Islay Distilleries: Comprehensive Guide to Scotland’s Whisky Island

If you’re a whisky fan organizing a Scotch tour of Scotland you’ll want to plan to visit the best Islay Distilleries.

Islay is one of five whisky distilling regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law. There are currently nine active distilleries on the isle of Islay and the whisky industry is the island’s second largest employer after agriculture.

We visited all 9 Islay Distilleries in just 3 days.
We visited all 9 Islay Distilleries in just 3 days.

Islay Distilleries: Scotland’s Whisky History

History books indicate that Irish monks first introduced the art of distillation to Islay, during the early 14th-century. On Islay they found an island perfectly suited for the production of Uisge Beathe, (water of life) with unlimited supplies of peat and rivers filled with clean soft water.

In the early days, distilling was carried out openly in black shebeens until the introduction, of the Excise Act in 1644. This forced distillers to move their operations into remote glens and caves to avoid detection. A hilarious historical fact: the government’s tax man didn’t dare set foot on Islay until 1797. There was a reluctance to even visit the island as its natives were regarded as “wild barbarous people.”

Today, Islay is home to nine licensed working whisky distilleries that produce in excess of 20,000,000 litres of alcohol per year.

In the past up to 95% of the whisky produced on Islay was used to make up famous whisky blends such as Johnny Walker, Dewars White Label, Ballantines, Chivas Regal and The Famous Grouse.

Today, with the increased interest around the world in single malts, a far greater proportion of Islay whisky is allotted to the craft whisky market. As a result of the shortage of mature whisky bottles for the single malt market, some Islay whisky bottles have become very collectable (read: very expensive). A bottle of Black Bowmore, distilled in 1897, sold at auction to an American collector for £14,000!

Unique Islay Whisky Characteristics

The isle of Islay is covered in peat, which is regularly exposed to rain and sea spray. Harvested and used to malt the barley in the distilling process, local peat and the maritime climate gives Islay its unique characteristics. Islay distilleries are known for producing pungent peaty, smoky and oily flavours, with a hint of salty sea air. Islay is most famous for the “big smokes,” award winning whisky bottles produced by Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.

Summer landscape on the Isle of Islay.
Spring and summer is the best time of year to visit Islay.

How To Get To Islay

Islay is one of the southernmost islands of the Inner Hebridean Islands located on Scotland’s west coast. The famous Scottish whisky island is just 25 miles long and 15 miles wide, easily explored in 2-3 days.

Visitors can get to Islay by car ferry or plane. We suggest renting a car to get around Islay as the majority of the island is rustic and rural. The majority of the roads on the island are one track but since the population is just 3,000 you’ll never find yourself stressed from rush hour. Islay is also a popular destination for cyclists who can be found huffing and puffing down rural roads dotted with adorable lamb herds and hair Highland cattle.

CalMac operates a regular ferry service from Kennacraig to Islay.
CalMac operates a regular ferry service from Kennacraig to Islay.
  • Islay Ferry:The most popular way to get to Islay is via one of two ferry ports: Port Ellen and Port Askaig. The ferry journey takes 2 hours and 20 minutes from Kennacraig on the mainland. You can reach Kennacraig by car from Glasgow in 2 hours and 30 minutes or Edinburgh in 3 hours. We suggest boarding the early morning ferry and sleeping over the night before in the nearby town of Tarbert. During busy tourist season from May to September be sure to book your Islay ferry in advance with local operator Caledonian MacBrayne. 
  • Islay Flight: Islay is also accessible via flights that connect travellers to Colonsay, Oban, Edinburgh and Glasgow. The Islay flight routes are serviced by local operators Herbridean Air and Loganair.
The Machrie Hotel is Islay's newest and most luxurious resort.
The Machrie Hotel is Islay’s newest and most luxurious resort.

Best Islay Hotels

If you’re planning a holiday to Scotland’s famous whisky island you’ll need to research the best Islay hotels in advance. Bowmore is considered the capital of the island and the towns central location is a great jumping off point for those driving around. Islay hotels range from luxury resorts on scenic golf courses to historic boutique hotels and affordable family-run B&Bs.

  • Bowmore Hotel: this friendly family run hotel is a local favourite. Spacious rooms offer walk in showers, comfy duvets and pretty views overlooking the ocean. Locals treat the Bowmore Hotel as their watering hole, visiting the popular Islay whisky bar for live folk music shows into the wee hours of the night. Guests at the hotel are served a full Scottish breakfast in the morning featuring haggis and black pudding. If you’re visiting Islay on a Sunday be sure to indulge in their classic Scottish roast dinner or BBQ.
  • The Machrie Hotel: Islay’s top luxury hotel opened its doors in the Fall of 2018 and became an instant hit. The beautifully designed Machrie Hotel features a championships golf course, spa, cinema, fine dining restaurant and Islay’s best cocktail bar.
  • Islay House: one of Scotland’s grandest Victorian mansions. Located near Bowmore on a 28 acre estate surrounded by gardens and woodlands.
  • Port Charlotte Hotel: a pretty oceanside boutique hotel near Bruichladdich Distillery.
Bowmore Hotel is a popular watering hole for locals serving a Scottish Sunday roast.
Bowmore Hotel is a popular watering hole for locals serving a Scottish Sunday roast.

Best Islay Restaurants

Whisky aficionado’s visiting the Isle of Islay have plenty of opportunity to enjoy a fine feast. Bowmore is the island’s hub featuring everything from chippy trucks to affordable take aways and a well stocked grocery store. You’ll also find many of Islay’s best restaurants just a short stroll from Bowmore Distillery. The island’s most notable restaurants are located in award winning boutique luxury hotels. If you’re visiting during the high season be sure to book your reservations in advance.

  • The Machrie Hotel: Restaurant 18 at The Machrie is Islay’s most jaw-dropping dining room, offering sun-soaked views overlooking the 18th hole. Highlights from the menu include quality Scottish steaks, squash risotto and cheese soufflé. The Machrie Hotel’s restaurant is also home to Islay’s best cocktail bar featuring a fine selection of local whisky as well as gin muddled libations.
  • Bowmore Hotel: The cozy restaurant at Bowmore Hotel is a favourite for locals who come here to enjoy generous plates like their grandmas used to make. The lengthy menu focuses on Scottish classics with a focus on fresh seafood, steaks and local venison. Sunday nights the restaurant serves an exclusive roast or BBQ menu.
  • Lochside Hotel: Located in the heart of Bowmore, Lochside Hotel’s restaurant offers affordable local meals with a jaw-dropping ocean view. The dining room sits perched over an al fresco patio located a stones throw from the rolling waves. You’ll find Scottish pub favourites here such as Fish & Chips, burgers and Mac & Cheese.
  • Peatzeria: Islay’s best pizza restaurant is located in Bowmore. The Italian restaurant offers classics like arancini, antipasti and pasta but are best known for their creative Scottish inspired pizzas. Peatzeria’s signature pizza’s arrive topped with local Islay ingredients such as scallops, lobster, crab and black pudding.
Take a break from visiting the Islay Distilleries by enjoying a scenic hike.
Take a break from visiting the Islay Distilleries by enjoying a scenic hike.

Visit The Best Islay Distilleries

Today, there are a total of nine working Islay distilleries that are open to the public. The whisky distilleries on Islay are clustered around three areas of the island: Port Askaig, Port Ellen and the north west region near Bowmore.

Islay is without a doubt the beating heart of Scotland’s whisky scene. As the popularity of Scotch has dramatically risen in the last decade so has the tourism experience at Islay’s distilleries. Locals will tell you just a few years ago tourists would just knock on the door at a distillery to ask for an informal tour and tasting.

Today, Islay’s distilleries are fashioning themselves to offer unforgettable educational experiences for those who take the journey to sniff, swirl and sip Scotch. Several of the island’s distilleries are currently investing millions into renovating their properties to accomodate new visitors centres and tasting rooms.

If you’re a die hard Single Malt Scotch fan, try and plan your visit in late May when the island hosts the annual Festival of Malt and Music, known locally as Fèis Ìle.

It’s important to note that are plenty of things to do on Islay beyond the distilleries. Be sure to make time to visit Islay’s top attractions including a craft brewery, Woollen Mill, ancient Celtic Cross, lighthouse, and plenty of beautiful beaches.

Islay Distilleries Near Port Askaig

Port Askaig is located on the north east shore of the isle of Islay. It is one of the arrival ports for visitors taking the ferry from Kennacraig on the mainland. Port Askaig plays home to three Islay distilleries: Caol Ila Distillery, Ardnahoe Distillery, and Bunnahabhain Distillery.

Caol Ila is one of the least known Islay Distilleries.
Caol Ila is one of the least known Islay Distilleries.

Caol Ila Distillery

Port Askaig, 44-1496-302769

Caol Ila Distillery is located near Port Askaig on the Isle of Islay, Scotland. Caol Ila translates from Gaelic to “Sound of Islay,” referencing the distillery’s location that overlooks the strait between the Scottish island’s of Jura and Islay. Caol Ila’s location on a secret bay makes it one of the most remote of the nine Islay distilleries.

Originally founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson from Glasgow, Caol Ila Distillery has changed hands many times over the years and is now part of the Diageo family. The international beverage brand owns two Islay distilleries: Caol Ila near Port Askaig and Lagavulin near Pork Ellen.

A parade of stills at Caol Ila Distillery.
A parade of stills at Caol Ila Distillery.
Caol Ila Distillery Islay Whisky

Distinct Islay smokiness makes Caol Ila whisky a reference point for Islay Single Malt Scotch connoisseurs. It’s dry, salty sea air aromas and sublime smoky-smoothness provides a familiar sense of place for whisky sippers, whether you’ve visited Islay or not.

If you’re visiting all of the Islay distilleries, you’ll notice that Caol Ila is one of the lighter whiskies on the island. It’s pale in colour, with peaty, peppery and floral notes. While Caol Ila single malt is prized around the world, 95% of production is used in blends such as Johnnie Walker Black Label.

Beginning in 1999, Caol Ila launched its first ever non-peated “highland spirit.”

Must-try whisky at Caol Ila Distillery:

  • Caol Ila Moch: pale gold, balanced sweet and salty, lingering smoky aftertaste.
  • Caol Ila 12 Year: subdued citrus, medium body, light fragrance smokiness, sour finish.
  • Caol Ila Distillers Edition: pours clear gold, peaty with rich fruit, cinnamon spice.
  • Caol Ila 18 Years: acidity and salt on the palate, reminiscent of a smoky bonfire, slightly sour finish.
  • Caol Ila 25 Years: hints of preserved fruit, smoky-medicinal characters, best enjoyed by adding a little water.
Chocolate and whisky tasting at Caol Ila Distillery.
Chocolate and whisky tasting at Caol Ila Distillery.
Caol Ila Distillery Tours

Caol Ila Distillery is open to the public Monday to Sunday from 10:15am to 5pm.

  • Caol Ila Distillery Tour: £6pp. 1 hour long. Enjoy panoramic views of the Paps of Jura from the magnificent still house after a journey through the Islay whisky making process. The tour ends at the old cooperage where guests enjoy samples of Caol Ila’s single malt expressions.
  • Chocolate and Whisky Tasting: £23pp. 1 hour long. Sample five expressions of Caol Ila paired with Highland Chocolate. Guests also have the opportunity to taste an exclusive unpeated edition.
  • Cask Strength Experience: £26pp. 90 minutes long. Enjoy a short tour of the distillery followed by a tutored tasting in Caol Ila Distillery’s old cooperage. This is the best tour option for serious Scotch whisky connoisseurs.
There are now 9 Islay Distilleries thanks to Ardnahoe's opening in April, 2019.
There are now 9 Islay Distilleries thanks to Ardnahoe’s opening in April, 2019.

Ardnahoe Distillery

Port Askaig, 44-1496-301430

Ardnahoe Distillery is the newest whisky operation in Islay, celebrating the opening of its doors on April 3, 2019. Islay’s newest distillery was built by and is owned by Hunter Laing, an independent bottling company run by the Laing family.

In 2015 the Laing’s located the perfect four-acre site by Loch Ardnahoe on the Northeast of the island. With access to the deep loch waters, and having purchased the ground and secured planning permission ground was broken for Islay’s ninth distillery in late 2016. First runs of distillation began in October 2018 with Cask number 001 filled on November 9th that year.

Visitors at Ardnahoe Distillery can enjoy a bar and cafe offering soft drinks, cocktails, bottled beers, tea, coffee and wine. The cafe serves breakfast at 9:30am and lunch at noon. Fresh baked goods are served throughout the day.

Of all the Islay Distilleries, Ardnahoe is the only property with a craft cocktail program.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Ardnahoe is the only property with a craft cocktail program.
Ardnahoe Distillery Islay Whisky

Ardnahoe Distillery produces classically peated Islay Malt with a flavour profile described by the legendary Jim McEwan: “The spirit opens on a classic Islay DNA. The peat smoke rises like clouds on the Papsof Jura bringing the initial dryness to both the nose and the palate, then subtle notes of pepper, aniseed and lemon arrive in harmony with a medicinal drift of sea breezes, phenol and understated power.  It’s that unmistakable West coast aroma.”

“The spirit opens on a classic Islay DNA. The peat smoke rises like clouds on the Papsof Jura bringing the initial dryness to both the nose and the palate, then subtle notes of pepper, aniseed and lemon arrive in harmony with a medicinal drift of sea breezes, phenol and understated power.  It’s that unmistakable West coast aroma.

Ardnahoe's head distiller takes us on a tour of the barrel aging room.
Ardnahoe’s head distiller takes us on a tour of the barrel aging room.
Ardnahoe Distillery Tours

Ardnahoe Distillery is open to the public Monday to Sunday from 9:30am-5:30pm.

  • The Spirit of Ardnahoe: £10pp. 45 minutes long at 10am / 2pm / 3:30pm. Explore the creation of Ardnahoe Spirit and enjoy a bespoke dramming area with a taste and glass to take home.
  • A Journey Through the Regions: £30pp. 1 hour long at 11:30am. A journey through Scotland’s whisky regions. Sample 5 drams from a selected range of single cask bottlings from Hunter Laing’s extensive stocks. You will be guided through the individual characteristics of each whisky region in Scotland the unique distillation process.
  • Experience the Heritage: £70pp. 1 hour long at 3pm. An exclusive tasting through some of Scotland’s most historic distilleries. Includes five aged expressions from Hunter Laing’s stocks of fine, single cask whisky. This unique tour is a must for Scotch connoisseur’s.
Bunnahabhain is the most northerly of the Islay Distilleries.
Bunnahabhain is the most northerly of the Islay Distilleries.

Bunnahabhain Distillery

Port Askaig, 44-1496-840557

Originally established in 1881, Bunnahabhain Distillery is the most northerly of the Islay distilleries and one of the most remote. It overlooks the sound of Islay, an endless stretch traveled by many sailors, perfectly illustrated by the brands Helmsman iconography.

The name Bunnahabhain means ‘mouth of the river’ and refers to the Margadale River from whose clear spring waters the Islay whisky is distilled. Bunnahabhain boasts the tallest stills on Islay, both of which combine to produce a light, aromatic and complex spirit. At Bunnahabhain all single malts are un-chillfiltered and natural in colour.

Take a tour of Bunnahabhain's ancient whisky stills.
Take a tour of Bunnahabhain’s ancient whisky stills.
Bunnahabhain Distillery Islay Whisky

Kirstie McCallum, Senior Blender at the distillery explains, “Bunnahabhain shows that there is so much more to Islay Whiskies than smoke, with it’s core character being unpeated with notes of creamy berries and nuts.”

Must-try whisky at Bunnahabhain Distillery:

  • Toiteach a Dha: aged in a combination of ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks, touches of smoke from peated malted barley and delicate pepper.
  • Bunnahabhain 12 Year: the beginning of Bunnahabhain’s whisky range. Taste the Islay distillery’s origins featuring a balance of sweet fruit, nuts, vanilla and a delicate coastal influence.
  • Bunnahabhain 25 Year: super-premium bottle from the distillery’s core range featuring sweet oaky layers and nutty flavours.
  • Bunnahabhain 40 Year: pours rich lemon gold, berries and creamy toffee finishes with sweet oak and vanilla.
An intimate single malt whisky tasting at Bunnahabhain Distillery.
An intimate single malt whisky tasting at Bunnahabhain Distillery.
Bunnahabhain Distillery Tours

Bunnahabhain Distillery is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 10am-4pm and Sunday from noon to 4pm. Children under the age of 8 years old are welcome at the distillery, but are not admitted to the production areas or tasting areas.

  • Quick Look Tour: £5pp. This short 20 minute tour shows the steps to create whisky followed by a dram sampling.
  • Production Tour: £7pp. This guided 50 minute tour of the distillery shows the steps to create whisky followed by a dram sampling.
  • Warehouse 9 Experience: £30pp. This 60 minute tour and tasting is the distilleries most popular. Guests have an opportunity to sample whisky straight from the cask. The experience is held in the Islay distillery’s converted floor maltings, which now houses its whisky where it matures in American and European oak casks.
  • Premium Tasting: £35pp. This 60 minute Islay whisky tasting allows Single Malt connoisseurs to enjoy tutored nosing of 5 different expressions of Bunnahabhain across the distilleries core range, limited editions and distillery exclusives. The experience is hosted at the distilleries tasting room overlooking the beautiful Sound of Islay or, weather permitting, on the distillery pier itself.
  • Ultimate Bunnahabhain: £175pp. This 90 minute tour is only available by calling the Visitor Centre to organize in advance. It offers whisky lovers a chance to taste some of Bunnahabhain’s older expressions, along with special releases and limited editions.

Islay Distilleries Near Port Ellen

Port Ellen is located on the south shore of the isle of Islay. It is one of the arrival ports for visitors taking the ferry from Kennacraig on the mainland. Port Ellen plays home to three Islay distilleries: Laphroaig Distillery, Lagavulin Distillery and Ardbeg Distillery.

Laphroaig is the first distillery you'll encounter on the road from Port Ellen.
Laphroaig is the first distillery you’ll encounter on the road from Port Ellen.

Laphroaig Distillery

Port Ellen, 44-1496-302418

Laphroaig (pronounced “la-froyg”), is a Gaelic word meaning “beautiful hollow by the broad bay.” Laphroaig Distillery was officially founded on the Isle of Islay in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnston.

Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded during a visit to the distillery in 1994. The Islay distillery identifies Charles by his title of Duke of Rothesay, as he is recognized in Scotland. The 15-year-old Single Malt is reportedly the prince’s favourite Scotch whisky.

Of all the Islay Distilleries, Laphroaig is unique in that it offers its guests a museum.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Laphroaig is unique in that it offers its guests a museum.
Laphroaig Distillery Islay Whisky

Laphroaig calls itself “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies,” and is most frequently aged to 10 years, although the 15-year-old variety is common. The whisky offers a classic Islay peaty/smoky flavour.

Must-try whisky at Laphroaig Distillery:

  • Laphroaig 10 Years: the original Laphroaig, distilled the same way as it was by Ian Hunter 75 years ago. Enjoy a bold, smoky taste with a hint of seaweed. 
  • Laphroaig 25 Years: matured in Oloroso sherry casks with spirit that has been matured in ex-American bourbon barrels. 
  • Laphroaig Lore: liquid is matured in small batches in five unique casks to create a rich and complex single malt. This Laphroaig whisky uses different aged liquids from 7 to 21 years. 
  • Laphroaig Triple Wood: an extension of Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask expression, special for its triple maturation. Ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks and European oak. 
Enjoy a single malt whisky tasting at Laphroaig Distillery.
Enjoy a single malt whisky tasting at Laphroaig Distillery.
Laphroaig Distillery Tours

The Islay distillery is open during high season daily from 9:15am-5pm.

  • Laphroaig Experience Tour: £10pp. A guided 1 hour tour of the production areas of the distillery followed by a tasting of three whiskies.
  • Distiller’s Wares: £70pp. This 2 hour tour features a visit to the distillery and warehouse, where you’ll sample straight from a selection of casks. Includes 3 drams and a 250ml bottle of your favourite cask in a presentation box.
  • Water to Whiskey: £110pp. This VIP 5 hour tour is limited to just 7 people. The extensive whisky experience includes a distillery tour, picnic lunch, visit to Laphroaig’s water source and peat banks and a taste from 3 casks, before using a valinch to fill a 250ml bottle for you to take home.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Lagavulin may be the most picturesque.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Lagavulin may be the most picturesque.

Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin, 44-1496-302749

Lagavulin Distillery is located a short drive from Port Ellen on the south shore of the Isle of Islay. Sitting perched over picturesque Lagavulin Bay, the celebrated Islay distillery translates from Scottish Gaelic to “hollow of the mill.”

The award-winning Islay distillery celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2016. Lagavulin is the oldest of the nine Islay distilleries running on the island today, having first opening its doors in 1742.

The superior quality of Lagavulin whisky is regularly referenced in pop culture and has been featured in Parks and Recreation, The West Wing and The Walking Dead.

Take an informative tour of Lagavulin Distillery.
Take an informative tour of Lagavulin Distillery.
Lagavulin Distillery Islay Whisky

The whisky at Lagavulin is usually matured for at least 16 years to build the best character.

  • Lagavulin 8 Years: hints of milk chocolate and lemon, tea-scented smoke, smoky finish.
  • Lagavulin 12 Years: light gold, natural cask strength, bursting with fruit and layers of smoke.
  • Lagavulin 16 Years: deep amber gold, aged in oak casks, massive peat spoke, hints of seaweed.
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition: double matured in Pedro Ximinez cask wood, vanilla and peat-rich.
  • Lagavulin 25 Years: pours red chestnut, dried fruits and toffee, finish with cooling eucalyptus.
Sip a selection of award-winning single malt whiskies at Lagavulin Distillery.
Sip a selection of award-winning single malt whiskies at Lagavulin Distillery.
Lagavulin Distillery Tours

Lagavulin Distillery is open to the public daily from 9:15am to 6pm.

  • Lagavulin Distillery Tour: £8pp. 1 hour tour. Watch Lagavulin’s distillers at work and view the unusual pear shaped stills. Enjoy a dram of one of the distillery’s core range and a complimentary glass.
  • Sensory Tasting Experience: £35pp. A unique tasting kit was crafted for the distilleries 200 year anniversary. Complete with 5 whisky samples and 7 aromas and flavours allowing you to familiarize yourself with the character of Lagavulin whisky.
  • Warehouse Demonstration: £30pp. Examine the journey of Lagavulin spirit through the maturation process. Start with a young single malt and work through samples drawn right in front of you from old casks.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Ardbeg is one of the most recognizable brands.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Ardbeg is one of the most recognizable brands.

Ardbeg Distillery

Ardbeg, 44-1496-302244

Ardbeg Distillery was established in 1815 by John McDougall, a local Islay farmer and clan descendent of the Lords of the Isles.

The Ardbeg Distillery sits perched by a rocky cove on the island’s wild and untamed southern coast. Islay is a land steeped in history: Celtic monks, raiding Norsemen, the Lords of the Isles and 19th century smugglers have all played their part in Ardbeg’s story.

Ardbeg’s knot-work and famous ‘A’ derive from the Islay Distillery’s Celtic heritage, as seen in the 8th-century Kildalton Cross, which stands a few miles north of the property.

Feeling peckish after your whisky tour and tasting? Skip over to the Old Kiln Cafe and enjoy traditional Scottish feast featuring dishes such as Fish Pie, Haggis Neeps & Tatties and a collection of gourmet baked potatoes.

Enjoy an education tour of Ardbeg Distillery.
Enjoy an education tour of Ardbeg Distillery.
Ardbeg Distillery Islay Whisky

Mickey Heads, Ardbeg Distillery’s Manager says, “Ardbeg is renowned as among the smokiest and peatiest of Islay malts, but it also has a unique complexity. When you drink Ardbeg you’ll discover a salty sweetness that leads into an explosion of peat, then into an oily creaminess.”

Ardbeg’s minimum peating level of 55ppm ensures the Islay distillery’s core range is consistently the smokiest in Scotland!

  • Ardbeg Ten: revered around the world as one of the peatiest, smokiest and most complex single malts. Matured in ex-Bourbon American Oak casks.
  • Ardbeg An Oa: created in Ardbeg’s French oak Gathering Vat using whisky from several cask types.
  • Ardbeg Corryvreckan: winner “Best Islay Single Malt” at the World Whisky Awards, this complex bottle from Ardbeg offers hints of dark chocolate, blackcurrants and pine needles.
  • Ardbeg Uigeadail: many regard Ardbeg Uigeadail as the pinnacle of the Islay distillery’s range. It’s a special vatting that marries Ardbeg’s traditional deep, smoky notes with luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry casks.
Single malt aficionados love touring through Ardbeg's historic whisky bottle collection.
Single malt aficionados love touring through Ardbeg’s historic whisky bottle collection.
Ardbeg Distillery Tours

Ardbeg Distillery is open to the public from 9:30am to 5pm 7 days a week.

  • The Ardbeg Distillery Tour & Wee Taste: £8pp. This one hour tour offers behind the scenes access of the famous Islay distillery with a dram sample of the core range at the end.
  • The Ardbeg Full Range Tour & Tasting: £25pp. This 1 hour and 45 minute tour of the distillery ends with a tasting of 5 different drams in Ardbeg’s Chairman’s Study.
  • The Table Tastings: Enjoy an informal tasting at the Old Kiln Cafe. Pick from one of the daily whisky tasting flights and the staff will briefly walk your through the whiskies. No reservation required!

Islay Distilleries Near Bowmore

Bowmore plays home to Islay’s oldest and longest running whisky distillery, located in the centre west region of the isle of Islay. The region plays home to three Islay distilleries: Bowmore Distillery, Bruichladdich Distillery and Kilchoman Distillery.

Take a stroll through Bowmore's gift shop.
Take a stroll through Bowmore’s gift shop.

Bowmore Distillery

Bowmore, 44-1496-810441

Bowmore is the first Islay Distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland and the home of the oldest maturation warehouse in the world. The distillery is located in Islay’s capital, which is home to almost one-third of the island’s population.

Bowmore Distillery was established by a local merchant, John P. Simson in 1779. By 1841 the distilleries spectacular Single Malt’s were so regarded that Windsor Castle began ordering casks, a special royal relationship that remains to this day.

Bowmore’s signature flavour and smooth taste is coveted by collectors worldwide. No other peated whisky has a supply of 50 year old expressions. The Black Bowmore is one of the most unique expressions a whisky connoisseur can experience. The 1964 edition reached a value of £22,222 at Whisky Auctioneer in 2018!

A fascinating history gallery at Bowmore Distillery.
A fascinating history gallery at Bowmore Distillery.
Bowmore Distillery Islay Whisky

Bowmore is the only peated super premium Single Malt Scotch. Head distillery David Turner says, “Bowmore is a perfectly balanced Islay Malt, a great combination of peat and fruit. Must try whiskies to taste at the Islay distillery are the Core Range, 12, 15 and 18 year old and the Distillery Exclusive, currently the Distillery Managers Edition and Bottle Your Own’s.”

Must-try whisky at Bowmore Distillery:

  • Bowmore No. 1: Exclusively matured in first fill Bourbon casks, vanilla sweetness and cinnamon spice paired with oaky smoke.
  • Bowmore 12 Year: Pours warm amber, subtle lemon and sweet honey with mellow peat smoke.
  • Bowmore 18 Year: aged in oak casks, creamy caramel toffee, ripe fruit and smokey aromas.
  • Bowmore 25 Year: Pours mellow mahogany, matured for a quarter century in North American Bourbon and Spanish sherry casks, flavours of toffee and hazelnut.
Enjoying a single malt whisky tasting at Bowmore Distillery's tasting room.
Enjoying a single malt whisky tasting at Bowmore Distillery’s tasting room.
Bowmore Distillery Tours

Bowmore Distillery is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 9:30am-6pm and Sunday from noon to 4pm.

  • Bowmore Express Tour: £5pp. If you’re pressed for time enjoy this whirlwind tour of the distillery and taste a dram of Bowmore 12 Year.
  • Unlock Hidden Depths Tasting Tour: £10pp. This one hour tour guides you through one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. After the tour enjoy a tasting of three Bowmore samples while enjoying views over Loch Indaal.
  • Time Savoured Tasting: £30pp. Learn about the importance of time and nurturing handcrafted spirit. You’ll enjoy a guided tour, tutored tasting and tasty treats.
  • Vaults Secrets Tasting Tour: £70pp. Begin with a taste of Bowmore’s limited release Vaults Edition. This behind the scenes tour takes you from old-fashioned floor maltings to the Islay distilleries warehouse. Finish at the exclusive Vaults Secrets Tasting Room to enjoy a special cask tasting.
  • The Laggan, The Lade and The Legendary No.1 Vaults: £130pp. A tour suited for the Single Malt connoisseur. Join a Bowmore guide for an off the beaten track distillery tour. You’ll visit Bowmore’s unique water source, the River Laggan, Cafaidh Blasda at an old Garlic college to enjoy a traditional ploughman’s lunch. Return to the visitor centre to visit Bowmore’s legendary No.1 Vaults.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Bruichladdich is the only brand producing both whisky and gin.
Of all the Islay Distilleries, Bruichladdich is the only brand producing both whisky and gin.

Bruichladdich Distillery

Bruichladdich, 44-1496-850190

Bruichladdich Distillery was originally built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers (William, John, and Robert), on the shore of Loch Indaal, on the Rinns of Islay, the westernmost part of the island. The Harveys were a dynastic whisky family that had owned two Glasgow distilleries since 1770.

Using an inheritance, the three brothers combined their talents to build a third distillery, Bruichladdich, designed by John, engineered by Robert, and financed by William and other family members. At the time, the distillery was a state-of-the-art design unlike Islay’s other older distilleries, which had been developed from old farm buildings. It was built from stone from the sea shore and has a very efficient layout, built around a large and breezy courtyard.

We love Bruichladdich most as it’s the only Islay distillery that produces both whisky and gin. The Botanist is an artisanal Islay gin, distinctive for its addition to the nine customary gin aromatics of a further 22 locally picked wild Islay botanicals, including gorse flowers, water mint leaves, white clover and creeping thistle. We suggest enjoying a Bruichladdich whisky tour followed by a single malt flight tasting and refreshing Botanist gin muddled G&T.

Take a tour of Bruichladdich's barrel aging room.
Take a tour of Bruichladdich’s barrel aging room.
Bruichladdich Distillery Islay Whisky

The Bruichladdich whisky range is unpeated, floral and complex. The Islay distillery team trickle distil from 100% Scottish barley using much of the original Victorian machinery. 

Built in 1881 when puffer-supplied coal was available as an alternative fuel to local peat, it is likely that Bruichladdich was specifically designed to produce the purest unpeated spirit in Scotland. Alfred Barnard supports this view with a curious clue, Bruichladdich is the only distillery on Islay that he does not describe as drying its malt using peat in his fascinating exploration of the island’s distilleries in 1885.

Must-try whisky at Bruichladdich Distillery:

  • The Classic Laddie: barely sugar and a hint of mint on the nose, refined and refreshing palate featuring ripe green fruit.
  • Port Charlotte MRC 01: this sweet and fruity spirit has spent time in first fill American whisky casks and second fill in French wine casks. Palate offers marshmallow bound in smoke. 
  • Octomore Ten Years Dialogos: the third edition release of one of Islay’s most sought after whisky bottles. Matured entirely on Islay for 10 years in Port, Cognac, ex-American whiskey and Virgin Oak casks. Limited to just 12,000 bottles. Hints of leather, tobacco, icing sugar and chocolate. 
 
Enjoy whisky flights and muddled Botanist Gin cocktails at Bruichladdich's tasting room.
Enjoy whisky flights and muddled Botanist Gin cocktails at Bruichladdich’s tasting room.
Bruichladdich Distillery Tours

Bruichladdich Distillery is open to the public Monday-Friday from 9am-6pm, Saturday from 9am-5pm and Sunday from 10am-4pm. £5 Distillery Tour tickets are redeemable against the purchase of a 50cl or 70cl bottle.

  • Distillery Tour: £5pp. Enjoy a walk around the Victorian Distillery to learn about Bruichladdich’s history, philosophy and how they make their whisky and gin. 
  • Warehouse Experience: £25pp. Visit warehouse 6 and enjoy 3 unique expressions straight from the cask. 
  • The Botanist Tour: £25pp. Learn about the history, production and botanicals used to prepare The Botanist gin. You’ll visit the gin still then back to the shop for a tasting including two cocktails which you can prepare yourself. 
The gift shop at Kilchoman Distillery.
The gift shop at Kilchoman Distillery.

Kilchoman Distillery

Rockside Farm, 44-1496-850011

Kilchoman Distillery was established in 2005 by Founder and Managing Director, Anthony Wills. The family run distillery is the smallest on Islay and one of the newest to be built on the island.

Kilchoman Distillery on Islay is unique in that it is the only farm distillery on the island. They are the only distillery on Islay that does every step of the whisky making process on site: from growing their own barely to bottling the final product.

The popular Islay Distillery also features an onsite cafe offering lunches, fresh baking, tea, coffee and soft drinks. The most popular dish is Cullen Skink, a thick Scottish soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. The menu also includes healthy salad bowls, seafood and meat platters, sandwiches and oyster bar.

Enjoy a single malt whisky tour at Kilchoman Distillery.
Enjoy a single malt whisky tour at Kilchoman Distillery.
Kilchoman Distillery Islay Whisky

Kilchoman Distillery produces single malt Scotch whisky on Islay. The whisky at Kilchoman Distillery is described as soft and fruity with vanilla and butterscotch notes.

Must-try whisky at Kilchoman Distillery:

  • Machir Bay: Named after Islay’s most spectacular beach. The bottle is made up of Kilchoman whisky matured in both bourbon and sherry casks. The high proportion of bourbon barrels creates a unique balance of aromatic peat smoke, citrus sweetness and tropical fruit.
  • Sanaig: Predominantly sherry cask influenced, this Islay whisky has a lovely balance of peat smoke, fruit and sweetness.
  • 100% Islay: A vatting of bourbon and sherry casks from multiple years. The combination of cask types and ages allows for a unique balance of rich peat smoke, citrus sweetness and fragrant tropical fruit.
  • Loch Gorm: Fully sherry cask matured.
  • Sauternes Finish: The Sauternes cask finish is a vatting of thirty bourbon barrels married in sauternes wine casks for five months prior to bottling.
Finish your visit to Kilchoman Distillery with a tutored whisky tasting.
Finish your visit to Kilchoman Distillery with a tutored whisky tasting.
Kilchoman Distillery Tours

Kilchoman Distillery is open to the public Monday to Sunday from 9:45am-5pm.

  • The Wee Tour: £5pp. 30 minutes long at 4pm. Visitors get a small tasting glass, Kilchoman lanyard and sample two drams.
  • The Classic Tour: £10pp. 45 minutes long at 10am / 2pm / 3pm. Visitors get a small tasting glass, Kilchoman lanyard, sample two drams and a taste of New Make spirit.
  • The Ultimate Tour: £35pp. 2 hours long at 11am. Visitors get to view Warehouse 1, receive a Glencairn tasting glass, sit down to a five dram tasting and sip a New Make spirit.
  • Warehouse Tasting: £25pp. 45 minutes long at 2.30pm. Visitors enjoy a tasting of various drams, some core range, some limited, which takes place within Warehouse 1. No tour included.

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