Whisky Magazine Issue 108
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Seáneen Sullivan explores the myths and magic of this iconic Islay distillery
If you go to Islay, go in autumn. A chill is sliding across the bay as the afternoon autumn light pours across the island like molasses, enveloping the oddly treeless landscape. The smell of peat is everywhere, seeping through the water, the land, the air, the whisky: quietly, deliberately. You don't even notice it after a while. The aroma of smoke clings to you, curls around you, reminding you of where you are.
It is late in the afternoon when I arrive at Lagavulin distillery, a collection of white washed buildings burrowed into the land close to the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle. The distillery stands confident, rooted to the edge of the bay and certain of its place. It too is deliberate.
The history of whisky production has soaked into the land here. There has been distillation on this site since 1742, with 10 illicit stills operating in the vicinity of the current Lagavulin distillery by the late 1700s. By the 1830s the only two distilleries remaining nestled into the shoulder of the bay amalgamated to form Lagavulin. As with most distilleries on Islay, Lagavulin's fortunes have been bound with that of blends: the familiar story of the interdependent relationship enjoyed by most single malts with blends.
The blend in this tale is White Horse, brought to market by Peter Mackie in 1890. This blend contains the smoky warmth of Lagavulin malt at its heart to this day.
The same Peter Mackie was responsible for the construction of the Malt Mill distillery in 1908, motivated larg...