My trip to Tobermory showed me once again how few I have learned in over 40 distillery visits and 250 days on scottish soil about this country. Or how much I refused to learn ^^. The Tobermory Distillery lies in the small and colorful town of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. The closest affordable bnb I could find was in Ford (45 minutes from Oban) on the mainland. I had a tasting tour booked at 12 (I was wise enough to arrange that upfront) but got lost in a lovely chat at breakfast with a new friend from the US. Now and then the scottish relaxedness kicks in and I tend to enjoy my life a little too much. We had a private little whisky tasting the previous night and had connected very well (hope your book will be a huge success Felicity!). Long story short, I left too late to the ferry that I (very unwisely) hadn’t prebooked. So like always… I was late! My experiences with scottish ferries until this point where the casual „hop on and hop off“, so I was (a little too) relaxed about my travel. I got the very last last-second-ticket (like literally the ferry closed doors behind me and took off) and place with my car and luckily even the last place on a ferry back the same day. Which seemed to be a little miracle, since half of England and Scotland seemed to have chosen the same day for a visit despite the weather (the fog took on a brave battle with the heavy rain). Since I had called the distillery and was told to be there by 2 (or 3) I took the long route around the island since I had never been to Mull and wanted to see as much of the isle as possible. And it was worth it! The route on the west coast was breathtakingly beautiful (at least the part I could see through the fog and rain). After quite a drive that turned me once again in one of those mouthbreathing touristy drivers I arrived just about at 2 pm at Tobermory and was confronted with the run on the distillery. Lucky me just got the last place on one of the three o´clock tours. Pheew!
Tobermory is one of the few (nine in total) distilleries in Scotland that were founded before 1800 in 1798 to be precise. Although I personally never really very closely look at founders years but more on the recent history of a distillery (for example since when has there been a constant production of malt whisky) I have to give it some credit for that! But like many it was closed for quite some time with the biggest gaps from 1837 till 1878 and from 1930 till 1972. It was closed and opened again and again until Burn Stewart took over in 1993 and as far as I can recall the distillery has been in production ever since.
The visitor center was tiny. A very small shop with two doors and two even tinier rooms for a tasting and a dvd presentation. More then 10 people get that distillery in trouble. And they did. The fact that the visitor center does not have a toilet didn’t help. So off we went on the tour that to my disappointment did not allow any photography inside the distillery. I´m quite used to all that health and safety crap in most speyside distilleries by now and the surrounding highlands but I didn’t expect an island distillery to be like that. The islands are usually more relaxed and since Tobermory is owned by Burn Stewart (with Deanston and Bunnahabain) a company that I quite like and adore, I was surprised even more. Anyway. For the things we can change god gave us hands, for the things we can’t there’s whisky! So play along with the rules. The tour was the usual whisky production process. Very interesting for me was the still house (like always :D) since the stills are very curious shaped. They are quite high and thin and have an upward facing neck, so they must get quite a light spirit from that. Since Tobermory Distillery is build right in the corner of the town at the harbor they don’t have any space for warehouses. They saved the filling store (where the casks are filled) as well and so they have to drive all their new make down to Deanston Distillery near Stirling to fill the casks only to be driven and shipped over to the warehouses of the other sibling distillery Bunnahabain on the isle of Islay. Since the peated malt comes from the maltings Port Charlotte on Islay as well, Tobermory is not only a typical island whisky… In fact it is a well traveled hybrid islay malt! The tour ends in a small display warehouse where they mature some of their fancy casks. But that is most certainly not a regular one.
The standard bottlings of Tobermory are Tobermory 10, a non-peated very pleasant malt mainly matured in ex-bourbon casks with some maritime freshness, loads of fruity and vanilla flavors and a hint of salt. A fantastic malt-mariners approved every day drink.
The peated version is called Ledaig (meaning „safe haven“), spoken „laydshig“ or „ladshig“ named after the original name of the distillery from 1798. A very nice peated coastal malt with the same load of fruits and freshness and a good load of peatsmoke.
After my visit to Tobermory Distillery I made my way back to the ferry, still plenty of time on the clock I took another detour. And guess what. It got me in trouble again! Not only did the rain and fog a good job in keeping my foot off the gas pedal the road was again way longer and slower then I calculated. NEVER EVER trust a sat nav in Scotland, specially in the highlands or the islands. Even more specially when you have an important appointment… like a last ferry to catch. A single track road over the country side will most certainly take almost 1,5 the time you thought it would be. Specially when the highlands cows use the same road. It looks very cute on the picture but I felt a proper feeling of respect for these tons of fur and horn trotting past me on a road that had just about enough space for my car. Luckily I arrived just about in time at the ferry with all my windows still in place.
What an exciting day!
Tobermory Distillery seems to live off the tourist factor of the town, a bit like Oban. The distillery is quite limited in its experience since they simply do not have the site and buildings to expand the visitor center or the distillery itself. I feel like its a must see when you visit the island, that is a must see all by itself! Compared to other island distilleries (that set the high standard of tours in Scotland) this one offers an average experience. Still: I love their whiskies and therefore I recommend to visit the place and even more buy and drink their malts to secure the future of this cute piece of whisky heritage!
Facts (July 2016):
Owner: Burn Stewart (Distell)
Capacity: 1.000.000 lpa
Stills: 2 Wash Still, 2 Spirit Still
Adress: Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Argyllshire, PA75 6NR
Region: Highlands, Isle of Mull
To reach by: By ferry, by car, by bus
Ronde, Ingvar (2013): Malt Whisky Year Book 2014; Shropshire: MagDig Media Limited, Seite 191 f.