There are currently nine working distilleries on Islay, with two more planned to open in the next couple of years. The first recorded distillery was Bowmore, founded in 1779; the most recent was Ardnahoe, which was established in 2018. Islay’s distilleries are spread across the island; however, the three on the south coast – Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig – are located next to each other, and are collectively known as the Kildalton Distilleries.
Number of active distilleries9
First recorded distilleryBowmore 1779
Lost distilleries on Islay
Despite its small size, Islay has been home to many distilleries over the years. While most of them were short lived and their memories have faded, a few still linger on in stories, ruined buildings and place names.
Ardenistiel was founded in 1821, next door to Laphroaig and sharing its water source; James and Andrew Stein, of the noted Stein family of distillers, were hired to manage the distillery. The operation continued with some success until 1847, but the distillery then changed hands and none of the subsequent owners could keep it going – the final manager kept pigs on the nearby islet of Texa and used the kiln to smoke ham, but even that could not save Ardenistiel. By 1868 it closed and Laphroaig took over the site. The distillery’s derelict buildings became the site of Laphroaig’s current warehouses and offices.
Not to be confused with the Highland distillery of the same name, Ardmore was founded in 1817 and sat next door to Lagavulin, backing on to the same secluded bay. By 1825 they were both operated by John Johnston, and within 20 years the two distilleries were sold and merged to form the Lagavulin distillery we know today.
Founded in 1814, Daill was a farm distillery owned by the McEachern family. Not much is known about it, but by 1834 it had closed. Daill Farm still exists and a number of buildings on the estate could well have been used for distilling.
Established in 1829, Lochindaal was a purpose-built site in the middle of the village of Port Charlotte. Situated in the Rhinns of Islay, the western peninsula where Bruichladdich and Kilchoman are based today, it passed through many hands during its 100 years of operation. In the 1920s, its owners were acquired by the Distillers Company Limited, and the distillery was dismantled and eventually closed in 1929. The main buildings are now the site of the Islay Youth Hostel and a local garage, and the warehouses are used by nearby Bruichladdich.
Lossit Distillery was established in 1826 at Lossit Kennels, near to Ballygrant, just off the road between Bridgend and Port Askaig. It operated as a farm distillery until the 1860s, at which point it closed. While it’s thought that the distillery warehouses were used until at least 1867, today only the house and kennels remain.
The most legendary and famed of closed Islay distilleries, Malt Mill also has one of the simplest stories. When Lagavulin owner Peter Mackie lost the sales agency for Laphroaig’s whisky in 1907, he decided to make his own Laphroaig. He built a small replica of his rival on-site at Lagavulin, but despite considerable effort, the whisky did not taste like Laphroaig and the project was a failure. However, the distillery survived until the 1960s, at which point the equipment was removed and integrated into Lagavulin – the Malt Mill building is now the visitor centre.
Established in 1826, Mulindy didn’t last long. Built by the River Laggan a few miles from Bowmore, it had closed by 1831 – the owner went bankrupt and emigrated to the USA amid rumours that he enjoyed his distillery’s whisky a little too much. Today, little remains of the site other than a derelict croft.
Newton was a farm distillery situated on the road from Bridgend to Ballygrant. Established in 1819, it operated until 1837, and little is known about the site. Today, Newton House still exists and has an outbuilding with barred windows that may have been used for bonded storage.
Sat in the hills behind Port Charlotte, Octomore was a farm distillery owned by the Montgomery family. It was established in 1816, but like many farm distilleries it didn’t last long, falling into disrepair by the 1940s. Today, some of the distillery’s buildings remain, and are now holiday cottages.
Scarrabus, maybe situated near the site of the present-day Scarrabus farm, is almost certainly the shortest lived of the farm distilleries on Islay. Established in 1817, it had closed by 1818 and very little is known other than that a licence was issued for a single 76-gallon still.
Founded in 1821 by Donald and John Johnston, the distillery was built at Tallant Farm near Bowmore. It was not a profitable operation and the business folded in 1852. However, it remains an interesting footnote in Islay’s distilling history, as the Johnston family also established Laphroaig.
-Scotch Missed: Lost Distilleries of Scotland: Scotland’s Lost by Brian Townsend.
-Information from research by Graham Fraser, Stirling.