Caol Ila Distillery
Port Askaig
Isle of Islay
PA46 7RL

History: The name Caol Ila (pronounced as “cull eela”) comes from the Gaelic for the “Sound of Islay”, which is also the name of the area in which the distillery sits, about a mile north of Port Askaig.

The distillery was founded in 1846 by Glasgow distillery owner Hector Henderson. Like many others during this time, it went through several owners as the industry ebbed and flowed. It wasn’t until 1930 when Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd (later to become Diageo) took the reigns that the distillery saw stability and growth.

In 1972 the old distillery was taken apart and a new modern building was put in its place making it the biggest producer of single malt on the Island and the main component in some of the world’s biggest blended whiskies.

The whisky: Up until 2002 you would have never really seen a bottle of Caol Ila single malt outside specialist whisky shops. This was due to its success as a key ingredient in blends such as Chivas Regal. But as the single malt market grew its owners realised that the whisky could easily be a stand alone brand in its own right.

The 12-year-old has been the standard release since 2002 and in my opinion is one of the finest examples of a classic Islay single malt … smoky, powerful yet sweet. There are many independent bottlings of Caol Ila that are worthwhile checking out, including the Elements of Islay Cl12 which was distilled on Islay in 2011 and matured for seven years in a pair of refill sherry butts.

Why visit? Last year it was announced that a big investment was being made at the distillery to create a new visitor centre inside the Caol Ila warehouse, with a state-of-the-art bar looking out across the Sound of Islay.

Building work began last month and the finished centre will include a footbridge leading to a new car park hidden on the hill above the distillery. You can still visit the distillery in the meantime, and if you haven’t visited Islay then you should know that you will be able to squeeze in several distilleries in the same day if you desire.

Interesting fact: Caol Ila was chosen as one on the of four Diageo-owned Scotch whisky distilleries chosen to represent the “four corners of Scotland”.

This £150 million investment also includes the purchase of The House of Frasers in Edinburgh which will be transformed into a “state-of-the-art” Johnnie Walker experience.