Islay distillers: A singular vision

23rd December, 2016 by db_staff

Distillers on Islay are harnessing the concept of terroir to make exciting single-malt whiskies using locally grown barley and traditional methods. Fiona Rintoul looks at the trend.


Operators Jake Burgess, Neil McEachern and Jamie Muir outside the Kilchoman warehouse at Conisby. Picture credit: Konrad Borkowski, Whisky Island

There’s no better place to feel the pulse of the Scotch whisky industry than on the Isle of Islay. Dubbed ‘the Queen of the Hebrides’ because of its rugged beauty and fertile farming land, Islay is the spiritual home of Scotch. Bowmore, founded in 1779, vies for the title of oldest whisky distillery in Scotland, and illicit moonshine was distilled in the bays at Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg long before that – some say as far back as the mediaeval Lordship of the Isles, which was centred on Islay.

Were you to take Scotch whisky’s pulse on this bonniest of islands, you would find an industry where expensive single malts are thriving as cheaper blends do less well.

“The single-malt sector is increasing as more consumers turn to malts rather than blends,” says Anthony Wills, founder and managing director of Kilchoman, a small farm distillery near….

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One Response to “Islay distillers: A singular vision”

  1. Christy M says:

    Excellent article outlining some of the pertinent differences between Islay distilleries. Just a couple of points on Bruichladdich, the distillery uses a maltster in Inverness called Bairds. Their ability to malt small batches of barley and trace the origins carefully were just some of the reasons Bruichladdich chose to work with them and not the Diageo owned maltings.

    The tonnage of Islay grown barley is at around 1200-1300 tonnes this year. However, this is around 25-30% of the quantity needed to produce at the distillery and is not the overall tonnage used annually.

    Additionally, I’ve never heard of any distilled getting yields of between 450-500 bulk litres of alcohol per tonne. The figures for Scottish barley are much more likely to sit around 400-420 for mainland barley and much much lower for Islay grown barley. The challenges to growth on the island include damage from geese and deer as well as a high nitrogen content, not just the rain and lack of sunshine.

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