Scottish Whisky on the Isle of Islay
Islay, known as the “Queen of the Hebrides,” is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, accessible by ferry and plane. It remains unique among the Scottish regions in that its whiskies are characterized by smoky, peaty flavors and aromas. Many consider it an acquired taste, but for those who have acquired it, like myself, Islay is pilgrimage-worthy, much like Bordeaux is for oenophiles, and like those wine-producing regions where vineyards dominate the landscape, the local drink is more than just a drink on Islay.
And the old-worldliness of it all suffuses Islay, which exists on the fringe of modernity. There’s a local paper, The Ileach, but it comes out “fortnightly.” There are public buses, but they double as school buses on weekdays, because on an island with a population of only 3,500, you can get away with that. Some people still heat their homes using peat: decayed, millennia-old vegetal matter that’s used here to fuel fires to dry barley, infusing the air with heady smoky aromas that define Islay whiskies. Many will tell you they never lock their doors.
From “The Whisky Chronicles” by Liza Weisstuch for the New York Times; Photo by Andy Haslam (@andyhaslamphoto)
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