This weekend we were to be hosting a tasting event focussing on the Isle of Raasay Distillery. Many of you will not have tried a whisky from this distillery, in fact 99% of you won’t have, as there is no whisky yet produced from the Island! Unfortunately due to an event in Japan, the event has had to be cancelled.
Not quite old enough, we will have been sampling cask-drawn drams of what will go on to become the first legal whisky from the beautiful Isle of Raasay. I have tried a couple, and they are top, top quality products. See my tasting notes below for more details, but first, let’s learn a little about this newcomer to the Scotch Whisky scene.
The Isle of Raasay lies in the Hebridean Islands, East of Skye. Home to a population of a little over 150, Raasay is the epitome of Scottish Highland scenery and folklore. Indeed, none other than Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to Raasay on route to Skye after the ill-fated Battle of Culloden. A successful escape for the Young Pretender was achieved, and R&B Distillers, owners of the distillery, are hoping for a successful young pretender to emerge from the same island.
Situated on the former site of the Isle of Raasay Hotel, the mantra of the distillery is focussed intently on the Island itself. Working with local crofters to supply 100% Raasay barley and using the same water source for production, cooling and cutting the whisky, this is a true homage to the islands landscape. At Raasay Distillery the water flows across volcanic rock and down through sedimentary rock to a Celtic well on site, known as the ‘Well of the Pale Cow’.
Raasay is a proud and conservative island, and the owners were determined not to leave an unwanted imprint on the land. Surveys were carried out on the wildlife including Roe Deer (of which the Island takes its name), Long Eared bats (which still reside in the Distillery loft!) And Otters before any groundwork was undertaken.
And now, only 150 years since the last known Illicit Distilling was taking place on the island, legal spirit is being produced and is agonisingly close to being ready. Spirit ran from the stills for the first time in 2018, using malt harvested directly from the island in 2017, and the first release is due for release in early 2021, pre orders are now available for the first spirit, a heavily peated (40ppm barley) Single Malt, for £99.
With an eye for experimentation, but a history steeped in tradition, R&B are honing in on pushing the boundaries of Scotch Whisky while staying respectful to their roots. Raasay & Borders Distillers are themselves rooted within these two iconic geographical regions of Scotland. With co-founder Alasdair Day’s great-grandfather hailing from the Hebrides and his other great-grandfather a whisky blender based in the Borders town of Coldstream.
Pushing the fermentation to a huge 115 hours, they have created a rich and fruity new make spirit with a hefty character long before the wood even gets a look in. The core range will then be matured in 3 different styles of Oak casks.
The future for the Raasay Distillery is certainly an exciting one, and it is a journey that we are delighted to be on board with. Hosting their tasting event this Friday is simply the first step in a new chapter for R&B Distillers. The book started behind the scenes a long time ago, much of the work to get here has been largely unseen by the world outside those 150 islanders.
But it is nearly here, ready to meet the world, in early 2021.
You may be reading this thinking that you have tried or seen a Raasay whisky before. And you would be right – how so? I hear you ask. While We Wait is an expression released by R&B Distillers in anticipation of the Island Single Malt.
While We Wait is a blend of two expressions from a single distillery, half peated and half unpeated. This has helped create the style of whisky that the distillery is producing. Artfully created and matured in French Tuscan Wine Casks they have produced a lovely whisky, designed to tread the water and whet our appetite for what is to come.
It has a beautiful pink hue to it, reminiscent of a Rose Wine rather than a whisky. A nod to the Tuscan casks former residents and a truly eye-catching colour.
On the nose are loads of fresh, red fruits. Redcurrants, Raspberries and Pink Lady apples. Bittersweet aroma’s amidst subtle sweet peat and a dunnage warehouse mustiness. It certainly has depth, it has body and character. A real mix of light fruitiness and bold dusty wood.
The palate brings a lighter peat than the nose. Enveloped wonderfully in those summer fruit notes. Strawberries & black pepper come through bittersweet raspberries and possibly glazed cherries.
Some oak bitter-tannic flavours come in on the finish leaving the mouth dry and sapping. Another sip is a must, leading quickly to another pour. A definite two-glass whisky!
Tweeddale 28 Year Old Evolution
Also in the R&B portfolio is the Tweeddale Blended Malt. Coming across account from his Great, great grandfather’s records, Alasdair Day was able to sink deep into his family history and recreate, after 70 years, this wonderful blend, available in 3 different expressions. I had the pleasure of trying the 28 year old, the oldest release to date.
On the nose comes vanilla, citrus notes and plums. In time more dark fruits come through the creamy light beginning. Evolving in the glass to open up more black cherries and some Black Forrest gateau sweetness.
The palate is rich, dark fruit cake. Cloves, oranges and soaked dates. It lingers wonderfully with a creamy mouthfeel that sticks around. As it opens in the temperature of the mouth dark chocolate turns to milk chocolate and some vanilla and nuts.
To finish there is a little oak, some grassy dry notes, perhaps from the grain influence, soft spices and a little fruit lingers. Medium in length and a touch of heat, likely from the 52% alcohol. Not unpleasant, but certainly obvious.
Single Cask Tweeddale Grain Peated Whisky (50%)
White wine oaky flavours on the nose, light peat, menthol, dried hay apples and bourbon sweets are all vying for prominence but work well in a balanced, refreshing nose.
On the palate comes a very soft peat, baked apples with cinnamon and burnt brown sugar.
The finish brings out vanilla and honey, somewhat missing in the main body, chardonnay grapes, oak notes and baked apple and pear. Light fresh smoke gets a nod but is nowhere near a prominent flavour.
1 Year Old Rye Cask Raasay Sample 62.8%
Spiced peat, warming hug of a nose. Leathery, musky and earthy coastal notes. Freshly dowsed bonfire smoke but there is something slightly sweet that is difficult to pinpoint. Perhaps orange peel with cloves.
Brandy baskets filled with smoky flavoured ice cream. Sweet and sugary with vanilla and salted caramel wrapped in a lovely smoked blanket. A warming, welcoming peat fills the mouth and cuddles the tongue, very little alcohol spiciness for such a young, immature whisky, especially from a Rye cask where I would normally expect a bit more intensity from the wood.
Dry on the finish with flashes of salted caramel and coastal sweetness. An alcohol reflux which is to be expected for such a young whisky, not too hot, nor unpleasant though it does leave a warm glow down the throat just verging on the good side of hot.
Don’t take my word for the quality of the Whisky though, released or not quite ready, we will have them available to try at the Inverurie Whisky Shop this Friday. Brand Ambassador and International Sales Manager for RB Distillers, Chris Hoban will be on hand to guide you. A truly historic event is coming, and we’d like you to be a part of the journey.
Unfortunately the event has been cancelled due to the Distillery’s commitments elsewhere.