Whisky

I am a bit of a whisky enthusiast shall we say, maybe that played a part in choosing Tigh na Talisker as our 2nd home. The house is just a few hundred yards from the whisky distillery that also took it’s name from Talisker Bay. For a long time Talisker was the only distillery on Skye, well at least the only legal one. With the Asian and Chinese market expanding and demand outstripping supply opportunities to start new distilleries, or re-open mothballed ones, have increased. So it was only a matter of time before the Isle of Skye got it’s second distillery: in 2017 the new make started to flow through the spirit safe at Torabhaig. Not long afterwards the Isle of Raasay Distillery started production on Raasay, an island just a 25 minute ferry crossing from Skye.

With three whisky distilleries close by and more within easy reach Tigh na Talisker is an ideal holiday home for the whisky enthusiast! On this page I will give you some information about the three aforementioned distilleries.

I wonder when Diageo will change the Talisker marketing materials. Until February 2021 Talisker will certainly be the only Malt Scotch Whisky from the Isle of Skye, but when Torabhaig starts bottling their first few casks they will have lost that tag. I don’t think they have much to worry about though, there is plenty of room on this island for two, or three, or four distilleries.

Talisker is one of the older distilleries in Scotland. It was built in Carbost in 1831 and owned by brothers Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill. Earlier they had acquired Talisker House and extensive lands in the area. They were typical Clearance landlords, only concerned with making most profit out of their investment. Their ‘cleared’ many tenant farmers off their lands, making way for sheep, and relocated them to new settlements at Carbost and Portnalong. Some were ‘encouraged’ to leave the Isle of Skye altogether. The time of the Clearances is a sad, but important period in Scottish history. Knowing a bit more about what happened during that time (1760-1815) will help to understand Scottish culture, Scots, Scottish society and even modern history. This Wikipedia article is a good start if you are interested.

Starting the whisky distillery was a way for the MacAskill brothers to make best use of their investment. They used many of the tenant farmers that they evicted from their houses as labour for the new distillery. Despite having created their own, cheap labour force, producing whisky was not profitable for them and by 1848 the bank controlled the distillery. One of the issues that may have played a part in their lack of success was the distillery’s location. Even in the 21st century it is somewhat remote, but in the 19th century logistical problems where at a different level. The only access to the distillery was by ship. Precious casks of whisky had to be floated out to the ship anchored in the middle of Loch Harport. I wonder whether one or two of them ever floated off to another destination! Prospects for Talisker changed in 1880, when Roderick Kemp and Alexander Allen bought the distillery. They increased production and constructed a pier in Carbost for the ships to dock at. Over the next few decades the distillery changed hands several times, but in 1916 it became part of a group of companies that has morphed into the conglomerate that we now know as Diageo.

It could be argued that Talisker is actually a fairly new producer, as the distillery burnt down in 1960 and only started production again in 1962.

The whisky produced at the Carbost distillery is mildly peaty. It is not as strong as the some of the peat monsters from Islay, like Laphroaig or Octomore, but it is certainly and unashamedly there. I have tried many of their expressions and I found the 57° North the most powerful, peaty one. It takes its name from the latitude of the distillery’s location and is also bottled at 57% It is part of their range of No Age Statement expressions. Like many distilleries, as a result of growing demand for their whisky, they are running short of older casks that have been maturing for 15+ years . To be able to serve the market many of them have started to bottle blended single malts: a mixture of whiskies of different ages from the same distillery. The rules of the Scotch Whisky Association say that if an age is stated on a bottle it has to be the age of the youngest malt used in the blend. As there is a prejudice against younger whisky many producers prefer not to state an age at all. In my experience there are many great tasting younger and blended malts. In fact, one of my top 5 whiskies is only 5 years old: Octomore 4.2 Comus.

Some Talisker facts:

  • The wort (the sugary liquid produced by the mashing process) stays in the washbacks for a minimum of 65 hours to turn the sugars into alcohol
  • The malt used by Talisker is specified to be ‘medium peated.’
  • 10400 liters of ‘wash’ (the stuff that comes out of the washbacks) are put into the still for the first distillation
  • Talisker was triple distilled until 1928
  • The washbacks are made of wood
  • The water source used in the production process comes from the Cnocnan Speireag Burn, which runs through the distillery into Loch Harport

The distillery tour at Talisker is a must for everyone staying at Tigh na Talisker. Even if you don’t like whisky the tour will be interesting and entertaining. You can always hand your free dram at the end of your tour to someone who will appreciate it!

Torabhaig Distillery is located in Sleat, the southern part of Skye. We started production in January 2017 and aim to produce approx. 0.5 million liters of spirit per year, so it is not one of the big ones. I say “we” because I am part of the team there. If you come to Skye and visit the distillery for a tour and/or a coffee you might bump into me. I am one of the tour guides, showing people around the distillery. It all started when Sir Ian Noble bought the Torabhaig farm and steading from Clan Donald in the 1970’s. He was very important for the development of Sleat and instrumental in establishing Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College. It was also his dream to set up a new whisky distillery on Sleat, but sadly he passed away before it could be realised. Mossburn Distillery took over the farm steading and instead of building the distillery from scratch they they took Sir Ian’s vision and developed it by restoring the steading and fitting the distillery into it. It fits very well in the surroundings, with ruins of Cnoc Castle, the view of the Sound of Sleat, the remains of a water mill and the hills up behind the distillery where our water comes from. I like to think that makes the place much more characterful and the ghost of the Green Lady from Cnoc Castle is still present in the stones from the ruined castle that were used to build the steading almost 200 years ago.

When you come for the distillery tour I will be able to tell you much more. Tours are available all year round and can be booked on-line: https://torabhaig.com/distillery-tours/  As our spirit has not yet spent the mandatory three years in an oak cask on Scottish soil, we do not have any Torabhaig whisky. Our first bottling has been announced for February 2021. It will be called Torabhaig Legacy Series 2017 and bottled at 46% and will be the issue of a single distillation vintage. What we do give our tour customers in the meantime is an Island style, peated, blended malt. It has been created to reflect the style of whisky we aim to produce. It will be a peaty one. I tasted the new make, the spirit that comes straight from the still without having been matured in oak casks, and it sure is peaty! I am so curious to find out what our first bottling will be like, but judging by the new make, it will be peaty, fruity and powerful!

Some Torabhaig facts:

  • We have 8 wooden washbacks, made from Canadian Douglas Fir
  • The wash still is called Sir Ian and the spirit still is called Lady Noble
  • We use 1,500 kilo of malted Barley for each batch
  • Fermentation in the washbacks takes between 60 and 100 hours
  • The draff is used to feed some of the local cattle and sheep
  • The rock beneath the distillery is 3.2 billion years old Lewisian Gneiss

This first legal distillery on Raasay started production in September 2017. Whereas Torabhaig went for the more traditional setting, building and production process, Raasay went the other way. The distillery space has been added on to a traditional building which was formerly The Raasay Hotel. They have created a state of the art, unashamedly modern distillery, with an abundance of stainless steel (including the washbacks), no traditional pagoda and a unique ‘spirit safe’ unlike any other I have seen. Their whisky will be lightly peated and the first bottling is expected in 2020. The view of the Cuillin from the big window in the tasting room is just fantastic!

Some Raasay facts:

  • Production capacity: 94,000 liters per year
  • Washbacks: 6 x 5,000 liters
  • Fermentation Time: 115 hours
  • Wash Still: 5,000 liters
  • Spirit Still: 3,600 liters
  • All maturation on site, in the warehouses bit further down the road

I compiled this page using information from various sources. Two of the web sites I used are wikipedia.co.uk and scotchwhisky.com. If you interested to learn more you can read some of the books on whisky that are in the house.