Islay whiskey is a Scotch whiskey produced in Islay, a southern coastal region in Scotland. This particular variety of whiskey is one of the most cherished and rich tasting whiskeys in the world. They are made from malted barley and have a unique taste with smoky flavors and peated notes.
Today, we explore this special variety of Scotch as we take a look at nine of the best Islay whiskeys available.
#1. Lagavulin 16 Year Old
Age: 16 years old
Lagavulin is one of the most popular Islay whiskeys. It is known for its peaty whiskeys with smoky, vanilla, and sherry notes. It is produced in oak barrels for 16 years. I like having this whiskey with water, as it tastes better with a lot of flavors. Pouring it into a glass, it has a deep amber gold hue.
Nose: It has a very intense flavor and is similar to a Lapsang Souchong. When you smell it, you will notice the notes of iodine, sweet spices, matured sherry, and vanilla, along with some peated smoke.
Palate: When you sip it, you will get the flavors of rich, dried fruits of sherry along with some smokey notes. The salt and peppery smoke in the middle then follow it. It has a sweet taste with a mix of peat and oak.
Finish: The finish is quite long and warming with notes of vanilla, peat smoke, and figs. A touch of spice flavor balances the sweetness nicely.
#2. Ardbeg Uigeadail
Age: 10 years old
The Ardbeg Uigeadail is made from 100% malted barley and is 108 proof with 54.2% alcohol content. When you pour it out, it has a beautiful deep copper color. It is a non-chill filtered whiskey with some great flavors. The body is full and firm. Overall it has a great balance of sweet and spices.
Nose: It gives the smell of peat and some smokiness at first, along with some notes of dried berries, smoked pig, vanilla, and peanut butter. The notes of roasted coffee and cayenne pepper follow it.
Palate: It has a deep, wide, and dark palate. When you take the first sip, you get the taste of salted caramel, cocoa powder, and smoke flavor. It tastes sweet at first, followed by a burst of spices and smoked barley.
Finish: The finish is very long and chewy with notes of caramel, raisin, and malted weave, along with some peated smoke and dark sugar. You will get a hint of espresso coffee and aromatic coffee flavors.
#3. Laphroaig 10
Region: Islay, Scotch, Scotland
Age: 10 years old
The Laphroaig is a 10-year-old single malt whiskey made from malted barley with 80 proof. It tastes excellent with a heavily peated, smoky flavor. You can have it neat or with cocktails.
Nose: It gives a pleasant smell of peat with a blend of smoke, wood, and salt. You will get the aroma of citrus and honey that balances the peat. It has just 40% alcohol, which is very light. There is citrus sweetness along with the smell of wet grass.
Palate: When you take the first sip, you will find it a bit peaty. It gives a touch of citrus and honey sweetness and notes of black pepper, spices, vanilla, and cardamom.
Finish: It has a long and lingering finish with a taste of rubber and iodine followed by wet grass and spices notes.
#4. Caol Ila
Age: 18 years old
The Caol Ila is a popular Islay Scotch that balances its smoke with some sweetness and fruitiness. It is one of the best scotches on a budget. It is an 18-year-old whiskey with a lot of different flavors. It is produced from malted barley along with the notes of smoke and phenols. It is one of the great single malt whiskeys without a high level of peat.
Nose: It is light and fruity on the nose. You will notice the smell of ripe guava along with white bread dough. A scent of leather and rubber follows it. Overall it has notes of herbal, grassy, and creamy malt.
Palate: The taste of this single malt whiskey is layered and chewable with different flavors. You will notice the notes of peat, spices, barley, and fruity flavors. There are flavors of cashews and walnuts in the middle.
Finish: It has a long finish with notes of smoke, peat, and oily wood. The taste fades away slowly. Having it with water adds a flavor of menthol to the finish.
#5. Bowmore 18 Year
Age: 18 years old
The Bowmore 18-year-old has a cherrywood appearance. It is made by one of the oldest whiskey producers in Islay. It is matured in an ex-bourbon barrel and then in a sherry barrel and bottled with 43% alcohol and 86 proof. It has a unique balance of smoke and fruity flavor.
Nose: It has the smell of smoke and caramel along with the hint of citrus, light menthol, butterscotch, and damp wood.
Palate: When you sip it, you will notice some floral notes followed by sweet caramel syrup, chocolate, and fruity flavors.
Finish: The finish has an iodine note followed by tobacco that sits for a relatively long time. It has a perfect balance of sweet and spicy notes followed by honey and black jam. It keeps the mouth dry, along with a hint of sawdust.
#6. Cragabus Blended Islay Malt Scotch
It is a blended malt scotch with 43% alcohol and is crafted by Stewart Laing. It matures malts from different distillers of Ardbeg, Bowmore, and others. It is very smooth and light to taste. The cherry on the top makes it more delicious.
Nose: You will notice smoke on the nose with some pepper notes followed by citrus flavor.
Palate: When you sip it, you will find it sweet with some smoky flavor. You will notice the notes of vanilla, fruits, peat, and burnt wood in the middle. It is pretty strong and pleasing on the palate.
Finish: The finish lasts long with some peaty and smoky notes along with some sweetness. The smoky and sweet finish rounds off its great mix of flavors.
#7. Smokey Joe Islay Malt
It has a quite strong and peaty blend. The blended malt is produced in different distilleries in Islay. It tastes delicious and has a rich amber color when you pour it into the glass. It is non-chill filtered and is bottled with 46% alcohol that enhances its flavor. It is one of the best peaty whiskeys at a great price. It has a pale yellow color and is served neat. Having grilled food compliments this whiskey well. I have enjoyed having this one as it has a decent blend of smoke flavor.
Nose: You will smell the smoke coming up as you open the bottle. It has a touch of sea salt, pine, earthiness, and grassy notes, along with some fruitiness.
Palate: It has an intense Smokey flavor on the palate along with a fruity and peaty note. It has a great balance of smoke and spicy notes on the palate.
Finish: The finish is medium and lingering with notes of spices and peat along with the touch of sweetness. The flavors fade away slowly.
#8. Sheep Dip Islay
Age: 12 years old
The Sheep Dip is a popular blended whiskey of Islay. It is matured with malt whiskeys from Islay Island and has an excellent blend of flavors. This blended whiskey is 12 years old with 40% alcohol and is distilled at different distilleries. It has the appearance of deep amber orange when you pour it into a glass. This one is smooth and rich at a great price.
Nose: The nose is pure Islay with some layers of smoke along with iodine and salt. You will notice notes of caramel, vanilla along with the hint of lemon, ginger, and cloves. When you have it with water, you will get the aroma of cinnamon and ginger with some smoky and spicy flavors.
Palate: When you have a sip, you will get the taste of sweet caramel, followed by oak, vanilla, iodine, lemon, sea salt, and smoke. It is rich and warming on the palate.
Finish: The finish is smoky and salty with notes of vanilla and caramel. The finish is somewhat punchy and tangy.
#9. Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
Age: 18 years old
This is made from 100% malted barley from just one distillery. It is 18 years old without chill-filtration or coloring. It is matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks with 46.3% alcohol. It is produced using a mix of peated and unpeated malt. It has a dark amber appearance. Overall the whiskey is smooth and chewy and full of different flavors. It is a bit on the expensive side but worth a try.
Nose: You will notice the classic sherry notes when you open the bottle, along with the notes of chocolate, grapes, sea-soaked oak, and raisins. It has the sweetness of honey with a touch of apple and plum flavor in the middle.
Palate: When you have a sip, you will get rich, creamy cocoa along with the dark fruit on the palate. There is a hint of sweetness and spices.
Finish: The finish is quite warm and long, with notes of dried fruits. The flavors of spices are warming and well balanced with fruity flavors. You will notice a salty flavor at the end.
Here we have explored the best that Islay has to offer, with nine top notch Scotch whiskeys all produced in the famed southern tip of Scotland. They come with a great balance of sweet and spices along with some smoky flavors. If smokey whiskey is your jam, Islays are a great variety to add to your collection, so we hope this little guide will help you do a bit of fresh exploring.