Islay: An Introduction

Scotland is one of my favorite places in the world next to Hawaii. Weird contrast, I know. While I have been there many, many times over the years I’ve spent the majority of my visits on a tiny island off the west coast named Islay (eye-lah). Everyone has heard of Skye and Orkney, but unless you’re a hardcore, Ron Swanson, single malt whisky (no e) drinker, then you’ve probably never heard of it (insert hipster meme here).

My history with Islay began in the 90s when my parents went on a trip to Scotland for a sans child vacation. I’m not sure about how they ended up going to Islay, but what matters is they did and what happened when they got there. This was before Islay had an airport so they took the bus from Glasgow and ferry ride from Kennacraig. They had booked themselves to stay at a B&B and were told by the owner he would pick them up at the dock. Upon disembarking from the ferry in Port Ellen, they spotted a small, elderly, one-eyed man holding up a sign reading “Foster Party.” This man was Moncrieff Stuart, or as he prefers, “Mick.” My father still says to this day his first thought upon seeing Mick was “Oh my god, we’re staying with a pirate!” While he is a rather salty gentleman, Mick became a good family friend and an indispensable guide for everything related to Islay and its wildlife. During their initial trip, Mick drove my parents around the island, sharing its history and pointing out all the wildlife he could. He has story upon story and hundreds of hours of video about the wildlife on Islay. There’s a seagull he still feeds that he’s been feeding for at least 20 years.

Mick reading his 90th birthday cards and being baffled people were able to find any with 90 on them. 

I made my first overseas journey to England in 7th grade. It was this trip my parents took me to Islay and Mick shared its magic, forever imprinting it in my heart. It spoke to me on many levels, but more than anything it felt and still feels like home. There is just an endless amount of natural beauty, from desolate moors to lush forests to rugged coastline. Pretty much anything people can think of when then think of Scotland can be found on Islay.

As amazing as the scenery is let’s not forget about what puts Islay on the map: Malt Whisky. You may have noticed the Ron Swanson reference earlier and raised an eyebrow. If you are a Parks and Rec fan, Ron makes many references to his favorite whisky: Lagavulin Distiller's Edition. Additionally, in the episode London, you will remember Leslie sending Ron on a surprise trip to Scotland. The trip ultimately ended with him sailing into the harbor at Lagavulin (lah-gah-voo-lin).

Lagavulin is just 1 of 8 of the world's premier single malt distilleries to grace Islay and is wedged comfortably between Laphroaig and Ardbeg. While I am not a whisky drinker myself (a damn shame, I know), I would recommend anyone feeling adventurous to give the Islay whiskies a taste. To many, it’s akin to drinking the liquid ashes of a campfire. However, if that sounds appealing then these whiskies are for you. If you are wondering why campfire ashes are being used as a descriptor, it’s because most of Islay’s whiskies are flavored by peat. This is mainly achieved by burning peat underneath the barley while it’s drying out. I’m not going to go any further with this because I don’t want to run the risk of spreading misinformation.

No matter your preference, definitely go check out the distilleries. It’s a great way to see how the process works and learn their importance to Islay’s history. Bonus, they smell AMAZING. Like, if they could make candles that smell like the maltings of a distillery I would buy them by the case. If you happen to be at Ardbeg, then definitely eat the the Old Kiln Café. It’s great food and, according to past travel companions, has the best Sticky Toffee Pudding on the planet: http://www.ardbeg.com/visit-us/distillery/old-kiln-café.

To learn more about the distilleries and their processes, check out the links below.

Well, that’s all I’m going to say about Islay for now. There is way too much for me to go over in one post so I will probably turn this into a series. Please let me know if you liked this post or if you have ever been to Islay. If you would like to learn a little more about the island or would consider visiting, please check out these links:

*This post is not sponsored in anyway and is based solely on my personal experiences.