The village of Tobermory was once little more than a small farming settlement arranged around a medieval church to the northeast of the island of Mull. In 1788 however, the British Fisheries Society sought out locations to establish fishing communities and found the natural harbour at Tobermory to be the perfect spot for just such an endeavor.
In 1797 a local kelp merchant by the name of John Sinclair bought 57 acres of land to the south of the harbour in an area known as Ledaig. He submitted an application to build a distillery and housing but met with stiff opposition thanks to a nationwide distilling ban, put in place to preserve grain stores for the war against France.
Sinclair was instead given permission to build a brewery which he duly did. When grain restrictions were lifted a year later however, he quickly got to work on realising his original vision for the site. Ledaig distillery began production in 1798 and was among the first to gain a license following the Excise Act of 1823.
The business ran for 132 years before the early 20th century brought the Great Depression and Prohibition in the US robbed Scottish distillers of their largest export market. Ledaig was forced to cease production and silence fell upon the distillery for 41 long years. Though it reopened in 1971, the 1980’s brought further industry-wide turmoil and all too soon, Ledaig had ground to a halt once more. This time, it looked to all the world like the closure would be permanent. Buildings were sold to the highest bidder and much of the warehousing was converted into tourist accommodation.
Fortunately, in 1993 the distillery was saved from extinction by Burn Stewart Distillers, owners of the ‘Scottish Leader‘ blended scotch brand. The company had recently acquired Deanston in Perthshire and later added to their portfolio in 2003 with the addition of Bunnahabhain distillery and the Black Bottle brand. Ledaig was reborn as Tobermory and went on to find success as a single malt in its own right.
Early 2017 brought surprising news however. It was announced that production would come to a complete halt at the distillery for two years, whilst significant work was carried out on the site. This was to include the installation of brand new Pot Stills and a dramatic upgrade of the visitor centre. Two years later production has resumed as promised and to mark the occasion, a new 12 year old incarnation of the Tobermory malt has been released. Matured in American oak casks, it replaces the original flagship 10 year old.
At the start of April I was delighted to be invited along to the Glasgow launch of this new single malt. The evening began with a private viewing of two works by Catherine Ross, Tobermory’s first ‘Artist in Residence’. These were supported by the wonderfully evocative photography of Euan Miles who has rather excelled in capturing the raw beauty of the island of Mull. Guests were offered a sample of the new 12 year old malt as well as a taster of the forthcoming Tobermory gin.
Since I am about as far removed from a gin expert as you could possibly get, I won’t venture much of an opinion on that particular product other than to say that I enjoyed my drink and found it very refreshing, though the decision to serve a single measure in a gigantic goblet drowned with tonic did little to showcase the spirit.
As for the whisky, it is bottled at 46.3% with no additional colouring and no chill filtering of any kind.
*I was given two samples of the Tobermory 12 at the launch event. As always, I will strive to remain as impartial as possible in my review.
Smell: Honey, Vanilla, Fudge, Butter Pastry, Shortbread, Aromatic Spices, Caramel, Straw, Lemon, Apple and Biscuit…
Taste: Caramel, Honey, Vanilla Fudge, Biscuit, Sea Salt and warming Peppery Spice…
Value for Money: Well priced at around £45 – reasonable for a 12 year old bottled at a higher strength.
Though not a world away from the old 10 year old, this new offering is perhaps a slight improvement, given an extra layer of depth by dialling up the spice. A dram which does justice to this most charming of hebridean distilleries.
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