Discovering the elements of Islay with Elixir Distillers

Discovering the elements of Islay with Elixir Distillers

From its independently bottled Port Askaig and Elements of Islay whiskies to its under-construction Portintruan Distillery, Elixir Distillers is raising the game in Islay whisky from all angles

News | 21 Jun 2024 | By Bethany Brown

  • Share to:

The island of Islay has long held an allure for whisky lovers. For spirits entrepreneurs Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh, it was top of the list when they were searching for a place to build their first distillery. The brothers have founded numerous drinks enterprises in the past 25 years, most notably retailer the Whisky Exchange and on-trade business Speciality Drinks in 1999. Speciality Drinks has been independently bottling whiskies since its foundation; its bottling arm took on the name Elixir Distillers in 2017.


The company has long had a connection with the ‘whisky isle’ through its brands Elements of Islay (launched 2006, a range of independently bottled blended malts made with spirit from across the island) and Port Askaig (a single malt brand sourcing from Caol Ila).


This year, both brands are witnessing exciting developments. For Elements of Islay, this is centred around a new expression unveiled at Fèis Ìle in May. Named Fireside, it is designed to evoke the feelings of warmth, communion, and fun that can come from drinking whisky. It follows the more concept-led approach to recipe development that can be seen in other Elements of Islay releases, such as Beach Bonfire or Cask Edit.


“Elements of Islay has always been where we play with Islay whisky,” says Elixir Distillers master blender Oliver Chilton. “Whisky is better at taking you places than any other drink... and Islay whisky is special because it brings you here.”

A cocktail with Elements of Islay Cask Edit, served at the launch of its Fèis Ìle 2024 limited edition Fireside

Fireside is a combination of liquid from three cask types. First, comprising 30 per cent of the blend, is Caol Ila spirit distilled in 2011 and aged in 'new wood' casks. Chilton explains that these are not brand-new casks but rejuvenated Spanish wine casks, about 225 litres in size, that were designed by Diageo as a precursor to STRs. In regard to where this spirit fits into the concept, Chilton says, “This is the sense of fun. This is the game.”


Next, comprising another 30 per cent, are American oak oloroso sherry hogsheads filled with Bunnahabhain spirit from the distillery’s stocks that were made and sold for blending. Chilton explains that the Elixir Distillers team were so impressed with the quality of these casks, they now buy regularly from the cooperage that produced them. “The American oak is really key because you get this punch of vanilla... but there's also this herbaceousness,” he says, adding that the fast toast “bordering on char” that the casks underwent has created sweetness and body. “This was the soot, the ash, the surrounding.”


Finally, comprising 40 per cent of the blend, is Caol Ila matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry-seasoned butts from renowned Spanish bodega Miguel Martín. Chilton says the Miguel Martín casks have notable notes of chocolate and ginger, and a certain richness. “It's that bit [of the whisky] that you lose your soul as you stare into. I wanted that for the middle of the whisky.”


Elements of Islay Fireside (58.9% ABV) is available to purchase from the Whisky Exchange, priced at £82.50 per 700ml bottle.

The Port Askaig 8 Years Old

The next release on the Elixir Distillers calendar is from Port Askaig. Launched in 2009, Chilton says that the goal of Port Askaig was “to produce an elegant whisky”. Its flagship is the 8 Years Old, which is produced in batches of 50 barrels comprising mostly ex-bourbon barrels plus a “flavour bomb” of Pedro Ximénez casks in the middle.


This year will see two new Port Askaig expressions hit shelves. The first is its latest limited-edition Cask Strength bottling. Chilton says the team wanted to show off “elegant sherry” in this whisky — it includes some American and European oak oloroso casks and older sherry casks, giving a fruitier, fuller-bodied spirit with savoury spice and mellow smoke. The expression also includes 25 per cent toasted American oak casks, which Chilton says add more creaminess than casks that are solely charred.


Coming up in autumn 2024 is the Port Askaig 15 Years Old, a new limited edition which will replace the 17 Years Old in its current range. Described by Chilton as an “elegant Caol Ila in its teens”, the whisky is floral and a little herbaceous with plenty of lemon notes, vanilla sponge, baked apricot, and subtle smoke. It is bottled at 50.5% ABV, the same strength as the 17 Years Old.


While the Elements of Islay and Port Askaig ranges seek to achieve different goals, they exemplify Elixir Distillers’ holistic philosophy on independent bottling. Chilton explains, “Some independent bottlers think their job is to find the best whisky. I think our job is to care for the whisky and make it right… to fix it… to care for it over time.”

A render of the south elevation of Portintruan Distillery on Islay, which is due to open in 2025

In common with many other independent bottlers, the Singh brothers had a desire to augment Elixir Distillers with its own production facility. Alongside the purchase of Speyside distillery Tormore from Pernod Ricard, they were keen to build their own facility — and Islay had to be the location.


Their Portintruan Distillery, located between recently reopened Port Ellen and Laphroaig on the island’s south coast, has been near a decade in the planning and commissioning. Construction is well underway on what will undoubtedly be one of the island’s, if not one of Scotland’s, most intriguing distilleries.


“We’re using modern techniques to make an older style of whisky,” explains distillery manager Georgie Crawford, an Islay native whose previous credits include managing Lagavulin Distillery and Port Ellen Maltings. She says that a consideration of “key touch points for quality and flavour” has informed the distillery’s design. For example, the team have fitted a modern mill rather than seeking out an ageing Boby or Porteus model because, for them, the make of the mill does not matter — it’s about the quality of the grist that comes out of it. But that does not mean the company hasn’t been careful about who it works with on the build. Forsyths is building the stills, which will be heated by direct fire, and the team consulted with both Stauning in Denmark and Scotland’s Glen Garioch about the design of Portintruan’s floor maltings.


The distillery aims to produce about 1 million litres per year. It will run both short and long fermentations (using both stainless steel and wooden washbacks) to produce two distinct styles of spirit. But the variety does not end there — far from it.


Alongside the main distillery, a pilot distillery is being constructed. This will act as a playground for master blender Chilton. As well as producing malt whisky, there are plans to make rye whisky and even a molasses-based rum. The pilot distillery will have a hammer mill and run a full mash-in process, fermenting on the grain. Unlike in the main distillery, the stills in the pilot distillery will not be direct fired (as this wouldn’t be conducive to making good rye whisky or rum), but each wash still will have two heating methods, steam jackets and injection. There will also be a column still, and twin retorts for rum production. In all, Chilton estimates the equipment will enable up to 17 different distillation combinations. There are plans to recycle the lees, too, for an American whiskey-style sour-mashing process.

A render of the north-east elevation of Portintruan Distillery

It will be some time before whisky aficionados get the chance to taste a Portintruan liquid; the distillery is not expected to open until spring 2025, so the very earliest one could expect a bottling is 2028.


Alongside its distilling innovations, social sustainability and community action has been an important concern in the planning of Portintruan. Family homes are being built on site, hoped to encourage people with families to take up jobs at the distillery and move to the island to sustain its population and support its schools. Simultaneously, the distillery will run an apprenticeship programme for the island’s students to encourage them to stay, rather than moving to the mainland to seek work. The team are also building in classrooms and a laboratory that other organisations can use for teaching and research.


Both Chilton (who hints at similar social sustainability issues back home in Speyside) and Crawford have a keen understanding that the success of Portintruan will ultimately be determined by how well it supports the community on Islay. They are building not just a distillery, but a future.


Find out more about Elixir Distillers at

Magazine Archive

From the archive

Select an issue

Subscribe Now

Subscriptions for
Whisky Magazine are available
in print, digital or as a
complete package

The Benefits

8 print editions a year

Enjoy the convenience of home delivery

Full access to every digital edition via desktop, iOS or Android device

Latest Issue Subscribe Now

The Whisky Encyclopedia - Coming Soon 2024

Discover the world of whisky with our comprehensive encyclopedia
Featuring companies, distilleries, brands, glossaries, and cocktails

Join The Community

Sign up to the Whisky Magazine
newsletter letter and get access to the latest
in all things whisky

paragraph publishing ltd.   Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved.   Website by Acora One

Consent Preferences