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Despite being one of the most popular destinations in Scotland, the Isle of Skye has traditionally been home to only one whisky distillery, albeit a very famous one in Talisker. For the second largest of the country’s islands however this seems to me to have been a gross waste of space that could have been used for producing whisky. I’m pleased to say however, that Mossburn Distillers agreed and decided to do something about it.
The story began when Sir Iain Noble purchased 20,000 acres of land on the isle of Skye, with plans to convert a 19th century listed farm into a distillery. Despite planning permission being granted in 2002 however, the project stalled and Iain sadly passed away in 2010, before his dream could become a reality.
Mossburn Distillers, a subsidiary of Marussia Beverages BV, had been busy making their own plans for a new island distillery when they were made aware of the existing planning permission for Torabhaig. Though the renovation of an old listed building was not originally in their plans, they viewed it as an opportunity too good to miss and snapped up the site.
The farm steading was constructed in the 19th century, using stone hauled up from the ruined castle in the bay. In operation for more than 150 years, the farm was in something of a sorry state and it took three years to rebuild. This included the installation of a bespoke removeable roof that would allow easier access if and when pot stills and other large equipment might need to be replaced.
When the building was complete, a distillery crew of nine was assembled, made up of two distinct groups. The first were vastly experienced brewers, distillers and maltsters with more than 200 years experience between them whilst the second were a team of apprentices who would earn their guild medals at the new distillery, experiencing every stage of the production process along the way. This nine-person crew are responsible not just for the running of the distillery today, but for laying down the methods that will shape its destiny for generations to come. So much are the staff valued, there are plans to have each of them create their own version of the whisky that can be released as a special edition upon reaching maturity.
2020 saw the earliest Torabhaig spirit reach the hallowed three year milestone, after which it can officially be called whisky. The long term plan is to release a ten year old that will serve as the distillery’s standard expression but in the meantime, eager whisky drinkers will be able to check in on the progress being made through a series of four Legacy releases, the first of which, touched down in late February.
Before the foil seal had even been broken on my bottle, Torabhaig had already earned a little bit of praise thanks to the amount of information contained on the back label of their square bottle. It states that the whisky was made with concerto barley with in-grain phenols of 55-60ppm, fermented with pinnacle MG+ yeast and aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. It is bottled at a natural colour, without chill-filtration at a strength of 46% and with a residual phenol level of 16ppm (this is an indicator of the smoky phenol compounds that remain in the spirit after distillation).
Smell: Quite a youthful character with tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. Lots of lemon too. Of course there’s also a blast of briny sea breeze and plenty of sooty smoke and charcoal. Promising nose.
Taste: More of that beautiful brine. Salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon. A splash of water brings some of the fruits in from the nose. The smoke holds back until the finish then builds in intensity long after the sip has gone down the hatch. It billows around the palate for an extraordinary amount of time.
Value for money: So many new distillery first releases are priced with the collector market in mind. Massive, massive kudos to Torabhaig for going their own way and making their whisky affordable. It was always going to be a popular release and people were always going to be left disappointed but at least no-one missed out because of greedy pricing. Of course that wouldn’t have mattered if the whisky was rubbish but fortunately there’s nothing to worry about there.
This is an enormously impressive debut from the new kid on the block. It’s right up there with last year’s Ardnamurchan release for quality and affordability. It’s young but never feels immature and despite impressive peating levels on paper, it’s well structured and never becomes one dimensional. I confess I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the Torabhaig story in the past. I was aware it was happening of course but it never really captured my imagination. It has now.
For more on Torabhaig visit here.