here nearly 26 distilleries.
Today, the 3300 inhabitants of the island today their money mainly thanks to distilleries, fishing, sheep farming and tourism.
The word “Islay” is pronounced “Eila”, and was the name of a Norwegian princess. However, the Norwegian influence on the Hebrides has not been as innocent as the name of a king’s daughter suggests, because the inhabitants of the island were downtrodden for centuries by the Normans. Near the Ardbeg distillery stands the Kildalton Cross. This is one of the largest Celtic cross across Great Britain. At this point, the Normans devastated once a monastery and killed, among others, the abbot. But already a few centuries later, when the pagans Normans had also been christianized, they were buried in the same cemetery. The Round Church, in Bowmore, is one of the tourist attractions of the island. According to legend, it was built in a circle so that the devil can not hide in the corners. In addition, you can visit the archaeological excavations of a medieval fortress, which was built at the time by the lord of the island, Lord Finlaggan.
For geologists too, the island is worth a visit and the rock of Bruichladdich is considered one of the oldest in the world.
As many other parts of Scotland, the island is also known to be an extraordinary bird paradise. In winter, one can observe up to 10,000 white-fronted geese and twice barnacle geese. Birdwatchers and nature lovers can observe on this island very rare species as the Royal quail.
There are eight distilleries on the island. Their products are among the strongest of all malts, a property that made it successful for some and disgusts others. The eight distilleries are Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Port Ellen distillery was closed in 1983 and is used as a malt-house for other distilleries.
The style of Islay whisky
Distilleries of southern Islay (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig) are the most powerful, producing a more or less strong whiskey smell, steeped in peat smoke, iodine and salt water. The whiskeys of this part of the island are mostly characterized as medicinal. These distilleries not only use heavily peated malt (50 measures per million for Ardbeg and 40 measures for Laphroaig), but also the brown water of the island for every stage of production. Until it closed in the early 80’s, the Ardbeg distillery had its own ground malt to soak the barley in the same water.
The whiskey from Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain distilleries are, by contrast, softer because these distilleries extract the spring water before it has been in contact with the peat, and even uses a non-peaty sweet barley. The result gives the whiskeys a mossy sweeter taste (rather than peaty), with some seaweed, hazelnut, and still the dry finish.
Bowmore Distillery, in the middle of the island, is in the middle of the two extremes (peaty but not medicinal, caramelized with floral scents and linseed oil traces). The Caol Ila distillery, although close to Bunnahabhain, produces a delicate and green malt, with some features of peat, iodine / salt, balanced with floral notes and a final spicy.