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The Lagavulin distillery


On the edge of the road, to the east of Port Ellen, Lagavulin, with its imposing height and immaculate white walls, is the most visible of the three “Kildalton distilleries”. Visitors are welcomed into a slightly disconcerting, sombre, narrow entrance hall. But once it is followed down to the sea, one cannot help but be impressed by the beauty of the bay and its wide horizon. It is a truly spectacular sight. The ruins of the fortified castle of Dunyvaig, at the entrance to the bay, serve as a reminder of the power of the “Lords of the Isles” who reigned over the entire West Coast during the 15th century.

Lagavulin was built by a farmer in 1816 on a site known for once housing 10 illicit stills. A year later, a second distillery named Ardmore (or Kildalton according to some sources) was founded nearby. In 1834 the two distilleries merged into one to become Lagavulin (“the hollow by the mill”). The distillery prospered under the direction of Peter Mackie, a flamboyant character and the creator of the White Horse blend for which Lagavulin serves as the base malt. Curiously, in 1908, a second distillery, Malt Mill, was added to the site to compete with its neighbour Laphroaig. It closed in 1960. The few extremely rare bottles of Malt Mill still in circulation represent a sort of holy grail for many collectors.

Lagavulin, which soon became a cult Islay distillery, is also famous for its two small, pear-shaped stills, inherited from the style of those at Malt Mill. Perhaps part of its popularity can be explained by the rounded, unctuous distillate it produces through long fermentation and very slow distillation. There can be no greater treat for the taste buds than a glass of Lagavulin served with some Lagavulin scallops, caught fresh from the bay and simply fried, with a splash of whisky in the pan at the end of the cooking.