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 can’t just build a distillery anywhere.
Some time ago, the old farmstead at Torabhaig was identified 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, the burn that feeds us with purest island spring water. And all this in a stunning natural setting. 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 steading has now been fully restored to hold the gorgeous copper stills and traditional wooden washbacks, and 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 Skye.
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.
CIRCA 1760The farmhouse at Torabhaig is built
Earliest records dating back to 1763 list Knock House as inhabited, and mention a working farm at Torabhaig.
CIRCA 1820The Steading is Built Using Stone From The Castle
Long held as a rumor, after analysing the stone of the steading walls and the ruins of Casteal Camus we were able to ascertain that the steading buildings were in fact built with stone taken from the by then derelict castle.
2002Planning permission is granted
After many years of planning, the permits to build a distillery at Torabhaig are issued in 2002.
2014Mossburn’s Renovation Project Begins
Ground is broken, and the renovation and build are underway. At this point we were expecting the project to take 2 years…
2016Stills & Washbacks are installed and commisioned
The traditional twin copper pot stills and douglas fir washbacks were designed especially for our building and custom built by the venerable Forsyths of Rothes.
The moment of truth – distilling at Torabhaig begins.
2020Torabhaig Single Malt Scotch Whisky is Born
On Making Whisky
It’s early days for us. While we’ve been in full production since January 2017, our whiskies are still taking shape. For a start they are not even whisky yet, three years is the minimum time the spirit must spend in cask before it is Scotch Whisky, and even then most would tell you that it’s a lot longer before a good Single Malt comes of age. So we feel we would be getting ahead of ourselves to start making claims about the whisky we are making, instead we can tell you about our thoughts on making whisky.
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.
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.
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. We try and avoid getting too deep into claims about light or heavy peat, because there is so much more to it that can be captured in a linear chart or PPM values. There are many, many faces and moods to peat, all affected by how you mash, 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.
And that’s one of the great things about making Malt Whisky, especially the peated sort, there’s always something to 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.
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.