Islay whisky is Scotch whisky made on Islay or Ìle in Gaelic, one of the southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Islands located off the west coast of Scotland.
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.
Islay is a centre of “whisky tourism”, and hosts a “Festival of Malt and Music” known as Fèis Ìle each year on the last week of May, with events and tastings celebrating the cultural heritage of the island.
The whiskies of the distilleries along the southeastern coast of the island, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, have a smoky character derived from peat, considered a central characteristic of the Islay malts, and ascribed both to the water from which the whisky is made and to the peating levels of the barley.
Many describe this as a “medicinal” flavor. They also possess notes of iodine, seaweed and salt. Caol Ila, on the northern side of the island, across from Jura, also produces a strongly peated whisky. Trees, other than plantations, on these islands are scattered and the peat is free of rotting wood. (Normal peat bogs are invaded by trees and periodic fires kill the encroaching tree line.) Islay peat is reputedly the best flavoured for scotch production.