Nestled within small inlets along the mystical, low lying coastline of the small Scottish island of Islay, whose rhythm is dominated by the seasons and the sea, are a collection of single malt whisky distilleries. Each one producing their own unique, liquid gold, treasured by whisky connoisseurs the world over; Islay single malt whisky.
When you visit this gently undulating island, a surprising 2 1/2 hour ferry ride from the mainland and just 25 miles by 15 miles in size, it hardly seems credible that such an international business can exist here.
The island of Islay
At first sight time seems to have stood still. A small collection of close knit communities, like Port Ellen where we stayed,
scattered across the peaty moors which in early September are carpeted in a soft pink heather.
It is believed that Irish monks first introduced the art of distillation to Islay in the 14th century.
The local crofters grew a type of barley and using water from the natural lochs and rivers
and the unlimited supply of peat, a craft was begun.
The Islay distilleries
Each distillery is carefully located to allow the transportation by boat of barley and whisky casks across the sea. Dating back to the 18th century, these once tiny, family run businesses have survived the ravages of time and despite mostly now being owned by large multi-nationals have preserved their individual identities. Today eight distilleries remain including:
The oldest distillery
Producing the most volume
The only distillery to still hand cut its peat and to have a Royal Warrant, a favourite of Prince Charles!
The story of Islay is enduring. When you stand on its craggy shores, the wind tearing at your hair, the salt hair filling your nostrils, it hardly seems possible that this tiny corner of the British Isles could be so renowned.
The natural gifts of Islay’s fresh sea air, mineral rich water and peaty bogs, combined with malted barley encapsulated in a bottle.
A special place to be sure; and not just because of its whisky. Its natural beauty, its history and the hospitality of its softly spoken people will create a treasured memory, one you are unlikely to forget…..
Next time, a tour of Laphroaig!