When it comes to single malt Scotch whisky, there’s one region offering the most distinctive style in the category—Scotland’s Islay. Islay is the southern island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island’s peat bogs run deep—some more than four meters—and consist of decayed vegetation more than 3,000 years old. The peat is cut from the earth in briquette form, dried, and used as a fuel source. The island is known for its inherent smokiness.
Early whisky makers used peat to fire up their pot stills and eventually began drying the damp malted barley over peat-heated fires, injecting rich smoke into the grain. Today, Islay whisky distillers fill burning kilns with peat to create a powerful smoke note simply referred to as peat. But the distilleries’ proximity to the sea offers other nuanced flavor notes, such as briny and salty, which make Islay’s whisky more than just smoky. In fact, the whisky was once thought to be so smoky and briny that the common perception was consumers would not purchase the whisky, mistaking it for some type of fuel. That’s why the whiskies were so popular for blenders prior to the 1960s, before Islay’s sweeping success as a single malt region…
The above is an excerpt from Minnick’s column in the August-September 2015 issue on Islay whisky. Ready to try some from the Islay region? Here are some of Minnick’s recommends from the Islay:
Bowmore 18-year-old, 86 proof
Color: Caramel with nice violet hues.
Aroma: Nose filled with fruit, fresh pack of tobacco and
Palate: A delicate walk of smoke and sweetness, a hint of
spice in there. Nice and oaky.
Finish: Medium with a gentle touch of oyster shell.
Laphroaig Select, 80 proof
Aroma: Very peaty.
Palate: This is a rich and rounded whisky with notes of
cinnamon, vanilla, watermelon, and smoked paprika.
Finish: Long with a barbecue-like smoke.
Caol Ila 30-year-old (2014 Special Release), 110.2 proof
Color: Dark tawny color.
Aroma: Fruity, vanilla, oak, sandalwood, hint of cigar box,
and a beautiful citrus note.
Palate: Gorgeous mouthcoating mouthfeel that’s followed by notes of honey, roasted almonds, campfire marshmallows, and
a hint of smoked pork loin.
Finish: Long, enjoyable finish with a resounding smoke note.
Lagavulin 37-year-old, 102 proof
Color: Light amber.
Aroma: Complex with beautiful notes of honey, lavender, touch of pine, dark cherries, and just a hint of smoke.
Palate: Malty, rich, hints of vanilla, strawberry cake batter with roasted almonds and butter pecan ice cream with lovely smoke rounding out the taste.
Finish: Extremely long, with the palate notes lasting a very
Kilchoman 100 Percent Islay 4th edition 100 proof
Color: Light straw.
Aroma: Beautiful nose with citrus, red fruits, campfire smoke, and pear.
Palate: The smoke dominates the initial taste, but it’s quickly rounded out by a balance of fruit and herbs that are delightful.
Finish: Long and smoky.
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