Raasay, a breathtaking 24-square mile island between the Isle of Skye and the mainland of Scotland with a population of 161 people, has launched its first distillery. The mission of the Isle of Raasay Distillery 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.”
The island, which dates back to the sixth century Gaelic Kingdom of Dalriada, returned to the Kingdom of Scotland in 1266. The birthplace of Sorley Maclean, a renowned Gaelic poet born in 1911, Raasay is a tight-knit community, featuring a hotel, three bed and breakfasts, two shops and a primary school.
In 2020, the Isle of Raasay Distillery will debut the first Isle of Raasay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, which will be made made in small batches from the mineral water drawn from an ancient Celtic well. Using a combination of American oak casks, high rye bourbon casks and wine casks, the Raasay whisky will offer a modern twist on the classic single malt scotch.
The distillery currently hosts whisky tasting tours, featuring complementary drams of Raasay While We Wait single malt, a 46% abv, natural colour, non-chill filtered spirit finished in French oak Tuscan wine casks. The single malt has been elaborated to tide enthusiasts over until the signature scotch is launched after the mandatory three years of maturation. Visitors can access the island by ferry.
Samuel Johnson, the English, who visited Raasay in 1773, wrote “A man of the Hebrides… as soon as he appears in the morning, swallows a glass of whisky, yet they are not a drunken race, at least I never was present at much intemperance; but no man is so abstemious as to refuse the morning dram, which they call a shalk.”
The distillery is the work of entrepreneur Bill Dobbie and writer Iain Hector Ross, who hoped to create “something physical and in Scotland, a product that would have a legacy.” With the help of Alasdair Day, a food industry expert, Dobbie and Hector purchased an old hotel on Raasay, which they overhauled with the help of local architect Olli Blair.
Visitors to the island who choose to stay overnight can stay at Borodale House, a recently restored Victorian villa, housed within the distillery. Designed by Blair and noted interior designer Anne Hunter, the hotel features six luxury en-suite bedrooms with double or queen-sized beds. Three of the rooms face the spectacular Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye, while the other three provide views of the distillery’s production yard. On the island, visitors can explore historic sites, such as the majestic Dun Caan mountain, Brochel Castle and Calum’s Road.
So far the distillery has been a success and a boon for Raasay’s local economy. The owners expect the summer to attract a new crop of visitors. According to Hector, “In June we begin our summer season of whisky tastings on Skye beginning with the regular Tuesday session at the Cuillin Hills Hotel, in Portree. We’ll all be taking turns at going out and about with our promotional material and introducing folk to the distinctive taste of Raasay so look out for us on the Skye roads this summer in our distinctive Land Rover Defender.”