A Distiller's Dozen pt. 1 - The 13 Island distilleries of Europe*

Published on 12 January 2023 at 11:30

Did you know that Scotland isn’t the only whisky-making country with island distilleries? 


Most whisky fans are pretty familiar with Scotland’s island distilleries. In fact, that list has been expanding in recent years. Islay is most famous for being a ‘whisky island’, but there are now 13 distilleries scattered across Scotland’s other islands: Arran, Lagg, Jura, Tobermory, Raasay, Talisker, Torabhaig, Barra, Harris, Abhainn Dearg, Scapa, Highland Park, Kimbland.


However, if you’ve taken a look at our map, you’ll know there are hundreds of whisky-making distilleries across Europe - and some of them are also on islands. In a nicely symmetrical coincidence, there are 13 of these European island distilleries. Just forget about Islay for a moment (and Iceland, which has 2 distilleries but only on its mainland, so that feels unfair to include), and you have the same number of island distilleries in Scotland as in the rest of Europe.


There’s a lot of info here, so we’ll split this list into two parts. Let’s take a little tour around the Baltic, Atlantic, and Mediterranean - see how they match up!


1. Faer Isles (Streymoy, Faroe Islands)

(FO-FID, no.152)


Faer Isles’ whisky won’t be ready for a few years yet, but that’s no reason not to talk about them here. This distillery is located on Streymoy, the largest and most populated of the Faroe Islands, home of the capital Torshavn. Founded by three men in wonderfully Nordic sweaters (see their homepage if that’s for you), Faer Isles are also making vodka, gin, and the classic Nordic drink akvavit alongside the islands’ first whisky.


Faer Isles claim their ‘greatest innovation’ is their maturation process, which will use traditional Faroese “opnahjallur”. These are slatted wooden storehouses that expose their contents to the salty, humid, and windy climate. That's what we like to see at EuroWhisky - something which by definition cannot be a carbon copy of something else, or be copied in turn. Developed for food preservation, these opnahjallur will now create a proper Faroese whisky


They use Scottish stills and plan to produce about 80,000 litres per year. For comparison, that would be one of (but not the) smallest distilleries in Scotland, but that’s no bad thing. Setting up a distillery in the Faroe Islands involves so many logistical challenges absent from Scotland. For the record, Faer Isles note that their current setup has a maximum capacity five times this level, so a successful future could see them producing up to 400,000 LPA: roughly the same as Harris, one of Scotland’s newest island distilleries.


One final interesting PS - Despite being clearly Scottish-inspired, Faer Isles’ branded glasses aren’t Glencairns or copitas but the Túath glasses developed in Ireland.


2. Feddie Ocean (Fedje, Norway)

(NO-FOD, no.610)


This one put a smile on my face straight away by having the affirmative for their age check read ‘Aye captain, I have lived long enough!’.


Though Norway only has 5 whiskymaking distilleries at present, two can be found on islands. One of these is Feddie, a distillery housed in an old shipping warehouse on the island of Fedje (the spelling differences go back to the 17th century). They point out that Fedje is Norway’s closest point to Scotland across the North Sea - it's true if you include Shetland as part of Scotland. It's certainly an Atlantic-facing distillery!

Feddie is a female-founded and 100% women-owned distillery which distilled it's first batch of (organic) malt back in 2019. The first release is planned in 2024, though their Akevitt will be ready before then. Barrel shares are available if you’re interested…


3. Myken (Myken, Norway)

(NO-MYK, no.578)


Myken is Norway’s other island distillery, again located on an eponymous island. They were actually our Distillery of the Day on Instagram recently, and have been active since 2014. Second only to Aurora Spirits (also Norwegian), as Europe’s northernmost distillery, Myken has another claim to fame, calling themselves ‘the world’s first Arctic whisky distillery’. 

They put their commitment to quality over quantity quite nicely - ‘Our goal is not for our customers to drink more alcohol, but for them to drink better alcohol!’ - and choose to follow Scotch whisky regulations rather than the slightly looser EU and EFTA rules. Myken make a range of expressions in a batch system, with heavily detailed descriptions. Check out our Distillery of the Day post for more!


4. Achill Island (Achill Island, Ireland)

(IE-AID, no.033)


Achill Island Distillery is the home of IrishAmerican Whiskey, the first and (so far) only island distillery in Ireland. Achill Island faces the Atlantic off the coast of County Mayo, but it's perhaps one of the stranger of Ireland’s new distilleries.


Firstly - everything about their brand is ‘Irish American’. While it's not surprising someone would create a brand capitalising on that historic diaspora, a small island distillery seems an odd choice. The way they describe it, you could put this distillery almost anywhere in Ireland. They don’t describe anything about their approach being particularly transatlantic. Maybe they could use special American casks, or produce blended whiskies in partnership with American distilleries? Nothing like that on their website.


Achill claims to be one of Ireland’s only ‘Irish-owned and family-operated’ distilleries, which sounds good… but the family aren’t American at all, so the relentless ‘Irish American’ branding doesn’t make sense there either. 


More of an issue are some straight factual errors. They claim that their water source, Lough Corrymore, is the ‘highest mountain lake in Europe’. Even a quick Google shows that the true holder of that title is the French Lac Allos, at 2230m elevation. Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest mountain far south in County Kerry, tops out at 1038m! While the cliffs at Croaghaun near the distillery are supposedly Ireland’s highest, this claim by Achill is therefore plain false (and a strange thing to boast about anyway)


Also, they claim that the Jeanie Johnston (the famine emigration ship shown on the IrishAmerican logo) never saw a loss of life over voyages transporting 2500 people to America. That would be an incredible feat for any mid-nineteenth century ship - for a famine ship, that is statistically impossible, and again, a bizarre boast.

Does this seem like a lot of excess detail, without any substance about whiskey making? It is - but this is all we could gleam from their website! It could be that there are good reasons which just aren’t evident on the Achill Island Distillery website… but until there’s any clarification, EuroWhisky has to conclude that this is quite a strange island distillery!


5. Distillerie de Belle-Ile (Belle-Île, France)

(FR-KAE, no.032)


Like many of the distilleries on this list, Distillerie de Belle-Ile is named for its island. This is France’s one island distillery - though maye it would be more accurate to call it Brittany’s! Simply meaning ‘the beautiful island’ in French, Belle-Ile’s Breton name is Ar Gerveur. You can find it close to the well-renowned seaside town Quiberon.


Founded in 2007 by Fabien Mueller (who appears to be Breton himself), this distillery falls into that sort of small, local business which makes small amounts of several products. More unusually, this includes perfumes as well as whisky and rum! All their expressions are small batches, such as the scarlet, peated Porh Puce - all with gorgeously decorated bottles. 


6. Distillerie L. N. Mattei (Corsica, France*)

(FR-DMC, no.183)


This is a Corsican whisky! P&M is the product of Distillerie Mattei and Domaine Mavela, who teamed up to create something definitely distinct from Scotch and Irish whiskies. Having a distillery and winery work together appears to be a very effective approach. You get great local wine casks, and the distilling know-how of well-established brandymakers. They use a Holstein still and French (Tronçais) oak barrels. There are some peated bottles, 7 year old white wine single malts, and some aged in Muscat casks. 


*While this is labelled as a French island distillery, I’m treating this Corsican whisky as something separate because of Corsica’s distinct heritage and culture

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