Peated Islay Whiskys


 Hello and Welcome!

This month's tasting pack is a delve into the smokey realm of Islay whisky. The smokey flavour is often called "peat smoke", in reference to the peat bog fires used to malt (germinate) the barley.
If you find the tastings a tad too full on please add a drop of water to your dram and taste how it changes the flavours.

About the Region: Islay

Islay (/ˈaɪlə/ EYE-lə; Scottish Gaelic: Ìle, pronounced [ˈiːlə])
Islay is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Known as "The Queen of the Hebrides", it lies in Argyll just south west of Jura and around 40 kilometres (25 mi) north of the Irish coast. The island's capital is Bowmore where the distinctive round Kilarrow Parish Church and a distillery are located. Port Ellen is the main port.

Islay is the fifth-largest Scottish island and the seventh-largest island surrounding Great Britain, with a total area of almost 620 square kilometres (239 sq mi).There is ample evidence of the prehistoric settlement of Islay and the first written reference may have come in the 1st century AD. The island had become part of the Gaelic Kingdom of Dál Riata during the Early Middle Ages before being absorbed into the Norse Kingdom of the Isles. The later medieval period marked a "cultural high point" with the transfer of the Hebrides to the Kingdom of Scotland and the emergence of the Clan Donald Lordship of the Isles, originally centred at Finlaggan. During the 17th century the Clan Donald star waned, but improvements to agriculture and transport led to a rising population, which peaked in the mid-19th century. This was followed by substantial forced displacements and declining resident numbers.

Today, it has over 3,000 inhabitants and the main commercial activities are agriculture, malt whisky distillation and tourism. The island has a long history of religious observance and Scottish Gaelic is spoken by about a quarter of the population. Its landscapes have been celebrated through various art forms and there is a growing interest in renewable energy. Islay is home to many bird species such as the wintering populations of Greenland white-fronted and barnacle goose, and is a popular destination throughout the year for birdwatchers. The climate is mild and ameliorated by the Gulf Stream.

Islay is one of five whisky distilling localities and regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law. There are eight active distilleries and the industry is the island's second largest employer after agriculture.  Those on the south of the island produce malts with a very strong peaty flavour, considered to be the most intensely flavoured of all whiskies. From east to west they are Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. On the north of the island Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain are produced, which are substantially lighter in taste.
Kilchoman is a microdistillery opened in 2005 toward the west coast of the Rinns.

Lagavulin distillery
The oldest record of a legal distillery on the island refers to Bowmore in 1779 and at one time there were up to 23 distilleries in operation. For example, Port Charlotte distillery operated from 1829 to 1929 and Port Ellen is also closed although it remains in business as a malting. In March 2007 Bruichladdich announced that they would reopen Port Charlotte distillery using equipment from the Inverleven distillery.


Onto the Whisky!

Bowmore, 12 yr old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky

This has received much critical acclaim with the whisky writer Michael Jackson proclaiming it 'remarkably long and complex'. You will pick up the trademark Bowmore peaty smokiness along with subtle notes of lemon, honey and chocolate.

"subtle lemon and honey, balanced beautifully by Bowmore's trademark peaty smokiness...sweet and delicious heather honey and gentle peat smoke"

International Wine & Spirit Competition - Trophy Winner

International Spirits Challenge - Gold Medal

Tasting Notes-

NOSE : Emphatic burnt grass. Peaty. Soft smokiness.

PALATE : Fragrant smokiness seems to waft against an oily, earthy, background. Some seaweed. Some sherry.

FINISH : Not only is the smokiness sustained all the way through, it surges in the finish. Lots of salt, too.


Caol Ila, 12 yr old, Single Malt Whisky

Fresh, sweetly fruity and smooth-bodied, Caol Ila 12 year old single malt Scotch whisky is the colour of pale straw, with a delicate balance of tastes. The clean, appetising nose shows subtle citrus fruit with just a puff of smoke. Firm and smooth, it begins sweetly then yields a fragrant smokiness and a sweet-smoky, lingering finish.

Tasting Notes-

APPEARANCE : Pale straw.

NOSE : Subdued, citric fruitiness; a whiff of bath oil and dentist's mouthwash. A fresh and appetising nose, with little or no trace of smoke. A little water raises almond oil and old-fashioned oilskins; still a fresh fruitiness (lychees?), a trace of olive oil, and after a while pot pourri or scented hand-soap.

BODY : Firm, smooth, light to medium.

PALATE : Drinks well at natural strength; sweet start; pleasant, light fragrant smokiness and a lengthy finish. Smooth, pleasant mouth-feel; with water light acidity, some salt and still the sweeter notes. A complex balance of primary tastes.

FINISH : Sweet smokiness in the lingering, slightly sour finish.


Kilchoman, Machir Bay, Single Malt Whisky 

The Machir Bay range is their core expression, first launched in 2012 when it won the prestigious IWSC 2012 Gold Award – Best in Class. Machir Bay is a picturesque sandy beach overlooked by the Kilchoman Church just half a mile from the distillery.

Machir Bay is matured in both Bourbon barrels and Sherry casks affording it a beautiful balance of rich tropical fruit, peat smoke, light vanilla and intense sweetness. Different editions of Machir Bay have been released in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

'Master' The Spirits Business 2015.

Tasting Notes- 

"A nose of sweet peat and vanilla, undercut by brine, kelp and black pepper. Filled ashtrays in time. A smooth mouth-feel, with lots of nicely-balanced citrus fruit, peat smoke and Germolene on the palate. The finish is relatively long and sweet, with building spice, chili and a final nuttiness"


Big Smoke 46, Islay Blended Malt

The Big Smoke is a blended Islay malt whisky. Its characteristics are reminiscent of traditional Islay malt - full of peat smoke coastal sweetness. Powerful yet caressing, the Big Smoke is bottled at 46% abv, and contains a blend of single malt whisky from some of the most iconic Islay malt distilleries.

"The Big Smoke 46 gives a gentle introduction to the Islay style. The bonfire and seaweed characteristics you would expect are wrapped up in layers of sweet vanilla from the fresh American Oak"

'Silver' 'Outstanding' IWSC 2013.

Tasting Notes-

NOSE : Antiseptic cream, salted butter on toast, distant driftwood bonfires, meringues, peaches and strawberries.

TASTE: Cool and minty, smoke and soft charcoal, currant buns and icing sugar.

FiINISH : Crisp and clean with growing oily saltiness and wet wood smoke, wet grass and a touch of leather.


Laphroaig, Triple Wood, Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Laphroaig, Triple Wood has enjoyed a triple maturation in 3 types of cask. Just as with the standard Quarter Cask expression, the first maturation is in American oak, ex-Bourbon Barrels. They then select the most suitable of these barrels, containing a range of different aged spirit and transfer into small 19th Century style Quarter Casks for a second maturation. The final maturation is in specially selected, large European oak, Oloroso Sherry Casks.

It is bottled at 48% ABV and is non-chill filtered for a depth of taste and texture.

Tasting Notes- 

COLOUR : Bright gold.

NOSE : At 48%, straight from the bottle, the initial flavour is quite sweet with a gentle mixture of sweet raisins and creamy apricots with just a trace of the dry peat smoke at the back, the smoother nutty flavours combine all these flavours into one smooth, syrupy whole. With a touch of water the peat smoke comes to the fore and masks the gentler fruitier notes. Even with the maturation being carried out in 1st fill bourbons, quarter casks and sherry butts, the intense bonfire ash smell of the earthy peat cannot be masked.

BODY : Powerful yet with a creamy consistency.

PALATE : With no water, a large initial burst of peat belies the slight lack on the nose but is gentled on the tongue by the creamier flavours of vanilla and fruit with just a suggestion of sherry sweetness. With a trace of water the peat reek is gentled, allowing the more complex flavours of citrus fruits and spices to come through. A slight tang comes from the European Oak balancing the creamier American White Oak.

FINISH : Mouth filling and extremely long but balanced by the sweet smooth caramel taste.