The southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, known as “The Queen of the Hebrides”. It lies in Argyll just south west of Jura and around 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of the Northern Irish coast. Today, it has over 3,000 inhabitants and the main commercial activities are agriculture, malt whisky distillation and tourism.
Islay is one of five whisky distilling localities and regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law. The oldest record of a legal distillery on the island refers to Bowmore in 1779 and at one time there were up to 23 distilleries in operation.
There are 8 active distilleries currently. Those on the south of the island produce malts with a very strong peaty flavour, considered to be the most intensely flavoured of all whiskies, they are Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. On the north of the island Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain are produced, which are substantially lighter in taste. Kilchoman is a micro-distillery opened in 2005 toward the west coast of the Rinns. For more information on each browse below or click to jump to a particular distillery.
This second article is going to focus on the 5 distilleries toward the North of Islay, covering: Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Kilchoman. For more information on the other distilleries, check out part 1, along the coastal path on the South of the Island: Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
Bowmore: The original Islay Distillery
Home to the world’s oldest Scotch Maturation Warehouse, the legendary No.1 Vaults. Within this Vault, you’ll find more Scotch history than anywhere else. It’s in the fresh sea air, the old stone walls, and the earth upon which every cask of Bowmore whisky matures.
A place of legend and craftsmanship, of beauty and reflection, the No. 1 Vaults is where Bowmore single malt Scotch whisky is meticulously matured until perfect. Their master distillers have been doing it that way since 1779.
Reflecting the essence of Bowmore – thrashing waves, windswept landscapes and generations of tradition – our 12 years old is both complex and perfectly balanced. There is no better way to prepare for a trip to Bowmore Distillery or Islay than to open a bottle of Bowmore 12 year old.
Bruichladdich: A fresh salt-citrus tang is a signature accent of Bruichladdich single malts
Bruichladdich distillery is located on the southwestern tip of the remote hebridean island of Islay where they distil 4 unique spirits, 3 Single Malt Whiskies Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, Octomore Single and the Botanist Islay dry gin. Slumbering in loch-side warehouses, their whiskies breathe the maritime air of Loch Indaal all their maturing life.
Their whiskies have a very wide range. Bruichladdich is unpeated, floral and complex. It’s trickle distilled from 100% Scottish barley used much of the original victorian machinery. On the other end of the scale, a late night “What if?” idea produced Octomore, the world’s most heavily peated single malt.
This distillery believes in natural whisky with character while maintaining the integrity of the spirit meaning all their whisky is bottled without chill-filtration and artificial colour is never added.
Bunnahabhain: Discover the rich, complex layers of Bunnahabhain
Accessed by a small, single track road, nestled in between rolling hills and Bunnahabhain bay. Since 1881, they have harnessed the natural ingredients provided by peaceful surroundings. Supported by the passion and dedication of the local people, Bunnahabhain has brought man and nature together in perfect harmony.
Stand for just a moment and your senses will fill; smell the scent of salt on the wind, hear the Porteus mill grinding the barley, look upon the shimmering light playing across the Sound of Islay, feel the history in warehouse number 9 — taste Bunnahabhain.
There’s nothing quite like standing on their pier, looking out towards the Sound of Islay, and tasting the salt in the air or soaking up the history in warehouse number 9. Join them at a distillery tour to discover more about their craft with multiple options: the Quick-look tour, Production Tour, End of Day Tour, Warehouse 9 Experience, Premium Tasting and the Ultimate Bunnahabhain.
Be it the daring seafarers of yesteryear, who defied the elements and braved the Sound of Islay to provide supplies to the pioneering early settlers of Bunnahabhain, or the thousands of tourists who today, seek to discover the origins of our beloved Single Malts – the journey to Bunnahabhain is one that you will never forget.
Caol Ila: is derived from Gaelic Caol Ìle for “Sound of Islay”
In 1846, Glasgow distillery owner Hector Henderson picked a little bay on the Sound of Islay for his distillery site. He named it for the sound itself, using the Gaelic Caol Ila, and it was across this sound the little puffer ships made their round trips to the mainland – slowly helping to establish the distillery as the biggest on Islay.
Pronounced ‘cull-eela‘, the distillery is situated on the North Eastern shores of Islay with magnificent views across the Sound of Islay to the spectacular Paps of Jura.
They have a range of tours available like the one hour distillery tour, Whisky and Chocolate Pairing and Cask Strength Experience. Join them for a tour and watch the distillers at work, tending to the 6 copper stills.
Kilchoman: Islay’s only farm distillery
Founded in 2005 by Anthony Wills, it was the first distillery to be built on Islay in over 124 years and is Islay’s only farm distillery, producing Single Farm Single Malt. It is one of the few whisky distilleries in Scotland to remain independent.
Anthony set out to revive the lost art of farm distilling once widespread before the commercialisation of the distilleries in the late 1800s. Over a decade into his journey, Kilchoman’s 100% Islay range remains the only Islay single malt produced completely on site, from barley to bottle.
The parish of Kilchoman is home to some of Islay’s most fertile ground. It is here, in the fields surrounding the distillery, where they grow 200 tons of barley each year. Planting in Spring once Islay’s 50,000 geese have migrated, their farm team care for the barley over the summer months before harvesting in early September.
Harvest time represents the start of the whisky-making process which sees our Kilchoman grown barley malted, distilled, matured and bottled here at the distillery, eventually becoming Islay’s only Single Farm Single Malt Scotch Whisky over 1130 days later.
Their 100% Islay philosophy stems from a desire to resurrect the grass roots tradition of farm distilling. Since we established Kilchoman, the 100% Islay range was our main reason for being. It represents the revival of single malt whisky being cultivated from barley to bottle in a single location. A distillery where the responsibility for quality and consistency is not outsourced but completed on-site with skill, care and attention to detail.