Your favourite Islay whiskies

We’ve been asking Summerton Whisky Club members for their whisky and whiskey recommendations to create weekly guides to help other whisky drinkers on their journey.

In this week’s guide we are looking at Islay, an Inner Hebridean Island off the west coast of Scotland. Measuring 25 miles by 15 miles, Islay is home to nine active distilleries, with Ardnahoe the most recent addition, making whisky the island’s second biggest employer.

Synonymous with heavily peated whisky, Islay has had a massive impact on the perception of Scotch whisky, but there is more to it. We asked out members for their favourite Islay bottles that are currently available and there were loads of suggestions, here’s what they said, but first my favourite comment from Sarra, “Islay is my jam”

Ardbeg 10

A bottle many suggested was the first Islay Kieran tried and still one of his favourites, he says “can’t go wrong and affordable price,” and Tom backing this up with “not even a question really is it.” It’s a go to for David, and Andy finds it “utterly divine.”

Lagavulin 16

George was first to reply to our request, saying Lagavulin 16 “has something in it for everyone. Smokey, slight salt and refreshing, ” a bottle Bobski describes as rich, dark and leathery and Dave proposes that it “tastes lovely.”

Caol Ila 12 & 18

Amber describes Caol Ila as “very underrated in my opinion, especially as a lot of blended releases that focus on a peaty flavour have used Caol Ila as a base,” David agreed with, “The Caol Ila 12 is a really nice everyday whisky, more subtle than many Islay whiskies and underrated as you say. The 18 is a beautiful dram to sip when sitting beside a roaring fire on an autumn night. A whisky that can be appreciated by someone who maybe doesn’t normally go for Islay whiskies.”

Martin is also a fan of Caol Ila 12, “it’s so perfectly balanced. Not a peat monster but not a thin, weary dram either.”

Chris “tried an 18YO Caol Ila at the Blair Atholl distillery. It was lovely.”

Bunnahabhain 12 & Stiùireadair

A distillery not necessarily known for heavily peated expressions, but still recognised as producing fantastic whisky. Bunnahabhain 12 is a staple in Helen’s collection, calling it a quality dram that is superb value for money, Mick also adds, “I love bunna 12.”

Stiùireadair also received a number of mentions, with it being one of Graeme’s favourites, and supported by Paul who says “one that does not break the bank but is a good dram in my mind” about the first dram he ever had from Bunnahabhain.

The Ileach

“One for my money in the budget range is The Ileach…you are not getting the subtlety of some of the more traditional Islays but it certainly is a good little tipple. I am not much of a one for describing the nose, i.e. oakyness with a hint of apricot type thing. I never got that but this is what I would class as a school-night whisky, not too heavy. If it was a beer it would be a session ale.

Sorry if that sounds daft but hopefully you will get my drift.” Graham sums this one up nicely

Kilchoman Machir Bay

“Huge shout out for Kilchoman Machir Bay which is a stunning whisky” from Chris, gets Kilchoman Machir Bay included, something Robert agrees with proposing that it is “full of Islay peat and smoke flavors, but in balance and a tad of sweetness.”

Laphroaig 10

Often mentioned in the same breath as Ardbeg 10, many have them on a par, Andy suggests both express a “perfect balance of sweetness and smoke, but each slightly different”, but a word of warning from Mick and Grant who say that it “is not what it used to be.”

Rhuvaal however points out that you can’t go far wrong with Laphroaig 10 cask strength, so maybe that is what to go for now.

Octomore 12.2

Ross’ description has me interested, “I know it’s dear but the octomore 12.2 is brilliant. Heavily peated on the palate but the finish is really clean like a non peated whisky. Could drink it all day if it wasn’t so expensive.”

This was a particularly popular topic, with many more recommendations suggesting that this small island is producing a lot of great whisky. Hopefully it will help to give you an idea of where you start your journey with Islay whisky.