The windswept, narrow channel dominated by the Paps of Jura from which the distillery takes its name was once the scene of a bloody naval battle in 1154 between the Viking king Godred the Black and Somerled, King of Kintyre.
The distillery was founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson and between 1854 and 1863 was run by Norman Buchanan, also owner of the nearby Jura distillery. Caol Ila changed hands many times over the next few years, until it finally came under the ownership of Scottish Malt Distillers in 1930. Due to severe food shortages caused by the German U-Boat menace during the Second World War, the distillery was forced to close between 1942 and 1945 in order to preserve supplies of barley.
In 1972, the entire original distillery was pulled down, and a much larger one built on the site. The new design was by Gorge Leslie Darge, and features his signature glass curtain walls that bathe the still house in natural light and offer stunning panoramic views over the Sound. Production resumed in 1974, and the distillery is now owned by Diageo.
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Almost 95% of the spirit is used in Diageo’s blended scotches such as Johnnie Walker, and as such is often overshadowed by the big names of Islay such as Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin. However the spirit itself is highly unique: light, peaty, with a slight lemony oiliness.