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Behind The Scenes: Exploring The Landscape That Shapes Kilchoman Whisky

July 3, 2024

Famous all over the world for its whisky, but it’s beauty, people and wildlife are what keeps people coming back year on year. Known as “The Queen of the Hebrides”, she lives up to her title every day. From the dark, stormy & quiet winters to the bright, vibrant summer months – both equally as picturesque. There really is no place in the world quite like it, and Kilchoman is lucky to be one of the 10 distilleries currently producing whisky on this beautiful Island we call home.

Before we go any further, let’s talk pronunciation. There have been many versions over the years – “EYE-LAY”, “IS-LAY”. Neither are correct. It is pronounced “EYE-LAH” (you will earn serious brownie points with the locals if you say it right!).

Another is location. A lot of people think of the Scottish islands and assume they are all very far north, but Islay is actually the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. Only 23 miles across the water to Northern Ireland. It measures 240 miles squared with a population of roughly 3,500 people – with that doubling during the peak summer season. This makes it the 5th largest island in Scotland by size and 7th largest by population.

Despite being relatively small compared to the rest of the world, we produce almost 22 million litres of spirit between 10 distilleries. To complete such a task, it does mean most of Islay’s residents work in the whisky industry. If they are not directly employed by a distillery, they have been contracted to do work at the distillery, grow barley, work in a hotel for the tourists who visit, they have a small business that is supported by the visitors. I have always admired the work ethic of locals and how we bind together as a community to contribute towards not only the success of the whisky but of island as a whole.

The natural variation in Islay’s geology means it supports a range of environments from dark peat bogs and heather moorlands to luscious woodland and picturesque grasslands. The Rhinns of Islay (the area of land on Islay the distillery is situated) is made up of a rock formation dated from 3 billion years ago, helping to form Islay’s rich history with the earliest known settlers dating back to 10,800BC – one of the earliest recorded in Scotland.

Due to the islands varied geology, ecosystems and geographical affects, it allows the island to give us an extremely diverse array of flora and fauna. It is particularly famous for its birdlife with more than 200 species including everything from golden eagles, choughs, geese & corncrakes.

Despite birds being so populus, visiting Islay you may also see red deer, otters, highland cows and even the occasional snake…. if you are less lucky. Look out into the waters around the island and you could see, minke whales, seals, killer whales, basking sharks and bottle-nosed dolphins.

Rockside Farm is on the northwest of the island, about 2 miles away from the edge of the Atlantic Ocean – meaning next stop Nova Scotia! This does test us when it comes to growing barley as despite the ground being very fertile, the harsh winds from the Atlantic cover the land in a layer of salt, which can really prove difficult when trying to maximise our yields.

With that being said, when it comes to cutting peat, we love the salt filled Atlantic winds. Islay is famous for a specific type of peat smoke – oily, iodine, heavy maritime peat smoke. We cut our peat about 3 miles from the distillery so that distinct Islay character is always prominent in Kilchoman and marries beautifully with our light, floral, citrus new make spirit, making it integral to the style of whisky we aim to create.

There is no doubt that it is the whisky that brings most people to Islay, but it’s beautiful scenery with windswept beaches, rugged moorlands and beautiful coastlines are also truly encapsulating. The vast span of rare wildlife on your doorstep. The friendly people with their chatty personalities and iconic ‘Islay wave’, the sense of community and an atmosphere that is indescribable. It truly is the most unique place in the world.




Visitor Centre: Tours, Tastings and Lunches

After a very busy start to the season and another successful Fèis Ìle behind us, we are busy focusing on plans for Summer 2024.    In addition to our usual tours, we have some special experiences to take place from July 22nd to August 19th.  The first of these is…

July 12, 2024