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Best Islay Distillery

Take part in our whisky polls and votes. You can also post your own polls in this forum.

Which is the best Islay distillery?

Bowmore
4
5%
Caol Ila
5
6%
Laphroaig
18
22%
Bunnahabain
5
6%
Ardbeg
22
27%
Bruichladdich
8
10%
Port Ellen
3
4%
Lagavulin
18
22%
 
Total votes : 83

Best Islay Distillery

Postby Oliver » Thu Jan 18, 2007 12:46 am

What is the Best Islay Distillery in terms of quality of product and prestige. In short what would be for you the best representative of Islay's style, quality and singularity?
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Postby Admiral » Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:07 am

I reluctantly voted for Ardbeg. Here's why:

* Lagavulin - For the vast majority of drinkers, there's only one expression available or affordable. I think it's the best OB flagship expression of any of the Islay distilleries, but fans of this distillery have so few opportunities to try other expressions, that I think other distilleries with more accessible expressions deserve mention.

* Laphroaig - I love the Quarter Cask and the 15yo, but the standard 10yo and the 10yo Cask Strength aren't as nice (IMHO) as Ardbeg or Lagavulin.

* Caol Ila - Caol Ila makes excellent whiskies, and some of the single casks I've tried have been up there with the best. However, since virtually all of its casks are matured on the mainland, I disqualified it from my thinking.

* Bowmore - 10 years ago I'd have voted for Bowmore, but a lot of the more recent bottlings have been very disappointing.

* Bruichladdich - Until their peated stuff gets older, I don't think the current releases (and geez, there's so many of them) can compete with what's coming out of the Kildalton three.

* Bunnahabhain - Not a bad whisky, but hey, no peat!

* Port Ellen - OB prices are beyond affordability for most drinkers, and whilst they've been very, very good whiskies, this distillery is now the realm of collectors only.

So basically, I discredited the others and only Ardbeg was left standing. Mind you, I LOVED the 1977; some of the Committee's Bottlings have been brilliant, and the SMWS casks of Ardbeg I've had have been absolutely delicious.

Cheers,
AD
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Postby badams » Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:26 am

I voted Ardbeg.

Ardbeg 10 is a great wild example of an uncolored island scotch, where the sea meets the grain, and price vs quality is outstanding!

Lagavulin 16 is probably the best affordable island scotch available.

Old Ardbeg(over 20 years old) is another world, unfortunately Lagavulin does not offer this oppurtunity. Im sure Old Lagavulin is king but I havent got my hands on 21, 25 or 30 from them.

the Old Ardbeg I have had is unbelievably good, although 17 isnt great. Laphraig 15, Bowmore 17 and Caol Ila 18(the best of the 3) cant compete with the Ardbeg legacy(I have no Port Ellen experience), though are quite good.

Conclusion/ Ardbeg

Talisker 12 from years back was up there with Lagavulin 16, I question why its not available today............

Springbank 21 is an awesome dram and to a lesser extent Highland Parks old bottlings are great. Old Brora that I have had are very interesting, and wish we could get that distillery re-opened. I received a gift of some of their old bottlings last month and was very impressed.

The new Longrow 14 has been leaving a good impression on me of late also.
Last edited by badams on Thu Jan 18, 2007 2:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best Islay Distillery

Postby TheLaddie » Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:45 am

Oliver wrote:What is the Best Islay Distillery in terms of quality of product and prestige. In short what would be for you the best representative of Islay's style, quality and singularity?


I'm a big Bruichladdich fan (and as Admiral suggests, the distillery will be judged more fairly on it's new distillates. If PC5 is anything to go by there are gonna be some very special whiskies coming from the West of the island)

However, to fit your question as worded, Ardbeg just about pips Laphroaig IMHO.
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Postby Wave » Thu Jan 18, 2007 5:40 am

My vote goes to Lagavulin. They don't have have a large assortment of bottlings but what they do release is top-notched and have yet to be influenced by other Islay distilleries to release younger whiskies for the sake for an extra buck.
Like the saying goes, "No wine before it's time"! :)


* Port Ellen - OB prices are beyond affordability for most drinkers, and whilst they've been very, very good whiskies, this distillery is now the realm of collectors only.

So basically, I discredited the others and only Ardbeg was left standing. Mind you, I LOVED the 1977; some of the Committee's Bottlings have been brilliant, and the SMWS casks of Ardbeg I've had have been absolutely delicious.



That really doesn't compute since I can get 3 PE Annual Releases and still pay less than for 1 Ardbeg Committee Bottling. :?


Cheers!
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Postby Oliver » Thu Jan 18, 2007 8:33 am

Interesting comments.

I think Ardbeg overall is overpriced and overrated. The Cask Strength version I find a little to "sweet" and thin, especially compared to the wonderfull and viscous Laphroaig CS (which btw, is cheaper). The Ardbeg 10 is good, but again, I don't see it surpassing its neighbor, the Laph 10. Most other expressions I find are really expensive.

Lagavulin, as many have mentionned has very few readily available OB's beside their standard 16. The 16 is still v. good but has been slipping and its price has been on the rise too.

Bowmore
has been an almost constant source of dissapointment, from the non-stop cask finishes, to the abysmal CS, perpetual relabllings, and FWP on many, many bottlings. Prices for older bottlings are borderline silly.

I find the Laddie too muted in terms of flavours to truly represent Islay as a style, especially compared to the "big three" (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig). I also get lost in the myriad of bottlings, with fancy names, labels, etc....

The clear standout, IMHO, has been Laphroaig. A few fairly recent and very succesfull relases have really turned things over for Laphroaig. I think their Cask Strength is really second to none in that category amongst Islay malt. A good Cask Strength should bring out the distillery character in all its glory; I find the mix of smoke, salt, and sweetness of the Laph CS to be as intense as it is irresistible.
Their -- presumably younger -- QC is a surprising, but very intense expresion of the distillery charecter... Easily trumps the Ardbeg release by instalement of very young (but not cheap!) and all thin whiskies.... By comparaison to those two, the standard 10 is almost austere!
The range is nicely rounded out by older expressions which give a more subtle rendering of the distillery flavours.

So for me it is Laphroaig, hands down. Due to what I think is a well thought out range; good prices as compared to the competition for similarly aged products; and a flavour profile only matched by Ardbeg and Lagavulin at their best....
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Postby les taylor » Thu Jan 18, 2007 9:18 am

I think its hard to make a judgement as they are all excellent, and fulfill many criteria. Each expression is an ace in its own right, and I am glad that they are all there. As for which is best I find it hard to say and as I dont have my arm up my back and a gun to my head I can't.


:)
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Postby vitara7 » Thu Jan 18, 2007 10:21 am

ardbeg, and i think it will get even better whne mickey takes over
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jan 18, 2007 11:05 am

I voted Bunnahabhain because their latest releases are so good. Very salty with heaps of fruity undertone. Bracing and pungent - just what Islay is all about. I am sorry not to have voted for Bowmore, though, as their 15yo and 17yo are both top notch pungent Islays - but not so keen on their 12 which is a bit bland.

Admiral - you discounted Caol Ila as it's not matured on Islay. That's fair enough, but what category of whisky would you judge it under instead of Islay?
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Postby Drrich1965 » Thu Jan 18, 2007 12:05 pm

Boy, this is a tough one. It really depends upon my mood, but I would give equal votes to Laga, Laph and Ardbeg, followed by Bowmore (great indy bottles when you can find them, from my experience) and Caol Ila, which are close, then the other two,which I enjoy as well.

Ardbeg Provenence and a 1980 Signatory Port Ellen are my all time favs,and were justs whiskies of the gods....
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Postby Aidan » Thu Jan 18, 2007 1:53 pm

I'd go for Lagavulin, because my favourite malt is made there.
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Postby Lugarteniente » Thu Jan 18, 2007 2:07 pm

Laphroaig
Lagavulin
.
.
.
.
.
.
Ardbeg
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Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Thu Jan 18, 2007 5:32 pm

For me it's Laphroaig for consistency and the fact they do not have 20 million collectable bottlings to drive me mad.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jan 18, 2007 5:57 pm

irishwhiskeychaser wrote:For me it's Laphroaig for consistency and the fact they do not have 20 million collectable bottlings to drive me mad.


"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I cared to vote in polls like this, I'd be tempted to vote for Bruichladdich for inconsistency and the fact that they have 20 million bottlings to drive me mad!

(With all respect, iwc--don't mean to imply you are foolish, just that there is more than one way to look at things.)
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Postby Lugarteniente » Thu Jan 18, 2007 9:04 pm

I don´t like Ardeg TEN. I prefer Laph 10

Uigeadail is a good malt but simply can´t compete with the laphroaig CS stuff...

Laphroaig has also the 15y expression. Arbeg 17 is imposible to find here.

And the QC expresion is more drinkable than the still and very young stuff.

For me Ardbeg is the loser.

Lagavulin is a close second, because only had two affordable expressions.

The Px finish is the best peated whisky I tasted.
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Postby Admiral » Fri Jan 19, 2007 3:16 am

Nick said:

Admiral - you discounted Caol Ila as it's not matured on Islay. That's fair enough, but what category of whisky would you judge it under instead of Islay?


Hi Nick,

No, I'm not really suggesting Caol Ila should be classified under a different region or in a different category. I just think that the title of "Best Islay Distillery" would be a very undeserving award to give to a distillery that doesn't mature its stock on the island.

(My opinion only; I understand if others feel differently on this matter).

Cheers,
AD
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Postby Ardbeg311 » Fri Jan 19, 2007 12:20 pm

I think the Ardbeg distillery represents well Islay's quality and uniqueness, but I acknowledge that an argument also could be made for Laphroaig and Lagavulin. I generally like the OB bottles of Caol Ila even though I think the line is a notch below those above. I have not liked very much the line of Bowmore and Bruichladdich. I keep trying different bottles of Bruichladdich, but I never finish one with the impression that I need to buy another bottle of it. I have had only the Bunnahabhain 12yo and thought it was O.K., but nothing stellar. I have yet to taste a Port Ellen or the PC5.

With only present day, less than 100.00 euros/dollars, and generally available bottles in mind, my reason for choosing Ardbeg would be this:

Lagavulin:
While the 16yo is decent enough, I have had too much variation in the taste of this bottle to put it at the top of the list. However, if there is a special occasion to be celebrated one would be hard pressed to find a better Islay bottle than the 12yo (especially those bottled between 2002-2004). It possesses the perfect combination of sweetness and peat/smoke/sea punch. An incredible mouth feel.

Laphroaig:
I really love this distillery and not the least reason of which is how they attend to their "Friends." I know it isn't much, but the emails I receive on their updates, my birthday, and Christmas are a nice touch. The whisky isn't bad either! That they can produce such wonderful stuff and charge as little as they do is a model for all (Macallan? Springbank?). I agree with those above who have praised the Quarter Cask and 10yo CS. These whiskies are solid drams and do a fine job of announcing what Islay has to offer. However, and I may be in the minority here, whenever I taste their standard bottle (i.e., 10yo 40% or 43%) I have to ask, "Why bother?" I find it weak, dull, and disappointing. I confess this may be because the Quarter Cask and C/S are so much better and do not cost that much more than the 10yo.

Ardbeg:
I gave my vote to Ardbeg because I have not been disappointed in ANY bottle that I have had. While an “odd” bottle is not unheard of, given the variety and amount of whisky most of us here drink, this simply has not been my experience with Ardbeg. So one of the reasons it gets my vote is because it has been consistently excellent across their entire standard range. While I do believe the Uigeadail from 2004 is better than the later editions that I have tried, it is still a pretty fine single malt. The Very Young is terrific even though you know you are tasting a young whisky. The Still Young is what one expects an Ardbeg to be, an unapologetic whisky that takes no prisoners. I am, obviously, of the opinion that the standard bottle 10yo is much better than the Laphroaig of the same age. Laphroaig has price in its favor, but the Ardbeg 10yo, VY (was), and SY are reasonably priced as well.

If the question had been what single bottle best capture’s Islay’s style and singularity then IMO the award would probably go to the Lagavulin 12yo. But for “distillery” I have to vote Ardbeg.
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Postby lbacha » Fri Jan 19, 2007 2:50 pm

I went with Lagavulin for the fact that it was the Islay Malt that turned me to the Islay style of malts. Over time I have tried and come to like all of the other distilleries on the island due to all the reasons stated in earlier posts. I still beleive if you asked the majority of people who arn't part of this forum, and Lagavulin would be the distillery mentioned.

Len
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Postby Spirit of Islay » Sat Jan 20, 2007 3:34 pm

Ardbeg (surprisingly!) , never been disappointed yet by a distillery bottling .
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Postby Oliver » Sun Jan 21, 2007 7:52 pm

Another comment I thought I would post is that many of us, its true, got acquainted with Islays thanks to Lagavulin 1 -- and that's a plus in that distillery's column. Which of course is due for the most poart I venture, to the grandiose reviews -- and not unjustified at the time -- the malt received from none other than Michael Jackson. The man really pioneered that category almost single-handedly.... Definetly part of the avant-garde.
I will raise my glass in his honor tonight!
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Re: Best Islay Distillery

Postby Nock » Mon Jan 22, 2007 10:45 am

I appreciate the arguments and opinions of Admiral, Oliver, and Ardbeg311.

And taking the original question:
Oliver wrote:What is the Best Islay Distillery in terms of quality of product and prestige. In short what would be for you the best representative of Islay's style, quality and singularity?


To meet the given criteria of "best representative of Islay's style, quality, and singularity" I can easily agree with all the arguments that narrow the field to the big heavy three: Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. My opinion is being the most swayed by the criteria of quality. To me this not only implies a good product, but also a consistent product. So in my mind what really strikes against Ardbeg and Lagavulin is not that they have a poor product (far from it), but that you so often hear about how great they were.

Is Lagavulin great now? Absolutely. Is Ardbeg making great whisky? Without question. BUT you always hear about the magic Ardbegs from the 70's or the older Whitehorse Lagavulin. The recent releases of Ardbeg Uigeadail seems to not be as good as the first few. It also seemes that the 17yo slipped in quality from earlier releases. The same has been said of Lagavulin 12yo cs.

In contrast Laphroaig is putting out bottlings as good as if not better then ever before. Sure you here about how the older 10yo was more pungent. However, the current Red Stripe cask strength 10yo is regarded by most people to be even better then the earlier Green Stripe cask strength. The 15yo and the most recent release of the 30yo seem just as good if not better then ever. And the Quarter Cask hasn't seemed to slip at all since its release.

Another factor in favor of Laphroaig is that they have a fairly easy to understand solid line. The basic line is: 10yo, 10yo cs, QC, 15yo, 30yo, and precious few 40yo. Simple straight forward round numbers. They are usually easy to get your hands on that the price is very reasonable.

In contrast Lagavulin really only has the 16yo readily available. Sure you can hunt high and low for the 12yo cs or the recent 30yo but good luck and it will cost you a great deal.

And what about Ardbeg? They seem to enjoy putting out hard to get your hands on bottlings. The Very Young and Still Young were never released in North America. The 17yo is more scarce then ever, and the 1977 seems to be gone forever. I don't even want to talk about the Ooling or the Kildalton. Still, I will concede that part of Ardbeg's problem has been rebuilding from its closure from the mid 90's. Hopefully they will get things in line in the next couple of years. I would love nothing more then to see Ardbeg really get a solid line that offers the breadth that Laphroaig has. But I highly doubt that we will see the same kind of magic that seemed to come out of the distillery in 74, 76, and 77.

So with all that I have say that in my mind that vote has to go to Laphroaig.

For me the cherry on top has to do with the category of prestige. While I would argue that of the open and operating distilleries Ardbeg has the greatest mythic reputation/cult following I don't think that always translates into prestige. Largely because of the "classic malts" marketing from the 90's (and as Oliver pointed out Michael Jackson high praise)Lagavulin has become a staple of every bar. So the category almost seems to be a toss up. That is until you add the very small fact that the Prince of Wales has his coat of arms on Laphroaig. Come on . . . surely that is . . . worth something :wink:

All in all a fun topic to consider.
And I do like all the answers . . . except if you said Bunnahabhain and then you are just wrong :lol:
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Jan 22, 2007 11:51 am

In my opinion, Islay's "Style" is every one of these distilleries!
Each is famed for something slightly different, but all in all, they each provide one piece of the total jigsaw puzzle that is "Islay's style".

I think it quite unfair that some of these magnificent offerings may be ignored because they are not the peat monsters that some Islay distilleries offer. Peat monsters are just one facet of this great whisky island.

But that's just my opinion.
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Postby Sphinx » Mon Jan 22, 2007 2:50 pm

First and foremost i love the Lagavulin... The bottles are affordable and GREAT tasting :)

Second i have the Ardbeg distillery, and then Caol Ila, because they have som great bottles as well... But they dont reach the Lagavulin "standard".

Port Ellen is very very good, but as said before, its not a whisky for the ordinary whisky drinker, but for the collecter, as they are very expensive.
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Postby Oliver » Mon Jan 22, 2007 6:03 pm

Interesting to note that, so far, the "big three" (Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin) total almost 75% of the votes....

I wish Lagavulin had more readily available younger CS versions -- but I think this is less likely ecause of the success of the 16 year old! Oh, the irony!
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Postby lbacha » Mon Jan 22, 2007 8:06 pm

I'm glad to see Bunnahavain getting some support. I really like the 18 and 25 yr expressions they came out with and think it is overlooked alot. Islay is Islay and I like them all. I was very dissapointed the distillery wasn't running when I went because it would have been neat to talk to them about how they perceive themselves on the island.

Len
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Postby Drrich1965 » Tue Jan 23, 2007 12:59 am

Nock...What a great argument for Laph.....I also love the staight up, unpretentios way they offer their expressions. The 30 is in my all time top three, and the quarter cask is a gem..Gee, can I change my vote?

I actaully voted for Port Ellens, but sadly the younger expressions (16years old and younger) that are so special are so hard to find..
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Postby peergynt323 » Tue Jan 23, 2007 1:13 am

Agreed Rich. Laphroaig 30yo doesn't even have a box! I had to carry it home on the subway!!!
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Postby Drrich1965 » Tue Jan 23, 2007 1:16 am

peergynt323 wrote:Agreed Rich. Laphroaig 30yo doesn't even have a box! I had to carry it home on the subway!!!


Some have a box, some don't. I am actaully looking for one with a box to save for that preverbial rainy day.
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Postby badams » Mon Jan 29, 2007 1:31 am

probably Lagavulin, but they are stingy with their releases. their 16 is the best and 12 is outstanding. otherwise Ardbeg is a notch over Laphroaigs tendancies, Laphroaig 15 is great but Ardbeg 10 is a monster, where the sea meets the fields. Bowmore produces a very good 12 and 17 that should not be overlooked.


VOTED LAGAVULIN THOUGH MY HEART LIES IN ARGYLE

there is only 2 reasons to visit ISLAY, Laphroaig 16 for the best and Ardbeg 10 for the experience.

Give me Ardbeg 10, Redbreast 12 and Johnnie Walker Swing and you guys can argue about the rest! 8)
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Postby badams » Fri Feb 02, 2007 10:14 am

actually Caol Ila may be putting out the best islay scotches today. the 12 and 18 are quiet impressive and less tamed down than some of the big names.
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Postby Rory B Bellows » Wed Feb 14, 2007 8:32 pm

Lagavulin, but Ardbeg is so close I can feel the Beast breathing down my neck. Bowmore is third, but only because of it's length.
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Postby Scotchio » Thu Feb 15, 2007 1:50 am

I voted Caol Ila because of all my currently open Islay bottles it's my Wee Dram 10 yr old which empties most quickly. Stunning aroma, lovely balance of peat grass and light fruit and a perfect mouth feel. Unlike the others it's also a malt I can enjoy at any time beyond mid day
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Postby Quaichuser » Thu Feb 15, 2007 11:14 pm

I won't be without my Lagavulin DE in the house so I voted for Lagavulin.
Ardbeg would be a close second for me.

I have sampled 1 or 2 varieties of everything on the list except the Port Ellen. And when someone asks me what the difference between and mainland and an Islay is I will hand them a Lagavulin.

If they get by their nose then I tell them they are ready for the intricacies of Islay.
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Postby Drrich1965 » Fri Feb 16, 2007 12:24 am

I voted for Port Ellen for two reaons. First, it looked lonley for no votes, and and two, two of my three all time favorite malts were PEs. Can they be overrated? Yes, but they also can be amazingly complex, and there is something about the brightness of the peat, and the white pepper qualilty that I just love...
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Postby littledaniel » Fri Feb 16, 2007 1:45 pm

It has to be the Laddie for me. I don't think you can take points off it because there are so many young bottles around as the distillery has only been re-opened for 6 years!

The others are all great but to be the best in Islay what better criteria is there than the fact that the whole process is done on the islands from ingredients, to laying down to the maturation of the ENTIRE stock! I believe that is unique. They are even coopering their own casks now.
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