Five Scotch Whiskies Under £50: Part 4 The Islands

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

Welcome to part four

of the ongoing series about Scotch whiskies under £50. This price point is where most distilleries and brands have their first bottling or two in the core range. And where they sell the most.

Within the series we will look at some of the best value for money Scotch whiskies from the six different whisky making regions of Scotland.

Today we take a trip to the numerous islands that are dotted around Scotland’s coast. Previous parts have covered the Lowlands, Campbeltown and the Highlands.

Region history

Scotland boasts over 750 islands off its coastline, although only around 100 are inhabited. Of these, only a handful make whisky. Islands are difficult places to produce whisky. Everything must be shipped in – distillery equipment, barley, and barrels – and all whisky shipped out. They are often remote and tricky to reach.

Most of these islands are found in the Hebrides – a chain of islands that stretches down Scotland’s west coast. They include the northern Outer Hebrides and southern Inner Hebrides. This is where whisky stalwart islands such as Jura, Mull and Skye are found. Islay is also there but forms its own whisky region. The other two main groups are the Orkneys and Shetlands, both located north of the mainland.

Style and flavour

Island whiskies are commonly known for their robust coastal style with some having peat smoke.

But what is a ‘coastal style’? It is often described as exhibiting a distinct freshness and salty quality, which is reminiscent of ozone or sea spray. This is especially true for Scotch whiskies that are matured in casks by the sea as the oak casks breathe in the sea air.

Arran | 10 years old

Until the recent wave of craft whisky distilleries popped up across Scotland, Arran was one of the newest on the scene. Founded in 1993, the original distillery in the northeast of Arran is now named Lochranza. This was followed by Lagg on the southern tip of the island in 2019. It’s Lagg that makes the company’s peated spirit.

The 10 years old is the cornerstone of Arran’s core range. It has won many awards in world spirits competitions and seen by many as a ‘must have’ for any self-respecting drinks cabinet. Sweet vanilla toffee and honeycomb notes mingle with warming cinnamon and zesty lemon. A soft, sweet malty character lingers underneath and gives great structure. An absolute belter.

Cost = £47

Highland Park | 12 years old

The Orkney islands are home to two famous single malt distilleriesHighland Park and Scapa. Highland Park is one of the few still in existence in Scotland that was founded in the 18th century. 1798 to be precise. Located in Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, it is also known for Magnus Eunson – the ‘whisky priest’. He was famously a clergyman by day and illegal distiller by night. Until the law found him …

Highland Park is known for its gently peated style and is one of the most awarded Scotch whisky brands in the world. The 12 years old is a classic and like ‘dipping your toe’ into the world of smoky whiskies. It is a floral and fragrant whisky with notes of heather honey, malted barley and toffee. This all marries nicely with dried orange peel, delicate baking spice and elegant whisps of soft peat smoke.

Cost = £41

Jura | Rum Cask Finish

Jura is sandwiched between the mainland and the famous whisky making island of Islay. But despite this, it remains one of the remotest and toughest places to make whisky. Everything must go by ferry via Islay and just over 200 people inhabit the place. The distillery is the focal point of the island and has been there since 1810 in the village of Craighouse.

Like several island malts, Jura has a lightly peated style. The distillery has a wide core range and the lower end of this can easily be found in most big supermarkets. However, this Rum Cask Finish pushes the spirit in a different direction. The finish in ex-Caribbean rum barrels has given a luscious edge to proceedings. Think of pineapple and mango dipped in honey, plus juicy peach, vanilla, and coconut.

Cost = £38

Rock Island | Blended Malt

The Rock Island forms part of the Remarkable Regional Malts range from the family-owned independent bottlers and distillers of Douglas Laing & Co. Each Scotch whisky region is represented by a blended malt made solely using single malts from that specific region. The range is one of the best for showing regional styles and variations.

Rock Island is the ‘islands representative’ and features single malts from the islands of Arran, Jura, and the Orkneys amongst others. As you might expect, this whisky is packed with ‘coastal’ characteristics. Expect notes of sea spray, drying seaweed and wet rocks combining with further notes of honey, vanilla, and butterscotch. Hints of liquorice and dying bonfire embers round things off.

Cost = £35

Talisker | 10 years old

An absolute classic Scotch single malt that hails from the rugged island of Skye. Talisker has grown massively as a brand over the last couple of decades and the range has grown to reflect this. It now consistently sits within the Top 10 for Scotch single malt sales worldwide. Only Laphroaig from Islay outsells it in the smoky, peaty category.

Talisker is known for its peppery style of peat smoke. This adds a fiery and spiky edge to the distillery’s whiskies. Early notes of caramel, malted barley, and dried fruit (especially sultana) give way to the hot, peppery smoke and warming wood spices. Hints of orange oil, cocoa powder, and brine add further depth. Great to pair with oysters, smoked fish, or blue cheese.

Cost = £47


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