The fact that Islay is a small island doesn't mean there aren't a lot of differences between the malts
from these eight distilleries. All three 'Kildalton' distilleries (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig) produce
powerful, peaty malts but they all have their own accents. Medicinal notes like iodine and band aids
usually betray a Laphroaig while a combination of fruit, peat and organics is the mark of an Ardbeg.
The Port Ellen distillery isn't active anymore, but most drams I enjoyed were in the 'Kildalton' style
as well. Caol Ila usually has plenty of peat as well, but especially at a younger age it's lighter and
more 'transparent' than the Kildalton malts. That leaves the three B's which are all far less peaty,
Bowmore (more smoky than peaty), Bruichladdich (lightly peated) and Bunnahabhain (unpeated.)

The power of Islay malts can be overwhelming for less experienced noses and palates.
Most Islay whiskies are very characteristic and immediately recognisable because of
their trademark peaty character. There's just one notable exception; Bunnahabhain.
This is the only distillery on the entire island that produces an unpeated single malt.
The Bruichladdich distillery makes a lightly peated whisky - much subtler than the
spirit of most other Islay distilleries, but they also produce two heavily peated
varieties; Port Charlotte and Octomore that should appeal to the peatheads.
Other Islay distilleries like Ardbeg experiment with different peat levels too.

Islay is the birthplace of the peatiest malts in the world,
even though more and more peat monsters are distilled
on the Scottisch mainland. As you may have picked up
before, I'm not into subtlety - at least not as far as single
malts are concerned. That's why I love those 'in yer face'
Islay malts; peat, smoke, salt, seaweed, iodine, liquorice,
sweat and leather are just some of the typical Islay traits.
Needless to say,
my trip to Islay in 2005 (together with a
contingent of almost a dozen other certified malt maniacs)
was a real pilgrimmage for me - or rather: a pildrammage.
The picture: Serge, Olivier and Davin dramming at Oa.

Please note that the peaty character of most Islay malts isn't a real 'regional' trait.
Mainland distilleries can produce peat monsters too, as Brora and Benriach have proven.

Single malts from Islay:  

Details on all active distilleries in ScotlandDetails on distilleries that closed during the last few decadesInformation about new projectsMega Malt Map (Main Page)SpeysideHighlandsLowlandsCampbeltown


Please note that these differences in 'house style' don't
seem to be caused by regional factors. Except for the three
'Kildalton' distilleries, I haven't found any obvious connection
between the style and character of an Islay single malt and
the location of the distillery. Choices that are made during
the distillation process, the maturation process and the cask
selection seem much more important factors than location.
And that puts the whole 'geography' issue into perspective.

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