Whisky distilleries you should visit on Scotland's west coast islands

Stills game

Scotland's whisky-producing islands create the world's most distinguished drams. We look at old favourites and some new revolutionaries looking to invigorate the business

Amazingly, for some people, even the slightest sip from a glass of whisky can transport them to the rugged shores of Scotland's islands. It's like aromatic magic. Be it the smoke-laden drams from Islay or the surprisingly soft nature of Orkney's Scapa, over the years the islands have produced some of Scotland's most storied and well-known whiskies. During the past few decades though, the landscape has changed. New distillers have set-up. New whiskies are being made and fresh chapters are being written.

In 1993 the Isle of Arran Distillery was the first of these new distilleries and created the model for what many others would set out to be. Although you could visit distilleries and enjoy watching the whisky-making process before this, Arran was one of the first to put the visitor front and centre. It wanted to attract visitors rather than seeing them as a pleasant nuisance. And it's certainly worked too. The distillery has been such a success that the company have recently built a second one on the island to simply keep up with demand. The Lagg distillery will be opening in the spring of 2019.

Where Arran led, others have happily followed. Over on Islay (Scotland's true powerhouse of peated whiskies), the first new distillery in over a century started production back in 2005. Kilchoman, founded by Anthony Wills and his family, may not be the biggest, but their focus on provenance has led to them quickly becoming an important part of the Islay whisky fabric.

They're no longer the new kids on the block either; this year Islay's ninth distillery will open. Ardnahoe is a passion project from well-known whisky bottler Hunter Laing. Although this Glasgow-based family has been involved with the whisky industry since 1949, this is their debut distillery.

Stills game

credit: Ben Shakespeare Photography
Islay may turn heads when it comes to whisky, but the real revolution is happening on Skye and the Outer Hebrides. For generations, Skye was home to just one distillery.

Talisker, with its bold uncompromising character, bore the standard for the island alone until the opening of Torabhaig in 2017. Although their whisky won't be ready until 2020, they're already welcoming visitors through the doors to show how it's made.

Further west in the Outer Hebrides, there are two newer distilleries making their name. The first to open was Abhainn Dearg in 2008 on Lewis. The island had, surprisingly, not hosted a (legal) distillery since 1840, so when Mark Tayburn first fired up his stills it heralded a little piece of history. The other is on Harris. Right now the distillery is possibly better known for its gin, but the team are quietly maturing their whisky until they feel it's ready.

Another distillery waiting for its first whisky is found on Raasay. Founded by Alasdair Day and Bill Dobbie, the new distillery not only heeded the 'visitor first' model set by Arran almost two decades earlier but enhanced it. The still house has one of the most breathtaking views of any in the country, looking out onto the rough-hewn landscape of neighbouring Skye. This isn't the only way Raasay stands out though. It may be the only working Scotch whisky distillery you can sleep in. Raasay offers six luxury rooms within the distillery which can be booked for an extra special stay. What better way to enjoy your tour of one of Scotland's island distilleries than to simply head upstairs to your very own room?

Whisky made on the islands of Scotland has more history than perhaps anyone can tell. The long-established distillers set a tone that you'd expect, but the new whisky producers seem happy to accept the challenges facing them. They're doing new things and pushing new boundaries. It'll be interesting to see how their new chapters in whisky history turn out.

A Abhainn Dearg Distillery
Carnish, Isle of Lewis, Western Isles, HS2 9EX
The first legal distillery in the Outer Hebrides in 170 years is now producing single cask single malt, distilled and bottled by hand in Uig. Pronounced 'Aveen Jarræk', the name means Red River. In 2010 the distillery released the first of its new…
B Bruichladdich Distillery
Bruichladdich, Isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute, PA49 7UN
Bruichladdich was revived in 2000 after closure in 1994, and bought by Remy Cointreau in 2012. It produces refined, floral and fruity whisky in both peated and unpeated expressions, using most of the original Victorian machinery retained from the…
C Talisker Distillery
Carbost, Isle of Skye, Highland, IV47 8SR
Talisker is the only whisky distillery on Skye, and Talisker single malt, in common with other island malts, has an intense, maritime character. The distillery has long been a part of the Diageo group, and Talisker is produced by them as part of the…
D Bowmore Distillery
School Street Bowmore, Isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute, PA43 7JP
Bowmore Distillery has stood on the shores of Loch Indaal, a sea loch that opens out into the Atlantic Ocean, since 1779. It is the oldest legal distillery on the island, and has the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland. No. 1 Vaults are also the…
E Laphroaig Distillery
Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute, PA42 7DU
The home of the world's most famous peated whisky, dividing drinkers with that love-it-or-hate-it spike of pungent smoke since 1815, sits before the wild granite hills of Islay. Whiskies range from the 10 year old to an exceptionally rare 40 year old…
F Lagavulin Distillery
Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute, PA42 7DZ
Lagavulin has a history going back to 1816, with the opening of the first legal distillery on Islay. The distillery is now owned and operated by the Diageo Group and produces the celebrated single malt, the peatiest and smokiest of them all. The…
G Bunnahabhain Distillery
Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, PA46 7RP
H Ardnahoe Distillery
Ardnahoe, Port Askaig, PA46 7RU
I Ardbeg Distillery / Old Kiln Café
Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute, PA42 7EA
Located in the old peat kiln of the distillery, the Old Kiln Café is something of an institution on Islay. During the summer months it’s not unusual to wait up to half an hour for a seat, making booking advisable for groups unless you fancy wandering…
J Caol Ila Distillery
Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Argyll and Bute, PA46 7RL
There's been a whisky distillery overlooking the strait at Caol Ila since 1846, although the present building dates from 1974. The Caol Ila family of malts have a fresh, sea-salty tang that's a little less smoky and pungent than other Islay whiskies.
K Isle of Raasay Distillery
Raasay Distillery, Borodale House, Isle of Raasay, Kyle, IV40 8PB
The first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay in the Inner Hebrides, offering public tours and luxury accommodation. It is our vision to create the finest Hebridean single malt Scotch whisky and a unique whisky destination with arguably the best view…
L Isle of Jura Distillery
Craighouse, Jura, Argyll and Bute, PA60 7XT
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013, Jura single malt has become one of Scotland's most famous. The history of distilling on the small island stretches back further than half a century, however, but is of chequered success. After the ban on home…
M Oban Distillery
Stafford Street, Oban, Argyll and Bute, PA34 5NH
Oban Distillery is the second-smallest distillery in the Diageo empire (Royal Lochnagar being the smallest) and one of the oldest, having been distilling whisky since 1794; it's so old that the town grew up around the distillery, rather than the…
N Arran Distillery
Lochranza, Isle of Arran, North Ayrshire, KA27 8HJ
One of the few remaining independent distilleries in Scotland, Isle of Arran Distillers is based at Lochranza. There were over 50, mostly illegal, distilleries on the island in the 19th century. Isle of Arran is now the only one, after production…