The Isle of Islay is a small island on the southwest of Scottish mainland, yet its impact on the world of Scotch whisky has been anything but small. A historic site of pilgrimage for butch whisky drinkers who swear by the Islay way of making strong, peated single malts.
These single malts, distilled from barley dried over peat fires are known for their distinct smoky, phenol and iodine rich flavours and aromas. The single malt Scotch whisky distilled at Islay has always been a stark contrast to the light, floral and fruity characteristics of the single malts distilled at the Speyside, and Highland distilleries.
Islay single malts have always been big hits with people that enjoy intensely smoky, peated whiskies that are pungent, medicinal and have been calloused by their proximity to the sea. This has unintentionally made Islay Scotch whiskies a niche product, enjoyed by the loyalists and the adventurous alike.
Today we are bringing you five of our favourite single malt Scotch whiskies from the island, the Islay Icons. These are the peated Islay monsters that are unapologetically true to themselves, and an experience that every whisky lover must embrace at least once in their lifetime.
Laphroaig 10 Whisky
Hard to step away from the classic Laphraoig that is still one of their best ever releases. For a lot of Islay loyalists, this is the single malt Scotch whisky that has the quintessential Islay personality.
As far as heavily peated Islay single malt whiskies are concerned, the Laphroaig 10 will always feature in the top three for hard-core peat lovers. This one’s known as the original Laphroaig, and was created by Ian Hunter, the last member of the Johnston family that founded the distillery. There is a mingling of fruity goodness and salty mischief, laden heavily with the iodine rich and heavily peated flavours and aromas in the Laphroaig 10.
Ardbeg Uigeadail Whisky
Another star among the heavily peated boys of Islay, and one of Ardbeg’s finest creations to date. This incidentally is also a cask strength single malt whisky that seriously limits its own potential of being a mainstream success, and universally liked dram but does it care? Absolutely not.
The Ardbeg Uigeadail is not for a whisky drinking novice, who has just simply stuck their toe into this vast and polarizing world. While there are the classics that are loved by all, and the ones that veterans covet. Most heavily peated Islay single malt Scotch whiskies feature in the latter, and they would have it no other way. The Uigeadail is a no-age-statement blend of whisky matured in two different barrels, ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry. For the people that have fallen in love with what Islay has to offer, the Ardbeg is one of its finest.
Talisker Dark Storm Whisky
Many may argue that the Talisker Whisky does not qualify as an Islay whisky since it isn’t located on the island itself, but there is a case to make for it. The Talisker single malt is closer to the Islay single malts in its personality than any of the other regions in Scotland, and technically, it is located on an island so it qualifies.
The Talisker Dark Storm is another in the series of no-age-statement releases from the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, but it is so much more than ‘any other’ whisky. This is a no-age-statement single malt, finished in heavily charred Oak barrels, hence the name. Talisker’s typical peppery spiciness, wafts of sea salt and of course intense smoke are accompanied by the sweetness of honey, smoked meat and citrusy lemon. Very refreshing flavours and aromas, something one might feel compelled to keep coming back to.
Bowmore 15 Year Old Whisky
The people at Bowmore are familiar with positive reviews for a number of their expressions, yet the Bowmore 15 Year Old is perhaps one of the closest it gets to universal acclaim. Sure a lot of ‘universally acclaimed’ single malts are rather mainstream and lack the edgy appeal most steadfast whisky lovers adore so much. Yet, the Bowmore 15 Year Old is anything but.
The Bowmore 15 draws its complex personality from a combination of barrels, ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry. There are a lot of Islay single malt whisky enthusiasts that love a Sherry influence, and this whisky is the most accurate representation of it. Sure the smoke is present, but with it, there is a generous amount of freshly cut fruit, Christmas spice and rich caramel. A very strong recommendation that can even turn the strongest Highland or Speyside Scotch
Kilchoman Sanaig Whisky
One of the newest distilleries on the island, competing against the peaty monsters of the Islay. It was never going to be easy but Kilchoman brings a lot of quality that has enabled the distillery to carve a name for itself in the Islay single malt space. Opened only in 2005, the distillery naturally lacks the more vintage single malt stocks that many other borderline ancestral distilleries at the Islay possess.
Thus, the folks at Kilchoman have made good use of their ingenuity to create a stunning no-age-statement single malt that lacks no intent in announcing itself. The Kilchoman Sanaig has a terrific balance of wonderful flavours and aromas. There is sweetness and some spice, creamy toffee and rich dried fruits, hints of sea salt, and notes of floral goodness. A very young release that hit the market no sooner than 2016, the Kilchoman Sanaig will only accumulate for fame over the years. Get your hands on one while you have the chance.
Laphroaig 10, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Talisker Dark Storm, Bowmore 15 Year Old and the Kichoman Sanaig round off our list of the Islay Icons. These are Islay single malt Scotch whiskies you should try at least once if you have always wanted to try an Islay whisky.