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Sir Robert Graham was the Treasurer of Glasgow when he opened his first Tobacco merchant on Oxford Street to the south of the River Clyde in 1874. By 1899 his business had expanded to include a newsagent and bookshop and by 1920, there were 20 individual stores spread throughout the city.
The company remained in his family for more than 120 years before it was sold in 2002 to Ron Morrison, who expanded to include the sale of fine whiskies from Scotland and beyond. Within a year they had bottled their first single cask, an 11 year old Rosebank. In 2007 they opened an online store and in 2013 a new location was unveiled in Cambridge.
In September of 2014, the company was sold in its entirety to Stephen Johnstone in a rumoured seven figure deal. A whisky and cigar enthusiast himself, Johnstone had previously worked at electrical retailer Dixons before being one of the key figures behind a management buyout at kitchen and bathroom distributor PJH. Alerted to the potential sale of Robert Graham, Mr Johnstone moved quickly to secure the deal and immediately set his sights on expanding the business, with plans to double the stores across the UK.
At the heart of his vision was the promotion of the company’s own range of labels comprising of the Hoebeg and Ailein Mor single malts and Cearban blended malt, as well as the Treasurer’s Selection and Dancing Stag ranges.
One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Tobermory was founded in 1798 as the Ledaig brewery. Within a few years however it had been converted to produce malt whisky. Only after a lengthy period of closure and a change in ownership which came in 1979 did the name change to match the quaint town on the isle of Mull in which the distillery was based.
Though the spirit would likely have been distilled from a peated barley in the early days, the current Tobermory range is unpeated. For a proportion of the distilling year however, the site produces a heavily peated malt which is bottled under the original name of Ledaig. With a core range of excellent 10 and 18 year old expressions as well as regular limited editions featuring some exciting cask finishes, Ledaig is a wonderfully briney single malt that offers a flavour profile close, yet unique from the famed single malts of Islay.
From time to time a cask of this intriguing Ledaig spirit finds its way into the hands of a whisky broker and then, onto an independent bottler. Here Robert Graham present an 8 year old, distilled in July of 2008 and bottled December 2016 at a respectable strength of 46% abv.
Smell: Campfire smoke and damp ash. Driftwood. Lemon and vanilla fudge. Brine and sea salt. Paraffin.
Taste: Toffee and caramel. Fudge. Black pepper and sea salt. Oak. Brine. Earthy, slightly medicinal peat smoke. Smokey finish that goes on for days.
Value for Money: A full 70cl bottle seemed perhaps a little pricey at £85, though I was pleased to be able to snap up this little 20cl taster bottle for the accessible price of just £25.
The first encounter I had with Ledaig was a no age statement expression I found in my local supermarket. It was young and raw but there was potential there for something greater. Today I hold this single malt in much greater regard, having tried some truly outstanding offerings over the years. This Robert Graham bottling may not match the peaks of some other Ledaigs but it is still a wonderfully acrid mouthful of whisky, that simply couldn’t come from anywhere other than Scotland’s blustery Atlantic coast.