There are many reasons to visit Islay, there's the historic Celtic culture, there's the fluffy cows and there's the undeniably stunning scenery. But obviously for me it's all about the whisky. There are 8 distilleries on Islay and we visited them all. We only did tours of 4 of them, but we had a good look at the others and here are my thoughts, based on a completely futile and deliberately pointless scoring system.
The categories were: amount of stripped pine in the visitor's centre, quality of heritage photography, size of tour guide's beard, accent of guide, number of americans or japanese on the tour and pictureskewness, with bonus points for other things.
Laphroaig - 83% (50/60). Extra points for getting a taste from a cask and for being in the actual process of stripping pine to extend their visitor centre. Marked down for having a stairwell full of pictures of Prince Charles visiting in a kilt.
Lagavulin - 66% (40/60). My favourite whisky. Anytime anyone wants to give me a bottle of the 16 year old they'd be welcome. The mouldy shed full of casks quietly maturing will haunt my dreams.
Kilchoman - 66% (40/60). A brand new distillery that still hasn't produced any whisky, since to be whisky it has to be 5 years old. But plenty of stripped pine, charmingly small and owned by some of the islanders rather than a big company.
Ardbeg - 66% (20/30). Didn't do the tour but scored heavily on the quality of their steak and ale pie and for having waitresses in tartan flat caps.
Bunnahabhain - 66% (20/30). Wonderfully remote and staffed in part by a man with a wheelbarrow full of peat wearing a midge-net who looked like some kind of alien and gave me a right shock before he started talking in a broad accent. A barrel up the road says "Bunnahabhain" on one side and "other places" on the back.
Caol Ila - 50% (30/60). One of only two that were actually running, as they tend to close down in the summer for maintenance. This is because historically the workers would use the downtime to cut peat for their homes, fact fans. Crucially for this driver, the only one close enough to walk to from where we were.
Bruichladdich - 37% (11/30). The other Islay owned distillery and notable for having a much larger variety of whiskies in an attempt to get people interested, it only having been reopened a short time after being closed in the 80s. Barrels show the name backwards in the yard, inexplicably. But why not.
Bowmore - 33% (10/30). Definitely the poshest, as it's in the island's capital town. No beards to speak of.
Visitors to mod towers are advised to check pronounciations or they won't get any.