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The Scottish Islands are great. Imagine a very small area of land surrounded by water whose sole purpose is to produce delicious single malt whisky. Now imagine being stranded there…. the mind boggles! We refer to Island whisky as its own category out of pure convenience and geographical locale. It’s not technically an official whisky producing region in it own right, and is not recognised as such by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) who deems the Islands as falling under the Highlands category. The only exception to this is the island of Islay which is officially recognised as a separate and distinct region and is famous for its big and bold peaty single malts.
There is no easily identifiable characteristic that whiskies from the Islands share except a slight salinity due to the seas close proximity. Even this is not entirely universal, as whisky from Arran bucks the maritime trend in favour of a lighter and sweeter style more commonly associated with the Speyside region. The individual islands are Jura, Mull, Skye, Orkney and Arran. Each has a long history of producing whisky; this wasn’t always entirely above board though, as many distilleries conveniently ‘forgot’ to take out the proper licenses! After all, who was going to make a special journey to the Hebridean Islands to check!
So what choices do you have? You could go with the aforementioned Arran malt, unsurprisingly from the Isle of Arran and the newest distillery in the Islands. It’s sweet and soft as befits the baby of the group. Of course, you could plumb for the peaty smoked depths of Talisker, Skye’s one and only distillery that turns out several variations of its drams, including the acclaimed Port Ruighe that is matured in old Sherry casks. Jura boasts a lightly peated offering that is emphatic of the maritime nature of most Island whiskies, with a natural oiliness that coats the mouth. Orkney has two distilleries, Scapa and Highland Park. Both have the coastal qualities you would expect and Highland Park is packed full of heather and honey whilst Scapa hits you with citrus notes and herbal essences. Mull is host to Tobermory, the islands only distillery that produces a gentle dram that is sweet and voluminous. They also produce a heavily peated version of this dram under the name Ledaig. Finally you have Abhainn Dearg, which is situated on Lewis and translates to ‘Red River’ in Gaelic.