Posted in Travel

The Smokey Drams

When the trip was just in the planning stages the first location chosen was Islay. It is the home of the smokey scotches and these are Ron’s favourites so it was a must. Added to that is the fact that this Inner Hebrides Island is scenic, little enough to get around easy and home to 9, I believe, distilleries made it a great destination. One we would go back to in a heart beat because it also has fabulous beaches, great hiking, amazing restaurants, local music and lots of historic sites.

We packed a lot into a few days here and stayed strong to the mission but failed to see them all!


  • No Tour
  • Tasted
    • Golden and Elegant 15 year old
  • Bought
    • Bowmore 10 Dark and Intense
    • Water jug
  • History
    • Started in 1779 by John Simons and sold early on to W. & J. Mutter
    • There is a 1957 bottle in an over the top display as well as a 1890 bottle
    • Amazing history display plus a really nice tasting area.
    • During the World Wars the Bowmore Distillery halted production, and hosted the RAF Coastal Command for much of World War II
    • The waste heat from the distillation process goes to heat a nearby public swimming pool  that was built in one of the distillery’s former warehouses.
    • Literally the town is built around the distillery.
  • Ownership
    • Morrison Bowmore; holding company of Beam Suntory of Japan

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  • No Tour
  • Tasted
    • Nice Canadian /Scottish lad from Fort Mac gave us complimentary tasting
    • Triple Wood
  • Bought
    • Triple Wood
  • History
    • Fabulous history display
    • Established in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnston.[1] The Johnstons who founded Laphroaig were from the Clan Donald. The last member of the Johnston family to run the distillery was Ian Hunter, a nephew of Sandy Johnston, who died childless in 1954 and left the distillery to one of his managers, Bessie Williamson.
    • First female owner in 20th century but she died unmarried and childless. 
    • The distillery was sold to Long John International in the 1960s, and subsequently became part of Allied Domecq and just kept getting sold off again and again. Bought in 2014 by Beam Suntory.
    • Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded in person during a visit to the distillery in 1994. The distillery identifies Charles by his title of Duke of Rothesay, as he is recognized in Scotland. The 15-year-old was reportedly the prince’s favourite Scotch whisky.
    • We picked up 2 rent bottles because the nice lady at the till asked if we were “due our rent”. This also entitled us to put our Canadian flag in our little “plot” of land. Ah if only we could go back yearly to always collect our free bottles.
  • Ownership
    • Beam Suntory

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  • No Tour
  • Tasted nothing as it was closed
  • Bought not a thing
  • History
    • Just a very small display area.
    • The distillery of Lagavulin officially dates from 1816, when John Johnston and Archibald Campbell constructed two distilleries on the site. One of them became Lagavulin, taking over the other—which one is not exactly known.
    • Records show illicit distillation in at least ten illegal distilleries on the site as far back as 1742, however.
    • In the 19th century, several legal battles ensued between Lagavulin and Laphroaig,  It is said that Mackie, the owner, attempted to copy Laphroaig’s style. Since the water and peat at Lagavulin’s premises was different from that at Laphroaig’s, the result was different.
    • The Lagavulin distillery is located in the village of the same name and is literally like a stone’s throw from the other distillery.
  • Ownership
    • Owned by Diageo PLC, the company formed by the merger of United Distillers & Vintners and Guinness.

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  • Tour
    • 20% of their barley is home grown & malted on site
    • Peat fire (of course) but it’s the smoke not the fire that dries it smokey
    • Ron tasted the wart from the tank – smells ghastly
    • The driver got “take away”bottles
    • Only place on island that actually bottled their own
    • 100% Islay from Barley to Bottle is their distinction. The first 100% Islay whisky was released in 2011.
  • Tasted
    • Barley to Bottle
    • Machir Bay
    • Bramble Liquor
    • Single Cask
    • Snaig
  • Bought
  • History
    • No ancient history as it’s not old but the farm existed for a long time and that is the basis of the buildings. The distillery began production in December 2005, and was the first to be built on the island of Islay in 124 years.
    • Land was originally farmed by our guide’s Uncle & she used to ride horses there when she was growing up. The distillery uses barley grown at Rockside Farm and it is malted there (only one on island still to do any of their own barley malting as most use the malt house in Port Ellen).
    • The Port Ellen maltings are peated to the same levels as Ardbeg (50ppm), while the malt peated on their own floor will be approximately 20 ppm.
    • Stables still there but an incredible amount of building going on.
    • The owner,  who was actually in the wine industry for 2 decades, was on the floor and answered a question I had about crop rotation of barley
    • Interesting shop variety and had a cafe
  • Ownership
    • Anthony Wills
  • It is one of only six Scottish distilleries still doing traditional floor maltings, and is currently unique in completing all parts of the whisky making process – growing barley, malting, distilling, maturing and bottling on Islay, making it the only true ‘Barley to Bottle’ experience in Scotland. This is why I wanted a tour here. It did not disappoint.

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  • No Tour
  • Tasted
    • Freebie of Journey
  • Bought
    • Ron went to find the Prophecy but they no longer produce it as they have a brand new line out
    • Interesting side note that on our hike up in the hills we chatted with Big David from the distillery and if we’d had time to hang around for a day he was sure he could have sourced one for us
    • As a side note>> “Prophecy” – a heavily peated malt, bottled without chill filtration. In the early 1700s, the Campbells of Jura evicted a man who prophesied that the last Campbell to leave the island would be one-eyed with his belongings carried in a cart drawn by a lone white horse. In 1938 Charles Campbell, blind in one eye from a war injury, fell on hard times and led his white horse to the old pier for the last time.
  • History
    • Tiny shop with minimal history but friendly girl, who loved life on the island
    • Besides the distiller there is one hotel, a small store, a café and a primary school. The island road is 32 miles long and is single track. One reaches Jura from Islay.
    • The distillery was founded in 1810. The distillery fell into disrepair, and was rebuilt in the early 1960s by two local estate owners Robin Fletcher and Tony Riley-Smith.
  • Ownership
    • Whyte & Mackay is a Scottish company producing alcoholic beverages. It was founded in 1844 and is based in Glasgow but is now owned by Philippines-based Emperador Inc.

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  • No Tour
  • Tasted
    • Two huge freebies of
    • An Cladach (The Shore)
    • Amontillado Cask Finish
  • Bought nothing
  • History
    • Bunnahabhain — which means ‘mouth of the river’ in Gaelic, as it stands at the mouth of the Margadale Spring on the north shore. It first came into existence in 1883. However its origins can be traced back four years earlier when, in 1879, William Robertson of Robertson and Baxter Blending House, joined with the Greenlees Brothers to create the Islay Distillery Company.
    • The distillery was built on a site close to the Margadale River,
    • The village of Bunnahabhain was founded to house its workers but has recently been demolished and a new visitor center and cottages will be built.
    • Small shop and not much merchandise
    • The place was closed for a while (1930 to 1937) and yet it still looks a bit worse for wear
    • The lone worker was super friendly and really informative
    •  It is one of the the milder single malt Islay whiskies available and its taste varies greatly from other spirits to be found on the island, perhaps because of the water used.
  • Ownership
    • Owned by Distell Group Limited, commonly referred to as Distell, is a multinational brewing and beverage company, based in South Africa.


We did do a drive by “shooting” of Ardbeg and so have a photo of it. It looked worthy of a stop and we were a bit choked that we didn’t have time to stop but because I had wanted to go up island to see the Celtic crosses we had ran out of time on that side of the island.


We didn’t end up with a photo of Caol Ila (too far off the main road and obviously down the hill) or Bruichladdich so I have included their basic info from Wikipedia.

Caol Ila distillery.jpg

Caol Ila

Region: Islay
Location Port Askaig
Owner Diageo
Founded 1846
Status Operational
No. of stills 3 wash (19,000 liters)
3 spirit (12,000 liters)[1]
Capacity 6,500,000 L
Mothballed 1930-1937, 1942-1945
Caol Ila
Age(s) 12-year-old[2]
cask strength[3]
Cask type(s) American oak
ABV 43%


Bruichladdich distillery gates

Region: Islay
Location Rhinns of the isle of IslayScotland.
Founded 1881
Status Operational
Water source Bruichladdich loch (mash), burn (cooling), and Octomore spring (bottling)
No. of stills 2 wash (12,000 liters)
2 spirit (11,000 liters)
1 Lomond (adjustable)[1]
Capacity 1,500,000 litres
Mothballed 1907–1918, 1929–1935, 1941–1945, 1994–2000
Bruichladdich (Unpeated)
Age(s) 2013 Core Range:
Bruichladdich Scottish Barley
Bruichladdich Islay Barley
Bruichladdich The Organic
Bruichladdich Bere Barley
Bruichladdich Black Art
Cask type(s) American Oak, European Oak, New Oak
Port Charlotte (Heavily Peated)
Age(s) Port Charlotte Scottish Barley
PC Series: First Cut, PC5, PC6, PC7, PC8, PC9, PC10, PC11, PC12
Cask type(s) American Oak, European Oak, New Oak
Octomore (Super Heavily Peated)
Age(s) Octomore 6.1 Scottish Barley, Octomore 6.2 ACE
Cask type(s) American Oak

We were lucky enough to end up with a taste of Bruichladdich, thanks to the guy at the table next to us at the Port Charlotte Inn. We had made last minute reservations to eat there so that we could listen to live local music. When the two men left the one dropped of a drink for us and suggested we stop in for a tour.  We really aren’t sure exactly what we drank but it was good companion to the music.


Now the thing to note is that Islay is noted for it’s peaty flavour. So we were very interested to learn that the peat fields are abundant and within the first day we could pick them out. I always thought it was like a bog and so would be found on low lying ground but that’s not so. It is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. It is rarely used as a heating material in most of Scotland anymore although we did smell peat fires on a couple of occasions. Once you realize what you are seeing it is possible to recognize the “harvest” lines in it. The peat, at least on Islay, isn’t owned by anyone and is available to harvest. According to our B & B host it’s rare to see anyone out harvesting but we did find current evidence of new piles dug and drying out which you can see under the blue tarp in the bottom photo. You can also see a small heather plant blooming in it’s little protected hollow.


So that is the story of our time on Islay and touring the smokey distilleries. It’s where my love of Scotch occurred, much to my surprise!

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