Islay is the Scottish island home of the world’s top peated whisky producers. With intensely smoky single malts from Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Ardbeg, and more, it can be hard to choose just one. Luckily, you don’t have to.
Islay blended malts offer a flavor-packed route to the whisky isle without committing to a single distillery, by combining multiple Islay distilleries in one bottle. Islay single malts already play a starring role by lending their smoky complexity to blended scotches such as Johnnie Walker Double Black, Peat Chimney, and Compass Box Peat Monster, but they differ from Islay blended malts in two ways. Islay blended malts include only Islay whiskies and they do not include the lighter-bodied grain whisky found in blended scotch. While they lack a familiar single-distillery name, Islay blended malts still deliver big on value and thrilling Islay flavors.
Although the number of Islay distilleries willing to part with new spirit or casks of mature whisky is limited, the many permutations of age, peating levels, and cask types of the whisky in play give the blenders a lot of scope for variety. Part of the diversity of Islay blended malts is achieved by the ability to include both peated Islay malts and wonderful unpeated single malts produced by Islay distilleries such as Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, and Caol Ila. In most cases, you won’t know exactly which distilleries contributed to an Islay blended malt, with a few exceptions, like Big Peat, which lists Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen as its constituent malts.
In addition to superb everyday bottles, independent bottlers have expanded the canon of Islay blended malts with limited editions that appeal to collectors and Islay aficionados alike—releases such as Ferry to Islay and Over an Islay Rainbow from independent bottler Samaroli, Douglas Laing’s numerous Big Peat spin-offs, Berry Brothers & Rudd Islay Blended Malt from their new Classic Range, and the Elements of Islay Peat bottlings from aspiring Islay distillery builders Elixir Distillers.
If all goes as planned, Islay could have eleven operating distilleries again within five years, adding new Islay single malts and expanding the seemingly infinite possibilities for Islay blended malts. Orchestrating elements that are sweet, smoky, salty, peaty, oily, rich, and fruity into a harmoniously balanced Islay blended malt takes great skill. But for fans of peated Islay malts—more is more.
6 All-Islay Blended Malts
Sheep Dip Islay—93 points, $61
Bacon fat, cocoa, sweet satsuma, spice, malt, and burnt caramel, with an unrestrained smoky finish.
Samaroli Ferry to Islay 2017 Edition—92 points, $610
A hard-core Islay offering fruit, peat smoke, citrus sweetness, and warming chocolate with a mouth-saturating finish.
Big Peat—90 points, $60
Extremely peaty and heavily smoky, this legendary big hitter dispatches flavors of sweet caramel, soft fruit, and lemon.
Clan Denny Islay Blended Malt—90 points, $55
Dense peat with a salty tang, iodine, and black pepper, balanced by rich sweetness.
Smokey Joe—89 points, $37
Milk chocolate, earth, fruit, and spice with a punch of acrid smoke that lingers deep and dark. (Total Wine only)
Duncan Taylor Big Smoke—87 points, $60
Peat smoke, pine, and lemon scents; brine, delicate vanilla, custard cream biscuits, and smoked goose.