A Taste for Distilleries – Isle of Skye
What is Scotland most famous for? Could it be Haggis? Or the melodic and ever so tuneful bagpipes? Or the swinging kilt? Or perhaps the iconic cow that puts a smile on all faces? All these would be legitimate answers, indeed it is hard pushed to imagine a world where these delights do not exist.
Scotland has graced the world with many a groundbreaking invention: many thanks to John Logie Baird for the TV; Alexander Fleming for penicillin; George Cleghorn for that marvelous and more-ish chilled delight, the G&T; Alexander Graham Bell for the telephone; and of course, John Davie who in 1992 changed the world as we know it, questioning all that we thought we knew about cuisine, by battering and deep frying a Mars bar.
Whilst these are all admirable contributions, and some might go as far as to say contributions that changed the course of history and shaped our world to be the modern, forward thinking and radically pioneering society we are today, there is still one that eclipses all others. That we can survive without it goes against the grain of the Scots – a lifeblood of peated, smokey, burning liquid that has the capacity to render even the most hardy of Scot’s (perhaps the Porridge Oats hunk) unconscious. Indeed, so fantastic is this iconic nip that it has become, if not the most famous, then certainly the most popular Scottish export. Yes, the liquid sunshine itself: Whisky.
So synonymous are whisky and Scotland that one cannot exist without the other: whilst Scotland provides all that is necessary to make whisky – the peat, the barely, the highland springs, the aged casks, the whisky courageously aids the Scots through the dark months – no one could survive the highland winter chill without a hot toddy! And we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years with the first evidence of whisky production in Scotland documented in 1494. And it’s been a joyous, somewhat hazy, ride ever since. From whisky to gin, beer to cider – us Scots love a tipple. So settle down, grab a glass and follow our whisky trail as we highlight some of Scotland’s alcohol excellence in some of its most iconic locations. We will present these over a couple of blogs, focusing on different areas in Scotland.
Skye is the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, and is truly a magical place. Home to some of Scotland’s most iconic landscapes, from dramatic mountain ranges to miles of striking coastline, the island cannot help but enchant you. With some of the most majestic geological features in Scotland, such as the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing and the Cuillin, Skye’s fantastic scenery will stay with you long after you leave. As will its captivating history, shaped by the people that have lived there for thousands of years. Just as the island has shaped its people so too have people shaped the island, formed by tumultuous human events, from Viking raiders and Jacobite rebels to the clearances of the 1800’s.
Today, Skye is a vibrant island, with a rich heritage and culture that is worth exploring. As well as sampling the island whisky, or perhaps and island beer, or maybe even an island gin?
Located some 20 miles from the island capital of Portree, the original and oldest working distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker Distillery sits proudly on the shores of Loch Harport in the village of Carbost, with phenomenal views of the Cuillin mountains. Founded in 1830 by Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, it was built in 1831 at Carbost when they acquired the lease of Talisker House. The distillery was rebuilt 1880–87 and extended in 1900, with the annual payment for the lease being £23.12s and a ten-gallon cask of best-quality Talisker! Over the last few decades, the Talisker brand has expanded into an increasing international market, and is now one of the most popular single malt brands in the UK. A visit to the distillery allows you to be up close and personal to the whisky making process, which hasn’t changed much over the last 500 years. See the 5 copper pot stills, then follow to the warehouse to see the casks where the Angel’s Share is lost to evaporation during maturation. Finish with a taste of the Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky to round of a great trip in a fantastic location. In the shadow of the Cuillins, Talisker’s whisky has been referred to as ‘the lava of the Cuillins,’ quite apt for this strong peaty mighty single malt.
But where to stay? Well we have a couple of ideas. Located on southern Skye you can find the former croft house Rum View, a beautifully renovated property for two in Tarskavaig. Built in the 1830’s as a family home Rum View has now been restored to a very high standard throughout, complete with exposed beams and traditional stonework. The stunning contrast between old and new is created through the installation of the contemporary mezzanine kitchen and the modern furniture throughout the property, ideal for couples seeking the perfect romantic and remote getaway.
For a larger party, try Cnoc An Theine, a bright and spacious cottage with sea views from most of its charming rooms. Sleeping 6, each bedroom has been tastefully decorated, and the decked area at the front of the cottage is perfect for enjoying the long warm evenings, enjoying the spectacular views across to Morar, the Ardnamurchan peninsula and the Small Isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna.
The Distillery at Torabhaig is the second ever licenced Single Malt Scotch Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye, and a very new distillery. Located at the old farmstead at Torabhaig, the site had all the factors needed to make good, traditional island whisky, with the Allt Breacach burn feeding the purest island spring water, whilst set in an incredible natural setting. After a meticulous 4-year restoration and build, the 200 year old rugged building has been transformed into The Distillery at Torabhaig, fully restored with copper stills and traditional wooden wash-backs, and suitable to produce whisky here for the next two hundred years. Since January 2017, Torabhaig has been a fully operational Single Malt Scotch Whisky distillery. With the whisky making still in its infancy, it will hopefully be available in 2021 – it takes time to make the perfect whisky!
An exciting project and a labour of love, the best way to really understand the scale of this initiative is to take a guided tour of the distillery. Taking you behind the scenes into the heart of the production area you will get close to the action, giving you a unique insight into life in a working Hebridean Island distillery. Learn the tricks of the trade and gain a wealth of local knowledge and historical lore from the guides, and experience all stages of the whisky making process from grain to spirit. End with a tutored whisky tasting to celebrate the labour of love, and perhaps a cake and coffee at the cafe. And be sure to book prior to turning up to make sure you are not disappointed as all tours are limited to a maximum of 8 people, to ensure comfort and safety.
For a truly memorable stay for a party of up to 12 people, try Uiginish Lodge. Sitting at the end of a single track road on the North West coast of Skye and beyond are long walks along the shoreline, cliff tops and beaches, Uiginish Lodge is where there is nothing but the sound of birdsong and the sea. This beautiful 18th Century house has been stylishly refurbished to create a wonderfully spacious, light holiday house over three floors. Outside there is a fully enclosed garden and easy access to the shoreline, perfect for a chilly dip!
For a smaller party of 8, try The Old Manse at Glendale, an idyllic hamlet in the far Northwest of Skye. The Old Manse itself is a wonderful building – newly renovated to a very high standard, it provides you with beautiful quality holiday accommodation, with brand new, stylish and beautiful furniture throughout the house. The rooms are spacious and bright, with a particular large kitchen/dining room that stretches the full length of the house making for perfect social meal times.
Isle of Raasay Distillery
The only way to reach the Isle of Raasay, a remote Hebridean island with just 160 residents, is aboard a Calmac ferry from the Isle of Skye sailing 25 minutes of scenic blue waters off the coast. Once there, you must take a visit to the first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay, whose vision is to “create the finest Hebridean single malt Scotch whisky and a unique whisky destination with arguably the best view from any distillery in Scotland.” And the views are spectacular, and when 2020 comes around we can taste the whisky! Take the distillery tour that not only is really informative about the distillery but also about the history of the island itself. Enjoy learning about what it takes to start a distillery – from regenerating an iconic island building to harvesting the first Raasay barley for a generation. And whilst you stroll past the imposing copper stills, make sure you take in the incredible view across to Skye – perhaps it is the best from any Scottish distillery! It must be an exciting prospect, to be handcrafting the first Isle of Raasay single malt in Scotch whisky history.
Located at the north west of Skye, Taobh an Uillt is a house that ideally suits the surrounding dramatic landscape. The floor to pinnacle windows allows for breathtaking views of the glen, and built with a family in mind, the open plan downstairs has become the heart and focal point of this stunning holiday home. Sleeping 9 in four bedrooms this is perfect for a group for family whatever the time of year, whatever the weather. This house provides the perfect setting to enjoy Skye and all it has to offer.
For a smaller party, try the delightful Sealladh Beinn Edra, situated near the magical Fairy Glen. The cottage is ideal for a small family, for one couple or four adults if two don’t mind a low ceiling! This compact little cottage is fantastically well equipped for holidaymakers, from the bright galley kitchen to the cosy sitting room, the perfect place to snuggle up in the evenings and watch a film.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky is inseparably linked to its place of origin, perhaps more so than any other product, with the water, the land, the climate, all playing a role in the character of the whisky. The subtle differences and variety of these elements are what makes each whisky different from the next. So go and see how its done, and the next time you have a nip you can truly appreciate the craftsmanship, heritage and passion that goes in to every bottle.