A Distiller's Dozen pt.2 - The 13 Island Distilleries of Europe*

Published on 20 November 2023 at 22:06

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


Most whiskey 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 'whiskey 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've split this list into two parts . Let's take a little tour around the Baltic, Atlantic, and Mediterranean - see how they match up!


7. Destilerias Aldea (La Palma - Spain)

(ES-ALD, no.171)



Destilerías Aldea is doubly interesting for being both a Canary island distillery and for not even being on one of the larger Canary islands! La Palma is home to a distillery which makes a wide range of spirits. Thankfully for us, that includes whisky! 


There's no mistake where this distillery is. Among their products is a grain whiskey made using 'gofio' - a traditional mixed-grain flour from the Canary Islands. It's very affordable - a 70cl bottle of Drago 5YO grain whiskey is only €20 on the Aldea website. They also use a range of woods for the ' toasting process ' - I assume that means drying their grain, but something seems to be lost in translation. Those woods include oak, beech, cedar, heather, and the Canary pine


Aldea has a late-nineteenth century column still, fueled by direct wood-burning . This is something mostly replaced elsewhere in the whiskey world, but all the more interesting for that! They mature their whiskey in virgin 225L Iberian oak barrels ( Quercus Pyrenaica ), which they claim imparts 'rough, spicy, balsamic, and citrus notes'. 


8. Distilleerderij De Lepelaar (Texel, Netherlands)

(LPL - NL, no.588)



Texel, the largest and most populated of the Western Frisian islands off the Netherlands' northern coast, is home to Distilleerderij De Lepelaar , or (when translated) the Spoonbill Distillery. Part of Landgoed De Bonte Belevenis , this is a small-scale distillery with three pot stills to make Texel Whiskey (alongside some Jenever and eau de vie).


De Lepelaar take seaweed (sustainably) from the Wadden Sea and use that to smoke some malt instead of peat - and people think that Laphroaig is iodine-y! They do also, for the record, use some peated malt bought in from the mainland Netherlands. Their whiskey also matures in rooms with grill walls, allowing salty air in to increase the maritime influence.


Their website mentions both double and triple distillation , and they have three stills, so this could be the source of a unique, triple distilled Dutch whisky. They use a range of sherry casks, ex-Scotch (from Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Laphroaig), and Texel red wine from Wijngaard de Kroon.


This has to be one of the most unique distilleries we've seen, especially in the Netherlands - can't wait to see more from them!

9. Hinrichsen's Farm (Fohr, Germany)

(HRS - DE, no.500)



Hinrichsens produces Insel Whiskey, or 'Frisian Single Farm whisky '. They use German stills, and really lean into the 'harsh North Sea climate' as part of their whisky's distinct touch. As the name suggests, they use rye and barley grown locally on the island - on their own fields to be precise. They claim to get a distinct terroir from the maritime air, soil, and climate, so maybe it would make for a good comparison with Waterford!

The island in question, Föhr , is Germany's second largest and part of the North Frisian island chain, just south of the more famous Sylt. An honorable mention goes to SILD Whiskey , which uses materials from Sylt island and is sometimes matured there, but is distilled in Bavaria, so I didn't put it on this list.


10. Æro Whisky Distillery (Æro, Denmark)

(AER - DK, no.580)



Ærø Whiskey , made on the island of the same name, is a small producer in Denmark. The island is small too, with only around 6,000 inhabitants and a yellow-green-red flag nearly identical to Lithuania's. Ærø malts its own barley (with a 4 day ferment and 4 sparges for mashing) and uses both sherry casks and some made from oak grown on the island . Locally sourced wood like that is sadly rare in much of Europe, so we're looking forward to seeing what Danish oak - specifically from Ærø itself - tastes like. Expect most of their whiskey to be 4 to 8 YO and aged in ex-Oloroso and PX.


11. Vingarden Lille Gadegard (Bornholm, Denmark)

(VLG - DK, no.170)


Vingården Lille Gadegaard , as the name suggests, is one of Denmark's oldest vineyards. Alongside sparkling fruit wine and brandy, they produce whiskey here on the warm, granite island of Bornholm. Apparently, it's also known as solskinsøen ("sunshine island") or klippeøen ("rock island"). You could get lost in the catalog here with the wines, ice cream, and local drink ' Honey Syp ' they make there. Also, look at the caption for this picture, taken from their homepage:


“Besides all this, we are known for our cola pig Øffe, who can be seen drinking cola.”


As a result of this diversity, their website is light on details pertaining to this ' Bornholmsk Whiskey ', save for a list of expressions and prices. For example, Whiskey "Smagen af ​​​​Bornholm - 4 årig" - 599 kr. or Whiskey no. 6 - 3000 kr. . You can see a blog from 2016 with tasting notes for one of these whiskeys here, but otherwise, we need to get out there and bring some of this almost hidden whiskey back to the mainland. 


(HVN - SE, no.141)


You can tell that Spirit of Hven stands out as soon as you see their signature bottles - a conical flash with a flamboyant splash of colored wax across the top. This is the kind of distillery that throws a wide range of expressions at you rather than sticking to a simple core - no two Hvens seem to be the same! 


The inspiration comes from astronomer Tycho Brahe , whose groundbreaking observatory Uraniborg was built on the island of Hven… back when it belonged to Denmark. Brahe was Danish after all… so in that sense, this is about as Danish as a Swedish whiskey is going to get! 


Amid the wide range of expressions, you'd probably want to start with Seven Stars, a series of single malts matured in American, French, and Spanish oak. Tycho's Star, as one example, is a medium-peated single malt made with three types of barley: 'Pale Ale Malt for the grassy base notes, chocolate malt for the enticing caramel notes and heavy peated whiskey malt to create the leather, liqourice and tar scents'. 


Hven are very specific about the casks used to mature this dram: 7 made from heavy char Missouri Quercus Muehlenbergii and 14 heavy toast French (Allier) Quercus Petraea , married in Spanish Quercus Robur . The American casks are either virgin oak or ex-vodka(!); the French hero red wines; the Spanish are ex-Oloroso.


Back in the wider picture, SOH also make rye and corn whiskeys alongside other spirits. They also produce Bländade, a blend of Smogen and SOH whiskeys roughly 8YO. We love to see some inter-distillery collaboration. This blended malt comes from a mixture of Chinquapin virgin oak, first-fill Bourbon and first-fill Sherry, all filled with heavily peated malt. Married for a month, they make a 55.5% ABV dram drawing on two coastal Swedish distilleries which sounds fantastic!


13. Gotland (Gotland, Sweden)

(GOT - SE, no.235)


Sold under the brand name Isle of Lime , Gotland's whiskey ranges from 4 to 7 years old. The name comes from the limestone historically quarried on Gotland, Sweden's largest island. This distillery's website provides enormous amounts of detail. 


For example, their core expression is made from 'Propina Tipple' barley, both grown (organically) and malted on the island itself. Smoked with peat for nine hours, the malt is then fermented using 'TDry' yeast and aged in a mixture of bourbon and Sherry casks. The starting ingredients are certainly local, though it remains to be seen how maritime or saline the finished product is - we need to give it a try!


If you like Mackmyra and Box, and want to delve deeper into the world of Swedish whisky, this is a great starting point.


Maybe it's just me, but I think there's something inherently different about island whiskey distilleries. Something about being surrounded by farms and the sea seems to make everyone focus on the elements at play - the role of land and water in producing grain and a climate for aging whisky. If they get into the whisky, maritime flavors always add depth and complexity (whether they're your favorite flavors or not). More than that, visiting them always feels that little bit more exciting - like you have to take at least a small adventure, and cross to another (smaller) world to access these drams.

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