I love new distilleries, and today I'm happy!


I'm going to tell you about the one lost in the Inner Hebrides on the small and discreet island of Raasay.


Here is the adventure (still unfortunately virtual) that allowed me to taste the distillate of the island's distillery: ISLE OF RAASAY SINGLE MALT BATCH 1.





On the Isle of Skye, just after a previous tasting in the new distillery of Torabhaig (see here the tasting), I heard about another young distillery in the area, further north.


So here I am, on board BRAD PEAT, heading towards the centre-east of the island to take the ferry to Sconser. On the spot, you have to be blind not to see the mountains of the island where I have to go: RAASAY.



A quick boat ride across a small inlet and I'm there.


On the way, the ferry passes a man swimming across the strait. On board, a young brunette woman calls out "go James, go"! Approaching her, I ask her about this strange character splashing around in these certainly not tropical waters! She explains me that he took the challenge to cross the strait to go and have a drink at the RAASAY distillery ! This distillate must be worth it, I do well to go there.


So I tell her that this is precisely my destination, and she tells me: "my name is Eilean Green, and I'm the marketing manager of the distillery". A happy coincidence. She said she would accompany me! Let's hope that my faithful BRAD PEAT is up to the task as it is not used to transporting young women !


                                                          Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


We disembarked on the small volcanic island of barely 200 souls, wedged between the mainland and the Isle of Skye, after barely 25 minutes by boat.


BRAD PEAT did a good job and we quickly got there. The distillery is only 5 minutes south of the landing stage.


Here we are a little before the only village of the island, Inverarish, in front of a Victorian house inserted between several modern buildings: Borodale House. There, I immediately realize that BRAD PEAT is going to have a friend in his car park. I park next to an orange combi in the colour of the distillery (I remind you that mine is blue!). Ahh the combis!


                                                                        Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery

Eilean then explains to me that the building, which has a superb view over the bay and the Isle of Sky, is not only a distillery but also houses a restaurant and even a hotel (awarded at the 2019 Scottish Hotel Awards).


This is the "advantage" that new distilleries have, they don't have to find a way to integrate a visitor centre (now unavoidable) in the existing one, they build the distillery around the visitor centre (and more like here). 


                                                                                     Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


Next to this beautiful building mixing modern and Victorian, in front of the warehouse, I see barrels, but I am especially attracted by the two-coloured barrels recognisable throughout the world: it's all about Bordeaux wines here!


Eilean tells me that she's going to show me around the facilities, but more importantly that I'm in the right place because the team is preparing a rather special virtual tasting: a mysterious NA SIA (which is due to take place soon and about which I'll come back)! I like to fall at the right time!


The visit allows me to see the gleaming installations and the two big stills in full heat! 


Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


These two copper giants have a great view on the sea (I am sure that, as for Caol Ila, this must have an influence on the distillate) ! Let's imagine that this promises the same future for the distillery as the one of its Islay sister distillery!


In any case, if I don't really know if the sea view from the operating room is important, one thing is certain: the ageing of the casks in an island warehouse has a real impact on the taste of the whisky. It is in this direction that we are now heading to discover the famous NA SIA.  


                                                                                                                                              Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


When I arrived, I met Alasdair Day (founder of the distillery with his colleague Bill Dobbie). He is preparing samples of different colours. I also see several casks and I find some of my two-coloured casks seen in front of the distillery! He will certainly be able to explain me what is going on.


Indeed, here he is, explaining to me the genesis of the RAASAY island whisky, which has been distilling since the end of 2017 (the year it was nevertheless knighted and inaugurated by the eminent Dave Broom). The stated aim was to create a distillate resembling what was made in the Hebrides in the mid-19th century when distilling on the island was more of a smuggling operation (namely a lightly peated whisky rich in dark fruit flavours).


Alasdair explains to me that after a lot of research, mixing water from the Tobar na Ba Baine spring ("the pale cow's milk" filtered by volcanic rocks), barley from the "mainland", peat from the Highlands, a long fermentation and different casks, they managed to find the perfect recipe.


For the Raasay Island distillery, this recipe is based on a right mix of peated whisky (announced at 48 to 52 PPM) and unpeated whisky passed through 6 American (Chinkapin oak and ex-Rye whiskey) and French (Bordeaux red wine) casks more or less muddled (tested! -NDLR-). Here we call this recipe NA SIA (THE SIX).  


                                                                                                     Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


Alasdair explains to me that this is what the famous virtual tasting will be based on (and indeed the one I'm going to have today): tasting the 6 distillates separately to better appreciate each of their contributions before tasting the final product, the ISLE OF RAASAY SINGLE MALT BATCH 1. What a great programme.


So what about the effect of this famous recipe?




Alasdair begins by telling me about the only new casks in the selection: the Chinkapin oak cask from the northern United States. He says that this type of cask was chosen to be new but well charred for the colour it brings to the distillate but also for the dark fruit notes it transmits to the distillate.


So what about it?


Both distillates, unpeated and peated, have been aged in North American oak barrels, and both have a very pronounced amber colour (one of the objectives of this ageing).


As for the unpeated distillate, it is here in its raw version and has remained in the cask for 32 months.


On the nose we detect caramel and white pepper on the first pass. On the second pass it is more sweet fruit jam and red fruit. Finally, on a third pass, it detects vanilla and a sweet cake but with a slight smell of beer and a return of pepper and ginger.


In the palm of the hand the red fruits come out and mask the taste of the barley.


In the mouth it is the power and the red fruits that come first. The pepper is very present and remains throughout the tasting. We finally detect honeyed notes that warm up the whole atmosphere.


The finish will be long on liquorice and peppercorns which come back alternately.


In its peaty version, it has been left in the cask for 2 more months.


On the nose the contribution of the peat is well marked on this distillate. On the first pass it is the fresh and fragrant heather that is present through a smell of smoked bacon. On the second pass it brings out beautiful raspberry notes. The spices remain present but masked by the smell of smoke. On a third pass we detect citrus notes.


Overall, on the nose, the peaty distillate brings a touch of freshness.


In the mouth, the alcohol is more present and is accompanied by freshness. The peppery notes are much more present than on the nose. A little later, the peat arrives and paradoxically warms up the atmosphere. At the end, we can detect a more marked woody tension than in the unpeated version.


The finish is long and will carry lemony notes.


The empty glass contains marked peppery notes.




He then tells me about the American ex Rye cask (rye whiskey). Coming from the WOODFORD RESERVE distillery, it gives spicy and caramelised notes to the distillates it houses.


The two distillates, here in the raw cask version, have a golden colour much closer to that of a bourbon cask aged whisky. 


In its unpeated version it has been in casks for 33 months.


On the nose, the first pass reveals notes of red fruits, sultanas and pepper. On the second pass it gives off a certain freshness and a hint of banana.


In the palm of the hand, hints of smoke.


When it enters the mouth it shows a real power with marked notes of vanilla and caramel. One can then detect a woody hint which will then lead to orange notes.


The finish is long and also has aniseed and especially peppery notes.


The empty glass remains on peppery notes.


In its peated version, it has remained in the casks for 37 months and its nose is clearly much more turned towards lemony aromas. The peat is less present on the first pass but remains well in the background throughout the olfactory journey. The second passage shows a woody character and even brings out aromas of clove.


On the palate, it seems much sweeter than the other distillates. However, it masks its game as within seconds it transforms into ginger power, then honey and finally toasted bacon.


The finish is well carried on lemon and peaty notes.


The peat smoke smells seem to have been partly absorbed by the Rye cask and comes out especially on the finish.


The empty glass is full of white pepper.




He finishes with the one I know best (cocorico), the famous bicolour cask (which says bicolour means made of two different types of oak -NDLR-) having contained red wine from Bordeaux.


He tells me that these barrels come from the left bank of the Garonne river of the Château Calon-Ségur and that they have previously contained Saint-Estèphe grapes (red wine). They would bring more spicy flavours.


It is this distillate that will remain the longest in the casks (39 months for the non-peated version and 36 months for the peated version). This ageing process gives it a slightly coppery colour with even a hint of pink.



In the unpeated version, the nose will detect the strong presence of grapes and notes of red fruits. The casks seem to give it a hint of smoke. On a second pass we detect notes of raspberry.


In the mouth it is dense and thick. Honeyed from the start, it shows peppery notes. It then reveals red fruit jam while still warm. One detects the harshness of the wine barrels.


The long finish is on woody notes.


The empty glass brings out marked phenolic notes.


In its peaty version, the nose is not obvious. On the first pass, the smell of ripe raspberries is exacerbated. On the second pass, the peppery notes are attenuated in favour of camphor notes. It is only in the third passage that the smell of peat is more marked. It seems even fresher than on the Chinkapin virgin distillate.


In the palm of the hand the rubbery peat is there.


On the palate, we detect a taste of raspberry. Then comes the harshness and tannins of the wine barrel, before leaving on a warmth and mellowness of honey and the tension of spices. There is a hint of grilled bacon, but it is mainly a velvety sensation that comes through.


The finish is long and leaves a lemony note on the palate and the taste of fresh, mentholated smoke.


The empty glass will leave more room for the smell of barley and the smell of a cold pipe.


                                                                                                                                        Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


When you have tasted each of the distillates separately, you can start to get an idea of the final result (combining the 6 distillates in magical and mysterious proportions). It will be slightly peaty (the equivalent of 20 and 25 PPM - PPM being measured during the drying of the barley this final measurement is of course approximate and linked to the proportion of peated whiskies in the recipe -NDLR-), will be sweet with a tendency to red fruits and caramel and spicy.


When is it really?


Once I've tasted the 6 different ages, Alasdair turns to the rectangular bottle decorated with a fossil and serves me a glass of the famous first distillate born from the precious recipe.


It's time to taste it.




The colour of the distillate shows that it is a blend of the 6 casks as it will be darker golden than the rye cask but will keep some amber reflections from the two other ageings


When it enters the glass the nose will first detect notes of red fruits (raspberries) and black fruits (blackberries and bilberries). It reveals a hint of peat and already the spices detected in the 6 ageings.


The alcohol is well controlled.


At the second passage the spices are more marked and the smoke is still present.


It is only in the third pass that caramel and rye aromas make their appearance.


In the palm of your hand, there is no mistaking it, this whisky is peaty and well peated. There is a smell of rubber and cold smoke.



It has a very sweet (almost too sweet) entry. However, this is only a lure, as the strength of the alcohol and spices then come in and sting the tongue.


The taste is fresh and rather lemony. The palate then fills up with smoke for a few moments before giving way to the sugar of the red fruits and on its sides the hint of harshness that is recognisable when aged in wine casks. At the end we find the taste of a ripe Chasselas.


The finish is paradoxically shorter than that of each of the 6 casks (which were Cask strength and had a much higher alcohol content). It nevertheless leaves a slightly peaty and aniseed flavour in the throat. 


                                                                          Crédit : Ile Of Raasay distillery


The recipe of this first distillate hides well its youth and shows already a great mastery. One can imagine that with a good mastery of the different ageing processes, some nice discoveries could come out of this Inner Hebrides distillery.  Moreover, considering the quality of each of the "intermediate" distillates encountered here, one can imagine that they alone could be the subject of a full batch.


It is with all these ideas in mind that I have to leave this beautiful island to go on new tasting adventures.