New distilleries have been springing up across Scotland with alarming regularity in recent years, Wolfburn, Kingsbarn, Eden Mill, Dalmunach to name but a few. As of Tuesday September 12th 2017 add Raasay to that list when the first spirit runs occurred at the newly constructed Isle of Raasay distillery. Not content with opening one distillery, Raasay’s owners R&B Distillers will be building another distillery in the Borders region. In 2015 they launched ‘The Big Question’ poll to crowd source opinion on where this new distillery should be built with the resounding answer being Peebles. Busy times ahead for R&B Distillers then!
Anyway, back to Raasay. Much like the isle, the Raasay distillery is a small affair. Equipped with a 5,000 litre wash still and a 3,600 litre spirit still sourced from Tuscan distillation specialists, Frilli, R&B predict that they will be able to produce around 150,000 bottles of whisky per year. So not huge volume then.
Maturation of all new make will be take place onsite on Raasay itself (something that not all island whiskies can boast, it being common practice for new make to be shipped to mainland Scotland for maturation). Ambitions too are held that they will be able to utilise all local raw materials to release a 100% Raasay expression – local water, peat and importantly barley. To that effect since June 2017 barley trials have been taking place with local crofters to assess the possibility of growing local barley suitable for whisky production. So provenance and terroir are indeed being given due consideration. These and other topics are covered in our recent interview with Alasdair Day of Raasay distillery.
The core Raasay expression will be lightly peated, around 15ppm and finished in Tuscan red wine casks. But of course as they only started distillation in September 2017 we will have to wait until at least 2020 to find out how good this whisky of ‘uncommon provenance’ will be. So in the meantime we have the ‘While We Wait’ single malt releases of which we now find ourselves at Release 3. Mark previously reviewed Raasay Release 2 and the debut Raasay Release 1.
The ‘While We Wait’ releases comprised a blending of peated and unpeated spirit from a single undisclosed highland distillery and matured in ex-bourbon casks. Release 1 was then finished for 8 weeks in a Tuscan red wine cask, with release 2 having an 18 month finish. Release 3 is a 50/50 combination of the previous two finishes. It is unchill filtered and bottled at 46% and will set you back around £50 at Master of Malt.
The second whisky we have from R&B is The Tweeddale The Evolution. The great-grandfather of R&B Distillers co-found Alastair Day just so happened to be a whisky blender in the Border town of Coldstream. As fortune would have it he also keep a ledger of his whisky recipes and this ledger has made its way into Alastair hands who has now set about recreating the recipes laid down by his great-grandfather, of which The Tweeddale The Evolution is the latest incarnation. It is a blend of Speyside single malts and a Lowland grain with the youngest component being 28 years old and is bottled at 52%. It is available from the R&B Distillers online shop at a cost of £175 per bottle.
Raasay While We Wait 3rd Release – review
Colour: copper with a definite pink hue!
On the Nose: warm gravy rings and strawberry jam, blackberries, toffee, milk chocolate with a light smattering of peat smoke. Water accentuates butterscotch and the chocolate notes as well as bringing out oak and smokiness.
In the mouth: a lovely creamy mouthfeel full of stewed berries, rhubard and custard boiled sweets although not overly cloying. Toasted oak, chocolate, ginger, nutmeg with a dab of smokiness. Water added means losing a little in the mouthfeel but highlights the wine notes and the peat smoke, although the smoke never dominates the fruit notes.
The Tweeddale The Evolution – review
Colour: amber Gold
On the Nose: glace cherries, honey, beeswax, vanilla, old leather, lemon and lime zest, a little floral note then dates, figs and toffee sauce. Water brings out apples, pears, baking spices and a little lavender. A superb nose!
In the Mouth: a lovely oily and thick mouthfeel. Really, really juicy and sweet on arrival. Poached nectarines, brioche, a hint of dessert wine, baked apples and pears develop into the darker flavours of the dates and sticky toffee pudding. The finish undiluted is long juicy, sweet with lovely earthy notes. For me adding water meant it lost a little of its richness and structure gaining pepper notes not picked up undiluted and becoming a little spicier and drier.
The ‘While We Wait’ definitely shows a youthful exuberance but perhaps could do with a little longer maturation period to fully fulfil its potential. However if this is an indication of what Raasay Distillery will produce then I think we can expect a good time from Raasay in the future.
The Tweeddale The Evolution is as mature and charming as its 28 years of maturation would indicate and is an excellent example of blending well done. Like drinking liquid juicy fruits to begin with it develops into something much more sophisticated that really holds your interest but never edges towards saccharine sweetness and the nose really is something!
Note: lead image provided by Abbey Whisky.