The island is rugged and tempestuous
I’ve never tasted another drink that has more successfully bottled a place. The whisky truly tastes like Islay, distilled – of the peat bogs that cover the island, of the smoke and fire used to stay warm during a seemingly endless winter, of the salty aftertaste of the sea.
Nothing about Islay is easy. The island is rugged and tempestuous; winds gusting straight from the sea are powerful and unrelenting. Clusters of white-washed buildings make up the two main villages of Bowmore and Port Ellen; the rest of the island is mostly inhabited by sheep and birds, and largely covered in peat. The peat bogs, which take thousands of years to form and require a perfect storm of climatic conditions, spread across the island for miles.
Public transportation on the 25-mile-long island is a nightmare, and driving and visiting distilleries don’t really mix. So for three days on Islay, I held out my thumb and was whisked away by kindly locals, travelling from the windswept shores to the warm and welcoming shelters of the island’s eight distilleries, sampling dozens of whiskies in all their smoky glory.
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