More than anything else, Islay, the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, is about whisky, and at one point, it was home to as many as 23 distilleries. Though the number is down to nine today, the spirits crafted by the remaining producers are treasured for being among the best in the world. Most feature a peaty smokiness, a legacy of the fuel still used in fires to dry the damp barley from which they are distilled. In addition, hints of salt come from their being made in such close proximity to the sea.
Over the years, Islay whiskies have nurtured the growth of a tourist industry, and today, visitors travel from far and wide for tastings at places with lyrical names such as Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Bruichladdich.
I began my whisky tour at Laphroaig. Established in 1815, this is the first distillery seen by passengers arriving on the ferry in Port Ellen, its sprawling complex of whitewashed buildings hugging the rocky shores of the Atlantic just east of town.