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The isle of Raasay in the northwest of Scotland was once home to at least one illicit still though in all likelihood there would have been many more. The last known record of distillation dates from more than 150 years ago however and the island has been completely free of the spirit ever since. That is, until the first legal distillery began producing spirit in September of 2017.
Alisdair Day co-founded R&B Distillers with business partner Bill Dobbie, after being encouraged to get involved with the whisky industry by an old ledger he inherited from his father. Day’s great-grandfather it seems, was once the proprietor of a licensed grocer in the town of Coldstream in the Scottish Borders. It was common in those days for such businesses to blend casks of scotch whisky together so that they might offer a unique product to their customers and Alisdair’s relative kept extensive notes of his creations in his ‘cellar book’. When he inherited the book, Day set about recreating some of the recipes, a process that would lead to the first release of The Tweeddale blend.
Like many independent bottlers in this ‘Golden Age’ of whisky, Day and partner Dobbie sought to secure a reliable source of spirit for their blends and decided to investigate the possibility of creating their own distillery. After initially considering the borders, an old acquaintance advised the two men that the former Borodale House Hotel on the isle of Raasay had been put up for sale and could possibly be the perfect site for a distillery in an area crying out for investment.
The site was purchased in 2015 and work began in June of 2016. By the 14th of September the following year, the first cask was filled with new make spirit. Like any new distiller, the business was then faced with the prospect of a long wait before their liquid was ready to sell. Rather than delay until 2020 when the spirit would come of age however, they worked with another distillery in the highlands and produced a whisky that would carry a similar character to the intended house style of the future Raasay distillery. Released as ‘Raasay – While We Wait’, the whisky is distilled from lightly peated barley and has been finished in a selection of red wine casks before being bottled at 46% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Wonderfully aromatic, spicy nose with smoky paprika, barbecue coals, citrus orange, salted caramel and vanilla pods.
Taste: Big arrival with more smoky spices, pepper, toffee, orange, grape juice and a gentle waft of peat smoke.
Thoughts: A little bit unusual but an ultimately rewarding dram all the same. Gently smoky and bolstered by some daring cask usage and the sensible decision to bottle at 46%.
Though original plans to build a second distillery in the Borders at Peebles appear to have been shelved for the time being, R&B Distillers remain an exciting prospect and anticipation will only grow as their spirit slowly creeps towards that crucial third birthday. If ‘While We Wait’ is indeed an indication of what is to come, we could be getting close to the introduction of a very interesting new single malt indeed.
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Visit the Raasay website here.