The Beginner’s Guide To Drinking Islay Whisky
Islay has long been known for the production of fantastic peated whisky, and the region is well-loved by whisky fans everywhere.
There are currently nine active distilleries on Islay, with one pending reopening (we are looking at you, Port Ellen), and the distilleries are famous for producing peaty drams, thanks to the abundance of peat on the island.
The peat and salty sea air give Islay whiskies a briny, smoky quality that has became synonymous with the region today.
So, if you are looking to expand your palate and try some Islay whiskies, which ones should you try? And how can you get the best value for money?
We asked Phil from Whisky Wednesday to tell us his favourite whisky from each of Islay’s active distilleries for under £100:
Ardbeg: Ardbeg Uigeadail
“A lot of you are going to be annoyed at me for not picking the 10 year old, or even the Corryvrecken – we do have £100 to play with here. But, Uigeadail, for me, is just the finest offering from Ardbeg. Whisky in its early teens, rich sherry influences, higher ABV and loads of smoke. This culminates in a toffee rich, pistachio, salty, peated, olive brine-soaked liquid that delivers on every angle of peated whisky that I could ever want.”
Laphroaig: Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength
“It is only released once a year, but the demand for it isn’t as big as some other limited, cask strength whiskies. Laphroaig 10 has such a reputation for intensity, but the Cask Strength variant allows, oddly enough, many nuances and delicacies that can be found in this medicinal bottled spirit. Each year’s version is different, but there’s always a rich white chocolate and hazelnut note running through them. Showing us that Laphroaig really isn’t a one trick pony and when it wants to it can be layered, delicate and a welcome show off.”
Lagavulin: Lagavulin 16 Year Old
“I mean, c’mon. I will say that I love the 8 year old expression and the 2016 12 year old version is the only whisky I’ve ever called ‘perfect’. But they aren’t what I think of when I hear Lagavulin, I see that tall, black bottle, with all its layers of tobacco smoke and sherry decadence just waiting to be set free from the foil and cork. It’s a genuinely wonderful whisky and is something that every whisky drinker should set their opinion against.”
Kilchoman: Kilchoman Machir Bay
“Bacon. This whisky is the closest you will ever get to sampling the culinary brilliance of bacon inside a bottle of whisky. The salty, savoury smoke that has brought this product to the attention of so many peated whisky fans is something almost unequalled on Islay. Every distillery is different and Kilchoman, with its farm-yard distillery and family run operation have always gone above and beyond many people’s expectations. Bacon.”
Bowmore: Bowmore 15 Year Old
“I don’t mind the 12 year old and 18 year old, but Bowmore really hit it out of the park with the 15. A mid-age range, sherry influenced product with a solid amount of smoke. Perfect. The cask strength version was…better, granted. But that’s not available anymore. But if I was buying any bottle of Bowmore with my own money, the 15 would be the go-to without any shadow of doubt.”
Bruicladdich: Port Charlotte 10 Year Old (PC-10)
“The Classic Laddie is good, don’t get me wrong. But there’s another distillery that nails the unpeated Islay style a little better, for me anyway. PC10 is such a great buy, for those of you who both have and haven’t tried it before. Natural colour, non-chill filtered, 50% ABV and mostly ex-bourbon cask, which allows those well built peated notes to really shine through. Sherry is great, but in younger products it can really get in the way or be completely lost. PC10 is for those of you who want a straight to the point experience.”
“Nothing is yet to be sold through the distillery as actual single malt whisky. But Hunter Laing are at the helm of this and I’m quite excited to see what they put out when things are ready. Watch this space.”
Bunnahabhain: Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
“Unpeated Islay whisky. For those of you that are new to Islay, that is an unusual sentence, a little against the grain. But it is spectacular! Again, natural colour, non-chill filtered and bottled at 46.3% – Bunnahabhain has its roots in Islay with a salty twist to the liquid. Minus that, it is a decadent whisky. The sherry influences have doused it with so many flavours of chocolate and orange that even when you haven’t tried it for a while, once it hits your lips again, the moment is truly eureka.”
Caol Ila: Caol Ila 18 Year Old
“We’ve got £100 to play with so let’s go to the top. This whisky is the definition of what you want and old Islay to be. I’m unsure of the percentage of cask variation within it, safe to say that it is mostly ex-bourbon matured, but even so, the depth of soft smoke, coastal influences and old oak driving through it deliver some almost tropical notes to your palate. Coal Ila is smoky, yes, but it has a softer, creamier side to it. This is the golden bottle in their range.”
So, there you have it!
Islay drams that are gifts that keep on giving. Whether you are an Islay newbie or a connoisseur these affordable drams will be sure to pique your interest.
Thank you to Phil of Whisky Wednesday for lending us his pearls of whisky wisdom. You can check out Phil’s YouTube channel here.
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