Islay has been inhabited for 10,000 years. The monks from Ireland sought out this area for their retreats. All of Islay’s distilleries lie on the coast. Islay distillation was brought over with the MacBeatha family (aka Beaton). In the 1300s they became the hereditary physicians to the Lord of the Isles. Because of this, it can be said that the island became the center point around which distillation, and therefore whiskey, revolved. As insular as the island may seem, it is very much a part of the web of the wider world.
Islay was making whiskey as early as the fifteenth century. At this time, it would have been made out of cereals, sweetened with honey and flavored with herbs. A far cry from the malts we know today – but they still would have been smoky. The peat on the island is different from the peat in mainland Scotland. Their peat is the product of thousands of years of compression, decay, maceration and transformation. Maybe that’ where the seaweedy, kipper-like aromas come from.
Ultimately it is a tightly knit community between distillery and community. Decisions are made with an awareness of the impact they have on the area and the knowledge that anyone coming in is picking up a long standing series of traditions which come together to create the great Scotches we know today.