Islay comparison

Five of the big players from Islay.

You will notice Bunnahabhain, Bruichladdich, and Kilchoman (among a few others) are absent from this lineup. I wanted to review the entry-level (age statement) offerings from the main distilleries to see how each compare. They are affordable, available, and most of all, these are the ones I currently have.

Bowmore 12, 40% ABV, $60 CAD

  • Nose: Very light peat, mild sherry, fresh potting soil, musty wood, banana, pineapple and candy flavored pineapple. Life Savers make/made a pineapple flavour and it’s exactly like that. Also lemon, mild honey, and a little salt.
  • Taste: Peat, a faint oakiness, dry wood, pineapple again, sweet cream corn, and a very subtle Double Bubble bubble gum note.
  • Finish: Medium, drying, and pretty well balanced.
  • Thoughts: I know this one is chill-filtered, has a pretty decent amount of added colour, and only 40% ABV, but I like it. I like Bowmore’s character a lot, probably more than most people. For $60 (on sale at the LCBO) this is a good bottle.
  • Score: 83.5 + 1 value point(s) = 84.5/100

Caol Ila 12, 43% ABV, $83 CAD

  • Nose: Peat, brine, wet grass, hay, lemon, grapefruit, Frosted Mini Wheats.
  • Taste: Rich smokeiness, ash, pepper, and a mild/soft tequila note.
  • Finish: Medium, not overly complex.
  • Thoughts: It’s a good whisky, it reminds me a lot of Johnnie Walker (for obvious reasons), I just think it lacks a bit of depth.
  • Score: 82.5 – 0.5 value point(s) = 82/100

Laphroaig 10, 43% ABV, $86 CAD

  • Nose: Rich peat smoke, iodine, new Band-Aids, fresh rubber, hot asphalt, tar, paint, wall plaster, and some kiwi.
  • Taste: Ash, damp wood, a little pipe tobacco, sour lemon, Lemon Heads candy, a slight sour mango, and some vanilla.
  • Finish: Big, bold, a punch in the mouth.
  • Thoughts: This is a love it or hate it whisky. You read tasting notes for Laphroaig and you question how you can enjoy something that smells and tastes like road, but you do! It’s quite incredible how strong this is, an absolute powerhouse of peat. So good!
  • Score: 86 – 0.5 value point(s) = 85.5/100

Ardbeg 10, 46% ABV, $55 USD

  • Nose: A very fresh smelling peat, strong lemon, like lemon scented cleaner, “Lemon Pledge” (*Consuela from Family Guy voice). Floral hand soap, a faint sea salt, salt water, and some vanilla.
  • Taste: Earthy peat, oak, dry wood, tobacco, pepper, York Peppermint Paddies, and lemons again.
  • Finish: Extremely long, bold, Godly.
  • Thoughts: Yeah, Ardbeg is just so good! The only malt in this lineup at 46% and without chill-filtration (as far as I’m aware) and it shows. Mouth-feel and finish just that much more than it’s competition. Do you ever get peat flash-backs? Out of nowhere I’ll be at work and taste peat in the mid-afternoon, it’s incredible! For $55 USD this is a great buy. Unfortunately Ardbeg is unjustly expensive at the LCBO.
  • Score: 88 + .5 value point(s) = 88.5/100

Lagavulin 16, 46% ABV, $122 CAD

  • Nose: Sweet peat smoke, day-after campfire ash, oysters, pipe tobacco, cherries, cherry flavored Popsicle, licorice.
  • Taste: Liquid campfire smoke, oak, rubber, sea salt, celery, figs, sherry, and some vanilla.
  • Finish: Long, balanced, and fairly complex.
  • Thoughts: Its almost unfair having Laga16 in the lineup, but it’s technically their entry-level expression. This is just pure class in a bottle. Elegant smokyness and perfectly rounded. If I was snowed in for a night I better have at least half a bottle of this around!
  • Score: 90 + 0 value point(s) = 90/100

Overall Thoughts:

Caol Ila 12 = 82
Bowmore 12 = 84.5
Laphroaig 10 = 85.5
Ardbeg 10  = 88.5
Lagavulin 16 = 90
I love anything from Islay, and I love anything peated, so I might be a little bias in that respect, but I don’t think you can go wrong with anything from this lineup. Bowmore is the most mild, and the right price if you haven’t tried anything from Islay before. Laphroaig is an experience worth having, Ardbeg 10 does everything right, and Lagavulin 16 is a must.


After my initial score I will add or subtract points based on how I perceive value (based on what I paid for the bottle). A zero value means I think the price is justified.

0-69.5 – Don’t bother trying, life is too short for bad spirit.
70-79.5 – Worth trying, but you’re not missing out if you don’t.
80-84.5 – I recommend trying.
85-87.5 – Definitely try this!
88-92.5 – I recommend buying a bottle blind!
93-95.5 – Stuff you reserve for special pours!
96+ – The meaning of life.

One thought on “Islay comparison

  1. I had the pleasure of buying a 200 ml bottle of the Coal Ila 12 while in Scotland this March and I was blown away. Nice balance of peat and sweet, very impressed for a 12 yr. This is a definite buy for me.


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