Whisky Regions

Whisky Region: Islay

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For the fourth article in this little series on the regions of Scotland, as I’ve come to call it, and having already taken a look at the Highlands, Speyside and Campbeltown regions, it’s time to move on to something a bit more fiery – or smoky, at least. Having risen to quite some fame in the last few decades, the Islay region is cherished by many for its exceedingly potent and smoky produce. It boasts no fewer than eight distilleries, and quite a few big names at that, which surely makes it the most important island in Scottish whisky production.

With ‘only’ eight distilleries in the region, I’m going to go ahead and name all of them. Not only will this provide me with an excellent chance to show off my almost overwhelmingly solid knowledge of distilleries, but it will also give an idea as to the importance of the region. Are you ready? Here they are: actually no, hang on a second, I’m going to organize this a bit better first. I will not only list them, but I will do so in a more useful manner. The distilleries of Islay can be divided into three categories based on their peat content, and as such I will start with the kids, move on to the college kids and finish with the big boys;

Nursery school: Bunnahabhain & Bruichladdich

College: Caol Ila & Bowmore

Kilt-wearing ginger loonies: Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ardbeg & the new (est. 2005) Kilchoman

Okay so ‘Nursery school’ may be a bit of an exaggeration, all of the above are peaty, medicinal and smoky to some degree and compared to whiskies produced in other regions they are far from toddlers! That said, Bunnahabhain is a world away from Ardbeg, yet as a region it is probably the easiest to generalize and find common characteristics and flavors for.

It should also be noted that the strong peaty flavors of Islay whiskies can be an acquired taste, and a lot of novice whisky drinkers find them difficult to drink. As such it is advisable that you go for one of the whiskies that I have classified as nursery school or perhaps college before going toe to toe with one of the kilt-wearing gingers, less you wish to risk being put off.

About Whisky Critic

My name is Martin and I live in Scotland. I love fine things in life, such as gourmet food, travelling around the world and, last but not least, whisky (naturally, I’m partial to a tipple of whiskey or bourbon as well). I have tasted hundreds of whiskies during the recent years and I finally decided to share my experience.

2 Comments

  1. Armin

    July 27, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Hm, Bruichladdich is nursery school? Sure, many of their expressions are “low peat”, but what about the Port Charlotte series and more importantly the Octomore?

    I don’t know, reducing Islay to “peat” seems a bit simplistic to me and doesn’t really look at the variety some of the distilleries produce.

  2. martin

    July 27, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Hehe, offended a local have I? I certainly didn’t mean to! The nursery school classification was meant as a bit of a joke – “Okay so ‘Nursery school’ may be a bit of an exaggeration […] they are far from toddlers!” – and of course there are exceptions. Trying to classify a distillery is often, as I suspect you may agree, an exercise in complete futility. Octomore is of course an exception, as there will be to nearly any attempt of classification. The groupings in the article aren’t by any means meant to be taken all too seriously, and are based largely on standard expressions and own experience. 🙂

    As for reducing Islay to peat – I don’t think it is fair to say that I did. I merely pointed out that it is a quality shared by the distilleries of the region, and one that novice drinkers may not initially enjoy.

    Hope that explains my reasoning a bit!

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