Smoke & Mirrors – The Reason For The Flavour Of Islay Whisky

Islay whisky distillery called lagavulin

When thinking of Scotland, many images come to mind: luscious yet craggy landscapes, caber (log) tossing gentlemen is kilts, and sheep. Lots of sheep. Sheep everywhere. As a Scotswomen, I can say that the latter is true, as long as you’re not in the cities (which should be fairly obvious). Something else that comes to mind when mentioning our fair country is whisky, our national spirit. Whisky has a reputation worldwide as being a high quality whisky with powerful flavours and a deep flavour palette. No style of whisky embodies this stereotype any better than Islay whisky.

The Role Of Islay In Islay Whisky

The island of Islay in the Hebrides is a striking one. Slate grey blends with emerald green to provide an enchanting vista for any visitor. Sheep (yes, they get everywhere) roam the countryside, idly chewing cud and warily following visitors with those obsidian beads they call eyes. The weather is harsh, even for Scotland, but on the days it clears and the sun beats down, the isle is transformed into a thing of sheer beauty.

In terms of islay whisky, the important fact of the island is that it is covered in peat bogs. Peat has been used for fuel in Scotland since the time of the First Men, and continues to provide warmth for homes and heat for businesses around the island. Peat is the reason Islay whisky has it’s distinctive smokey flavour. Peat is used to dry the malt barley before the distillation process. The smoke from the process permeates the malt, imbuing it with peat particles which in turn provide the iconic smokey flavour of an Islay whisky.

The whisky itself is known for being powerful. For those that are new to world, the flavour palette can be a little overwhelming, but once you grow accustomed to the subtle differences in whisky, Islay whisky is a real joy to taste. For those starting out, the Bruichladdie Classic Laddie is most likely the easiest option to get into.

The islay whisky bottle of Bruichladdich Classic laddieThe Distilleries Of Islay Whisky

Distillers of whisky come and go, but many of Islay have stood the test of time, with some of them weighing in at around 200 years old. That brings them to less than half a century off the age of the United States of America. Currently, there are 8 functioning distilleries on the island: Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, and the recently opened Kilchoman. They vary in styles and ages, but the one main overriding factor between them all is this: smoke.

The smoke imparted in the whiskies produced at the Islay whisky distilleries in one of the most iconic motifs of any spirit industry. They lend themself fantastically well to an industry that has a large amount of enthusiasts worldwide. Rare malt whisky goes for an incredible price, so a whisky with distintive notes can fetch an even higher price. Have a look through some search results on Google and see for yourself. It’s a word just waiting to be explored.