Islay Whisky on the Silver Screen

Grant Cornett

Scotch stars in the new film "The Angels’ Share."

British director Ken Loach’s latest film, The Angels’ Share (out April 12), weaves a touching tale of Glaswegian delinquents brought together by an appreciation for fine Scotch, who then apply their newfound passion to heisting a priceless cask of a legendary whisky called Malt Mill. It’s a picaresque fable brought to gritty life by Loach’s naturalist lens, but Malt Mill isn’t just a plot device. It was an actual distillery, operated by Lagavulin, that shuttered in 1962; all that remains of the whisky is one bottle of new-make spirit (whisky before it’s aged in the oak barrels), which Lagavulin isn’t opening any time soon.

Fortunately for epicurean cinephiles desperate to know what the stuff might have tasted like, whisky master Charles Maclean, who consulted on the film and even has a cameo as a character based on himself, shared with us which three current whiskies might make the best approximation of this lost Islay malt.

Laphroaig 10: This intensely peaty malt with hints of salty tar and a finish of coal smoke is an acquired taste: You either love it or hate it. Malt Mill was actually created by Lagavulin’s vengeful owner, Sir Peter Mackie, to compete with Laphroaig after the distillery stopped using Lagavulin as its distributor and dealt its malt for itself. From $50; astorwines.com.

Lagavulin 12 or 16: Not as peaty as Laphroaig and more full-bodied and sweeter, Lagavulin is a complex whisky with notes of bergamot and whose finish Maclean describes as “perfumed smoke.” The old Malt Mill distillery now serves as Lagavulin’s reception center. Maclean raves over the 16-year as a fantastic Scotch—in fact, it was featured in the film as an example of a masterful malt. From $70; astorwines.com.

Ardbeg 10: Malt Mill definitely had a taste distinct from both Laphroaig and Lagavulin, despite its creation being entangled with the history of both distilleries. Ardbeg might make a good compromise: Not as tar-like as Laphroaig and usually not as sweet as Lagavulin, Ardbeg’s smoke has tones of barbecue with a dryness closer to Laphroaig. From $55; astorwines.com.