Last Thursday 18th June, Raasay hosted another live & interactive online tasting which introduced nearly 40 peeps to the component parts that will go into making Raasay’s inaugural single malt release in November – so a pre-de-construction if you will. With plans to do further [virtual] deconstructions when the whisky is released, Raasay’s ‘While We Wait’ steps in as a carefully constructed example of the whisky profile & style Raasay is aiming for.
Since the foundation of R&B Distillers in 2014, Alistair Day has been aiming to make one of the iconic malts in Scotland, asking for a distillery to be built around a whisky style that would work at 5 years and 15 years of age. After discussions about what they were looking for, a disused hotel came up for sale on the Raasay, an island which had all the provenance and facilities required. A recent SAS TV show portrays a particularly bleak view of Raasay with the distillery brushed out [as well as the radiators in rooms where celebrities/contestants were staying], but this, clearly, is not an accurate portrayal.
Back in 2015/2016, Raasay was given a lead-time of 3 years by Forsyths who were busy with Macallan’s new distillery order at the time, so instead, they [Raasay] went with Frilli stills [seen at Glen Moray: WLP], with a waiting time of only 6 months.
Alasdair Day [descendant of Richard Day SW] came from a blenders background, “so that gives you some indication as to where we are going“, he says. Raasay’s While We Wait single malt is from an undisclosed distillery “but has a profile that we are looking to achieve in the future“. That profile [currently] is a lightly peated malt with dark fruit flavours, spending 5 years in 1st fill bourbon and 2 years in ex-Tuscan red wine casks. Alasdair says Raasay’s inaugural release will be very similar to the While We Wait.
- N: This is some lovely juice that talks of pureed apple and pear fruits dipped in beer [stout], with the most delicious perfectly-sweetened fruity boozy crumble. Very soft [15-20ppm] farmy barley, the raisins also very mild [yet profound] in relation to the cask samples, but it’s the relaxed fruit skin [and barley] tannin creamy/mushed waxy notes that stand out here.
- T: Oh that’s delicious and moreish [apple] succulent > dry, like a tea-dunked juicy [Digestive] biscuit = Kitkat wafer base [without the chocolate] with a very moreish [again] waxy > relaxed new-make lactose [Philidelphia] consolidated malty fruitiness. Seems like it will be short at first, but it rallies.
- F: We are talking nicely refill-aged naturally vibrant [apple-y] wort~wash-esque succulent fudgy/chocolatey malt.
- C: [Far more impressive than when I tried this before], it will be some achievement if Raasay can produce this calibre with their inaugural release. Either way, Raasay should be commended as an independent bottler at the very least.
Scores 86 points
All of Raasay’s output is going to single malt. There are [currently] no plans for any of their spirit to go into their Tweeddale blend. Aside from growing the barley, everything is done on Raasay, from mashing and maturing to bottling.
The majority of the barley – standard high-yielding Concerto or Lauriat – comes from the usual North East Scottish hotspots. The grain is peated using Highland peat. Raasay has experimented with five trial varieties of barley all grown within the arctic circle. The experiments have worked and we hope to enjoy the fruits of that labour in the future.
Raasay’s stainless steel washbacks have jackets [one of 3 distilleries to have this, apparently], to aid long [5-7 day] fermentations, particularly for their unpeated spirit. The jackets keep the fermentation going longer and allow the build-up of fusile oils as well as a lactose build-up on top of the fruity character with a light peatiness.
“Generally, the steeper the lyne arm the heavier the spirit“, says Alastair.
SW says: ‘Cooling jackets on the wash still lyne arm and an inclined lyne arm on the spirit still, will promote result in a clean, fruity character‘.
With a cooling jacket on the wash still for their peated new make, Raasay achieves more viscose/fusile oils. We are told this spirit is noticeably more silver in colour when it enters the spirit safe.
Maturation is where things get really interesting. Using peated and unpeated spirit, Raasay is deploying three different types of oak, to be used in conjunction for future official releases. Red wine casks provide the top notes, so will be used sparingly. The rye forms the base will therefore reflect the largest ratio of the mix. The Chinkapin virgin oak forms the body/heart and will be used moderately.
- Red wine – top notes [least]
- Chinkapin – middle/body
- Rye – base/structure [majority]
Some of their whisky will be bottled at 3yo, 4yo, 5yo… etc with around 50% left for future, older bottlings. Until Raasay can bottle an official 10yo [another seven years away], Raasay’s whisky releases will be NAS expressions.
It’s time to try Raasay’s peated and unpeated maturing spirit, currently aged between 25-29 months.
Jura released a Chinkapin-finished whisky as did Teeling and also Glenmorangie, in a 1993 vintage for example. The whisky industry has been talking about finishing for years, says Alastair. Now it’s about, where do you start, not how you finish whisky. “It’s all about balance,” he says. He cautiously [and respectfully] mentions the strive for ‘elegance’ a number of times, much like how cognac and armagnac distillers speak.
Raasay is looking for deeper complex colours early on without cask domination, and Chinkapin provides this. Chinkapin is found in the same growth areas as QA though there’s less of it. Known as the ‘sweet oak’ because of its edible acorns, Chinkapin has more mellow flavours, more fruit flavours, and fewer vanilla notes than Quercus Alba. A high char & toast promotes even more sweetness. Simply put, with its natural sweetness, Raasay’s new make works well with Chinkapin oak.
- N: Let’s start with the dry shandy & cake confectionary sweets-sweetness with mild lactose and mild huskiness. It’s alluringly mild overall in fact. The next day, it’s more about leathery-ish raisins, albeit hessian-husky and more sweetly resinous.
- T: Reminds me of nutty sweet shandy whilst only hinting at cider brandy or even Strathearn’s early young Serbian oak spirit samples [WLP]. More bitter-sweet with water, we’ve a fairly short closed travel,..
- F: ,.. though it rallies with a raisin-y bourbon-like-sweetness. Pleasing clean [only slightly butyric] barley-spirit finish, the candy < varnished fruitiness always nearby.
- C: Being a tad more characterful than the Ex-Woodford matured samples, this will form the middle part of the Raasay recipe.
Raasay Ex-Bordeaux Red Wine Unpeated 26 months  Ob. 61% [5cl] WB0
These casks have contained three red wine vintages, the last of which was in 2017. These casks impart very colourful top-note flavours that could dominate, so will be used sparingly in the mix.
- N: You may be forgiven in thinking of a port and/or a sherry cask influence if you didn’t know, which means more raisins for the Raasay profile. With an enthusiastic ‘bouncy’ rubbery greeting at first, the red fruits and red candy string follow on straight after. Add subtle descriptors of soft leather and moleskin and you’ve one colourful nose for sure.
- T: Peppery rubbery > gacky/gummy [jelly babies] fruity > funky > lactose into copper,…. with a [desirable] interesting/characterful/watchable curvy journey. Then, very chatty boiled-sweet beer, the mash certainly coming through beautifully. Biscuity on the turn with a controlled coppery raisiny butyricness.
- F: With little-to-no vanillins – Raasay’s remit – sweet husky-woody-dry clean cask > spirity > fruity raisin-y coppery barley concludes.
- C: An exciting top-noter that’s a tasty spirit in its own right.
If pushed, I might think to give this 80[+] points, but I’m not scoring today.
Raasay Ex-Woodford Reserve Rye Unpeated 25 months  Ob. 61% [5cl] WB0
- N: Similar to the Chinkapin nose in some respects, with sooo much sultana-sweet fruity creamy chocolate coming through, it’s unreal! Otherwise, it’s a straight-shooter, the wood utterly nondominant yet supportive. I cannot not think of Mannochmore > Inchgower here.
- T: It is a tad peppery, as Alistair says, but let it settle and it’s something akin to a young Mannachmore, in terms of its structural solidity. As a result, I like this a lot. The next day, like the Chinkapin, the raisins have flourished and now we’ve something close to a very boozy raisiny spotted-dick trifle, liquidised and incorporated into a concentrated cocktail, finished with one drop of Angostura Bitters.
- F: It’s a straight, no-messing spirit that will give structure to the Raasay ‘blend’, and make up the biggest ratio. Resinous husky toffee > butterscotch at the death, the cask has started to dig its nails in already.
- C: As a firm-yet-neutral profile, you can easily understand how/why this will be used in abundance in the final Raasay recipe. It’s really impressive juice for 25 months but how will the spirit cope in those lively casks for another 25 months I wonder?
That’s Raasay’s unpeated maturing spirit. Now to the peated spirit samples that have been put into the same three styles of cask, and will make up a small proportion of the Raasay recipe in order to provide a light complimentary peatiness.
Given peated production can be messy and is often carried out by various distilleries before their annual or bi-annual maintenance closures, the Foz asks: ‘How do you decide to switch between peated and unpeated production?’ Answer: “it’s bled through,” says Alastair, taking about 3 casks-worth of spirit to run the peated or unpeated spirit through and out. Those subsequent intermediate-spirits casks are then set aside to be used for blending/balancing options.
15-20 ppm in the bottle is what they are aiming for, which is why they start with peated spirit at 48-52 ppm.
- N: It’s like I can smell those [chesnut-smoked] sweet Chinkapin acorns. Furthermore, we’ve a confident peppery & phenolic ‘sticky BBQ ribs’ nose with a fair touch of vegetal=oily=meatiness, yet it’s still [understandably] very spirity – and somewhat cask-y – but the cask influence with these peated samples appears more forgiving.
- T: [As the nose], it’s the same again with an oily-vegetal resinous barley-popcorn-butterscotch & new-woody slightly varnished dry-yet-succulent/juicy very tasty-sweet delivery indeed, with a light < easy smoked lactose middle [there’s that elegance again]. The spirit carries those phenolic notes that Raasay is after, the cask freshness certainly close but certainly subdued against the peated spirit.
- F: The chew continues as the cask and resins die down, though be in no doubt about the heat/intensity. We are eventually left with a soft-yet-sustained sweet-barley peated dry wash, and a [refreshingly pleasing] no-show for the expected vanillins – more elegance/balance!
- C: This is a great example of where Raasay is and where it may want to go, especially if they decide to produce a heavier [all-]peated number in the future. This is a spirit style that I can imagine Raasay’s distiller/blender can steer very easily.
Raasay Ex-Bordeaux Red Wine Peated 28 months  Ob. 61% [5cl] WB0
- N: It’s easy to spot the cask-imparted fruity likeness alongside the un-peated version, but now with a farminess and a < chalky < meaty charcoal grill and pine & ash wood outdoor bonfires [maybe with a palate thrown in for good measure], which comes from the charring & toasting as well as the peat I imagine. Later, it’s cowpats galore. This is the kind of whisky that you could bottle as a single cask or style in its own right. Next day, the lactose note is far far stronger and there’s a lime note too. We are talking smoky-ish double cream territory, the ethanol still in full-song after water is added.
- T: All sorts of heavy coppery foraged berries and their pollens, as well as woody cauterised singe-ings. A short journey right now, but I’ve a feeling this could inform a new Scottish whisky profile later on down the road.
- F: Very light smoked > woody > citrus > candy < wood-dry = oily savoury fruitiness. I find this very ‘classic’/Scottish with a lively-peppery oily citrus farmy barley finish.
- C: Such competent spirit. Alastair reiterates that this is just an example of where Raasay wants to go. Looking for ‘elegance’, he wants nothing too dominant or heavy. In 8-9 months time, this profile [we are told], should pass into spices, cloves, and deeper richer notes. Perhaps liquorice stick and even nutmeg will also join the flavour profile.
Scoreable [81/82 points]
Raasay’s 1-to-1 equipment setup consists of:
- 1-tonne mash
- 6 washbacks
- 5000 ltr wash still
- 3600 ltr spirit still
- Narrow cut-point on the un-peated spirit [wider cut for peated], but it’s still fairly small either way says Alastair.
- 20% of their spirit production goes into other [exerimental/small-batch] casks outside of the main recipe.
- Raasay is currently producing 200,000 lpa [at 100% abv] which equates to 650,000 bottles per year, we are told.
Raasay Ex-Woodford Reserve Rye Peated 29 months  Ob. 61% [5cl] WB0
- N: I agree with Alistair, the peat is [very] muted here. We have creamy/milky lightly-smoked/farmy Cox apples > pears, salad leaves, and > stone bass with a squeeze of grilled lime. This I likened to young Caol Ila, in function at least.
- T: This is tasty, juicy recognisably-established mildly-yet-definitively peated ‘foundation’ spirit.
- F: We move quickly into a short spirity, mineral > dry carbolic finish, more Ardmore-esque by the tail.
- C: Really impressive young peated spirit. Solid/robust, once again, but with longer-maturation promise. Mix both Ex-Woodford reserves together and you have a formidable lightly peated base.
This enlightening and informative tasting concludes with a video where Dave Broom summarises Raasay’s progressive potential. “This is really advanced whisky making, and it’s a completely new way of thinking about single malt in Scotland“, he says.
I’m looking forward to Raasay’s inaugural release and a subsequent deconstruction tasting, but please Raasay, include the new makes!
If I was going to invest in a new distillery for the long-term, Raasay would be on the hot-contenders list.