Islay Whisky – Sending Smoke Signals With Whisky

Scotland is a magical country. There is simply no countryside quite like it, and if you ever get to see it, it’s obvious why Scotland has provided so many visual backdrops for TV and Cinema. The steel grey of stone contrasts beautifully with the emerald green of the grass, the rich purple of the heather, and, if you’re by the coast, the royal blue of the Atlantic. The country has also given us some of the technological advancements that have allowed us to live the comfortable lives we do today. None of these are Scotland’s greatest gift to world however. That takes the form of a beautiful amber liquid called whisky. Whisky – which comes from the Scots Gaelic Uisge Beatha, meaning Water of Life – has a reputation for being a strong flavoured drink, with none upholding this reputation better than Islay whisky.

Islay Whisky – Why The Island Matters

Islay is the southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides, an island chain off the West Coast of Scotland. It’s landscape matches that of mainland Scotland; grey and green as far as the eye can see. What is important is that the island is covered in peat bogs. Peat is a fuel similar in nature to coal, being formed from decaying vegetation. Unlike coal, it doesn’t take millennia to form, instead taking a “mere” 1000 to 5000 years to achieve a state that it can be used as a fuel.

Peat has been used as a fuel source in Scotland as long as there have been people in Scotland. It has cooked food, boiled water, staved off the dark of the night and most importantly of all, it has dried the malted barley used in the distillation of Islay whisky. The barley is spread out on a drying rack with the peat being lit underneath, drying the barley and imparting some of the peat particles to the barley in the process. These in turn are imparted into the whisky during the distillation process, creating that distinctive smokey flavour that whisky connoisseurs have come to know and love.

A dram of islay whisky in front of a castle

The Distilleries of Islay Whisky

Distillers of whisky come and go over the years, but the distilleries of Islay whisky have generally stood the test of time. Some have lasted for more than 200 years, making them 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.