Where the finest malt whisky is made
As you step from the plane in Islay you get a feel for what lies ahead.
The stillness, the smell of a peat fire, the smell of the Atlantic Ocean,
just yards away from the runway, drifting in on the persistent breeze.
Seagulls cry, hovering in the breeze as The Islay mist drifts towards the
distant towering Paps of Jura.
Islay is a magical place, just 40 minutes flight from Glasgow, or for the
more adventurous, a 3 hour drive from Glasgow to catch the ferry at Kennacraig.
The 2 hour CalMac ferry journey adds to the magical experience and enhances
the feeling of remoteness. Occasionally you will spy Dolphins and Basking sharks
swimming alongside the car ferry.
Glenegadale Airport lies approximately half-way between the main towns of Bowmore
and Port Ellen. As you drive towards Port Ellen, on one of the straightest roads
you will ever experience (ignore the lumps and bumps!) you will witness a barren
moorland landscape, dotted with peat banks and the mounds of peat cuttings, drying,
prior to be burned as fuel for the long dark winter nights, or as fuel for the
8 whisky distileries on the island.
Port Ellen is a picturesque harbour town, sporting the newly renovated Islay Hotel
and a new marina.
Port Ellen is also the gateway to 3 of the oldest distilleries in Islay, namely
Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
As you head towards Kildalton (home to a historic church and Celtic cross),
the first distillery you come to will be Laphroaig.
Carrying on up the narrow A846 you arrive at Lagavulin, and further on you
will arrive at Ardbeg
Laphroaig Distillery sports a recently renovated visitor centre where members of
a distant marketing campaign "Friends of Laphroaig" are welcomed with a dram and
a minature bottle of Laphroaig malt whisky, as payment for rent. The marketing campaign
assigned a small square of land to every subscriber, and the "rent" is a thankyou from the
Lagavulin has very much an old-school feel about it but still equaly welcoming, with
reception rooms providing comfortable armchairs surrounding a roaring peat fire.
A lovely place to raise a glass of Lagavulin malt whisky.
Ardbeg provides a modern visitor centre located within a cafe/restaurant, serving
an excellent array of food to suit all tastes. Enjoy your coffee while browsing
the shelves of Ardbeg whiskies and merchandise. Be cheeky and ask if you can have a
sample of Ardbeg malt whisky!
Driving back through Port Ellen you will see the Port Ellen distillery (now closed
as a distillery but used as a maltings for all the other Islay distilleries) on your left.
as you look towards the lighthouse.
Carry on back along the road past the airport until you eventually come to Bowmore.
Bowmore distillery is probably the most advanced with regards to a visitor centre and
merchandising. The distillery itself recycles the water used in the Bowmore malt whisky
production by heating the adjacent swimming pool and leisure centre.
Leaving Bowmore, continue along the A846 until you come to the picturesque village
of Bridgend, where you again continue on the A846 until you arrive at the ferry port
of Port Askaig. From here head up the coast towards Caol Ila
Caol Ila is probably the most modern of the distilleries, situated along the shore
of the Sound of Islay with views across to Jura. The Caol Ila malt whisky is generally lighter
in colour than the other Islay whiskies and is also used as part of the blended
whiskies Johnie Walker and Black Bottle.
Continuing up the east coast of Islay you eventually arrive at Bunnahabhain distillery.
Again take time out to sample a Bunnahabhain malt whisky and enjoy the taste.
Bunnahabhain is in an isolated location, overlooking the Sound of Islay. This a fast
flowing strip of water between Islay and Jura, and home to many a shipwreck.
Heading back down towards Bridgend, branching right brings you back along the Southern
coast of Islay, overlooking Lochindaal. From here we continue along the A847 towards
Portnahaven avoiding the cattle grazing by the road, where we eventually see the
Bruichladdich distillery dominating the road ahead.
Bruichladdich distillery is described as "progessive" due to it's modern day approach
to whisky marketing. With Bruichladdich malt whisky brands like "Yellow Submarine"
to commemorate the finding of a Ministry of Defence submarine, "WMD" to commemorate
a gaff by the CIA, popular brands like Rocks, Waves and Peat, along with a trendy bottle of
Organic Bruichladdich malt whisky.
Heading out of Bruichladdich towards Port Charlotte, we branch up to the right towards
the new kid on the block Kilchoman. Built as recently as 2005, Kilchoman distillery
is built within a farm,adjacent to fields of barley. Be careful to avoid the horse
and riders at the adjacent horse riding school.
Whilst still in its infancy, Kilchoman malt whisky is a light coloured malt looks likely to
become as popular as the other more senior members as it matures.
So let's raise a glass (or 2!) of Islay malt whisky to the beautiful isle of Islay and what better place to
raise a glass than the Lochindaal Hotel in Bowmore. It carries a vast array of malt whiskies,
more often than not from Islay, but also further afield. Standing in the bar you can hear
a wide variety of languages (Gaelic, Dutch, German and even English!), all discussing the pros
and cons of this Islay malt whisky and that Islay malt whisky. Another magical experience!