Caol Ila distillery

Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Caol Ila's distillery character manages to combine a fresh pear note, grassiness, a hint of juniper and distinct notes of the seashore – lobster shells, crab creels and gentle smoke. Although it receives the same spec of malt as sister distillery Lagavulin, Caol Ila’s distillation regime – longer fermentation, higher cut point, taller stills – helps to reduce the heavy phenols. Maturation for the single malt is in refill casks. The unpeated variant is equally delicate, with a fresh, estery and almost floral lift.

Its importance for blends meant that, until 2002, when a 12-year-old was released, malt lovers had to seek out independent bottlings. Now there is a range including no-age-statement Moch, 18-year-old and 25-year-old, a finished Distiller’s Edition and annual special releases.

  • Region
  • Production type
    Single malt
  • Distillery Status

Caol Ila History

It was in 1846 that Hector Henderson decided to build a small distillery in a tight bay next to Port Askaig, on Islay’s east coast. He named his venture Caol Ila, Gaelic for the Sound of Islay, the stretch of water which it overlooked.

In 1857 Henderson was bought out by blender Bulloch Lade, which improved the site by building a substantial pier. It was absorbed into DCL (now Diageo) in 1927 and ran continuously until 1972, when the old distillery was demolished and a new, significantly larger one was built with six stills rather than two. This transformed Caol Ila into Islay’s largest producer.

These were still the days before the single malt market had really taken off, and its make was destined for a huge array of blends across the whole whisky industry – most notably within its parent company, it filled requirements for Johnnie Walker.

When the downturn came in the 1980s, Caol Ila began running unpeated ‘Highland style’ for blends. Not only did it have capacity, but doing so allowed the distillery to stay open. Unpeated is still made every year, with volumes dependent on the forecasts of Diageo’s blending team.

In 2011, another major revamp took place with a new mash tun and more washbacks being installed, which resulted in capacity increasing to 6.5m litres per annum. During the silent period when contraction was taking place, Bunnahabhain made the peated requirements.

In 2018, Diageo revealed plans to spend £150m on upgrading tourism facilities, including a new brand home for Johnnie Walker in Edinburgh, and improved visitor centres at Caol Ila, plus Clynelish, Cardhu and Glenkinchie, representing regional styles present in Walker.

At Caol Ila, a new visitor centre will be created in the distillery warehouse, including a footbridge entry, new car parking and a bar with views across the Sound of Islay to Jura.


  • 1846 Caol Ila founded by Hector Henderson next to Port Askaig
  • 1857 Bulloch Lade buys the distillery and builds a pier at the site
  • 1927 DCL (later Diageo) takes over Caol Ila
  • 1972 The original distillery is demolished, save for the warehouses, and rebuilt with six new stills
  • 1999 Caol Ila experiments with unpeated malt
  • 2002 Caol Ila 12 Year Old, the distillery's first permanent official bottling, is launched
  • 2011 The distillery's capacity is increased to 6.5m litres per year
  • 2018 Plans for a new visitor centre, footbridge and bar are unveiled

Caol Ila Facts

  • Condenser Type i
    Shell and tube
  • Fermentation Time i
    Minimum 55hrs
  • Filling Strength i
  • Grist Weight (t) i
  • Heat Source i
  • Malt Specification i
    Heavily peated
  • Malt Supplier i
    Mostly in house
  • Mash Tun Type i
  • New-make Phenol Level i
    Heavily peaty
  • New-make Strength i
  • Spirit Still Charge (l) i
  • Spirit Still Shape i
  • Stills i
  • Wash Still Charge (l) i
  • Wash Still Shape i
  • Washback Type i
    8 wood, 2 steel
  • Washbacks i
  • Water Source i
    Loch Nam Burn
  • Wort Clarity i
    Clear or cloudy
  • Yeast Type i


Current owner

Previous owners


Caol Ila Distillery
Port Askaig
Isle of Islay
PA46 7RL
United Kingdom
+44 1496 302769
Visitor Opening Hours
9am to 5pm (March-Oct)
9am (Mar-Oct), 10am (Nov-Feb) to 4pm (Nov-Feb), 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9am (Mar-Oct), 10am (Nov-Feb) to 4pm (Nov-Feb), 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9am (Mar-Oct), 10am (Nov-Feb) to 4pm (Nov-Feb), 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9am (Mar-Oct), 10am (Nov-Feb) to 4pm (Nov-Feb), 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9am (Mar-Oct), 10am (Nov-Feb) to 4pm (Nov-Feb), 5pm (Mar-Oct)
9am to 5pm (Mar-Oct)


See also

  • Glen Ord Glen Ord Glen Ord Distillery & brand

    Glen Ord

    Diageo's green-grassiest new make.

  • Glen Spey Glen Spey Glen Spey Distillery & brand

    Glen Spey

    Rarely seen Rothes single malt.

  • Glendullan Glendullan Glendullan Distillery & brand


    Speyside malt bottled as The Singleton.

  • Glenkinchie Glenkinchie Glenkinchie Distillery & brand


    Lowland rep in Diageo's Classic Malts.

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