We Are Torabhaig
The Distillery at Torabhaig is the second ever licenced Single Malt Scotch Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye. The Excise Act of 1823 first sanctioned legal whisky distilling in Scotland almost 200 years ago, with the first licence on Skye being granted not long thereafter, so one could say it was about time.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky is inextricably linked to its place of origin, perhaps more so than any other product. The water, the land, the climate, all play a role in the character of the whisky. All these factors are also vitally important in planning a new distillery. Simply put, you cannot just build a distillery anywhere.
Some time ago, we identified the old farmstead at Torabhaig as the perfect location for a small, traditional distillery. All the factors needed to make good, robust island whisky were in place, right down to the Allt Breacach and the Allt Gleann, the burns that feed us with the purest island spring water. We were also fortunate to start with a handsome, rugged building, rich in history and local lore. 200 years or so ago, the stone that forms this building was hauled up from the ruined castle in the bay, by horse and cart. Men toiled from dawn till dusk building this Steading which was to stand the test of time for the next 150 years or so until farming practices changed.
Our 19th century building has now been fully restored to hold the gorgeous copper stills and traditional wooden washbacks that should allow us to produce whisky here for the next two hundred years, we have even built in a roof we can remove so that in time the pot stills can be replaced without disturbing the old building again.
After a painstaking 4-year restoration and build, Torabhaig has been a fully operational Single Malt Scotch Whisky distillery since January 2017, the second ever on the Isle of SkyeCome and see for yourself
CIRCA 1760The farmhouse at Torabhaig is built
CIRCA 1820The Steading is Built Using Stone From The Castle
2002Planning permission is granted
2014Mossburn’s Renovation Project Begins
2016Stills & Washbacks are installed and commisioned
2021Torabhaig Single Malt Scotch Whisky is Born
1630Caisteal Camus changes hands for the last time
Built on the site of an Iron Age fort, Caisteal Camus, also known as Knock or Cnoc Castle, changed hands in battle many times over the centuries, the last documented owner being Clan MacDonald in 1632.
Watercolour reconstruction of Caisteal Camus by David L Roberts © Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre, High Life Highland.
On Making Whisky
It’s early days for us yet. While we’ve been in full production since January 2017, our whiskies are still taking shape.
Three years is the minimum time that spirit must spend in cask before it is Scotch Whisky, and we’re not shy to say we’re phenomenally excited by the casks we’ve sampled so far and the first whiskies we’re releasing, but the journey to produce what will end up as Torabhaig 10 Year Old Single Malt for example has only just begun. Furthermore many would tell you that it’s a lot longer before a Single Malt truly comes of age. So we feel we would be getting ahead of ourselves to make too many definite claims about the whisky we are making and the whiskies to come, instead we can tell you about our thoughts on making whisky.
One thing we like to think we do know about is barley, simply because many of our core team come from a background of working with grain, starting with our distillery manager who has been producing malting barley for more than 30 years, with barley going back in his family for generations. He’ll never own up to this himself, but his farm has a solid reputation as a dependable source of the highest quality malting barley, some of the finest in Scotland.
This is probably why we’re so picky about the grain we use and why we don’t just stick to one variety for all our whiskies, and why we go to such efforts to capture the clarity of the cereal notes that the finest malted barley can produce in the new-make spirit.
Without haste is the simplest statement to introduce how we approach whisky-making. Time is indeed a theme that runs deep in the making of good Scotch. From mashing to fermenting to distilling, every single stage of making spirit is entirely time critical, and invariably not hurrying will give a better result. As a rule, you push things along at the expense of depth and complexity, faster is rarely better.
Then comes maturing, which requires patience on a whole new level, but more on that subject later. Simply speaking, you can’t rush making good whisky.
We’re not giving anything away by saying we are making a peated Malt Whisky, simply walking past the distillery and sniffing the air will tell you that much. After that, things get more complicated though. There are many, many faces and moods to peat, all affected by the peat itself and how it is used in the kilning process to dry the malt, how you mash the peated barley and the water you use, how you ferment, the shape of the stills, where you cut… we could go on. And this is where there is a balance to be found, between strength and refinement, between elegance and robustness. Well-tempered peat is the best way we can express what we’re aiming for. Once you really start to study peated spirit, there’s a beguiling complexity that awaits, a seemingly endless depth to explore. That inimitable Scottish peat reek on fine spirit can seem so tangible and present, and yet so ephemeral and impossible to pin down and define.
We will continue this journey of exploration with our distillers and whiskymakers, and of course with you our audience. That’s one of the great things about making Malt Whisky, especially the peated sort, there’s always something to educate and surprise you.
Once the spirit is made it just needs to age in an oak barrel for a few years... except:
This is where things get very interesting indeed. Making good spirit is in fact only the first half of the story. Because such a large part of the character, smell and taste of a mature Malt Whisky comes from the wood it was aged in, what happens after distillation is every bit as crucial. The finest new-make spirit in the world will not make a good whisky if it’s aged in a poor cask, or even just in the wrong cask for that particular spirit.
So is whisky just all about the wood? No, of course not. Rather it’s an intricate dialogue between the spirit and the oak, in effect a series of complex and gradual chemical reactions that take place over the course of years. This is why getting the spirit into the right wood straight away is vital for keeping it on the right track towards becoming a well-rounded and balanced Single Malt with all the depth and complexity we look for, but also an opportunity to take the same spirit in different directions over the course of the next decade and really exploring the range of the distillery’s output. Variations on a theme, if you will. Because of this we have already laid our spirit down in several different types of cask including some specially made to our own specification, checking in regularly to see how it is evolving, which in turn informs what wood we use going forward.
If there is one simple truth about whisky-making, it’s that it’s a complex business. The deeper you look, the more depth you find. But then that’s probably why we love whisky in the first place.
The Nine That Make Torabhaig
At Torabhaig we tend to do things our way, so we took the slightly unusual step of putting together two very different teams of people to get our distillery up and running.
The first was a vastly experienced group of consultant brewers, distillers and maltsmen who between them measured more than 200 years of whisky making experience. The second was a team of apprentices, some nine journeymen who would start their voyage of discovery and earn their guild medals at our new distillery. The oversight at each stage of production, from grain and yeast selections to mashing, brewing and distilling has enabled this learning process to be seamless and we have recorded in detail every stage of every distillation since day one.
We believe this was the way for our whiskymakers to become accomplished brewers and distillers, they need to know every stage of production from first hand experience, to understand the sensory nuances as the wash ferments and the vapour runs from the stills, to feel the process, beyond just checking charts and numbers. You’ll also on occasion see them mowing the lawn or driving the draff to the farm next door, this is all part of the duty of care which enforces our sense of pride, it runs beyond clocking on and off shift. These are the nine who are in charge of Torabhaig’s destiny, so much so that each one will in turn make their own different version of our whisky during their journeyman years to back up their learning cycle, each of these whiskies to be released as a special edition once they mature.
Interestingly in these times of change, none of our team have left us to move on, which we take to mean that we’re doing a lot of things right here at Torabhaig, that making whisky here is so much more than just a job.
Facts & Figures
Mash tun: 1.5 tonnes of peated barley malt per mash
Wash still: 8000 litres capacity, first distillation to 26% alcohol
Washbacks: 8 Douglas Fir fermenting vessels of 8000 litres capacity each
Spirit still: 5000 litres capacity, second distillation to 69% alcohol
2 traditional copper pot stills, custom made by Forsyths of Rothes
The distillery output is equivalent to 1.5 million bottles of Single Malt Scotch Whisky per year.