What's The Story, Tobermory?

Taste Review #54 – Tobermory 10

The latest review crosses over to the island of Mull. It’s been a while since I’ve done a west coast island that isn’t Islay, and seeing as there is only one distillery on Mull, it is an easy one to cross off the list.

I have a small confession, and this is one that shouldn’t affect things too much. Actually it’s two confessions, but still that shouldn’t matter. Getting the first confession out of the way, Tobermory is a distillery that I have absolutely no experience of at all, but for me that is not a bad thing as my Scotty’s Drams project was all about getting into things I wouldn’t normally drink. I’ll come to the other confession in a wee while.


Tobermory pier and Main Street

What did excite me about this review more than anything else was this was one of the easiest titles to come up with. I do try to make it a little bit witty or to reference something else, or even be a bit risque, though for some reason I had the Oasis song ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory?’ in my head for this entry. However, those of us with young kids should remember the Children’s BBC programme ‘Balamory’ which was based around a fictional island community set in Tobermory. The catchphrase was “What’s the story in Balamory?”. I didn’t want people to think that was my favourite watching. I still prefer Danger Mouse, The Magic Roundabout and Rhubarb and Custard. Damn! I’m showing my age…..

So what is the story in Tobermory? Well, it’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, having been founded in 1798, a date proudly proclaimed on it’s bottle and on the side of the distillery. It was formerly known as Ledaig (pronounced as LetchAIG) and was formally licenced in 1823. It went through a couple of other owners before coming into the hands of Distillers Company Ltd, a fore-runner of Diageo, who closed the distillery in 1930 due to the fall out from prohibition in the USA. The distillery was silent for another 42 years until reopening under the Ledaig Distillery (Tobermory) name in 1972. However, production had to be halted by May 1975, as storage space had run out at the distillery due to delays in a bonded warehouse being built. This eventually caused the loss of 14 jobs, and the distillery went into receivership.

However, all was not lost, and the distillery did reopen in 1979 (which is the year one of my favourite ever songs was released – Are Friends Electric?) but this time under the name of Tobermory Distillers Ltd. This sadly did not last long, and after three years the distillery fell silent again. Some of the bonded warehouses were sold off for conversion into apartments and other storage uses, which made it look as though the days of Tobermory having a distillery where probably slipping away. The early to mid 1980’s were a dark time for Scottish distilleries, and many other more notable sites closed, especially if they were too small or limited in space to modernise, or had higher costs.

Of course, we all know this story has a happy ending, and the distillery opened in 1989, and by the 1993 it was taken over by current owner Burn Stewart, who themselves got taken over in 2013 by the South African company Distell, who also own the Bunnahabhain distillery on Islay and the Deanston distillery in the Highland region.


The Distillery at Tobermory

This isn’t a big distillery, and in 2017 it closed for two years for upgrading, but the capacity of the distillery was not altered, and remains at 1,000,000 litres a year. That isn’t a lot, especially when you consider that the distillery also produces two runs – There is the unpeated whisky which is marketed as Tobermory, and the heavily peated whisky known as Ledaig, which is peated to around 30-40ppm. This leads me to my second confession – for a long time, I was under the impression that Ledaig was a separate distillery. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago I realised, even though I’d been collecting whisky on and off since 2006. Well, there you go. Drinking Famous Grouse isn’t my only shame!

It seems going by the distillery web page that there are only currently 4 core bottlings, and the 10 year old that I have to taste for you today seems to have been discontinued. however this has been replaced by a 12 year old. There is also a 42 year old bottling, and on for Ledaig there is a 10 year old and an 18 year old available.

Anyway, writing all this info before I have a sip has given me a mouth as dry as Mother Theresa’s sandals, so let’s move onto the process of getting some whisky down my neck. My wee dram has been airing while I typed this up, so should be fully ready for a tasting.


The bottle

Region

Highland

Age

10 Years Old

Strength

46.3%

Colour

Light gold

Nose

Quite a fruity hit at first with a very active green apple there, followed by malty notes and some creamy vanilla and caramel. Light oak.

Palate

Quite assertive but not overpowering in the arrival. Noted a slight astringency in the development, but all very polite and pleasurable. Fruity, in that there are apples and pears there, perhaps stewed as there is a bit of sweet leading to bitter in the development. The astringency fades and a nutty gingerbread appears, and the start of a maritime note. This is drying on the mouth which leads onto the finish

Finish

Medium to long finish. Very pleasant. I got quite a bit of salt in the start of the finish, with the continuing gingerbread spiciness. Perhaps a bit of star anise as well. Right at the end, a chocolate note develops.


The poured dram

Conclusion

This wouldn’t normally be a go to malt for me, which is a shame, as this was really pleasurable, and I liked the notes I got from this whisky. The main points in my round up would be the fruity aroma, the gingerbread spice which has quite a constant spicy feeling in the mouth, though in a really nice way. It is important to know that I sampled this dram neat, and with being 46.3%, it didn’t seem to be. It was just right and well balanced between spirit and cask. Best news is that I found another sample in my hoard.

I don’t know where this whisky matures, but the maritime notes are there, and although not that strong to begin with, build up quite nicely, but don’t become overpowering. The one thing that concerns me is after I made my notes up for the taste test, I had a look at other notes to see how mine compared. I was surprised to see that people were recording a peat and smoke there. I never got that at all, especially because this is supposed to be an unpeated whisky. However, I wonder if they are experiencing something left over from the production schedule of Ledaig?

I can’t tell you how much this sample cost me, as I bought it at Inverness airport, but I don’t think it was much above £6. However a full bottle will set you back around £50. This in my opinion is a bit much for a 10 year old whisky, but given the enjoyment I got, not unreasonable. However it is discontinued so price may rise. If price is not a concern, then it is a good malt, and scores 4/4 on our ABCD scale – Age statement, Bottling strength of 46.3%, No Chill Filtering, and although it doesn’t mention on the bottle or box that it is not coloured, a bit of research on sites selling it in Germany reveal it is not coloured. This must be a Burn Stewart thing, as the Deanston bottles are similar. Not being subjected to artificial colourings is something that should be shouted out.

If you want something a bit more available and cheaper, I would suggest the Old Pulteney 12, but this has a stronger maritime note.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

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Photo credits

Tobermory Main Street – Tom Parnell. Shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Licence

Tobermory Distillery – De Facto – Shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 Licence

All Other Photos – Author’s Own