Simply say the word Islay to any drinks enthusiast and they'll all but be able to taste the smoky, peated single malts which have earned it the title of Scotland’s ‘whisky island'.

With industry heavyweights like Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin all sharing the glory, it takes something truly special to make a name for yourself as a new distillery.

The solution for the Islay Spirits Company? They turned to rum.

 “About seven years ago we acquired the old soft drinks factory on Islay and had ambitions to make some sort of whisky there,” Andrew Crook, managing director of independent Glasgow-based bottler, the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, explained.

“Then we met a young distiller called Ben Inglis.

“He had a real passion for rum, but not quite the means to get going with his own start-up.

“We realised that this could be the chance to do something fresh and different.

“That’s how our partnership started and The Islay Spirits Company was born.”

The Herald: Pictured: head distiller and distillery manager Ben InglisPictured: head distiller and distillery manager Ben Inglis (Image: Supplied)READ MORE: Luxury hotel group launches new negroni menu inspired by Scottish locations

With a plan in place, the team set about renovating the former Hastie’s Lemonade Factory in Port Ellen.

Eager to prove that they would be an asset to the island, the process was painstakingly carried out over five years with an investment of over £1 million before they were ready to start production in January 2022.

Mr Crook continued: “There was a lot of interest right from the start from people who were eager to see if we would live up to the island’s name.

“From a local perspective, that building was very well-loved and bringing it back to life was a lot of fun for us.

“We’ve kept the same original footprint and even had a chap who is a grandson of the original people who built it in to do the work with his construction business.

“The whole thing came together really nicely.

“Ben, who is local to Islay, had been studying rum production for years and had a very unique still set up in mind which is inspired by the distilleries of the Caribbean.

“You won’t find another one like it in the UK.”

The Herald:

A bespoke set up at the distillery uses a 2000 litre traditional copper still with a twin retort and triple distillation method, allowing for high-quality, small batches which are loaded with character and flavours which have been carefully developed.

The brand’s original release was named, Geal, a white spirit with all the hallmarks of a Caribbean rum which has helped to earn the Islay Spirits Company two nominations at this year’s Highland’s and Islands Food and Drink Awards.

Hitting the market this year, their experimental Peat Spiced Rum was a labour of love resulting in a ‘true reflection of the distillery's Islay roots’.

The Herald:

Mr Crook said: “In the Vintage Malt Whisky Company's experience, there’s no doubt that the most popular brands we bottle are Islay whiskies.

“Although people enjoyed the white rum, I think they expected it to have more of the island's signature smoky taste.

“Trying to get those flavours into rum is a challenge because it’s very different to process a malt whisky.

“The only way of doing that was to take our spices and smoke them over a peat fire and then macerate them for six weeks with our white rum.

“The end result had this beautiful and unique smokiness to it that you won’t find anywhere else.”

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As they prepare to compete against the likes of the North Uist, Dunnnet Bay and Speyside distilleries for the title of Best Drink at next month’s Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards ceremony in Inverness, Andrew says this is only the beginning for the whisky island’s first-ever rum.

“Eventually we will be producing an aged product, he said, “but sadly that’s not something that you can rush.

“At the moment about 90% of what we’ve made has yet to be bottled.

“Last year we started filling casks but there’s no telling when we’re going to bottle them.

“It could be three, five or ten years.

“It’s still in the very early stages, but we’re happy with the development at the moment and hope to create products that are even more interesting than what we have now in the future.”

For more information on The Islay Spirits Company and The Original Islay Rum find their website here.