No other region divides people in the whisky world the way the Hebredian island of Islay does. It is rightly famous for its thumping peaty, phenolic whiskies, loved or loathed in equal measure.
With no indigenous coal supply, Islay had to rely upon its supply of peat for its fuel. When the barley was dried over peat fires, it imparted a smokiness to the malted barley which, of course, transferred itself to the whisky.
Given that it has an area of only 239 square miles, Islay has an amazing eight operational distilleries, including the "holy trinity" of Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig along its Southern coast, Bowmore at its centre, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain to the North and Bruichladdich and the recent Kilchoman to the West.
But it isn't just the peat that gives Islay malts their signature taste. With huge quantities of seaweed around its coast and the Atlantic ocean crashing against their distillery walls, it’s unsurprising that many have a distinct iodine character, plus a healthy dose of tar and salt. And yet, each Islay malt has its own character that distinguishes it utterly from its near-neighbours. Ardbeg has a distinct citrus note, Caol Ila a smoky bacon aspect and Lagavulin its rich medicinal, liquorice character.
So, mention 'Islay' in whisky circles and it is undoubtedly the heavily-peated malts which immediately spring to mind. But this immediate association with peat is slightly unfair. Two of its distilleries – Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich – produce whiskies which, more often than not, do not fit this phenolic template at all. Nevertheless, when people think of Islay, it is the heavily-peated malts that usually spring to mind and it is our pleasure to add the superlative Ardbeg 10 year old as the Islay representative in this regions pack.
The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Carbolic soap. Sweet pear. Lemon peel. An undertow of maple syrup but the peat, while unmistakable, is strangely restrained.
Palate: Beautifully balanced between the light hickory and butterscotch, the intense tarry peatiness and the pear and tell-tale Ardbeg citrus.
Retails for around £40