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A Guide to Islay: The Whisky Queen

Posted on 10 Jul 2023

There’s a great saying in Scotland. 

“Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky.” 

Scotland is the kind of place where spirits remain high despite the constant cloud cover. Where the people make the best of bad situations, of the ‘rain’, and make something beautiful out of it. Something that now defines a nation. 

And in such a wild and inspiring landscape, where purple heather paints the grey moors rich, where dark lochs spark imaginations and fears, where people come from all over the world, Scotland has an undeniable personality. If this was a high school yearbook, she’d be labelled “most likely to be remembered”.  

She’s a land full of flavours, smells, sounds, and feelings. You come away from it yearning for the song of bagpipe, for the ice-cold prick of a freshwater loch, for the smoky bite of a single malt whisky

We’ve been rounding up the islands of Scotland on our blog in the past weeks. From the sandy Outer Hebrides to the misty Isle of Skye, we’re the biggest fans of our Scottish isles.

And there’s absolutely no way we could skip over Islay. Whisky enthusiasts everywhere would demand the spotlight be drawn to this wonderous little island that’s located off the west coast of Scotland. Affectionately known as “The Queen of the Hebrides”, Islay is the kingdom of whisky. 

With the wealth of nine distilleries, your only job is to decide which you’ll visit. The culinary scene isn’t something to turn your nose up at, either. Not to mention its magnificent wildlife, from eagles to deer, hares to seals.  

So, what should you do when visiting Islay? We’ll run you through some of our top whisky distillery choices (though they’re all worth visiting if you have the time) but also a few other great things to do while on the isle.  

Of course, if you’re coming here to drink whisky, you’ll have to do some research on how to drink whisky like a true Scot and brush up on some fun facts about the ‘water of life’ before you arrive. For instance, you don’t say ‘cheers’ when chinking glasses. Scots say “slainte” which means ‘good health’. 

So, without further ado, slainte and read on! 


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Bowmore Distillery 

Camelot had its Knights of the Round Table. And Islay has its distilleries. Bowmore was the first recorded distillery on Islay and is one of the oldest in the whole of Scotland.  

The traditions are strong at Bowmore Distillery. It’s one of the last remaining distilleries in Scotland that produces its own floor malted barely. And every four hours, the ‘maltmen’ of Bowmore hand turn it using traditional tools. Imagine explaining that’s your job to a stranger at a party. ‘What do you do?’ ‘Oh, I’m a maltman.’ 

History and whisky collide here. You’ll be treated to one of the best tours around and sample one of Islay’s more moderately flavoured whiskies. So, if you’re a little sensitive to the powerful kick whisky can often deliver, Bowmore might be for you.  

The Machrie Golf Links 

Ah, golf. We know what you’re picturing. A bunch of stuffy Englishmen from the 1800s in their white suits, putting the afternoon away as they discuss politics. ‘A good walk spoiled’, am I right? 

Wrong. Believe it or not, the Scots invented golf. And if there’s one thing we know about the Scots, they do everything with a dash of passion. 

And there’s nothing that could spoil this spot. The Machrie is one of the most stunning locations in the golf world and the resort is highly ranked around the world. Since you’re in the kingdom of whisky, why not start the day with golf and end it with whisky? Sounds perfect to us.  

So why not get the gang together and head to the Isle of Islay for your next golfing holiday? Beats your local one round the corner, right?  

Laphroaig Distillery 

"There are 3 main ingredients for making Laphroaig - Barley, Water, and Yeast, but the secret ingredient is the People.” - Iain Henderson (Head Distiller) 

We know that all you care about right now is figuring out how to pronounce Laphroaig. Sound it out with us: La-froyg. Not sure if that makes it any easier. Then again, once you’ve had a few drams of Laphroaig’s rich whisky, speaking well kind of goes out the window regardless.  

This striking distillery sits prettily at the head of Loch Laphroaig on the south coast of Islay. Even our newly minted King Charles favours this powerful whisky, so isn’t it time to see why?  

Established back in 1825 by brothers Donald and Alexander Johnston, Laphroaig maintains the traditional methods of whisky-making. Today, their single malt is one of the most distinctive in the world. 


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Get Out on the Water 

Surrounded as you are by water, it would almost be silly not to take advantage of the sea around you. Local boat companies stand ready to take you out on an adventure to see the best of Islay’s aquatic life. Whether you’d like to go for a fishing trip, or spot local wildlife such as seals, it’s worth getting out on the water. 

Speaking of ocean life, the Islay food scene is worth checking out too. You could drop by at Ballgrant Inn to sample some local scallops or lobster, if you’re feeling fancy. Or there’s Lochindaal Seafood Kitchen, located in the picturesque village of Port Charlotte, where you’ll find stunning views of Loch Indaal and its lighthouse, there to accompany you during your delicious meal.  

Bruichladdich Distillery 

"… Our ambitions have gone beyond the simple idea of making and selling single malt scotch whisky. Our goal was to be an antidote to the industry norm... We set course to be pioneers, provocateurs and change makers.” - the team at Bruichladdich  

Back in 1881, the Harvey brothers owned two distilleries in Glasgow. Then came the idea for Bruichladdich. On the shores of Loch Indaal, they took old farm buildings and turned them into a state-of-the-art (for its time) distillery.  

Something quirky that we love about Bruichladdich Distillery is the fact that they use traditional Victorian machinery to produce their whisky, décor and equipment that was found on the original property.  

If you like your whisky peaty, Bruichladdich is for you. Their exceptional range of whisky is considered to be ‘the most heavily peated single malt whisky in the world’. 

Ardberg Distillery 

Nestled in a rocky cove on Islay’s southernmost tip, there sits a white-washed building. Stamped in enormous black lettering is the word ARDBERG, its name often reflected in the water of the brilliant ocean just on its doorstep. 

Walk down the street and follow your nose towards the peatiest whisky in Islay, or so they claim. Why not find out for yourself? By this point, you’re sure to be a whisky connoisseur and, really, what’s the harm in one more dram?  

Ardbeg is making a name for itself across the world, so perhaps its time to find out what all the fuss is about. Plus, you can sample some of the delicious local cuisine while you visit, in The Old Kiln Café. 

Ardnahoe Distillery 

Every family has to have its youngest sibling. Ardnahoe Distillery is the newest kid on the block, Islay’s ninth distillery was opened in 2015 by Stewart Laing and his sons Andrew and Scott.  

While their distillery may be new, their whisky lineage is not. Their family ties to whisky date back to the 1940s, so you can be sure decades of experience and passion went into the making of this distillery. 

Nestled by the beautiful Loch Ardnahoe, they have access to the deep loch waters, a vital ingredient for their distinctive, peated malt whiskies.  

You know what’s coming next, right? You know we couldn’t resist the allure of Islay and we have several small-group tours that head there: our 4-day, 12-day, and 17-day tours from Edinburgh. If all you’re looking for from a visit to Scotland is the smoky flavour of whisky lingering on your tongue at the end of the day, we highly recommend our 4-day Islay & the Whisky Coast. On it we visit four of the best: Ardberg, Ardnahoe, Laphroaig, and Bowmore. And what better way to travel than with a bunch of other whisky lovers?