The spirits industry has quite a few rules going to keep things in check. Champagne is only Champagne when made in Champagne. Mezcal is only Mezcal when produced in Mexico. Gin is only Gin if it contains Juniper. And to be a Scotch whisky, the spirit must mature in oak casks in Scotland for at least 3 years. Yeah, it's stricter than your crusty old headmaster, but rules are rules, after all. That's why the inaugural product of the Isle of Raasay Distillery won't drop until next year, but it's already causing a stir in the industry. We went to meet with founder Alasdair Day to get the low down on the journey of Isle of Rasaay and what is on the horizon for him and his distillery.
When Alasdair Day looked to the future of whisky, he had 2020 vision. Literally.
His family heritage lies in whisky (Obviously. He is a Scot.); his great-granddad was an early 19th-century blender, and in 2009, he inherited his cellar book with all of his whisky “recipes”. As he was already working in the food industry, he started up his own whisky business working evening and weekends. Sh*t got real in 2012 when he got his first export order and he had to decide whether whisky was just a passion project or if it could really be a business. He packed up his job and focussed on the whisky. Whisky is never just a passion project.
In 2014 Alasdair set up shop with his co-founder Bill Dobbie on the beautiful Hebridean Isle of Raasay. Never heard of it? Well, this stunning little island is just 25 minutes by ferry from the Isle of Skye. It's small but breathtaking. Think rolling hills, native forests, secluded beaches. There are 128 operating Scotch Whisky distilleries across Scotland, but this is the first (and only) legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay. The island is home to around 180 people, and the distillery employs 10% of them. Nice. The distilling began in 2017. But remember those rules? We're still a whole year away from being able to try this exciting new spirit, and it's tricky to tell you much about a product that doesn't officially exist yet, but whisky is one of those things that really lives up to the phrase "good things come to those who wait".
So we've only just entered the third trimester of this process, before Alasdair's baby finally arrives and we get to see what it's like. But BarChick isn't the most patient of gals, especially when she knows something epic is on the horizon. Luckily Alasdair is the same as us so he's crafted a single malt, aptly called Raasay While We Wait, which offers a tantalising taste of what’s to come from the Isle of Raasay Distillery. They've blended two expressions from one distillery; one peated, one unpeated. The whisky is then finished in French oak Tuscan wine casks from three vineyards that produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
We tried out the fourth expression of Raasay While We Wait which was launched to mark one year since production began at Raasay Distillery and to kick-start the two-year countdown to the first bottling of Raasay whisky. Thanks to its aging in the wine casks, it has a gentle sweetness of red berries, as well as notes of lemon, lime and grass. Leave it in the glass for a while and it evolves into notes of pear, tangerine and melon.
Like all good whiskies, Raasay While We Wait is bloody delicious on its own but also works well in cocktails – drink it how you want to but this particular dram lends itself well to inventive cocktails. Milroy’s The Vaults created a haggis-spiced Bobby Burns for a Burns Night celebration, and Andy Mil from Cocktail Trading Company headed up to Raasay to create cocktails for the Distillery's launch. It even works well in food; Thom Solberg at Black Rock paired drams of Raasay While We Wait with Raasay-peated soda bread and While We Wait butter. Get that in our face right now.
Even though we have to wait until 2020 to try this Isle of Raasay Whisky, Alasdair and his team have found a killer way to bring you a bit closer to it. Make the journey up to the Isle of Raasay yourself and check-in to one of their exclusive suites in their god-damn whisky hotel! That's right! It's a Victorian-era villa incorporated within The Distillery; beautifully restored into a luxury hotel, executive lounge AND visitor centre. Expect luxury amenities, comfort and arguably the best view from any distillery in Scotland over to the Isle of Skye. They often organise dinners at the distillery and like to incorporate whisky throughout the meal.
These guys are really only at the beginning of their trailblazing whisky journey so they still have a brand to build. They've set out to prove that it is possible to make excellent young Scotch Whisky and the proof will be in the tasting when their first Raasay Island single malt will be available in time for Christmas 2020. You can already pre-order yourself a bottle on their website so if you wanna get next year's Christmas gifts ticked off, these guys have your back.
Until then... you'll find us here. Waiting.