What makes this island so unique, however, is that on a piece of land approximately 1/5th the size of Rhode Island, Islay is home to eight of Scotland’s finest distilleries of single malt whiskey. Islay is notorious for producing peated whiskeys, characterized by rich smoky aromas and flavors. Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Laphroig, Ardbeg, and Bruichladdich are a few of the better known distilleries, each offering a unique environment to taste whiskey and experience the respective distilling practices.
Accessible by a short 30-minute flight from Glasgow, Islay offers an untraditional, but epic option for a bro trip of legendary proportions. The mix of fine spirits, golf, fishing, hunting, and history is the perfect storm of manliness and should be on your short list of destinations to revel with the boys. Throw in a couple of nights in Glasgow to chase women and reacquaint yourself with civilization and you have yourself a trip. If you’re not convinced, here are 6 reasons you should visit Islay for your next boys trip.
1. The Whiskey
Let’s start with the whiskies because getting well-oiled is the first essential step to any great bro trip. Single malts from Islay typically share one primary quality, which is peat. Peat is a densely packed organic substance that’s cut from the ground in large mossy areas on Islay. When lit and maintained properly, the peat burns similar to coal while the vines, roots and other organic materials release smoke that is then used to “peat” malted barley, which is in turn used to produce whiskey. Port Ellen is one of the primary malting facilities used by both Lagavulin and Caol Ila, two of the island’s most famous distilleries.
[Left: peat cut from the fields Right: peat smoking at Port Ellen malting facility]
The Lagavulin Distillery, which is located on the Southeast coast of Islay, has been distilling since 1816 and is an essential stop on your tour of Islay. The distillery is set in a beautiful cove opposite of Dunnyvaig Castle, which was used as a base for the Lords of the Isles in the 13th century. Lagavulin is best known in the United States for its 16 year old single malt. Available for $68 at most liquor stores, 16yr is an exquisite dark amber whiskey, characterized by a nose of heavy peat, dried fruits and apricot; a palate of vanilla, saltwater taffy and oak; and a long drawn out finish of peat, fruits and aromatic woods. Lagavulin’s portfolio also includes harder to find single malts including the 12 year old single malt, Distiller’s Edition, a limited release Jazz Festival, and soon-to-be released 21 year old single malt.
Caol Ila Distillery is another can’t miss stop on your whiskey tour, not just because of the absolutely mind blowing location on the Western side of the island, but also because the recently renovated facility crafts a number of tasty award-winning single malts in addition to the whiskey it provides to Johnnie Walker for its blended whiskies. Caol Ila, translated in Gaelic as Sound of Islay, was established in 1846 in the remote part of the island namely because of its accessibility to fresh water and its ease of shipping. The distillery is best know for its 12-year-old single malt, which has been distributed in greater volume since 2002 in response to the rising demand of Islay-style whiskies. Characterized by a light amber color, 12-year-old has a nose of light hay, citrus, and tobacco; a palate of fruitcake, citrus and peat; and a finish of sweet honey and smoke.
[Washback tanks at Caol Ila Distillery]
There are plenty of more whiskies to taste and distilleries to tour, but start with the two above and you can’t go wrong.
2. The Golf
Hitting the links is a timeless bro trip tradition and golfing in Scotland, where it all began, takes it to another level. Islay happens to have a stunning links course called the Machrie Golf Links. The 120-year-old club is home to 18 holes of dunes, coastline and hills that take you back to the early years of golf. Getting on the course costs GBP 72, which is roughly equivalent to $125, or you can opt for a weekly fee of GBP 295, approximately $480. Learn more and make your bookings here.
3. The Fly Fishing
Islay is home to some of the finest fly-fishing in Europe. Salmon and wild brown trout are in abundance and the weather is ideal for wading in one of several lochs or rivers, sipping on a flask and wrangling fish with the boys. More info on where to fish here.
4. The Hunting
Islay’s beauty transcends beyond its landscape to the natural inhabitants of the island. Birds and deer are plentiful. From woodcocks to majestic red stags, Islay is an ideal location for hunting. Licenses don’t come cheap, but there are a number of hunting lodges on Islay and its neighboring island, Jura. For more info, you can contact the Gamekeeper on Islay.
Isle of Islay PA42 7EF
tel: 01496 302218
5. The History
Bros are cultured mofo's so of course you have to take in a little culture while you're there. It’s rare these days to find historical sites, let alone ancient relics, that aren’t limited by turnstiles, admission fees, glass casings, and security guards. On Islay, you can. The island is home to several historical sites, some dating back to the 8th century, all of which are accessible at no cost and are there for the public to enjoy. A few highlights:
- Dunnyvaig Castle, which stands in ruin across from the Lagavulin Distillery was a base for the Lords of the Isles in the 13th Century.
- The Kildalton Cross is a monolithic Celtic Cross believed to have been carved approximately 1,300 years ago in the 8th century. It’s believed to be the most in tact Celtic Cross in all of Scotland
- Finnlagan Castle in Loch Finlaggan was another stronghold of the Lords or the Isles, built in the 13th century. A few of the incredible structure remain, but the view alone is worth the trip.
6. The Authentic Village Life
On an island with less than 3,000 people, no one locks their doors, no one locks their cars and people are as friendly as they come. There’s no Starbucks, there’s no McDonalds, there’s no Walmart… and it’s glorious. Islay has two primary villages; Bowmore and Port Ellen. Between the two of them, there are nine restaurants on and a handful of small pubs that are full of locals and visitors alike. Duffies bar in Bowmore is as close as you’ll come to a bro scene, but each provides its own warm environment to have a few drinks or get totally blotto.