Island of dreams

You don’t have to look very far to see – or rather taste – where change is taking place. A series of Tempest and Devil’s Cask bottlings from Bowmore are two examples, Ardbeg’s Galileo and Corryvreckan are others. Diageo has even launched its big peated and sherried Lagavulin as an unpeaty and sweet 12-year-old – with great success.

But the biggest  change – undoubtedly for the better – came a while back at Bunnahabhain. Previously known as the gentle malt of Islay, it was changed radically when its owners decided they wanted it to be non-chill filtered. Chill filtering removes the fats and congeners that cause whisky at 40% to go cloudy when chilled. But the process also removes flavour and is increasingly frowned upon.

Alcoholic strength

To solve the problem you can up the alcoholic strength of the whisky to a level where clouding no longer takes place. 

That’s what happened to Bunnahabhain, and now the combination of more flavour from non-chill filtering and the higher 46.3% abv has resulted on a weightier, meatier and certainly more Islay-like malt.

Change and tradition can be wedded then, but the general feeling is that the new whiskies and whisky distillers need to be policed carefully. Certainly Lumsden has his concerns.

“There has been more diversity to a certain extent, yes,” he says. “Although some of the so-called diversity is not necessarily a positive thing, in my view.”

Only time will tell.