Yes, we managed to grab a bottle at retail last week and promptly opened it. Madness I know, but isn’t the whole whisky world a little insane currently?
This release, after the previous week’s Springbank chase, seems to have sparked a whole debate around whisky availability and purchasing online. In particular, the whole grey area of automated bots that result in releases immediately selling out. The night before this Torabhaig release, Roy (Aqvavitate) had Arthur of Royal Mile Whiskies on his show and they touched upon the problems facing retailers and drinkers of whisky right now. As we all know, Arthur tells it like it is and this is refreshing; I’d recommend sitting down with a dram and watching the show.
My own understanding of bots is that you can program these to do a variety of tasks and potentially your employer uses these creations, to do more mundane tasks that can be automated. It is very difficult to develop a bot that can overcome every variety of website and their individual defence mechanisms. However, what you can do more easily is create a bot that scans every whisky website for any new releases and updates and immediately alert you to their appearance.
This partially might explain why things are vanishing before you’ve even become aware of a bottle. But also, we’re in lockdown mode and some lucky (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) individuals have more time to have multiple browsers open and hit the refresh button. In addition, lockdown means some of us have more money to speculate on things such as whisky and see it as an easy investment given all these ridiculous articles about returns online. I’ve also noticed a whole new genre of less obvious articles that carry the same message about the benefits of investing by buying whisky. On the flip side, there are others who might need to make some quick cash given a shortfall in their usual day job earnings, or their previously easy money second income stream, such as concert tickets. We’ve even seen a monthly bot subscription service where you can sign up to receive new release alerts.
It all adds up to a perfect storm where you can drop in an auction and find the Ardbeg Arrrrrrrdbeg!¹ numbering 48 lots as I write this article. I don’t have time to do the maths but I do wonder what the percentage is of these monthly auctions featuring bottles released within the last year? A word might be sizeable.
Yes, sizeable is a good word that also applies to the outturn of this release. Torabhaig promised a sizeable edition for everyone to enjoy. Numbering 32,000 units, on paper, it seems more than ample enough for our appetite. Unfortunately, in aiming to please everyone, they’ve managed to upset their domestic market by only allocating (from all accounts) just 3000 units to the UK.
Now, before you cry milk or suggest that we are more than spoiled in the UK, I can see it from both sides. However, given the well-publicised and ravenous market we have domestically right now, with several examples released in the past 6 months, Torabhaig could have allocated a little more and helped out retailers across the UK? But the upshot of this is this situation is wherever you are in the world, you might have a good chance of tasting this rugged and peated Skye whisky. While in the UK, at least one major retailer went down the ballot route for the £50 bottle of whisky. In doing so, receiving over 4000 entires for just 70 bottles. Just last week, Luvians reported over 1000 people online trying to purchase this release. What’s fuelling this demand?
There was an organic fight back from some of us online and ensuring others got a bottle to enjoy. I managed to help a couple out, including our Justine, and this is something I’ve done previously to guarantee bottles go to those who want to experience the contents. I can only see the need for this growing, given the current hysterics. And if you missed out this time around, then more editions will follow.
And that’s all I really want to say for now on this topic because we have a debut release and it should be a celebration of the effort and sacrifice it has taken to reach this stage.
The Isle of Skye is almost like a second home for my family and is somewhere we visit at least once a year. The beauty of the place would even escape Adam’s wordsmith ability. For many years there was only Talisker and the mooted project of Torabhaig at the southern end of the island. A dream project of Sir Iain Noble, I would visit the local bar and enjoy a dram of their Gaelic inspired whisky and consider whether the distillery would reach fruition. For many years, it felt the whole project was in limbo. Thankfully, in 2017, the distillery fired up and Alex has written more about the background to Sir Iain and his whiskies, which I recommend you check out.
I was thrilled and impressed to visit the distillery in 2020, during the midst of lockdown restrictions. Groups were kept extremely small andhad to wear masks and gloves at all times until reaching the tasting room. It removed the tactile sense of a distillery and smothered the experiences that we take for granted such as touch, smell and interaction. However, when we reached the tasting room, the gloves were literally off and we could relax.
What impressed me most about the tour – other than giving local employment opportunities – was the style of spirit they were distilling. This is a big, peaty, punchy, oily and rich distillate that belongs to the Isle of Skye. For too long, Islay has claimed all things peat and yet historically, the island that excisemen felt was wildly out of control and beyond the tentacles of government, was Skye.
The distillery is a beautiful restoration, surrounded by ruins and a wonderful view across the water. The perfect place to distil whisky? It certainly felt that way during my trip, which I paid for myself as usual. I left impressed and eager to try their debut release, which we’ll do, right now.
This is bottled at 46% strength and is made with concerto malted barley with a ppm of 50-60, fermented with Pinnacle MG+ yeast and aged in only 1st fill bourbon barrels. Bottled with no colouring or chill-filtration, the phenols level is 16ppm when bottled. Great information simply displayed on the bottle.
Torabhaig 2017 Legacy Inaugural Release – review
Colour: a light tan.
On the nose: apple pie, candy floss and some sea salt. It’s nicely balanced with the coastal characteristics mingling well with the peat. Some zest, lime peel and bacon fat. Also pine needles and a spent bonfire. Just enough detail. Adding water reveals more apples and some pears with peaches also noticeable.
In the mouth: oily, candied lemon, cask char and toasted black peppercorns. Liquorice, grapefruit, green jelly, brine and toffee. The peat comes through towards the finish with some salt. Adding water brings out dried reeds, bacon and smoke.
A well-sculpted and delivered debut. Easier said than done given some of the disappointing or below average releases that we’ve seen from new distilleries of late. You can wrap up the whisky in fancy bottles and packaging yet in the end it comes down to the contents.
Sadly, it seems many of these bottles are not destined to be opened. Someone congratulated me the other day online for being the only person they’d seen actually open a bottle. That’s a sad state of affairs for what is a £50 release. Following the story of this distillery for several years and being a regular to the Isle of Skye, this was a bottle that had to be opened to celebrate the moment.
The majority of the Torabhaig 2017 Legacy releases will be auction fodder in the coming weeks. For all those adopting this methodology of an immediate sale for a quick buck, it goes without saying you’re preventing some genuine whisky fans from their passion. I hope that the lots are so numerous that you don’t actually end up making much whatsoever. That’s what happened to the Ardbeg release and the profits, after costs, were pretty inept.
For Torabhaig, this starts the ball rolling, at last. Peat can cover up a multitude of sins in young whiskies. Here it’s an accompaniment to an assured debut. For such a young whisky, there’s enough to keep you engaged and motivated to follow their journey. I bet this will taste even better on Skye, whether outdoors in the wilderness or all snug in a bothy; hopefully we can put that to the test soon.
¹ It’s not very good at all, another botched Ardbeg, so don’t chase this one.