Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Visiting Islay’s Distilleries

Where can I see a smoking pagoda?

Look to the skies at Bowmore, Laphroaig, and Kilchoman for the tell-tale puffs of smoke billowing out through the slatted panels of the pagoda chimney, though kilning does not take place every day.

Where can I see floor malting in operation at a distillery?

Oddly enough, at all the places with smoking pagodas. If you’re lucky, the distillery guide will let you have a go at pulling the rake through the barley.

Don’t tell me I can have a go at digging peat on Islay too?

Yes, you can! You want to book yourself on Laphroaig’s Water to Whisky Experience for the afternoon. Alternatively, spoil yourself with Bowmore’s Master Distiller’s tour and get your hands dirty lifting peat that could help flavor Bowmore single malt in the future.

Can I taste Islay whisky straight from the cask?

You bet! Several distilleries can make this dream come true if you choose the right tour. Check out the options for Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, and Laphroaig.

Can I take a Distillery Manager’s tour?

Step right up for the Master Distiller’s tour at Bowmore or try the Manager’s tour at Bunnahabhain.

Where can I fill my own bottle straight from the cask?

Laphroaig will let you bottle from the barrel on their Distiller’s Ware tour. There are valinch bottlings for you to fill inside the Bruichladdich shop, with the casks cycling through expressions of Bruichladdich, Octomore, and Port Charlotte.

Will we see inside the warehouse?

You can see inside several warehouses, if you have the time to take the connoisseur’s tours. Bowmore’s Craftsmen’s tour takes you into the wonderfully atmospheric No.1 Vaults, down at sea level with Loch Indaal. Bruichladdich runs their Warehouse Experience, Ardbeg invites you on their Wood & Whisky in Warehouse 3 tour, the Bunnahabhain Warehouse 9 tasting tour is superbly done, and the Laphroaig Distiller’s Wares tour escorts you inside Warehouse No.1 to open up some casks.

Where can I taste new make spirit?

Ardbeg is the place for you.

Can I stay at a distillery?

Ardbeg Seaview Cottage is available to rent. Bowmore distillery has six cottages available to book, and you may find a bottle of Bowmore left inside for you to enjoy. (See the Eat, Drink, Sleep section for details.) The Bunnahabhain distillery cottages are no longer available for self-catering rentals.

Where can I see a traditional open top mash tun?

Bruichladdich has a wonderful array of Victorian distillery equipment, though the beautiful old mash tun now sports a fine set of new custom built rakes.

Where can I buy exclusive bottles?

Join the back of the Fèis Ìle line, my friend! Outside of the festival week, you may find Ardbeg Committee bottlings, a distillery exclusive Bowmore single cask, Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte, or Octomore valinch bottlings; small bottles of three different single cask Bunnahabhain whiskies, Caol Ila Fèis Ìle bottlings, Lagavulin Jazz Festival bottlings, Laphroaig limited editions, and Kilchoman distillery shop exclusives. Occasionally, Travel Retail bottles are sold in the distillery shops too. If you plan to buy a lot, come by ferry rather than the plane.

All that whisky has made me hungry. Which distilleries serve good food?

The Old Kiln Café at Ardbeg is a destination renowned for its good cuisine. There are light bites, Ardbeg Fish Pie, and a mouth-watering specials board to satisfy every appetite. Kilchoman serves up tasty baked potatoes, Cullen skink, soups, and panini. If you just need a coffee, then the home baking at Kilchoman is delicious: warm lemon drizzle cake with new make spirit and cream anyone?

Can I buy good gifts at the distilleries?

They have thought of everything. I spotted wares ranging from soap to fleece jackets and everything in between.

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