Scotland and Scotch whisky: Islay  whisky through the producing distilleries: history, making, maps and tasting notes



Garbreck distillery
Moss Rd,
Isle of Islay PA43 7JG,

Owner: Jean Donnay

Creation year: 201?

This distillery is under construction. This is a very interesting experience as it is created by Jean Donnay, owner and founder of the Breton distillery Glan ar Mor.

Gartbreck will be the third distillery on the banks of Loch Indaal. Very little is known for the moment (October 2013) but the distillery is located on the site of Gartbreck farm on the edge of Loch Indaal, the binder known as "Saltan Point". The small beach in front of the farm is the place from where the Loch Indaal ferry was crossing to Port Charlotte once.

The stills overlook the sea directly through large windows, and you can see Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte on the other side of Loch Indaal.
An argument with Hunter Laing, who is also the owner of the new Ardnahoe distillery, has long delayed the project. A strip of land that Garneath needs to build his cellars and a parking lot belongs to Hunter Laing who stubbornly refuses to sell to Jean Donnay. It seems that the problem is being solved.



Bruichladdich Distillery
Port Charlotte
Islay - Argyll PA49 7UN
+44 1496 850 221

Owner: Rémy Cointreau

Ceation date: 1881

The distillery is on the shore of Lochindaal, on the road to Port Charlotte. It was built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers: William, Robert and John Gourlay. Their father, William Harvey was the owner of the once famous Glasgow distilleries Dundashill and Yoker and bequeathed the money to his sons expressly to build a distillery on Islay.
In 1886, the society took the name of Bruichladdich Distillery Co and all the shares were owned by the Harfey family.
Following the death of the manager and family shareholder Kenneth Harvey during the big recession of 1929 the distillery to close its doors until the Second World War when the distillery was sold to Associated Scottish Distillers ltd, owned by National Distillers in the United States in 1938. Other distilleries were bought by the same group in the same period: Ben Nevis, Benromach and Fettercairn.
The distillery was sold in 1952 to Ross & Coulter. The latter society was bought by A.B Grant in 1960. The malting floors were closed in 1961 in common with other Islay distilleries when the large maltings at Port Ellen was constructed.. Invergordon Distillers took the distillery over in 1968. Invergordon became later part of Whyte & MacKay in 1993, itself part of the american group JBB Greater Europe (Jim Beam Brands) which in turn was owned by the US giant Fortune Brands (2006: Beam Global Spirits & Wine ) who mothballed the distillery in 1994
In december 2000 a group of private investors, led by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid, a famous independent Scottish whisky trader, bought the distillery..
It is managed since then by Jim Mac Ewan, former director of the Bowmore distillery, and an emblematic character of the Isle.of Islay and winner of Distiller of the Year for an unprecedented three times. 
Since 2002, three single malts are produced at the distillery: Bruichladdich of course, but also a peaty malt, called Port Charlotte at 40 PPM and the earth shattering Octomore - the world's heaviest peaty whisky at an astounding 80.5 PPM. From May 2003 Bruichladdich is bottled at the distillery -the only Islay whisky that is distilled, matured and bottled on the Island. All Bruichladdich is bottled un chill filtered, caramel free and at 46%. Each bottling is a cuvée created by Master Distiller Jim McEwan. From 2004 Bruichladdich will experiment a 100% organic malt, produced from organic grown barley.
All the whisky production is now retained for the distillery's own use as Bruichladdich single malt.
The independent bottler, Murray McDavid is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bruichladdich Distillery Company Ltd.

The distillery has been purchased by Rémy Cointreau on July 23, 2012



Port Ellen,
Argyll PA42 7EA
+44 1496 302 244 

Owner: The Glenmorangie Ltd (LVMH)

Creation year: 1815

A first legal distillery belonging to Alexander Stewart closed in 1794, but the production went on, the distillery being situated in a place which was an excellent moonshine distillers' den during the 18th century. After a period rich in setbacks with the excise men, a legal distillery was build in 1815 by John McDougall. 
The construction of the distillery began as soon as 1794, but was hardly achieved in 1817.
The distillery stayed the property of the McDougall family from 1817 till 1977, when it was bought by Hiram Walker and Sons. The Hiram Walker group became later part of the Allied Distillers group.
From 1979 to 1981, a very light peaty malt, called "Kildalton Style" named after a celtic cross near the distillery, was produced. Mothballed from 1981 to 1989, and its production was reduced to about a third of its capacity till 1997.
During the period of mothballing, the distillery stopped to use its own malting floors, which was a pity for the lovers of this extremely smoky malt. This smoky character of Ardbeg whisky from this period was due to the fact there was no fan in the pagoda roof over the kiln.
Since 1989, the malt used by Ardbeg is produced by the Port Ellen maltings, and has lost this extremely smoky characteristic.
Glenmorangie Plc bought the distillery in 1997 for about 10.5 million Euros.
The new owners revived the tradition of producing a very peaty single malt.
All the production is sold as single malt (which is rather unusual in the world of whisky). Ardbeg whisky is not used in blends, with may be one exception: Black Bottle which claims to contain whisky of each of the active distilleries on Islay.


Port Ellen

Port Ellen Distillery
Port Ellen,
Isle of Islay  PA42 7AH

Propriétaire: Diageo

Année de création: 1825

Taken over by John Ramsay in 1836, Port Ellen was under his management the first distillery to export its single malt to the United States. It was also the first distillery to use a spirit safe. 
Closed from 1929 to 1966, the distillery doubled its production capacity in 1967. It used to produce a single malt which had its own charm, with seaworthy accents, peaty and spicy. A malting was built in 1973 near the distillery. This malting is tooled up with a Saladin box. It produces malt for most of the Island distilleries, and for the Jura distillery.
Port Ellen distillery is closed since 1984, and despite the growing demand for Islay whisky, there has been no talk of its reopening. The distillery does not have a licence anymore.
The destruction process is going. In 2004, one of the three pagoda roofs has been removed, probably to make room for new extension of the maltings. 

The market being what it is, Diageo said in October 2017 they want to reopen Port Ellen. This reopening is expected to take place around 2020 if building permits are issued.



Laphroaig Distillery
Port Ellen, Islay
Argyll PA42 7DU
+44 1496 302 418

Owner: Fortune Brands

Creation year: 1815

The Laphroaig distillery was founded by Donald Johnston, whose father created Lagavulin a few years earlier. When Donald died, his son Dugald inherited the distillery, but as he was aged 11, Walter Graham from the neighbour distillery Lagavulin managed it in the meanwhile.
The relations with Lagavulin were not always that good. After some legal procedures against Lagavulin, the distillery asked Ian Hunter to help bringing the distillery back in an even keel. Hunter increased the production capacity and created a blend, called Islay Mist which become worldwide successfully in no time.
The distillery stayed in the family Johnston for nearly half a century.
En 1954, Mrs Bessie Williamson, a well known figure in the world of whisky, inherited the distillery. She managed it until 1972. The number of stills increased from 4 to 6 and to 7 five years later.
The distillery belonged successfully to Long John Distillers, Whitbread & Co and finally to Allied Lyons, called nowadays Allied Distillers Ltd.
About 10% of the production is marketed as single malt, the remaining part being sold to blenders to produce amongst others Long John, Black Bottle and Islay Mist.
After the French group Pernod Ricard took control of Allied Domecq in 2005, the Laphroaig distillery was ceased to the American Fortune Brand, (2006: Beam Global Spirits & Wine ) owner of amongst others Jim Beam, Booker's or Knob Creek. 


Lagavulin Distillery
Port Ellen, Islay
Argyll PA42 7DZ
+44 1496 302 730

Owner: Diageo

Creation year: 1816

Un an après la création de Lagavulin en 1816, une seconde distillerie, Kildalton, fut construite sur le même site. 
Elles réunirent leurs activités en 1837 pour former une seule et même entité alors que Lagavulin était propriété de Donald Johnston, descendant du fondateur, John Johnston. 
A la mort de Donald la distillerie fut dirigée par John C. Graham, ensuite par Walter Graham et puis par James Mackie.
En 1878, le fils de James, Peter Jeffrey Mackie fit ses débuts dans les affaires. Peter était entre autres l'inventeur du célèbre blend White Horse qui contient toujours du Lagavulin à l'heure actuelle.
En 1908, les propriétaires de Lagavulin firent construire une autre distillerie, Malt Mill, censée concurrencer la distillerie voisine Laphroaig. Peter Mackie était l'agent commercial de Laphroaig jusqu'à ce qu'un différend ne l'oppose à celle-ci, et qui décida Peter à concurrencer sa voisine, allant jusqu'à débaucher le maître-distilleur de Laphroaig.
Peter Mackie (aussi nommé Restless Peter) acheta encore les distilleries de Craigellachie dans la région de Speyside et Hazelburn à Campbeltown.
A la mort de Restless Peter, la distillerie passa sous le contrôle de la sociéte White Horse Distillers qui fut reprise par D.C.L en 1927 avant de devenir S.M.D et enfin U.D.V.
Malt Mill fut demantelée en 1960, et deux ans plus tard, ses deux alambics furent transférés à Lagavulin. 
Lagavulin appartient à la célèbre gamme des « Classic Malts » lancée en 1988.


Kilchoman distillery
Rockside Farm
Bruichladdich, Isle of Islay, PA49 7UT
+44 1496 850011

Owner: Anthony Wills

Creation year: 2005

Anthony Wills, the owner of Kilchoman was dreaming of a new whisky distillery on Islay since 2001. After some financial problems, his dream became true in 2004 and the new distillery was born, Production would begin in 2005.
The Kilchoman distillery is settled near a village of the same name, which is supposed to be the very first distillation place in Scotland, when the distillation science was imported from Ireland.
It is one of the only distilleries where the whole production process happens: from malting to bottling. 
Kilchoman is a farm-distillery with quite a confidential production compared to the big distilleries on the Island.

Caol Ila

Caol Ila

Caol Ila Distillery
Port Askaig
Islay - Argyll PA46 7RL
+44 1496 840 207

Owner: Diageo

Creation year: 1846

The Caol Ila distillery was build by Hector Henderson in 1846. At this time, Henderson was also the owner of the Littlemill Lowland distillery.
Before the construction of a distillery, the place was used for washing lead ore.
In 1863, Hector Henderson sold his distillery to Bulloch Lade, owner of the Loch Catrine distillery in Glasgow.
The pier was built in those times, in order to facilitate ship transport of coal and barley to the distillery, and whisky casks from the distillery.
In 1927, the distillery was bought by D.C.L. (Distillers Company Ltd.) who rebuilt it in 1974. The new very functional distillery produces three times more whisky since their reconstruction; 
Like most of the distilleries, it was closed during the war years.
The Clynelish distillery in Brora is an exact replica of Caol Ila.
Most of the production is used in blends (90%) like Bell's, White Horse, Scottish Leader, Johnnie Walker and Black Bottle.
The distillery is the greatest of Islay, and produces about 3.000.000 litres a year. The capacity of the wash stills is 20.000 litres , and 14.000 litres for the spirit stills.


Bunnahabhain Distillery
Port Askaig
Islay - Argyll
PA46 7RP
+44 1496 840 646

Owner: Burn Stewart Distillers

Creation year: 1880

Built by the Greenlees brothers between 1881 and 1893 on the model of a castle of the French Bordeaux region, the Bunnahabhain distillery belongs since 1887 to the Highlands Distillers group after having operated under the name of Islay Distillery.
Extended in 1963, it was temporarily mothballed until 1983. Bunnahabhain was luckier than Port Ellen, definitively closed during the same year.
After having been closed for alteration works during several months, it resumed the production in autumn 2001.
The distillery was sold in may 2003 to Burn Stewart Distillers by Highland Distillers Co. Burn Stewart has been bought by a company based in Trinidad, CL Financial Ltd, who owns Angostura amongst other spirit brands. Other distilleries belonging to Burn Stewart are, Tobermory et Deanston
95% of the production is for blends, amongst others Black Bottle and The Famous Grouse.


Bowmore distillery

Bowmore Distillery
Islay - Argyll
PA43 7JS
+44 1496 810 441

Owner: Morrisson Bowmore Distillers Ltd

Creation year: 1779

Bowmore is one of the biggest and oldest distilleries from Islay.
It was founded in 1779 by David Simpson in the capital of the island, Bowmore. The distillery stayed in the Simpson family until 1837 when it was sold to William and James Mutter. James Mutter was also consul of the Ottoman Empire, Brazil and Portugal in Glasgow.
Joseph Robert Holmes took the distillery over in 1892, and gave it the name of "Bowmore Distillery Co". In 1925, the distillery become propriety of Sheriffs' Bowmore Distillery Ltd.
In 1950, William Grigor & Sons layed his hand on the distillery who was bankrupt in 1963, before being bought by Stanley P. Morrison. The name was changed in Morrison Bowmore in 1987.
Since 1994, the Morrison Bowmore group belongs to the japanese Suntory group.
The village of Bowmore is situated in a creek called Loch Indaal.
The distillery is situated between the North and the South of the Island, and the whisky can be considered as being just between the Northern style and the Southern one. The taste of Bowmore is something between the intense southern malts (ArdbegLagavulinLaphroaig and Port Ellen) and the smoother ones from the North (Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain).
Bowmore whiskies are characterized by a great complexity.
The river Laggan carries peaty waters. However, the peat from the region of Bowmore is quite more sandy as peat from other regions..
A great deal of the Bowmore whisky is marketed as single malt, but it is also part of a variety of blends like King Pride, Clan Roy, Black Bottle and Islay Legend.




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