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A worker at Bruichladdich distillery takes a whisky sample from a cask. Photo: Getty Images

Eight Scottish single malts from the Isle of Islay that are in high demand and short supply

  • Despite being just over 40 kilometres (25 miles) long, Islay is home to several distilleries – here is the pick of the bunch
  • The most distinctive are known for their salty maritime flavours – earthy, peaty, smoky and robust

Scottish single malt whiskies are grouped by region, each of which has its own character. The most distinc­tive are the single malts of Islay island, known for their salty maritime flavours: earthy, peaty, smoky and robust with a medicinal tinge of iodine. Today, they are in short supply due to high demand and scant production in previous decades, having fallen out of fashion in the 1980s as drinkers’ preferences shifted to white spirits.


Despite a history going back to 1794, Ardbeg closed in the early 80s. When it reopened, in the 90s, it used malt from Port Ellen rather than its own. Its 10 Year Old is a lovely introduction, with its briny, iodiney nose and not too overwhelming peatiness.


Founded in 1779, Bowmore uses water from the River Laggan, which flows over iron-tinged rocks, giving it a unique taste. Unusually, the area’s sandy peat is crumbled before being fired to create more smoke and give the whisky an earthy sweet­ness with heather and spice. Its best intro­duc­tory malt is the Legend, which has no age statement and is approachable and fresh. The top drop is the 17 Year Old, which has a nice nuttiness to balance the medicinal characteristics and a creamy, yet slightly astringent finish.

Britain’s Prince of Wales samples a dram of Ardbeg whiskey. Photo: Getty Images


Pronounced “brook lad­die”, the distillery was founded in 1881 on Loch Indaal. The whisky is light, with floral, heathery and not too peaty flavours. The best offering is the 15 Year Old, with its slightly salty palate, seaweed and floral notes and lovely warming finish.


The name is a tongue twister, pronounced “boona hav’n”, meaning “mouth of the creek”. The house style is fresh, with a slightly sweetish aroma, nutty and herbal notes, a salty finish and probably the least peat of all Islay malts.

Located in a remote cove, the distillery has a kerb to prevent visitors’ cars rolling into the sea, and a ship’s bell by the door to summon the manager. It uses water that rises through limestone and is piped to the distillery without picking up any peat flavours. Its 12 Year Old is the most readily found and has a fresh sea air aroma with a nutty maltiness.

Caol Ila

Pronounced “cull eela”, the Gaelic for “sound of Islay”, where the distillery is located. It has long been sought after by collectors for its unique slightly oily, juniper palate. The water from which the malt is made is quite salty and minerally as it is drawn from limestone.

Founded in 1846, it has long been a discreet component of Johnnie Walker Swing. The best treat is the 15 Year Old, with its complex, aromatic floral nose, peppery olive-like savoury palate and warm peaty finish.

Lagavulin distillery on the Isle of Islay, in Scotland. Photo: Getty Images


The best-known Islay malt was first produced in 1816. The whisky is aged in ware­houses that are battered by the sea in winter. Visitors are also shown the stone frame of the sea gate from which the lords of the Isles left to fight the Vikings. Lagavulin is dry and smoky with a salty peat palate and hints of sherry. The most acclaimed is the 16 Year Old, which has lashings of peat and sea salt, and aromas of sweet sherry and grass.


If Laphroaig was your first Islay malt, you might be put off by its iodine, medicinal and seaweed flavours, and slightly oily texture. Opened in the 1820s, the distil­lery’s founder died in 1847 by falling into a vat of whisky. The best is the 10 Year Old Cask Strength, which is undiluted – a few drops of water will ease the impact. It’s salty but sweet with lots of peaty earthiness.

Port Ellen

Founded in 1825, production stopped from the 1920s to the 60s, and then the distillery closed in 1983. Today, only the malting floor remains active. With dwindling stocks, Port Ellen malts are in demand. The rights to the distillery and label have been purchased by Diageo (Johnnie Walker’s owner), which plans to restart operations.