Whisky production on Islay is reported to date back as far as the 1300s. Irish monks were distilling it after the Lord of the Isles married the daughter of an Ulster Baron and production began in earnest in the 17th Century on farms around the island. These were illegal, so Islay’s many caves and glens had a practical use when the authorities came to investigate.
Several of Islay’s modern distilleries began life this way and most distilleries were found near the coast so that grain and the finished spirits could be more easily smuggled. At one time there were reported to be as many as 23 distilleries active on Islay and one of the most famous to have closed was Port Ellen, which became a malting in 1983. However, plans are now underway to reopen it.
Islay single malts are known for their smoky, peaty flavours, which comes from malting barley over burning peat. Northern whiskies are generally found to be milder than those from the south of the island. Unsurprisingly given its location, Islay whiskies often have flavours of the sea amongst the notes you can detect, including seaweed, brine and even kippers.