Scotland’s whisky islands are coping with an enormous Covid hangover

(CNN) – Along the southwest coast of Scotland are small islands that make up the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Names like Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig are revered by alcohol lovers from Japan to New York, from Australia to St Petersburg. However, the three remote distilleries do not live on the same island – Islay – which is a two-kilometer stretch off the southern coast of Islay.

At a distance of about 1,600 feet[500 m]the island of Jura also produces whiskey, a hive of smoke, and herbs from uninhabited areas.

And near the top are the Arran mountains. The island is unique in that it is the only brewery in the world, with Highland whim on the north coast and Lowland on the south.

These rugged, moldy islands and shrouded in the Atlantic canopy are vital to the Scottish whiskey market. And alcohol in itself is an important part of the Scottish economy.

In 2019 the country exported 1.3 billion bottles to 175 markets worldwide, bringing in $ 4.9 billion ($ 6.3 billion).

Secure companies

Carraig Fhada Lighthouse in Islay – one of the most important whiskey islands.


Just as the champagne market cannot be allowed to fail in the Champagne region of France, so Scotland protected its whiskey companies as much as possible during the Covid closure.

What about the effects of Covid on these islands and the alcohol they produce?

The three most important whiskey islands – Arran, Islay, and Jura – were completely sealed during Britain’s closure. The only boats that came were the delivery of goods (99% of what encouraged the islanders came with a boat).

The only people who were allowed to leave the island were those who had medical problems.

As a result there were no Covid-19 cases on the whiskey islands, although Glasgow and Cumbria in the nearby coast were heavily affected.

This is not to say that the islands did not suffer, however. As a non-profit industry, all distilleries in Scotland had to close by March 29, 2020.

Laphroaig's sweet spot on Islay.

Laphroaig’s sweet spot on Islay.


This no doubt affected the local economy. Tens of thousands of people work in Scottish whiskey companies, many of them – 7,000 – in remote areas such as the Highlands and the islands.

John Campbell, Islay’s supervisor at Laphroaig Distillery, said: “All the clay workers were evacuated during the closure.

Laphroaig, founded in 1815, usually emits more than two and a half million pounds, which is infused with alcohol each year and is known to have been “chosen” by Prince Charles.

These quiet streets meant no more to visitors. It is the closure of distilleries the closure of all tourist attractions and hotels. The annual whiskey festival (Fèis Ìle), which usually multiplies the island’s population from 3,000 to 10,000 in May, was to be canceled.

The doors were locked

“This winter was great and I could spend a lot of time on the beach with my son,” says Jane Deakin, manager of the Islay House Hotel, which is located on the island’s largest mansion. “But we had to close our doors for four months.

“The whiskey campaign is very important to us. In 2019 the Association of Whiskey recruited more than 2 million visitors to Scottish distilleries, and one-tenth of the 200,000 people – come to Islay. I think it will take two or three years to recoup that. lost during closing. “

Linda Maclellan, who runs Islay’s best restaurant, Bowmore Hotel, describes the current situation as “very bad. All distilleries are making beer again, but only in Islay does Ardnahoe offer guests.”

Whiskey Island Jura was completely sealed during the closure of the coronavirus.

Whiskey Island Jura was completely sealed during the closure of the coronavirus.


The experience of visitors to the mountains of Arran is no longer good. Unfortunately, the ban on alcohol in Arran did not last long for Islay as two of the island’s most modern landmarks, Lochranza and Lagg, were designed to be used by the same person. He thus had a special season from the Scottish Government to resume early May 12th.

In Lagg, which produces Lowland whiskey on the south coast of the island, manager Graham Omand soon restructured their computer and restarted. “I was in my office and there will be one staff member away from the people in the distillery so we were able to resume (mixing grated wheat with hot water to extract sugar) immediately on May 12. This went on for a week and on Monday the 18th we were able to resume distillation. “

Not all island distilleries were fortunate.

‘Just Lost’

The closure of the whiskey on the Isle of Arran did not last long for Arran.

The closure of the whiskey on the Isle of Arran did not last long for Arran.


Back in Islay, Laphroaig is the oldest and most complex machine, meaning manager John Campbell has to bring in three of his co-workers to resume production. “This means that we did not reopen until May 29, the day after the whole of Scotland was released,” he said.

Older distilleries are not always good enough to close for a long time. Much has been edited, modified and added over the years and simply stored properly and become regular producers. “It took six weeks for things to get back to normal,” says John Campbell. “We haven’t been closed for this long period of more than 40 years. I think we’ve lost about a million liters of whiskey and we won’t make it again. Even though we’re working 24/7, it’s just lost.”

Visitors to Islay regularly head to Port Ellen where Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig stand together on the coastal road, but Ardbeg and Lagavulin only reopened the tastings – with no trips – while Laphroaig never opened the tourists. No Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Bowmore.

Ardbeg's armory also opened tastings.

Ardbeg’s armory also opened the tastings.


Similarly, on the island of Jura, located about half a mile[half a kilometer]east of Islay and occupied by a single cottage (also known as Jura), there is no idea of ​​opening for visitors.

So it doesn’t look like whiskey attraction will soon return to the islands. Back in Arran, Lagg reopened to the public on July 21 and its cafeteria two weeks later in the “pre-booking only” system.

“Distillery tours are set to resume on September 14,” says Graham Omand, “but new government regulations banning the merger of more than two families and having more than six members have made this possible, even though we only go twice a day with a clean bill of health.”

Instead Lagg offers a trained spice in a room that Graham says is “big enough for the two groups to get away from each other and enjoy the whisper we have to offer.”

Deficiency of whiskey

Exports of whiskey bring in $ 6.3 billion a year to Scotland.

Exports of whiskey bring in $ 6.3 billion a year to Scotland.

Danny Lawson / PA Wire / AP

Guest hospitality only adds a little to the starting point, but a foot can be important.

On the northern coast of Arran in 2019, 120,000 people flocked to the Lochranza Visitor Center where there was a modern (closed) bar.

The fee at the four whiskeys tasting shop was $ 15 ($ 19), with a distillery tour that cost $ 10 and many guests bought a bottle of one malt to take with them. Until the Scottish government lifts the ban, the number of visitors will continue to decline and provide additional funding.

“We are fortunate to be able to return a full year of 500,000 liters by the end of the year, at no additional cost,” says manager David Livingstone.

Lagavulin is one of Islay's most famous manufacturers.

Lagavulin is one of Islay’s most famous manufacturers.


“It’s a bad thing that we can’t afford full-fledged dirt drinks. But the safety of our customers and staff is paramount. The closure is fully promoted, we hope to bring guests to experience the magic of distill first hand, once again.”

Another problem that has been closed is the real shortage of alcohol on some islands this autumn. Although all the essentials are made on a home island, barrels full of alcohol are always sent to grow in bottles on land.

Disruption of the availability of chains resulting from closure means that it is currently not possible to purchase a Laphroaig bottle on Islay.

It is not in a supermarket and cannot be purchased at the Laphroaig Visitor Center because the remainder is closed.

As a result, the islanders are in a state of shock with the millions of Laphroaig liquor sitting in boxes in the island’s suburbs but less than two miles from Port Ellen, Isaias Fuentes Cuartero, bar manager at the Islay Hotel, complains that he has not been able to find Laphroaig everyone on the island. “I’m thinking of buying bottles from Amazon.”

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