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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Islay Whisky

Win a VIP trip to the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay!

Just when you thought we were done, we’re back again. Once more we’re sending two lucky people to Islay, this time in the company of Kilchoman. In distillery terms, Kilchoman…

Just when you thought we were done, we’re back again. Once more we’re sending two lucky people to Islay, this time in the company of Kilchoman.

In distillery terms, Kilchoman is still something of a new kid on the block. Just 15-and-a-bit years ago it became the first new distillery on Islay for 124 years. But in a short time, it has established a reputation as Islay’s fabulous farm distillery, ensuring the beautiful island on which resides shines through every dram through the use of locally-grown grain malted in their own floor maltings. This is a genuinely small-scale, craft operation that eschews volume and cost in favour of flavour. And if you’ve tasted Kilchoman’s whisky, you’ll know it was worth the effort. 

It’s a distillery that really should be on your bucket list. Luckily, the independent family business has partnered with us to give you a chance to visit and enjoy a number of whisky-based activities to boot. We’re back with another competition and for anyone who loves their Islay whisky, the prize is a dream trip. Let’s break down exactly what you stand to win.

Win a VIP trip to the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay!

Want to head here? Now’s your chance!

What you’ll win

  • Return standard or economy flight travel for 2 people from Glasgow airport to the distillery in Islay, Scotland;
  • Travel from Islay airport to the Kilchoman distillery;
  • Complimentary coffee, complimentary lunch at the visitor centre;
  • Complimentary VIP personal tour;
  • Complimentary warehouse tasting;
  • Complimentary coffee and cake picnic on Machir Bay;
  • Standard accommodation in Islay at the Machrie for 1 night for 2 people (subject to availability and to be arranged by prize provider), including dinner and breakfast;
  • Complimentary round of golf OR spa treatment OR time in the Still House distilling Kilchoman with the team.
Win a VIP trip to the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay!

It’s your chance to see what makes this distillery so special

How to enter

I’m sure most of you know the drill by now, but for anyone new (welcome, by the way, please stay and check out the many other delights of our blog) all you need to do is purchase a bottle of whisky from the Kilchoman range for a chance to win. There’s no limit on how many bottles you can buy and this method of entry comes with the bonus that you win regardless because, even if you don’t find yourself heading to Islay, you still have some delicious Kilchoman whisky to enjoy!

Best of luck to all of you who enter!

Kilchoman Sanaig Loch Gorm

One of these bottles could win you a trip to the distillery!

MoM Kilchoman Competition 2021 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 12:00:01pm 01 July to 23:59 15 July 2021. Date and travel restrictions apply. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Postal route available. See full T&Cs for details. 

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The peculiar allure of smoked drinks

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much?…

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much? Millie Milliken asks those in the know, and tries to explain the peculiar allure of smoked drinks.

Most summers of my late teens were spent sitting around a firepit into the early hours, a bowl of Strongbow cider in one hand (we’d run out of cups) and a powerless, useless Nokia in the other. For the weeks that followed everything smelt of smoke. Everything, no matter how much vinegar or baking soda it was bathed in.

Corte Vetusto

Mezcal cooking the traditional way (image courtesy of Corte Vestusto)

While the smell of smoke certainly isn’t for everyone, for myself – and countless Scotch and mezcal drinkers – the addition of smoke aromas and flavours are (if well balanced) a welcome characteristic in a drink. When I ask Deano Moncrieffe, owner of agave bar Hacha in London, whether he thinks smoke is becoming a more popular flavour for customers, his answer is less than vague: “100% yes! We now have many customers coming to a bar and asking for smoky cocktails,” he tells me.

He’s also seen more and more bars using the word ‘smoke’ on their menus to describe a cocktail in the knowledge that “consumers won’t be afraid of the word when they see it”. Smoked Negronis, Smoked Daiquiris and Smoked Old Fashioneds – even Smoky Martinis – have all passed my lips.

Getting lit

Smoke in drinks isn’t anything new. There’s the use of peat in Scotch (particularly from Islay) whisky production which, when burned, produces a range of smoky flavours (or compounds called phenols). Or while the traditional method of cooking agave in pits to make mezcal imparts a smoky flavour ranging from the subtle to the volcanic. But why do we like the smell and taste of smoke so much? And why in our drinks?

In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, ‘Smoke: Why we love it for cooking and eating’, barbecue and grill expert (yes) Jim Shahin traces it all back to our ancestry: “Of the three elements of flavour [taste, physical stimulation and smell], it’s smell that rocks our dawn-of-man world,” he writes. “That’s because the sense is lodged in an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system, which houses emotion and long-term memory. Smells trigger personal memories as well as atavistic, or ancestral, ones. ‘In evolutionary terms, we all started cooking with fire,” Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says. “That smoky smell is a really strong stimulus’.”

When relating this directly to whisky, Charles MacLean in his 2004 book MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky agrees. “Perhaps the big Islays, the smokiest of all malt whiskies, recollect the whiskies of the past. And perhaps one of the reasons for their current popularity is their ‘authenticity’, their ‘heritage’. An atavistic folk memory, like candles and open fires, Christmas trees and stormy nights.”

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends – it’s pretty smoky

Let it burn

For Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Atom Brands (Master of Malt’s sister company), seeking out smoke can be something to boast about: “Seeking out smoky whisky is almost like a badge of honour in the [same] way [as] higher ABV, or IBU (International Bitterness Units) in beer or SHU (Scoville Heat Units) in chilli sauces.” One product to come out of Atom Labs in the last year is Burnt Ends, a blended whisky from Scotland and the USA, combining a 4-year-old Tennessee rye whiskey with a heavy sherried 10-year-old Islay whisky. As the name suggests, the liquid conjures plenty of smoke.

Simmons also mentions the other methods Atom uses to get smoke into their whiskies, such as using casks that held peaty whisky to hold unpeated malt to get some of that character. He also notes that in the USA, he knows distillers who infuse raw materials (corn, wheat, rye or malt) with hickory, cherry, apple or other woods to obtain a certain flavour that get carried through mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. While others infuse the final spirit with smoke from particular woods, aerating or allowing the smoke to flow through the spirit itself. And when it comes to Iceland and Australia, “I know distillers who use dried livestock dung to dry their barley”. Tasty.

When mezcal brand The Lost Explorer came onto the scene in 2020, the agave category was going from strength to strength and bringing more smoke into peoples’ palates. “The Lost Explorer is what I would describe as agave led or agave forward in its flavour and as you progress through the varietals, the smoke aroma changes and develops in different ways,” explains Moncrieffe who acts as the brands ambassador in the UK.

What determines the smoke profile in the three expressions is the cooking time, the amount of volcanic rock and the reclaimed wood used. He describes the Espadin as having “sweet smoke”; the Tobala a “more cigar kind of smoke” and the Salmiana as “more spiced smoke”.

1881 shots

The still at 1881 distillery in Scotland

Smoke on water

It isn’t just whisky and mezcal that can bring the smoke. The Chase Distillery (previously of Tyrells crisps fame) launched an oak-smoked vodka in 2010, designed to use in Bloody Marys while more recently, Scotland’s 1881 Distillery (which opened in 2018) launched its own smoked gin, Rafters. The distillery, which is housed within the Peebles Hydro Hotel takes inspiration from a fire that ripped through the original hotel in 1905.

“We use fresh oak smoked water to achieve a light, savoury smokiness,” says head distiller Dean McDonald of how they created the smoky expression of their original 1881 Gin. “We didn’t want heavy peat smoke-style phenolic flavours that may have overwhelmed the carefully considered balance of our botanicals.”

Achieving that sweet spot of smoke intensity is judged by taste and smell alone, as the smoke intensity in the water can vary. For McDonald the smokiness of the gin brings out the spicier notes while also adding a velvety creaminess, and is an expression that would suit smoke lovers as well as drinkers of dark spirits like rum or whisky.

That whisper of smoke – as opposed to a shout – is something that Simmons finds appealing too: “In blending, a little smoky whisky goes a long way and, in tiny amounts, doesn’t always even register as smoke but as some sort of umami, some memory of Maillard effect – it just adds that yummy yummy.”

Header image courtesy of Kilchoman.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila time! Do you know what Caol Ila means in Gaelic? The sound of Islay. It’s fitting then, that the…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila time! Do you know what Caol Ila means in Gaelic? The sound of Islay. It’s fitting then, that the brand is marking its distillery day with a night of whisky and music. We found out why these two worlds collide so beautifully, what the distillery exclusive bottling to look out for is and what the distillery has planned for today.

What’s going on today: At Caol Ila on 31 May, starting at 7pm on the Caol Ila Facebook page, a night of whisky and music will take place with Glasgow-based actor and musician, Patricia Panther, as guest host. Mairi McGillvary, an Islay-born award-winning Gaelic singer will share some of her latest music and Alasdair Currie, a Gaelic singer, and piper also based in Islay, will join the lineup for a special performance. The evening is complete with a first look at the Caol Ila Fèis Ìle Festival bottling, delicious whisky cocktail recipes, and a specially commissioned contemporary composition from singer-songwriter Beldina Odenyo.

What’s the distillery exclusive to look out for: Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2021 – 12 Year Old. A bottling matured in refill American Oak casks and finished in high char Moscatel-seasoned casks, there’s just 3,000 of these being released with an ABV of 56.6%, and an RSP of £130 per 70cl. It’s available to purchase at Lagavulin Distillery and online on malts.com from 1 June with a pre-sale for subscribers at 2pm (BST) 31 May. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

It’s Caol Ila day!

Coal Ila: the marriage of music and malts

“I was over in Islay last week recording and it’s a wonderfully noisy place. The wind was blowing. The waves were crashing against the rocks. That’s very much the sound of the island. You expect those natural sounds of the island. But during Fèis something changes in the air, the pubs get busier and it’s really noisy. There are incredible bands and musicians everywhere and the place really comes to life”. 

Diageo brand ambassador, Ervin Trykowski is telling me why Caol Ila chose music as its theme for its distillery day this year. He says Fèis is in essence a music festival as much as it is a whisky one. As much we love our drams, we’re inclined to agree. It’s in the name, for goodness sake. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt. It’s an integral part of the celebration. There’s so much going on, you don’t have to be a whisky drinker to get involved. 

Music and whisky have long been entwined. Think of stars like Frank Sinatra, Keith Richards or ‘Lemmy’ Kilmeister (who was so associated with Jack Daniel’s over the years that an online petition to rename a JD-and-Coke as ‘a Lemmy’ after his death got about 50,000 signatures). While Bob Dylan, Slipknot, and more have entered into the world of booze production. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

Mairi McGillvray grew up surrounded by music and malts

The sound of Islay

Few musicians can be as steeped in whisky lore as Mairi McGillvary, who is performing for Caol Ila tonight. She was born on the island, her dad was a warehouseman at Bunnahabhain for over 30 years and she even worked there as a tour guide. Since a young age, she has been highly involved in Fèis Ìle, as a singer, fiddler, and highland dancer. “I believe that music and whisky are two of Scotland’s most important exports,” McGilvary says. “Whisky has played a huge part in my life. Growing up on Islay, it is all around you. To be able to tie that in with my love for music is a real privilege”. 

We often think of pairings for whisky solely in terms of food. But settings, sounds, and company enhance and change your dram as much as any dish. There’s a whisky for every genre of music. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

Grab a dram and enjoy!

“Everyone’s got their own favourite whiskies and they’ve got their own wonderful taste in music,” Trykowski says. “Music can change your mood, it can change the way you feel about different whiskies, and the whisky can do exactly the same to the music. It’s a partnership that works together in harmony”. 

Perhaps whisky and music go together so well because they share a great many things. Both cannot be crafted without a degree of care, intellect, and technology, but ultimately they’re works of art with ethereal qualities; an ability to transport; to elicit visceral, emotional, and instinctive responses; to make you want to share more moments with the people you love; to make you want to dance, even if it’s painfully obvious to everyone that it’s a terrible, terrible idea. 

So, grab a dram, pop our playlist on and celebrate a festival that brings the two together so brilliantly. Slàinte mhath!

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The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin! To mark the occasion we’ve got news on the distillery’s activities, an exclusive bottling, and the story of how…

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin! To mark the occasion we’ve got news on the distillery’s activities, an exclusive bottling, and the story of how the Smoky Cokey cocktail won over the hearts and minds of the whisky-drinking public.

It’s Day 2 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 and we’re virtually stopping by the legendary Lagavulin. It’s known for its picturesque distillery, celebrity fan base, and an array of intense, rich, and smoky drams that have won numerous accolades over the last two centuries or so. Lagavulin is  a fundamental part of Islay’s whisky heritage and attracts a huge number of visitors each year, not just at festival time. And while we can’t be there in person today, there’s still plenty happening at the distillery…

What’s going on today

Today it’s Lagavulin day and to celebrate from 7pm the Lagavulin Distillery warehouse will play host to an evening of performances by Scottish singers, Joy and Andrew Dunlop and the Niall Kirkpatrick Ceilidh Band. Attendees, who can tune in to the virtual event via the Lagavulin Facebook page, will witness an adventure on Islay’s surrounding sea, a hike around the island showcasing its scenery, and a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of warehouse manager Iain McArthur, as well an exclusive first look at the festival bottling. Speaking of which…

The distillery exclusive to look out for is:

Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2021 – 13 Year Old. A bottling matured in refill American oak casks and finished in high char Port-seasoned casks, there’s just 6,000 of these being released with an ABV of 54.4% at £160 per 70cl. They’re available to purchase at Lagavulin Distillery and online on malts.com from 1 June with a pre-sale for subscribers at 2pm (BST) 31 May. 

Meanwhile, we’ve got a trio of daily deals to snap up. Lagavulin 16 Year OldLagavulin 8 Year Old, and Lagavulin 2005 ( bottled 2020 ) – Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish Distillers Edition are now all on sale. And while you’re reading be sure to check out our 2019 interview with former distillery manager Colin Gordon and our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the festival mood!

The Smoky Cokey: an unlikely success

Mixing booze with cola is nothing new. People have long paired rum or Jack Daniel’s with the classic fizzy drink. But a single malt like Lagavulin? 

Yes, we’re looking back at the surprising story of how Smoky Cokey became a fixture of Fèis. For those unfamiliar with it, the Smoky Cokey is essentially a Highball made with Lagavulin (8 or 16 Year Old, dealer’s choice) and cola. Given the whisky’s status as a serious drinker’s dram, a purist’s choice, it’s not a combination that you would ever expect to see. It sounds almost sacrilegious, like the kind of drink that would cause Nick Offerman to stare at you sternly if he saw you order one, reducing you to a blubbering mess begging for forgiveness for your transgression. 

Most people agree that the Smoky Cokey originated from an experiment Dave Broom conducted in his excellent 2014 book, Whisky: The Manual. In a quest to find the perfect mixer for each Scotch, he tried numerous different whiskies with drinks like green tea, soda, and cola, finding the latter paired perfectly with Lagavulin. It was a bold statement and a big deal. One of the most respected whisky writers in the world has just backed the strangest of horses. And people were forced to consider that he may just have a point.

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

You might not think to mix this beauty, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

Colin Dunn: cocktail pioneer

Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn is probably the other figure most associated with the serve. He has been a regular at Feis Ile since 2000, which means he’s had plenty of festivals to prepare for. Every year he looks for something fresh to bring. He’d already begun experimenting with serving Lagavulin with food  and thought that mixing it would be the logical next step. After reading Whisky: The Manual, he had the ideal serve to test this theory.

While at Lagavulin Distillery with guests prior to the festival, Dunn did something of a trial run. He popped 35ml of Lagavulin 16 Year Old in a Martini glass and topped it up with cola he’d allow to turn semi-flat to lose some of the bubbles. He put them on a silver tray, went out to Lagavulin pier, and gave the cocktail to his guests. “The first gentleman said ‘wow, what do you have in this, Punt E Mes?’ That opened my eyes to its potential and how receptive people can be if they don’t know what they’re getting,” recalls Dunn. 

Sensing an opportunity, he enlisted the help of Alessandro Palazzi of Duke’s fame to help create a menu of Lagavulin drinks to demonstrate its mixing potential. “Introducing Lagavulin in cocktails was a big challenge back then. People wanted it neat. Acoustic. But Alessandro and I wanted it to make it electric,” he says. Their menu included a Negroni in which Lagavulin replaced the gin, a smoky Old Fashioned with Tabasco, and a Smoky Cokey, as it came to be known. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

One of the first places the drink was served was this pier

It took a while to take off

The reception was good, if a touch slow. When Dunn would go to bars and order the Smoky Cokey, many would insist on serving the cola and Lagavulin separately. But word spread, and in an age where playing with whisky was becoming increasingly popular it soon developed something of a cult following. Over the last few years its reputation has continued to grow and it’s now a common sight at Lagavulin Day. 

Which raises the question, why does it work? Dunn believes that cola’s slight bitterness, minerality, and sweet notes work in harmony with earthy, damp, and muscular whisky. Compared to a traditional whiskey and coke, usually made with bourbon or Jack Daniel’s, Lagavulin adds a layer of complexity and intensity as well as some savoury qualities to balance the sweet vanilla and spice of the soda. It’s an unlikely success and yet it totally makes sense. It’s Daphne and Niles. And like any good marriage, it becomes a thing of its own instead of two other things just plopped together. It’s sacrile-cious, and for every purist that’s outraged by it, there are many new drinkers who adore it. Dunn wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“Scotch is about innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship,” Dunn says. “Distilleries like Lagavulin have been evolving since its creation. Whisky is not supposed to stand still. You simply don’t know if something will work until you’ve tried it. I can tell you now the team who worked at the distillery absolutely loved it, as did some of their parents and grandparents who had worked at the distillery and made Lagavulin decades ago. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. It works because thousands of people tell me it works”.

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

Happy Lagavulin Day, folks!

Making whisky accessible

The unlikely duo now represents something of a triumph for broadening horizons and reconsidering the stuffy and backward notions that Scotch whisky, and in particular Islay whisky, can’t be playful and fun. We should celebrate the Smoky Cokey’s ability to make a powerful and occasionally challenging dram accessible to those new to Scotch.

And it’s so delightfully simple. You truly only need Lagavulin and cola to make it. A wedge of lime or orange would work nicely as a garnish, and if you’re a true maverick you can go all out and ice cream to make a Floaty Smoky Cokey. But other than that there’s really no rules. You can use Lagavulin 8 or 16 Year Old, you can play with different premium colas and you can adjust the measurements as you see fit.

Dunn says to experiment and see what works for you. “My suggestion is to get a glass of Lagavulin 16 and then make a Smoky Cokey in another glass. Nose the straight whisky, then nose the cocktail. Take a sip of each, but don’t just swallow, give them a moment to compare the two flavours. Then you can adjust based on what you like”. Personally, I find the below works well.

However you make it, it’s the perfect drink to toast a remarkable distillery. Slàinte mhath!

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

It’s easy, it’s tasty and it’s the perfect way to toast the festival!

How to make a Smokey Cokey

35ml of Lagavulin 8 Year Old or 16 Year Old
A bottle of high quality (or just your favourite) cola
Wedge of lime

Add the Lagavulin to a glass (again, go fancy or as simple as you like) filled with lots of ice and then top with cola. Stir, then add a wedge of lime if desired. Enjoy.

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Welcome to The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 celebration!

The world’s most famous whisky festival is returning in virtual form from 28 May-6 June 2021 and we’ve got plans of our own to mark the occasion. Here’s a rundown…

The world’s most famous whisky festival is returning in virtual form from 28 May-6 June 2021 and we’ve got plans of our own to mark the occasion. Here’s a rundown of what to expect from The MoM Islay Festival celebration.

In previous years we’d currently be packing our bags and bracing ourselves for the awkward journey to the Queen of the Hebrides to spend 10 days in the company of whisky, music and wildlife fans at The Islay Festival of Music and Malt, or Fèis Ìle.

Islay online

For the second year running, however, we’re stuck at home and left with the task of celebrating Islay’s spirit, culture and beauty from afar. But we’re going to champion what we’ve got rather than curse what we’ve lost by putting together ten days of festival-based content for you to enjoy alongside the virtual event itself.

Following the schedule of the festival, we’ll post a new feature on our blog for each distillery. From the origins of the Smoky Cokey to the tales of trains, planes and ferries, we’ll have an original tale for every brand to enrich your festival experience. We’ll also let you know what each brand is up to on its designated day and what distillery exclusives to look out for. 

Alongside this, there will be daily Islay whisky deals as well as cocktail and food recipes to enjoy and even an Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the festival mood while you read. All part of the plan to bring the magic of Islay to you.

Below is a timetable for each distillery day, be sure to add the following dates to your diary. Check out the festival website for a full breakdown of what each distillery will be up to, and bear in mind that event times and links could be subject to change.

So, come and join us on the Master of Malt blog every day with a dram in hand and a song in your heart to toast whisky’s most iconic celebration. Slàinte mhath!

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021

Wish we were here

Our Islay schedule

-Day One: Ardnahoe (Friday 28th)
-Day Two: Lagavulin (Saturday 29th)
-Day Three: Bruichladdich (Sunday 30th)
-Day Four: Caol Ila (Monday 31st)
-Day Five: Laphroaig (Tuesday 1st)
-Day Six: Bowmore (Wednesday 2nd)
-Day Seven: Kilchoman (Thursday 3rd)
-Day Eight: Bunnahabhain (Friday 4th)
-Day Nine: Ardbeg (Saturday 5th)
-Day Ten: Jura (Sunday 6th)

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Top ten: Peated whisky under £50

Few spirits have a cult following like peated whisky. If you’re particularly taken by smokier spirits or you’re in the mood for something different there will be a bottle for…

Few spirits have a cult following like peated whisky. If you’re particularly taken by smokier spirits or you’re in the mood for something different there will be a bottle for you on this list.

Considering peat is a dark, partially decayed organic matter formed in the wetlands, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t create the most appetising of flavours. But you’d be wrong. 

It takes thousands of years for this flammable substance to form and over that time it acquires an array of flavour and complexity. And every time you dry barley with peat in a kiln during the whisky-making process, it infuses with the grain, bringing all that goodness to the eventual spirit.

Peat can be divisive, but like all good acquired tastes, once you get an appetite for it you’ll want it more and more. That’s why distilleries famous for smoky single malts like Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Laphroaig develop such a devoted cult following.

Depending on where and how the whiskies are made, peated malts encompass a whole range of smoky flavours, the best-known of which come from IslayNow, however, there are producers across Scotland, as well as in Ireland, England, Scandinavia, Japan, America and more.

But we can’t fit them all into one blog. Heck, there’s at least 10 we could have included from just Islay itself. So what we have here is a wide range of smoky treats, from the mellow and aromatic to the full-bodied and fierce. Remember, everyone likes peated whiskey. There are just some folks who haven’t tried the right one yet… 

Our pick of bargain peated whisky

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength (Batch 02)

No messing about here. To kick things off we’re going straight for the spectacular with a single malt Scotch whisky bottled at cask strength, a hefty 56% ABV. Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire took the brakes of its flagship 10-year-old expression and the result is all those smoky, sherried and fruity notes are ramped up a notch. Think of it like Mario turning into Super Mario when he gets those mushrooms. Only better. Because it’s delicious whisky.

What does it taste like?

Rockpools and burning turf, mixed with wafts of fresh orchard fruit, salted peanuts, chilli flakes, chocolate digestives and dates.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Ardbeg 10 Year Old 

Ardbeg 10 Year Old is a firm favourite of peated whisky fans because it does a sublime job of showcasing the flavours Islay and the distillery itself are famous for. As well as all that smoke and sea, however, you’ll also taste an array of sweet, citrusy and fruity elements thanks to the depth of the spirit and the balance ex-bourbon casks bring. 

What does it taste like?

A ridge of vanilla and caramel leads to a mountain of peat capped with citrus fruits and circled by clouds of sea spray.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

The Legendary Dark Silkie Irish Whiskey

Don’t be surprised to see more and more delicious smoky spirits coming out of Ireland in the future. The Emerald Isle is home to mountains of peat and distilleries like Sliabh Liag are taking advantage of it with expressions like Dark Silkie. A triple-distilled peated single malt matured in sherry casks, this bottling is then blended with a bourbon-matured single malt, as well as a grain whiskey that rested in virgin oak to make a dram full of subtle smoke, ripe fruit and sweet spices.

What does it taste like?

Salted dark chocolate, oaky vanilla and orchard fruit sweetness veiled by dry smoke, cigar box and spicy oak.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Highland Park 10 Year Old – Viking Scars

Highland Park makes full use of its Orkney home when making its signature whisky, from the mineral-rich springs that provide quality water to the coastline’s salty air which aids maturation. But the most significant contribution is Orkney’s peat. It’s made of heather and sphagnum moss that dates back as much as 9,000 years. Its aromatic, light and slightly sweet profile has a profound and welcome effect on the whisky’s character. Plus, Vikings are pretty cool.

What does it taste like?

Subtle heathery smoke, sherry sweetness, sea salt, crushed black pepper, ginger and waxy orange peel. 

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

High Coast Timmer – Peat Smoke

We’re going further afield now to Sweden, which is no stranger to peaty delights. As well as Mackmyra’s Svensk Rök, you can get your smoky Scandie fill from the High Coast distillery and its Timmer bottlings, which is made up of 100% peated malt. The expression, which takes its name from the Swedish for ‘timber’, spends at least six years in first-fill bourbon barrels and pairs generous bursts of warming smoke with ripe fruit, aromatic spice and some classic bourbon-cask sweetness (think vanilla and caramel etc.).

What does it taste like?

Through grassy, creamy malt there’s tropical fruit, citrus zest and crystallised ginger. Then, milky coffee, crumbly vanilla biscuits and layers of elegant peat smoke.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Caol Ila 12 Year Old 

Another Islay classic that we just can’t get enough of. Caol Ila 12 Year Old has beautifully measured and mellow smokiness that allows all kinds of complex flavours to come together beautifully. Its fresh, coastal and briney elements will transport you to the sea while the fruity, citrus notes add great depth. This is a persistently popular peated whisky for good reason.

What does it taste like?

Rubbed peppermint leaves, damp grass, lemon peels at the harbour, boiled sweets and elegant smoke.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Benromach 10 Year Old

We’re going in a completely different direction here. Because this is one for those who aren’t sure yet that they want the smoke. Benromach only uses a portion of light, sweet peat when it makes it whiskies. That means this is a sweet, fruity and rich dram that has just a hint of smokiness. It’s a great all-rounder that’s fantastic value and serves as a measured introduction into peated whisky.

What does it taste like?

Sweet spices, prune, maple fudge, ground ginger, subtle smoke and dry sherry.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

The English – Smokey

Yes, there is peated whisky in England too. And this tasty treat is one such example. The English – Smokey is from St. George’s distillery, which released the first legal English whisky in over a century in December 2009. The innovative brand has since embraced the smokier things in life. And you can bet this bottle is full of grassy peat, buttery cereal, autumnal spice and rich fruit.

What does it taste like?

Smoked malt, blueberry muffins, cinnamon, buttered bread and stem ginger.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Monkey Shoulder Smokey Monkey 

In need of something smoky for your cocktails? Then this should be perfect. A variant of the excellent and versatile Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt, Smokey Monkey retains all the smooth, creamy, supple elements from the original that make it so good for mixing while adding a soft peaty hint. Add soda or ginger ale for a delightful and distinctive Highball.

What does it taste like?

Honeydew melon, flamed orange peel, a touch of Frazzles, vanilla, Toffee Crisp bars and the last wafts of drying smoke.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Kilchoman Sanaig 

A deep, dark and rich dram, Kilchoman Sanaig demonstrates how peated whisky can shine when matured in different cask types. This bottle combines the best of bourbon and sherry casks, adding dried fruit, chocolate and spice to its smoky core.

What does it taste like?

Pineapple chunks, toffee, dark chocolate raisins, white grapes and fresh coffee carry the earthy, subtly spicy peat. 

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Bonus ball: The Character of Islay Whisky Company Tasting Set

Can’t decide on which peated whisky to pick up because they all sound so tasty? Then you can always help yourself to a tasting set. Drinks by the Dram scooped up the Character of Islay Whisky Company’s wonderful range of spirits and popped it in one handy location so you can go on a pleasantly peaty journey without having to break the bank.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Penicillin

This week we turn our attention to one of the great modern cocktails and the ultimate smoky Whisky Sour: the Penicillin cocktail! I’ve been thinking about pineapple on pizza a…

This week we turn our attention to one of the great modern cocktails and the ultimate smoky Whisky Sour: the Penicillin cocktail!

I’ve been thinking about pineapple on pizza a lot recently. Mostly because it seems everybody else has been doing the same. It’s somehow the most divisive culinary conversation of our time (a 2017 YouGov poll found that 29% of people hate the idea. Not dislike it. Hate it.) and its bizarre and brilliant creation continues to amuse.  You see, the controversial pizza style was invented in 1962 in Canada. By a Greek immigrant called Sam Panopoulos. Who was inspired by Americanised versions of Chinese meals such as sweet and sour chicken. So he put a South American fruit on an Italian dish. Which then became to be known as a Hawaiian. What a ridiculous species we are.

This trail of thought made me realise that one of my all-time favourite cocktails, The Penicillin, is also a cross-continental innovation. The Scotch whisky-based serve was invented by an Australian, Sam Ross, in a Manhattan bar, Milk & Honey. While working at the iconic New York bar back in 2005, Ross (now the owner of Attaboy) began riffing on a Gold Rush, which is essentially a Whisky Sour with honey in place of sugar. A recent shipment of Compass Box whisky prompted him to swap bourbon for blended Scotch whisky as the drink’s backbone before he added fresh lemon juice and homemade honey-ginger syrup. What took the drink to the next level, however, was his decision to float some peaty whisky on top.  

What he created was The Penicillin cocktail (a name that’s a nod to medicinal associations ginger, honey, lemon and whisky have), a terrifically smoky Whisky Sour that’s surprisingly easy to make. Which is one of the things I love about it. Ross managed to do something remarkable, create something truly delicious and yet brilliantly simple. It’s what cocktail innovation should be all about. What Ross didn’t realise until later is that he’d also created that rarest of things: a modern classic. The Penicillin cocktail was, for a short time, a New York secret. It wasn’t long, however, before the cocktail started popping up on menus all over and by 2016 cocktail historian Robert Simonson was calling it “the most well-travelled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century,” in his book A Proper Drink

This week we're making the amazing Penicillin cocktail!

It’s not often you get to see peated whisky shine in a cocktail, but it does here

The secret to the Penicillin cocktail’s success

The Penicillin cocktail’s popularity seems inevitable looking back. It appeared on the scene as pre-Prohibition era serves were making a comeback and whisky cocktails began to cement themselves in drink culture. The profile was delicious and familiar enough to be inviting to those who wouldn’t usually imbibe whisky-based cocktails, but also complex and just strange enough to appeal to those who desired innovation. 

Whatever category you fall in, it’s worth noting that, as with all spirit-forward serves, your Penicillin cocktail is only as going to be good as the whiskies you use to make it. If you want to go truly classic, the Compass Box combo of Great King Street Artist’s Blend and Peat Monster works a treat. Personally, my go-to is the mellow, creamy, sweet, fruity and ever so slightly smoky Black Label, which comes into its own in a Penicillin cocktail. For the peated whisky, you can go for any number of classic Islay bottlings, but the delicately sweet and a measured maritime note of Aerolite Lyndsay brings a classic Islay vibe without going overboard on the smoky elements so I’m using it. Don’t be afraid to play with the ratios of the peaty whisky. If you’re a cautious person, 5ml will be a subtle introduction. On the other end of the scale, 25ml should put some hair on your chest.

In the Difford’s Guide edition of the cocktail (which is excellent. Big-ups), the recipe calls for combining ginger liqueur and honey, which is simpler and less time consuming, but also more expensive than what Ross’ original recipe called for, a homemade honey & ginger syrup. So, I thought it was worth breaking down how you make one of those too. Begin by combining 250ml of honey with the same amount of water and one peeled and sliced piece of ginger root (six inches is about right. Stop laughing) in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, before refrigerating the syrup overnight. Give it one final strain and discard the solids and you’ve got your syrup. Now let’s combine it all together with some Scotch and fresh lemon juice!

This week we're making the amazing Penicillin cocktail!

The Penicillin cocktail

How to make The Penicillin cocktail:

50ml blended whisky (Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old or Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend)
20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
20ml honey & ginger syrup
15ml smoky whisky (Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old or Compass Box The Peat Monster)
Candied ginger to garnish

Combine the blended whisky, lemon juice, and honey & ginger syrup into your cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and give it a good hard shake, then strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large piece of ice. Then, very gently if it’s your first time, pour the smoky whisky slowly over the back of a spoon so it floats delicately on the top of the drink. Garnish with candied ginger on a skewer and enjoy!

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Burns Night poetry competition – we have a winner!

The results of our third Burns Night poetry competition are in! We are delighted to announce the winner of two Islay malts and a Glencairn tasting glass. Read on for…

The results of our third Burns Night poetry competition are in! We are delighted to announce the winner of two Islay malts and a Glencairn tasting glass. Read on for some top quality words…

We were meant to announce the winner of our Burns Night poetry competition on Burns Night itself, Monday 25 January, but we were so inundated with entries of such a high standard that it took a bit longer to come to a decision. But finally, after much discussion, we are delighted to announce that the winner is……

Lee Porterfield! 

The judges were impressed with his amusing take on toasting the Bard. It works particularly well when read aloud and we can see it becoming something of a Burns Night classic. So thank you Mr Porterfield! You win a bottle each of Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Islay single malt and Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength Islay single malt from our friends at Atom Labs, plus a Glencairn tasting glass to sip them out of.  And here’s the poem:

Rabbie Burns Toast 

Rabbie Burns the toast.
He burns the tatties as well,
There ne’er was a clumsier man
Than Rabbie Burns hi’sel

Rabbie Burns the toast.
He forgot tae turn it o’er,
It’s a blackened on the one side,
And there’s melted butter all o’er.

Rabbie burns the toast.
He’s scorched it all tae hell,
Distracted by yon po-yums
That dinnae ring a bell!

Rabbie, man, what have ye done?
Ye’ve wasted all the lard,
This kind ay thing cannae stand
Even if you are “the Bard”.

Ye had one job, Rabbie,
Tae make the toast for me,
Instead ye’ve wrote a poyum
For everyone to see!

I guess I can forgive ye,
You really are the most
Making all the country proud:
“Tae Rabbie Burns, a toast!”

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire

And here’s what you’ve won!

As we said, the standard was extremely high this year and it was a difficult choice so we’ve also picked five runners up who will all receive drams. They are: Andrew Douglas, Emma Whiteman, Dave Cox, Alex Ball and Glen Sewell. You can read their entries below.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who entered. This year there were so many funny entries, some of them extremely rude. We had great fun judging the contest. It cheered us right up. In fact, someone in-house had the idea of publishing a Master of Malt Burns Night poetry book. Watch this space! Now here are those runners-up, in no particular order:

Sipping memories
Of camping with my father
When his boots caught fire

Andrew Douglas

———————

I am home schooling
My kids are aged eight and six
I require whisky

Emma Whiteman

———————

Now here begins a relationship between poetry and whisky,
A competition entry that will always be a risk, see
when you start talking about the water of life,
you may oft end up conversing about a Scottish poets life. 

But not everyone will understand the words that he wrote,
A “Wee tim’rous beastie” could easily be a stoat.
“The best laid schemes Gang aft a-gley”
can leave us pondering ‘what’s that you say?’

One one things for certain – his love for his terroir
So much so that folk come from near and a-far
To breath in the air, albeit quite brisk, he
draws people in, where they can sample the whisky.

Burns’ ink reacts to paper like whisky inside a cask,
Both interactions with wood leaving impressions that last.
His words cause confusion, adrenalin and pain,
Like high whiskybase scores on Haig Club Single Grain.

Like Burns’ poetry, whisky is art,
years of perfecting with head and with heart,
A journey that starts with indeterminate end,
And distillers wondering what SWA rules they can bend.

But one things for certain this liquid will stay
That’s something that 2020 cant take away
Like Burns’ poetry, whisky will always stand strong
with a delightful palate, and a finish that’s long.

Dave Cox

———————

Of drams and drizzle:

Pile through the door, quick get it shut!
Peel off your coats, dodge the shaking black mutt.
O’er to the cabinet, a bottle, some glasses,
and turn to the fire to warm your numbed arses.
Oot there the wind shrieks, the glens fall to gloom,
in here the cork squeaks, your rising perfume.
The rain sweeps the mountains, the streams they do swell,
of fruit cakes and seaweed, all troubles you quell.
Inky black shorelines, fierce seas without master,
the tinkling of crystal, soft light and bright laughter.
N’er mind the damp wool, chilled bone and sinew,
your heat it pervades, sets the soul anew.
You grow sage o’er eons, as mountains do too,
and of a joint genesis – lo’, who knew?
For your warmth it hides your true nature from me –
after all you are born of dark peat and wild sea.

Alex Ball

———————

Aye, whisky wid cure the covid,
But then, Rabbie wid say that ye ken
He, best of all the poet’s knew
Whisky fires the heart o menThe amber nectar shines the eye
Can melt the ire o beast
Ane glass o it is held
To be grander than a feastIf ony, men o politics
Wid huddle roond a glass
Then all the strife in a the world
Wid vanish and wid passIf all the sodjers laid aside their arms
And drank a health instead
There,d be no wars nor civil strife
And name Maer bombs tae dreadSae whisky, heres guid health tae ye
Lang may your glory shine
Ye may not cure the covid
But you’re better than all wine.

Glenn Sewell

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Burns Night poetry competition – win Islay single malts

It’s type to sharpen your pencils because our great Burns Night poetry competition is back by popular demand. You could win two delicious bottles of Islay single malt, plus a…

It’s type to sharpen your pencils because our great Burns Night poetry competition is back by popular demand. You could win two delicious bottles of Islay single malt, plus a Glencairn glass.

UPDATE: We’ve been inundated with entries and will announce the winner ASAP once each work of poetic genius has been subject to due consideration.

For the third year running we are calling on Master of Malt customers to flex their poetry muscles for a chance to win whisky. When we launched the competition back in 2019, we thought maybe we’d get 10 entries. Instead we got many times that and the quality was surprisingly high. Just take a look at the winning entries from 2019 and 2020.

This year Burns Night, Monday 25 January, is going to be a little different for all of us. But we can still eat haggis and neeps, drink some whisky and, most importantly, celebrate the words of the Bard himself, Robert Burns: “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Great stuff, we love a bit of Burns at Master of Malt. To help you on your way, we are giving away: a bottle each of Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Islay single malt and Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength Islay single malt from our friends at Atom Labs, plus a Glencairn tasting glass to sip them out of. 

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire

All you have to do is compose a poem about whisky. We had some Ossian-esque epics last year so we’re limiting entries to 25 lines. All poems must be in English or Scots. Apart from those rules, let your imagination run wild: you can write a haiku, a sonnet or maybe something experimental a la E.E. Cummings. Poems will be judged by the discerning team here at Master of Malt. There’s at least one second class English degree from a redbrick university among us, so we know what we’re doing. Before you set pen to paper, we’ll offer you a couple of tips: try to be amusing, if we have to read 50 poems, we are going to remember the ones that made us laugh; if you can’t make us laugh, make us cry; please don’t rhyme ‘whisky’ with ‘frisky’, it’s an automatic disqualification.

The 2021 MoM Burns Night poetry competition is open to entrants 18 years and over with postage to UK addresses only. Entries accepted from 12:00 GMT on 13 January to 23:59 GMT 21 January 2021. Full T&Cs are below, but to enter simply email us at [email protected], or comment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or below with your poem by 21 January. The winner will be announced on Burns Night, 25 January.

Good luck and may the muse be with you. 

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Five minutes with… David Turner, Bowmore

He grew up on Islay, worked at the distillery for over 30 years, and is partial to a spot of whisky collecting. Who better to spend five minutes with than…

He grew up on Islay, worked at the distillery for over 30 years, and is partial to a spot of whisky collecting. Who better to spend five minutes with than David Turner, Bowmore distillery manager?

What has a delectable mix of history, peat, and a fabulous seaside outlook? Islay’s Bowmore distillery! We take five minutes (well, more like 20) to have a chat over the phone with distillery manager David Turner. Why not pour a dram, sit back and enjoy?

MoM: Bowmore is a truly historic distillery. What sets it apart from other producers? 

David Turner: I think the location sets us apart. We’re on Islay, right in the middle of the Island. Islay is well-known for the peated whiskies. The north is very lightly peated, the south is very heavily peated, and we’re in between. We sit between on peating level, and geography. We call ourselves the perfectly balanced Islay whisky.

David Turner Bowmore

David Turner in the stillhouse at Bowmore

MoM: Tell us about your career at Bowmore. You’ve done almost every job at the distillery over the years!

DT: I came here when I was 16 years old, straight from school, on 4 June 1990. I started in the warehouses, and I worked there until April 1992. When I was 18 years old I went on shifts in the malt barns, and I covered the stillhouse as a relief operator as well until April 2000. And from the malt barns I went to the mash house for 3, 4 years. Then I moved to the stillhouse in 2006, permanently, and became head distiller in 2007. Eddie [MacAffer, the former Bowmore distillery manager] was here as distillery manager; he did the visitor centre, tourism side. On 1 August 2016 I became the distillery manager. I like both production, and visitor-facing sides, to be fair. I like hands on. The malt barns are really special. For Bowmore, that’s where the tropical fruit notes come from. But I like speaking to visitors too, and travelling around the world. 

MoM: You recently added Bowmore 30 Year Old to the core line-up. Why was it released, and what’s it like?!

DT: We’ve got good aged stocks dating back to 1970 maturing in our warehouses, so we’ve always looked at the single malt side, we’ve got aged stock. It’s an annual release, and we do have the stock for a release of that age every year. It’s 45.3% ABV, distilled in 1989, with sherry hogsheads and bourbon barrels in it. The number of bottles will vary from year to year, just depends on what casks are used and how many. It’ll be what the casks yield, to be honest. 

MoM: Bowmore recently started rolling out its The Art of Time campaign. What does time, and the luxury of it, mean to you, and what does it mean in whisky-making?

DT: Well it really is about the art of time. We’ve got our own malt barn. It takes a wee bit longer to produce, our own spirit – other distilleries will buy in the commercial malt. We don’t rush things, and we leave the whisky to mature for as long as we need to and keep an eye on it. And it speaks to the ageing stocks we’ve got. And, of course, we’re the oldest on Islay, and the second oldest distillery in Scotland. We just see ourselves as caretakers of time. We do what the generation before us has done, and you just hope the next generation will do what we do. 

Bowmore

The heart of Bowmore, the stills

MoM: What’s coming up for Bowmore in 2021? Are there any cask experiments, distillery developments, or anything else you can share?

DT: Well, honestly, with the Covid situation… We’ll have distillery exclusives next year. We’ve also got the DB5 getting released at the end of Q1 2021, the 1964 31 year old. There are only 25 bottles going on sale. Beyond that, we need to see what the situation is. We’ve not got expansion plans just now. We’re a single malt specialist. We work 24/7, but we aren’t pushed. We’ve still got room to increase production for future growth in sales. And we have been putting extra stock down. We’ve got a lot of good stuff to come. 

MoM: 2020’s been quite the year! There have been lots of negatives, but also lots of opportunities to share drams and chat in the virtual space. What have been highlights for you?

DT: I think it’s been doing the online tastings. We’ve probably reached… I don’t know how many people! I probably do three weeks at shows throughout the year. I haven’t lost out of time engaged with consumers. I’ve been doing online virtual tastings and chats with people. It opens it up for the future as well – stuff we weren’t doing in the past. We know we can do things virtually now. It works really well. People have video on their laptops, iPads, it’s really good. 

MoM: You grew up on Islay. How does it feel to be managing such an iconic Islay distillery

DT: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing to be fair. It’s amazing to see how many people from around the world appreciate Bowmore. We’re on a small island off the west coast of Scotland. It’s amazing to see people from all around the world and that they know us. I didn’t think I’d ever do this job.  

Bowmore’s magnificent sherry-soaked 15 year old expression

MoM: Peated whisky continues to grow in popularity. Why do you think it holds such appeal?

DT: I think drinking whisky is part of a journey. Many years ago, people started drinking blends and moving on to single malts. People are educated to start drinking a Lowland, Highland, Speyside, then Islay. I think it’s part of the journey. But peated whisky can be totally accessible, for all genders as well. Some people’s palates prefer sweeter bourbon, some people who’ve never drunk whisky before like Bowmore 15 Year Old with the sherry influence. Every palate is different. 

MoM: Tell us a little bit about your life outside whisky. What excites and inspires you?

DT: I like to travel on holiday, I like to play golf, I like to walk on the beach on the weekends, I like to drink and collect old whisky. Distillery exclusives are good, small numbers. And, most importantly, it’s good if you get the opportunity to try it; the quality matters as well. 

MoM: What dram will be in your tasting glass this Christmas?

DT: I’m going to have a Bowmore 15 Year Old. I think it’s perfect – the sherry gives off the rich Christmas cake flavours, the dark caramel toffee. It’s a good winter dram, a good Christmas dram, and great value for money as well. 

Enter our Laphroaig and Bowmore competition to win a VIP trip to Islay here until 31 December 2020.

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