<h1>The Ultimate Guide to Islay Distilleries</h1>

The Ultimate Guide to Islay Distilleries

The Scottish Isle of Islay is known for its stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and historic sites. But it’s the world-class whisky distilleries that keep tourists coming back every year! Known for their distinct peaty flavour, Islay whiskies will certainly leave a lasting impression in more ways than one.

Home to nine working whisky distilleries, the island is considered one of the most distinct whisky regions in the world and has become the centre of whisky tourism in recent years. There’s a reason it’s known locally as “Whisky Island”.

But with so many to choose from, which Islay distilleries are worthy of a spot on your travel itinerary? This guide will talk you through each of the island’s distilleries in detail so you can plan the perfect distillery tour during your next trip to the Queen of the Hebrides. So whether you’re a whisky lover or learner, continue reading to find out more!

Ardbeg Distillery

Ardbeg Distillery was founded in 1815 and is well-known for its stunning scenery alone. The Old Kiln Cafe is also well worth a visit if an afternoon of sampling Islay whisky has helped work up an appetite for a hearty, homemade meal. Offerings include salmon platters, beef burgers, and haddock chowder.

Perched on a rocky headland on the island’s southern coast, visitors can look forward to generous samples of the distillery’s greatest malts when they pop into the famous tasting bar. Guests can also redeem tour vouchers for £5 off selected bottles in the gift shop.

Ardbeg’s tours and tastings run on a seasonal basis but are available year-round so you can shelter from the wild island weather with a dram. There are various tours to choose from depending on your taste (and budget). There’s even a cocktail corner so the non-whisky drinkers in the group can enjoy a tipple with an Ardbeggian twist!

Despite only releasing a small number of limited edition bottles a year, Ardbeg is a firm favourite among most whisky drinkers that visit the island. Ardbeg Ten Years Old, in particular, is adored around the world and is considered one of the most complex single malts in existence today. Are you brave enough to give it a try?

Ardnahoe Distillery

Ardnahoe Distillery is one of Islay’s newest distilleries having only opened to the public in 2019. Yet despite its young age, it’s already vying for the top spot on the list of distilleries with the best views. This is due to the panoramic views overlooking the Isle of Jura. Grab a bite to eat at the Illicit Still Cafe and Bar to truly appreciate the stunning scenery.

Located on the edge of Ardnahoe Loch, Ardnahoe benefits from its own water source. This allows it to reduce its water usage by as much as 15-20%! But as well as being one of the island’s most environmentally-friendly distilleries, it’s also one of the most exciting.

Guests can choose from distillery tours, whisky tastings, and even food pairings for the full culinary experience.

This modern distillery is already making a name for itself and is well worth a visit during your whistle-stop tour of Islay distilleries.

Bowmore Distillery

Opened in 1779, Bowmore Distillery has the pride of being Islay’s first recorded distillery. Like most Islay whiskies, the whisky at Bowmore Distillery is renowned for its peaty, smoky flavour. This is largely due to the fact that the whisky-making process hasn’t changed in 200 years!

Despite being over 240 years old, the distillery still welcomes thousands of visitors a year. Some of them are interested in the history of the distillery, others in sampling one of the world’s finest drams. Like most Islay distilleries, you can spend anything from an hour to a full day exploring here. From whisky tasting to vault tours, there’s something to keep everyone happy here.

So whether you’re embarking on a distillery tour of the island or just want to say you’ve visited one of the oldest distilleries in the country, Bowmore Distillery is definitely worth a visit on your next trip to Whisky Island.

Bruichladdich Distillery

Located about 20 minutes from Bowmore, Bruichladdich Distillery has a fascinating history. Originally founded in 1881, it was reinvented in 2000 before being purchased by Rémy Cointreau for an eye-watering £58 million just twelve years later. Aside from its colourful history, there’s plenty for visitors to see and do here.

Before you even start the tour, guests are invited to fill up a bottle straight from the cask in the gift shop. This would make a unique gift for the whisky-lover in your life (or yourself). The equipment used is also much more old-school than some of the newer distilleries on the island. So if you’re looking to tour a traditional distillery, Bruichladdich should top your list.

Gin drinkers might also be surprised to know that Bruichladdich is the home of The Botanist gin. This unique offering is made with over 22 hand-foraged botanicals sourced from the local landscape. The distillery hosts tours for those that would prefer to learn how their world-famous namesake gin is made.

Fans of peatier whiskies will also love Bruichladdich. The distillery holds the unique title of producing the world’s peatiest whisky, the Octomore Masterclass 08.3. But with barley peated to a phenol level of 309ppm (parts per million), it’s not for the faint-hearted!

Bunnahabhain Distillery

Also founded in 1881, Bunnahabhain Distillery is yet another distillery with a colourful history. Unlike most variations of Islay whisky, this Islay malt is much lighter and less peaty. This makes for an interesting flavour profile that must be tasted to be believed.

Located on Bunnahabhain Bay just a 30-minute walk from Ardnahoe, it remains the northernmost distillery on the island. However, this doesn’t stop thousands of tourists from visiting every year.

There are four different tours to choose from. Still, they can get booked up fast so we advise booking in advance if you know you want to visit Bunnahabhain (or any distillery really!)

The gift shop is also jam-packed with whisky-themed gifts and gadgets galore. From limited-edition bottles and glasses to bobble hats and tea towels. So if your travels take you to the northern tip of the island, make sure to stop by Bunnahabhain for a warm welcome and an even warmer dram of one of Islay’s finest malts.

Caol Ila Distillery

Caol Ila roughly translates to “Sound of Islay”. It is located just a five-minute drive from Port Askaig.

Like Bruichladdich, it was reinvented when it was demolished and rebuilt in 1972. Since then, it has grown to become the largest producer of Islay whisky, capable of distilling a staggering 6.5 million litres of the good stuff every year!

But what makes Caol Ila worthy of a spot on your travel itinerary?

Well, the distillery (and the whisky) has become a firm favourite of peaty whisky fans worldwide. Some even travel thousands of miles just to see where it’s made. The malting process is also done in-house which, compared to other distilleries on the island, is extremely rare in this day and age.

Visitors can choose from a wide range of tours and tastings at Caol Ila. From a tour that promises to take you on a full-sensory, immersive flavour journey to a tasting that focuses on the whisky’s signature smoky flavour, there’s something for every whisky fan at this historic distillery.

Kilchoman Distillery

Kilchoman Distillery is one of the few distilleries on the island that can be classed as a farm distillery. Farm distilleries produce whisky from grain that is grown and malted on-site. Founded in 2005, Kilchoman was also the first distillery to be built on the island in over 124 years and has held onto its family roots ever since.

There are plenty of tours and tastings to choose from. Why not join a classic tour of the distillery for an in-depth history of the family-run business? Or join a bottling experience where you can bottle and take home your very own Islay whisky? Kilchoman also hosts virtual tastings so you can join from the comfort of your own home after you return from your trip!

Like most Islay distilleries, there’s a gift shop, visitor centre, and cafe where you can sample some traditional Scottish delicacies, from Cullen skink to haggis. The only farm distillery on the island to use local grain produced on-site, Kilchoman Distillery is well worth a visit on your next trip to Islay.

Laphroaig Distillery

Laphroaig has a reputation as one of the world’s most richly flavoured whiskies. Loved by millions of whisky drinkers around the world, including King Charles, its complex flavour profile is largely due to the distillery’s unique in-house malting process. Its location on the edge of Loch Laphroaig also gives the Islay whisky its signature smoky and salty taste.

The distillery has been in operation since 1815. This makes it one of the oldest distilleries in the country. But its popularity around the world means thousands of fans still pay a visit to the 19th-century distillery every year. From a journey through the malting floor to a 4.5-hour hike of the local surroundings, you’re guaranteed to work up a thirst on whichever tour you choose!

So whether you’re a whisky connoisseur or are still on your search for the perfect Islay whisky, this famous whisky distillery is well worth a visit. Like most distilleries on Islay, the bar also serves a wide range of whisky cocktails for those looking for something a little tamer on the palette.

Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin Distillery is one of the oldest (and most picturesque) distilleries on Islay and is located in Lagavulin Bay. Renowned for its smoky, peaty whiskies, it has been in fierce competition with its nearest neighbour, Laphroaig, since the distilleries were founded just a year apart in 1816 and 1815. We recommend visiting both so you can make up your own mind!

Lagavulin whisky has been described as rich and peaty. This is due to the barley being peated to around 35ppm and fermenting for a short time compared to other distilleries on the island. The stills are also filled to around 90%. This reduces the amount of copper contact, creating the unmistakable smoky undertones in the whisky that you can taste before it passes your lips.

Fans of the hit US sitcom Parks and Recreation might recognise Lagavulin as the fictional character Ron Swanson’s favourite whisky. The brand has even released a number of limited-edition malts in collaboration with the actor behind the character, Nick Offerman. Originally priced at £65, later editions have sold for over £200.

From a classic whisky tour to an immersive warehouse experience, there are plenty of things to see and do at this amazing distillery. One of the oldest producers of Islay malts, make sure to stop off at Lagavulin on your next visit to the Queen of the Hebrides.

Struan Baird