Covering approximately 78,000sqkm, Scotland has some 10,000km of coastline, in addition to nearly 800 islands around the perimeter of its mainland. Somewhat counterintuitively, those islands situated in the warmer waters of the North Atlantic Gulf Stream actually enjoy a more moderate climate than much of mainland Scotland. Such favourable conditions to grow crops, mature nectars and not least dodge HM’s taxmen are of course not overlooked by ambitious distillers.
In scotch terms, all these islands except Islay belong to the Highland region. According to the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009, there are but five single malt regions, namely Campbeltown, Highland, Islay, Lowland and Speyside. Island is curiously and conspicuously not on the list, as it is not so much an official region as it is a subregion of Highland. Island may possess only seven distilleries, but all without exception are characterful and formidable. So stylistically diverse are the Island single malts that they do not seem to hail from the same region, but for the maritime influence and salinity they generally embody with varying degrees of peat and smoke, although never as protruding as those from Islay.
Island is proportionally the most dynamic single malt (sub)region in Scotland, with two out of its seven distilleries established within the past quarter of a century, namely Arran (est. 1995) and Abhainn Dearg (est. 2008), while more are in the pipeline. By the time it attains a critical mass of ten or more distilleries, Island should become a distinct region unto itself, so as to differentiate its distilleries from those in coastal Highland. In a nutshell, Island is a jewel box of treasures.
The Isle of Mull is said to be the prettiest of the Inner Hebrides, an archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland. There is but a single distillery on the Hebridean island, named after the eponymous fishing village – Tobermory. The name probably derived from Gaelic tobar mhoire, meaning “the well of Mary”, referring to the well and chapel of St. Mary in the vicinity. When the distillery was founded in 1798, it was known as Ledaig, meaning “safe haven” in Gaelic, as the bay nearby is one of the safest anchorages in the entire Hebrides.
A clear majority of Scottish distilleries was established after the Excise Act of 1823, which legalised the production of whisky, but Ledaig / Tobermory is one of few exceptions. Three years prior to its establishment, the British government banned distilling across the country so as to conserve food during the War of the First Coalition, and it was during the War of the Second Coalition that the distillery was founded. It has since been closed and reopened several times.
Unlike Irish distilleries, which often produce several brands within the same premises, Scottish distilleries generally adopt “one distillery, one brand” model. Ledaig / Tobermory, however, is a distillery with two brands: the peated Ledaig and unpeated Tobermory.
Translucent citrine with shimmering golden reflex, the enchanting offers mirabelle, white pepper, toasted barley, acacia honey and salted butter. With a clear mouthfeel, the invigorating palate delivers Hami melon, turmeric, gingerbread, fleur de sel and wood smoke. Un-chillfiltered and medium-full bodied at 46.3%, the fleshy entry persists through a lively mid-palate, leading to a piquant finish.
Translucent citrine with flickering golden reflex, the fragrant nose presents dried orange, cardamom, rye bread, tarry ropes and peat. With a robust mouthfeel, the vibrant palate supplies salted lemon, celery seeds, buttered toast, kippers and iodine. Un-chillfiltered and medium-full bodied at 46.3%, the potent palate continues through a pungent mid-palate, leading to a structured finish.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages