N.B. – We do not provide scores or reviews for the samples we try. We review the quality of the event.
Distilling has been part of Raasay for centuries. Archaeological evidence of a still in a collapsed rock shelter exists today, and it is believed distilling took place on the island as recently as 1850. This rich heritage of distilling, however, comes with a caveat. Raasay has never had a legal, operating distillery. This all changed in 2015, when R&B Distillers started work on the Isle of Raasay Distillery, with production beginning in 2017.
Last Friday, I was lucky enough to attend one of the heralded Isle of Raasay Distillery’s Virtual Whisky Tastings. The tasting, led with enthusiasm and passion from William and Callum, explored the components that will make up their signature Isle of Raasay Single Malt, launching May 2021. This release will comprise of spirit from three types of casks – chinkapin oak, ex-Bordeaux and ex-rye. There are both peated and non-peated versions, which will all combine to create this unique single malt. The house style will be lightly peated and fruity, with the ex-rye the centrepiece of the spirit.
The samples we were provided were all around 28 to 32 months old, received in beautiful packaging. Following an introduction into the history of the distillery, Callum provided a fascinating history of the island, covering topics like the clan MacLeod, Brochel Castle, the Highland clearances and the iron ore mine. Born and bred in Raasay, Callum possessed a wealth of knowledge on the island, its history, and its agriculture. The conversation flowed freely, with some excellent questions put to the guys, including queries on the cask history and the transportation challenges facing a small, sparsely populated island.
Once the scene was set, we began sampling the spirit, beginning with the unpeated drams followed by their peated version. The chinkapin oak was dark and possessed a rich colour for its age, with a sweet toffee nose and lots of dark fruits on the palate. The ex-Bourdeaux followed, with its slight pink tinge, was blackcurrant and raspberry on the nose, with cinnamon, cherry, black grapes and a slightly maritime taste on the palate. Lastly, the ex-rye was the paler of the three, with cinnamon spice on the nose and toffee, white pepper, dark fruits on the palate and a much longer finish than the previous two. The highlight of the six drams was the peated chinkapin oak. The casks are highly charred and toasted, and the peat used is from Black Isle, which is notably less medicinal than Islay peat, with Callum and William comparing it more to a BBQ smoke.
Finally, we were treated to a virtual whistle stop tour of the distillery, which was an excellent way to end a fantastic evening. Overall, this was one of the best tastings I have been on this year. The quality of the packaging was evident, the spirit was phenomenal for such a young age, and Callum and William left no stone unturned in providing a history of the island, the distillery, the spirit and the future.