Damn Good Drams
Photo: Raasay Distillery
The Highlands has an outstanding global reputation for distilling. It is a tradition that Scotland is quite rightly proud of and whisky is one of our biggest and most valuable exports. For many years the industry has been dominated by a small number of massive global brands, but things are changing. There has been a mini explosion in new distilleries opening up. In much the same way as craft brewing has taken the world by storm, there is now a host of small batch distillers producing traditional, experimental and out of the ordinary single malts in every corner of the Highlands. These ‘upstarts’, by their very nature, do things a bit differently than the established whisky giants and in practice this means a whole new selection of unique malts for visitors to choose from and some extraordinary distilleries to visit.
Whisky has never been legally produced on the Isle of Raasay but that is all set to change with the opening of a brand, new state of the art, micro distillery based in a converted old Victorian mansion. Distilling has already begun with the first single malts due to hit the market in 2020. The Visitor Centre, where there will be tours and tastings and a private members club, is due to open at the end of the month. The shop is already selling a unique blend entitled ‘While you Wait’ to tide enthusiasts over until the first casks have matured. The unique location, an island off an island with complex geology, water and a distinct climate, combined with probably the best views from any distillery in Scotland, make this a fascinating prospect. The fertile soil is ideal for growing barley which means that the whisky produced will be organic as well as completely local. Beach House on neighbouring Skye is a perfect place to enjoy a bottle of Raasay’s finest. It sits right on the shoreline and has views across the sound to Raasay itself. Quiet and relaxing, you are more likely to spot dolphins than you are other people.
The Sleat Peninsula on Skye is also celebrating the opening of a new distillery this year. Torabhaig is based in a 200 year old farmstead, where production began in January and is expected to reach 1.5 million bottles per year. Opening soon will be the café and visitor centre which are part of the original old steading, enclosing a courtyard. There will be a balustrade from which visitors can gaze at amazing views of Knock Castle and across to the Knoydart peninsula. It’s only a 10 minute walk from Teangue House to the distillery, perfect if you just want to grab a bite to eat or have a tasting without the worry or driving home afterwards. Both share the most amazing views while still enjoying the peace and quiet that this secret corner of Skye is renowned for.
Morvern is the unlikely location for one of the most hotly anticipated whiskies in Scotland. Ncn’ean (short for Neachneohain, the Queen of the Spirits in Gaelic legend), started distilling in March this year. The ethos behind this venture was one of experimentation, the distillers have broken with convention in many ways and aim to produce a spirit that builds on the traditions of distilling while being fresh and new. Tours are available for anyone booking in advance and can be timed for those arriving from Mull by boat. Limited edition barrels are already available for sale which will each eventually produce 300 bottles. Glenforsa House is just across the water and has fantastic views across the sound of Mull. Winter visitors in particular will feel remarkably cosy as they nestle in front of the open fire with a single malt, while still being able to gaze out to sea.
Glen Wyvis, based just outside Dingwall has been a tremendous success since it launched its first share issue, to become the world’s first community owned distillery. This area of Scotland has a long and rich distilling tradition and this new venture aims to capitalise on that while at the same time being environmentally aware, using 100% renewable energy. There is a palpable buzz around the town at the ambitious long term plans for the distillery which will eventually include a massive visitor centre on a hill overlooking the town with a funicular hillside tram transporting visitors all the way up there. For now Glen Wyvis Basecamp at the Victoria restaurant will be the focal point for those interested in gin tastings and local whisky heritage tours. The pop up shop here also stocks a range of merchandise and some limited edition single malts, bottled especially to celebrate the laying of the foundation stones for the distillery. Mountain View stands above the Cromarty firth and looks over to Ben Wyvis, if ever there was a perfect spot for enjoying a locally produced dram it would be from the comfort of the hot tub here.