Islay: Badge or Provenance

IN

Under the Scotch Whisky Regulations (2009), the only requirement for Scotch to be called an Islay single malt whisky, is for it to be distilled on the island. Or if you’re being really pedantic, under sections 3 and 10 – for barley to be processed into a mash, converted to a fermentable substrate at that distillery, and distilled in the protected locality ‘comprising the Isle of Islay in Argyll’.

In short, mashed, fermented, distilled. A process that can be completed in under four days.

There is no requirement for Islay distillers to source barley from the island, malt here, mature casks here for any length of time, use Islay water for bottling or indeed bottle here at all.

As a collective of 80 people that live on the island and work at our distillery, we think this is fundamentally wrong. The regulation that was once put in place to protect our island industry, could now be considered outdated. As more businesses look to trade on the fame of the Islay name, we question whether mashed, fermented and distilled is enough?

We believe Islay has become a flavour profile. It is a badge of honour plastered on packaging, signifying ‘heavily peated’, with increasingly fragile links to the reality of the island. Where is the truth behind calling a spirit ‘Islay’ when there are no further requirements than distilling here?

The Definition of ‘Islay’ Whisky

Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 Port Charlotte Malts
Islay Grown

42%

Islay Malted

COMING SOON

Islay Distilled
Islay Matured
Islay Water
Islay Bottled

Barley can be shipped from outside Scotland and malted*. Then the mashing, fermentation and distillation can take as little as 3-4 days. That new make spirit is then allowed to disappear off in a tanker, to be filled into oak casks in a warehouse in Scotland for a minimum of three years.

So in theory, four days on the island is all you need to call the spirit Islay single malt. Or in mathematical terms, the equivalent of 1/248th of its minimum life requirements. Imagine the incredulity from a cellar master in France if you told them the same could be said for their AOC (appellation d’origine controlee).

The effects of Islay on flavour could rage on forever. Does terroir matter? Does the location of where the barley is grown, and where it is matured make a difference to the final product? But this is not just a flavour debate, it’s a philosophical one too.

“This is not about being worthy, believing our way is better or even suggesting that all of our competitors take advantage of what we believe is a shortfall in legislation.”

This is not about being worthy, believing our way is better or even suggesting that all of our competitors take advantage of what we believe is a shortfall in legislation. This is about making a genuine commitment to a small island community, whose industry relies on distilling, fishing, farming and tourism, some of which are greatly at risk in today’s political upheaval.

This is about employing real people and putting them at the heart of an international business. Knowing many are young and passionate and want the option to progress through a business whilst living in a rural community.

This is about distilling interesting spirits, not doubling capacity without any community benefit. No matter the number of litres, it’s about how it’s made. Otherwise, we will only dilute the name that generations before us have built.

Our Islay is about resisting the temptation to take soft options. Our Islay is about putting people and place first. Our Islay is about honouring our island’s name, about questioning our actions each and every day and continually striving to do better.

Our Islay whisky could only be made here. Conceived, distilled, matured and bottled only on Islay. We are the revolution. We are Islay.

Notes

3.—(1) In these Regulations “Scotch Whisky” means a whisky produced in Scotland—

(a)that has been distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been—

(i)processed at that distillery into a mash;

(ii)converted at that distillery into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and

(iii)fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;

 

  1. (1) A whisky or whisky-based drink must not be labelled, packaged, advertised or promoted in a way that includes the name of a protected locality or a protected region unless—

(a)in the case of whisky, the whisky is Scotch Whisky that has been distilled in that locality or region;

(5) The protected localities are—

(a)“Campbeltown”, comprising the South Kintyre ward of the Argyll and Bute Council as that ward is constituted in the Argyll and Bute (Electoral Arrangements) Order 2006(1); and

(b)“Islay”, comprising the Isle of Islay in Argyll.

* there appear to be little stipulations about where that barley is malted.

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