Caol Ila (pronounced 'cull-eela') is situated on the north eastern shores of Islay, with magnificent views across the Sound of Islay to the spectacular Paps of Jura. Watch the distillers at work, tending the six copper stills.
Our shop stocks most Caol Ila expressions and a unique bottling that is only available to purchase at the distillery.
The History of Caol Ila Distillery
For more than 100 years small steam-engined coasters known affectionately as "puffers" brought cargoes of malting barley, coal and empty casks to Caol Ila Distillery, returning full whisky casks to the mainland through the Sound of Islay, the strait that separates Islay from Jura and which is know in the Gaelic language as Caol Ila.
When Hector Henderson, a former partner in the Littlemill Distillery, Dunbartonshire, arrived in Islay in 1846 he chose a remote and beautiful site to build his distillery, on the shores of the Sound of Islay, looking over the Paps of Jura.
One of the attractions was the plentiful supply of good, clean water from Loch nam Ban which still provides Caol Ila's main supply today.
Stone was hewn from the surrounding rocks to build the distillery and comfortable homes for the employees, forming a little village by the shore where visitors envied the healthy lives of Caol Ila's families; today, United Distillers still owns seven houses in Caol Ila.
Hector Henderson's business was, however, less successful than his choice of site and was sequestrated in 1854 when Caol Ila was owned briefly by Norman Buchanan, owner of the Isle of Jura Distillery.
In 1863 the business was acquired by Bulloch Lade & Co, of Glasgow, important traders in whisky stocks at a time when blended whisky was increasing in popularity, laying the foundations for today's worldwide Scotch whisky industry.
They extended and improved the distillery and in 1879 built a pier at Caol Ila where the puffers could load and unload their cargoes at any state of the tide and where two of David MacBrayne's steamers called twice a week for whisky.
By the 1880s over 147,000 gallon (668,000 litres) of whisky was being produced each year at Caol Ila and was in great demand for blending.
In 1920 Bulloch Lade went into voluntary liquidation, along with many other Scotch whisky companies whose businesses were affected by the First World War, and a consortium of businessmen formed the Caol Ila Distillery Co Ltd, making further improvements to the premises and reducing production costs.
They continued until 1927 when The Distillers Company Limited acquired a controlling interest in Caol Ila and three years later Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd, now part of United Distillers, obtained ownership of all the shares.
The new owners soon provided the distillery with its own puffer, the Pibroch, which would leave Caol Ila's pier with her cargo of whisky to steam around the Mull of Kintyre bound for Glasgow.
Along with most other distilleries, Caol Ila closed from 1941-45 because of wartime restrictions on the supply of barley to distillers.
By the 1970s, Caol Ila was outdated and a new distillery was needed; when production stopped in April 1972 the Pibroch left Caol Ila's pier for the last time but the romance of the puffers continues in the stories of Para Handy and the Vital Spark.
The new distillery, opened in 1974 at a cost of £1 million, retained the traditional methods of malt whisky production.
Today, craftsmen have faithfully reproduced six stills from the original design to ensure the distinctive quality of Caol Ila malt whisky.
Barley is now brought to the island and whisky returned to the mainland by ferry, but the seafaring tradition at Caol Ila continues; the Royal National Lifeboat Institution stations a lifeboat at Port Askaig and distillery employees have served as lifeboatmen.