One of the crown jewels of Scotland’s west coast, the Isle of Islay is famed for its stunning landscapes and wealth of Islay whisky distilleries. This region of Scotland is well known for its whisky and is a part of Scotland’s famed “Whisky Coast”. The Isle of Islay, in particular, is a trendy tourist hotspot with an active community of distillers. Whisky lovers can look forward to peat smoke whiskies inspired by the Isle’s dramatic coastline.
Islay has a detailed history of producing incredible whisky, and the whisky distilleries dotted across this fair Isle have perfected the art of creating delicious Islay malts. Visitors to the Isle can spend several days touring the local distilleries on Islay while enjoying the remote countryside. If you’re sold and want more information about which progressive Hebridean distillers you should visit while on the Isle, you’ve come to the right place!
Here are the top Isle of Islay whisky distilleries you must see when visiting this remote whisky island.
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Islay distilleries are born from a love of making whisky, and it’s not uncommon for Islay’s original distilleries to inspire a new generation to create a new distillery filled with innovation upon the old. Ardnahoe’s story is precisely that, and they started production after the Laing family learnt all there was to know about distillation at Bruichladdich.
Today, the distillery is still a family-run business after 60 years and is one of the most modern distilleries on Islay. Mixing its modern facility with this whisky island’s traditional methods and values is an authentic recipe for success. Ardnahoe’s whisky is a dynamic drink that combines peaty and smooth old whisky with spice.
Arriving at Ardnahoe treats you to the distinctive smell of peat and smoke, not entirely unpleasant when you’re overlooking the Isle’s fantastic landscape with a dram in hand and something to eat from their cafe. Ardnahow also offers a distillery tour that takes you into the thick of production – a recommended trip to learn why this distillery is an integral part of Islay’s future.
Patience adds to the quality of any whisky, and Bowmore Distillery has perfected the time it takes to make an excellent whisky. Bowmore whisky is allowed to ferment in its casks for just the right amount of time, and the expert distillers spend a great deal of time choosing the proper cask before imbuing their whisky the hint of flavours that makes Bowmore’s whisky as delicious as it is.
And like with their whisky, guests visiting Bowmore are encouraged to explore what the distillery offers. From taking a tour through the facilities and sampling the poignant flavours at the Bowmore Whisky Tasting Bar to spending a few days at the Bowmore cottages, you can enjoy your time more than any other distilleries Islay offers.
If you want more than to taste Islay malt whisky, consider visiting the serene and splendid Bowmore Distillery – the oldest distillery on Islay.
One of the most famous whisky distilleries on Islay is undoubtedly Bruichladdich, which was resurrected from the ashes in 2001 and continues to be one of the island’s most progressive and innovative distillers. Bruichladdich has several exceptional whiskies, including their classic Laddie Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte for those who love heavily peated whisky, and Octomore (as close to cask strength as you deserve).
Bruichladdich stands among the older distilleries on Islay and is a worthy addition to anyone arriving on the Isle of Islay – taking the trip to the western coast of Islay lets you enjoy the beautiful wildlife and many shipwrecks that dot nearby.
Overlooking the Sound of Islay towards the Isle of Jura, the historic Bunnahabhain Distillery has made complex and rich whiskies since 1881. One of the secrets to their deliciously oily flavours is the ex-sherry casks that they use to imbue their unpeated core range. Come, and taste come truly unique drams at Bunnahabhain Distillery.
Like many whisky distilleries on Islay, the distillery comes with exclusive whisky tours and tasting at the distillery’s visitor centre. Best of all, Bunnahabhain is only a few miles north of Port Askaig and should be part of anyone’s whisky tour when they come to this stunning Isle.
Caol Ila Distillery
A stone’s throw away from the bustling Port Askaig, Caol Ila looks over the Sound of Islay, granting immaculate views and an offering of delicious single malt whisky. Caol Ila is more significant than most distilleries on the Isle, and this behemoth produces twice as much as Laphroaig!
Whether you love peated or unpeated whisky, Caol Ila’s behemoth of a whisky-making process offers both for you to try. Their whisky tasting provides a fantastic range of delicious whiskies, from young and spicy to old, matured whiskies with just a hint of complex flavour on your palette.
The Kildalton Distilleries refer to three southern distilleries on the Isle of Islay that are closely connected.
Ardbeg is one of Islay’s most beloved distilleries and has been called by whisky connoisseurs “as close to perfection as makes no difference”, which should tell you all you need to know about the quality of their drams. Using the salty sea air and peaty water of Islay as inspiration, Ardbeg has perfected their whisky over the 200 years they’ve been on the Isle, a fact you can taste when you attend one of their fascinating distillery tours.
Learn about Islay’s fascinating story, from the days of monks and their illicit distilling to the growth from secluded glens to a proud whisky industry. And, of course, after your head’s been crammed with knowledge, you can pair the intimate descriptions of Islay’s history with a dram of whisky.
Ardbeg sits at the bottom of the Isle, a fair trek from the bustling Port Askaig that travellers usually pass through, but if you find yourself smitten by Islay whiskies, then Ardbeg is a must.
Home of unusual pearl-shaped stills and peaty whiskies, Lagavulin Distillery, lets guests learn everything they want about the grain-to-glass process that makes up the austerely beautiful whisky. Lagavulin’s extensive offering of experiences is perfect for anyone – from the classic whisky tour that takes you to the malting floor to a sensory tasting.
But the paramount distillery experience you should indulge in is the Jazz Festival Experience, which involves 5 drams of whisky and jazz music. Lagavulin sits on the southern edge of the Isle of Islay and should be one of the distilleries to stop by during your visit, along with the other three distilleries that make up the Kildalton distilleries of Islay.
The elements that make up the Isle of Islay are necessary for making the excellent whisky of Laphroaig Distillery. From the winding waters of the Kilbride Stream, the maritime climate of the Isle, the peat fields of Machrie Moor, and the powerful kilns that produce arguably the best Islay whisky, Laphroaig is tuned to the Isle wholeheartedly.
Helming the power of the elements to make delicious whisky is a dedicated family that loves to do things differently. Laphroaig’s core range of whiskies delivers a smoky yet spicy flavourful for you to enjoy, highlighting the raw energy of Islay.
You can visit Laphroaig in Port Ellen, a stunning part of Islay.
Many of the whisky distilleries on Islay started as illegal stills dotted across the Isle, but only a few have kept the authentic farm distillery aesthetic of the distant past. Kilchoman Distillery is the only farm distillery boasting a rural flavour, which can be tasted in their fine Islay whisky brands.
This farm distillery boasts a farm-to-bottle process, with all the primary ingredients used to make exquisite whisky in one place. What that means for those visiting Kilchoman is that the distillery tour experience is unparalleled, with no step of the intricate process not covered by your expert guide. Capping the tours off are a few drams of the smooth, single malts to sweeten the deal.
Visit a distillery dedicated to the revival of the Scottish Gaelic farm when you visit Kilchoman.