Martin’s Whisky Blog
It’s exciting times for the whisky lover on Skye. Two new distilleries have come on line quite close to us, one just down the road at Torabhaig, on the Sleat peninsular, and the other on the nearby island of Raasay. Both are fairly small operations in the world of whisky and both are conversions of existing buildings.
When it comes to bringing new life to an old building, Torabhaig distillery is a five-star job. No money has been spared and quality oozes out of the whole place; from the Douglas fir washbacks, to the landscaping outside. You can tell I like what they have done. Production has been on the go for about a year now. They say that it shall be a, ‘well-tempered, peat spirit of island character’. This is quite a loose description. The casks used for storage are not much of a clue, either. With lots of different woods getting filled, this is a bit frustrating. I want to know: is it going to be a whisky that says to me ‘Skye’?
At present all the whisky they produce goes to the mainland for bond storage. This is not ideal as the climate of the warehouses has an effect on the character of the whisky, and is part of its island identity. I am not saying that it will be better if it is stored on the island; it just seems right to me, and a bit more authentic. It would give the distillery a unique selling point as its local big brother, Talisker, is mostly stored off the island. I have high hopes for this distillery, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they should be a bit braver in making the best possible whisky that they can; rather than going for something nice, with the widest appeal.
Quite a lot of the new distilleries opening up in Scotland just now seem to be playing it safe and going for the middle ground, thinking their whisky will be easier to sell in ten years time. I sense there might be a lot of pleasant whisky washing about in the future, but maybe not so much exciting and interesting stuff.
Compared to its Skye counterpart, Raasay Distillery is small, with less than one quarter of the output and not quite so posh and lovely. No nice wooden washbacks here; just practical stainless steel. The building is partly converted from the old Raasay Hotel, but is mostly modern-built in a industrial style. Part of the front facade of the building has been clad in copper, which makes it look a bit more interesting than it might be.
There is no history of legal distilling on Raasay, so there is no traditional style to follow. They are going for a lightly peated whisky; casked in a mix of new oak, rye bourbon, and wine barrels. These are stored in their purpose built warehouse on the island.
The distillery currently has a plan to make a whisky with barley grown on Raasay itself, and are running field trials to see which variety of grain grows best locally. It is going to take some time before we get much ‘one hundred percent Raasay’ whisky, but it is an exciting prospect .
All I have to do now is sit about for some years and wait to see if my hopes are realised or not. Luckily there is still plenty other whisky to try until then.