Islay is the land of the most delicious peaty scotch. Scotch is basically whisky that is made in Scotland. (i.e. you have American whisky, Irish whisky.) It’s like champagne being produced in the town of Champagne in France. Here’s an itinerary for you peaty scotch lovers: scotch based itinerary in Islay, Scotland.
Islay Peaty Scotch 101
Islay’s scotch is unique in that it is very peaty. That is the strong smoky flavor and rich intense colour in the heavenly juice, scotch. Popular brands include Laphroaig and Lagavulin. (If you watch Parks & Recreation, Lagavulin is the scotch that Ron Swanson loves to drink!)
Peaty scotch from Islay is not for everyone. In my opinion, the best is to drink it neat. I’ve had a bartender who made me a Briuchladdich cocktail before. It broke my heart because having it neat is a million times better.
That being said, if you love peaty scotch, you can also consider going to Jura. Jura is an island just above Islay, where they also produce peaty scotch.
Why Islay and Peaty Scotch?
That was a question I wanted to know. It is the earth and process in Islay that makes the scotch smoked and peaty. That is all. I highly recommend you to take at least 1 tour in a distillery to know more.
Where is Islay, Scotland
Islay is an island on the west-side of Scotland. Because it is an island, getting there requires taking a ferry. It is also quite close to the tip of Ireland. Islay likes to claim that on a clear day, you can see Ireland. But you RARELY have clear days in Scotland!
Nonetheless, even if you are not a whisky-fan, there are still things to appreciate in Islay. Lots of beautiful landscapes, perfect if you are the designated driver!
Islay Scotch Tour (General)
Islay scotch tour means the tour each distillery provides. You either buy your tickets online or go to the counter to purchase a tour ticket. It ends with a tasting experience of that specific distillery.
In general, the distillery tours share similar things. They will bring you around the distillery to show you the process of it being done, how different scotch is blended or created, the dram storage, the distillery process.
It is really interesting. But I recommend limiting yourself to a maximum of 2 tours. You can always visit the distilleries and drink their scotch without going for a tour.
To get around, you can refer to this guide. In general, I still highly recommend a car because some distilleries are difficult to get to.
- Designated driver please!
- Do 1 tour of your favourite distillery. Spend the rest of the time (& money) doing tastings.
- You have to be at least 18 years old.
Scotch Based Itinerary
Depending on your preference, you might consider this route:
Come in via Port Ellen – Laphroaig (tour) – Lagavulin (tasting) – Ardbeg (tasting + food) – visit American Monument in the south – Stay at No. 1 Charlotte Street – Bowmore – Briuchladdich – Caol Ila – Leave via Port Askaig
The red landmarks are if you are in Islay for 2 days. In the south, you can technically see Ireland. But as always, it’s bad cloudy weather in Scotland, so it’s rare to see Ireland.
Other distilleries to check out: Edradour, Bunnahabain, Kilchoman, distilleries in Jura (an island, 10min ferry ride)
I took the Laphroaig tour because I really love Laphroaig. It’s also the favourite scotch of Prince Phillip! They bring you around the history, equipment, distillery process, smoking room, peaty process, scotch rooms and drams used.
It ends with a tasting option. You have 2 tokens, which you can taste 2 normal bottles or 1 premium bottle. It was the PX case, 10 year and 20 years. Since I had the first 2, I used my token to try the 20 year bottle.
For those driving, they also provide a small tiny bottle for you to bring the scotch back home to drink.
I chose the Laphroaig, because it is one of my absolute favourite. Instead of finding the “best distillery tour in Islay”, I recommend that you visit the one you like. Understanding the process of how this heavenly liquid is produced helps me to appreciate it even more!
Ps: you can do a “friends of Laphroaig” program and own a little piece of land!
I highly recommend you to book the tours before visiting. Especially summer time, many tours are sold out. They also do not have the specific tours every single day.
Lagavulin: they have the cutest fireplace for you to taste the whisky (for free). The decoration inside is classic and whatever you imagine “fine gentlemen gathering in a salon, drinking quality scotch and discussing current affairs” is.
Ardbeg: they have a café, Old Kiln Café where you can order your meals.
- For regular folks, the full range tour & tasting costs £25 per person. It lasts for 1h 45min.
- For the connoisseur, I recommend the Single Cask Dinner tour!
There are a lot of other tour options, so check it out.
Bowmore: one of the other popular distilleries. Tasting tours start at £10 per person.
Briuchladdich: a tough competitor to Laphroaig, Briuchladdich is the other peaty whisky for you peaty lovers. You can taste the most peaty whisky (The Octomore) there for free. You can also do a distillery tour for just £5.
Caol Ila: it’s 6min away from Port Askiag. So it’s perfect as the last distillery to visit before leaving islay. Try out the whisky and chocolate pairing! Back at home, I do this routine monthly – my 90% Lindt with some fine Coal Ila.
Accommodations Based on Preferred Scotch
There are very little accommodations on Islay. But here’s a short summary of where to stay, based on your preferred scotch.
- Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg: 1 Charlotte Street
- Bowmore: The Bowmore House Bed and Breakfast
- Bruichladdich: Port Charlotte Youth Hostel
That’s it. The perfect scotch based itinerary. I was definitely in heaven, the entire time I was in Islay.
After Islay, I recommend that you head up north to the Highlands. Don’t forget to see the adorable highland cows!
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