This website is not about the sinking of the SS Politician in 1941 off the island of Eriskay, nor the 1949 film based on that story, nor the 2016 remake. It's about my tour of Islay (and Arran in passing) to sample the excellent whiskies that are created there.


I forced myself to start liking whisky in the mid 80s. That may sound odd but people usually like whisky or they don't - I didn't, but wanted to. I tried a few bottles from the then expanding range stocked by supermarkets. Early purchases were Tobermory, Highland Park and Bowmore - perhaps tame by today's standards but only what was being marketed at the time. The production of many single malts in the 80s was destined entirely for blending into Johnnie Walker, White Horse, Grant's, Cutty Sark, etc.

Hopes Dashed

I had suggested an earlier foray to Scotland in 2007 for a whisky holiday but with teenage children this was not to be. It wasn't going to be enjoyable having teenagers in tow without 3G or at least half decent WiFi. And the repetitive nature of distillery visits would not have been appreciated.

Hopes Undashed

However, in January 2016, with the children now moved away from home, I planned the visits for later that year. Booking the appropriate tours while minimising driving distances and allowing for travelling time proved challenging but I ended up with the following schedule in August 2016. I chose Islay because by now I was drinking Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin, and Islay also had the highest concentration of distilleries. Scotland has about 42 working distilleries that are generally open to the public and a land area of 31,000 square miles. Islay in comparison has 8 of those 42 and is only 239 sq miles - 25 times the average density!

DistilleryTour NameSun 14thMon 15thTue 16thWed 17thThu 18thFri 19th
Caol IlaStandard1530
ArdbegDecon Dram1400
LaphroaigDistillery Wares1000

Whisky History

There were over 130 distilleries in Scotland a few decades ago but a drop in whisky consumption caused radical changes and contraction in the distilling industry. On Islay, Port Ellen and Ardbeg closed with Port Ellen remaining so permanently. Two of its pagoda malting house roofs remain but the distillery equipment has long been removed. The site houses the Port Ellen maltings business and has extensive warehouses that still contain Port Ellen and Lagavulin casks. However, new distillieries are opening occasionally, for example Kilchoman in 2005 and Gartbreck is due to start operating in 2017.

Whisky is a difficult business: satisfying additional demand is not always possible - you can't magic up 500,000 litres of 10 year old spirit overnight - you needed to have thought about that 10 years ago. Like most businesses, the whisky business dislikes uncertainty. Trying to model future demand against the fickle whims of consumers, foreign exchange, import taxes and unexpected events like Brexit is difficult. Demand may be affected by increasing or decreasing prices but this can cause unwanted problems elsewhere.

Recent news is that the whisky exports have increased for the first time since 2013, though there was a small fall in the value of these. UK sales account for roughly 7% of Scotch whisky production.