Top 5 Scotch Whiskies From Islay, Scotland Distilleries In 2024

The last week of May brings one of the whisky world’s best festivals – Fèis Ìle. The annual event defines the whisky calendar for many people and stretches across ten days, bringing the small Hebridean island of Islay to life with whisky and music. Fèis Ìle translates from the local Gaelic language as ‘Islay Festival’ and sees single malt fans from around the globe flocking to the island on a pilgrimage.

Islay is renowned for its peaty and smoky single malt. There is nothing else quite like an Islay whisky in the world of spirits. The island is home to 10 operating distilleries: Bowmore is the oldest, founded in 1779, while at the other end of the scale, Port Ellen only reopened in March 2024. The island offers a crucial glimpse into the history of Scotch whisky through its use of traditional ingredients and working practices, and is also known as ‘The Queen of the Hebrides’.

The Fèis Ìle festival sees each distillery host an open day: their day in the sun, so to speak. This traditionally kicks off with Lagavulin Day on the first Saturday and finishes with a huge party for Ardbeg Day. The Jura distillery on the neighbouring island even gets in on the act. Each distillery will release a special bottling or two to celebrate, available only to those attending.

For those unable to make it to Fèis Ìle, here are some of the most interesting recent releases from Islay distilleries that you should try…

Ardbeg Spectacular

Each year, the iconic Islay distillery of Ardbeg releases a special bottling for Fèis Ìle. Rather than keeping it just for those lucky few who visit the distillery, they take it out to the wider world. This year’s Islay Festival limited edition is named Spectacular. Each release normally has a quirky twist and is celebrated with Ardbeg Day events around the globe.

Spectacular is the first-ever whisky from Ardbeg to feature ex-Port casks. It is a heady marriage of spirit matured fully in ex-bourbon and ex-Port barrels, and the result is equally as heady. Pungent peat smoke and drying seaweed combine with notes of salted caramel, poached pear and milk chocolate. Whisps of menthol, lavender and eucalyptus linger to add further depth and complexity.

Available at House of Malt

Ardnahoe Inaugural Release 5 Years Old

This is an exciting whisky – the first ever released from the Ardnahoe distillery on the rugged northeastern coast of Islay. Ardnahoe, which translates as ‘height of the hollow’ in Gaelic, began production in 2018 and looks across the Strait of Islay to the island of Jura and its famous Paps. The distillery is operated by renowned family-owned independent Scotch whisky bottlers Hunter Laing & Co.

The Inaugural Release 5 Years Old marks the start of a series of whiskies planned by Ardnahoe, which will appear throughout 2024. It has been matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

The new whisky exhibits bold peaty smoke that entwines itself around fruity notes of baked apple and lemon zest. Hints of gingerbread and a sophisticated mix of baking spices sit in the background.

Available at Ardnahoe Distillery

Bruichladdich 18 Years Old

Despite being known for the peated style, not all Islay whiskies are smoky. Bruichladdich is one such example, although the distillery also produces the peaty Port Charlotte and super peaty Octomore.

Straight Bruichladdich has an elegance not often found on Islay. The recent release of the 18-year-old is the first time such an aged whisky has been present in the core range, and it is also joined by the 30-year-old.

The Bruichladdich 18 Years Old features the first-ever batch of spirits produced using locally grown Islay barley. This has aged for almost two decades in ex-bourbon barrels, with a small percentage also matured in ex-Sauternes wine and ex-Port casks.

Expect notes of luscious tropical fruit(especially peach and pineapple), toffee and dusty warming spices married with vanilla pod, earthy malted barley, and candied citrus.

Available at House of Malt

Kilchoman Loch Gorm (2024 Edition)

The small distillery of Kilchoman is unlike any other on Islay. It is based on Kilchoman Farm on the exposed western peninsula of the island and offers a true ‘field to bottle’ single malt. They grow barley for whisky production on the farm, and all stages of production – malting, milling, mashing, fermentation, distilling, maturation and bottling – can be seen at the distillery. Kilchoman is young, too, having been founded in 2005.

Kilchoman’s multi-award-winning range of whiskies has gained a cult following worldwide, and this annual release is highly anticipated each year. Named after Loch Gorm, an inky freshwater loch located between the distillery and the wild Atlantic coast, this is the only regular bottling from Kilchoman that is matured solely in ex-Oloroso sherry casks.

Expect rich, peaty and sweet notes with plenty of caramel, dried fruit and ash-like embers.

Available at The Whiskey Exchange

Port Ellen Gemini 44 Years Old

The legendary Port Ellen distillery has once again started producing spirit after a 41-year sleep. A complete rebuild brought the distillery back to life after the original closed its doors, seemingly for good, in March 1983. So, it will be a while before we have a new whisky from Port Ellen. However, there has been a dwindling amount of old stock from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. Whenever this is released it has collectors scrambling for their wallets.

Port Ellen Gemini is one such release. It features a pair of whiskies – Original and Remnant – distilled in 1978 and bottled at 44 years of age. These rare single malts are each presented in a crystal decanter, both housed in an unfolding mirrored casket.

Both are cask strength and only available as a set. You will need deep pocket, though – it has a price tag of £45,000.

Available at The Whiskey Exchange

Matt Chambers

Mr. Matt Chambers has been writing about whisky since 2008, becoming a brand consultant, educator, judge for IWSC and the Spirits Masters awards. His interests lie with the heritage behind the brands and distilleries. He also enjoys the obscure facts, figures and stories that bring the world of whisky to life. In short, what Matt doesn’t know about whisky isn’t worth knowing. You can find his blog named Whisky For Everyone here.