Scottish Drive-by 2021, Part 3/6: Raasay Distillery

Following on from Part 2,….. aside from the Tabasco, all our bottles have survived being left out overnight. Then again, who’s going to take them here on Raasay?

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In addition to the whisky, I had also managed to drink nearly a whole bottle of red the previous evening [whoops]. Hopefully, I’ve finally learned my lesson not to follow whisky with wine ever again. It was delicious mind, The Wine Society’s 2017 Sicilian [see pic right]. Highly recommended wine, as is the Society itself. 

As a result of my intemperance, I’ve missed breakfast and have a wicked hangover that lasts all day. After a late-ish start, we head for Calum’s Road.

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Born 1911, Calum MacLeod lived at the North end of Raasay. Armed only with a spade, a spade, and a wheelbarrow, he single-handedly prepared the foundations for a 1.75 mile stretch of road that connected his house to where the existing road stopped. Amazingly, Calum only started building the road in his late 60’s. “That’s how things went back then“, says a history professor who was reading a book about Calum, at Raasay Distillery at the time. “People just did things back then“, he says.

After Calum’s sudden death from a heart attack in 1988 [aged 77], the council finally tarmacked-off his build. Ironically enough, the road came in handy for the hearse that picked up his body. His wife remained the last surviving inhabitant at the north end of the island at that time. A fair number of inhabitants live there now and rely on Calum’s road daily.

On the way back to the distillery, we spot the signs of peat cutting. We find out later on that it’s been cut and used for the distillery’s 100% Raasay whisky.

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As a cask owner, Wayne & co. get the full backstage tour. In context of the ‘C-ituation’, we are granted rare access inside the distillery at this time. Our tour guide, Calum Gillies, spares us the usual tour spiel. We are off-script from the, er,.. off. We soon learn that nearly everyone on Raasay is called either Calum, Callum, Ross, or Rosie. Specifically, Raasay Distillery currently employs three Cal[l]um’s, two Ross’s and one Rosie.

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THE DISTILLERY

Like many modern distilleries, Raasay is laid out in step-sequence – mill to mash to wash to stills, all positioned in order of production. The less ‘romantic equipment’ [malt bins, heat exchangers etc,..] are situated underneath.

Would you check out that lyne arm [below] which looks like it’s already seen quite some evolution in its short life,…

,… and the Dr Who Tardis-esque spirit safe’s [below right] – one for the wash still and one for the spirit still. Fabulous!

As for capacity facts & figures, whiskyintelligence.com tells us:

  • Capacity: 188,000 LPA
  • Mash Tun: 1 Tonne
  • Washback Size: 6 x 5,000 L
  • Fermentation Time: up to 118 hours
  • Wash Still: 5,000 L
  • Spirit Still: 3,600 L
  • Maturation: All maturation takes place on the Isle of Raasay.

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With regards to part of the modern extension of the original building, what’s the [slightly random] Thailand temple-esque gold aesthetic all about, I ask?

The original idea was for a ‘red rust effect’ as in keeping with many old corrugated iron huts strewn about the island. Apparently, this idea was met with a resounding no. ‘Ok, er,… gold?’, was Raasay’s comeback. ‘Sure’, came the reply. So gold it is! The raised skylights are Raasay’s take on Doig’s traditional pagoda/ventilator.

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Leaving the distillery, we venture up the road to where warehouses #2 & #3 are located. Another is due to be completed in the new year.

Warehouse no. 2 is an all-palletised affair consisting of the ex-Woodford Reserve Rye, ex-Bordeaux [including other] red wine[s], and Chinkapin casks that cater for Raasay’s core range expression [further reading: WLP]. The dunnage warehouse next door is Raasay’s ‘experimentation centre’, if you will, and the one we spend the next few hours in.

First up we try:

Raasay Peated [2021] Un-Ob. Chinkapin cask sample #40 abv unknown

  • C: Pleasing corn syrup-sweet, peat & char-driven BBQ sauce notes on the nose, competent thereafter. No doubt we will see plenty more Chinkapin/Chinquapin cask matured whiskies from other distilleries in the near future, much like we’ve already seen with Glenallachie’s Virgin Oak Series release in 2020 [WLP], for example.

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Raasay Unpeated [2021] Un-Ob. Ex-Woodford Rye cask sample #234 abv unknown

  • C: Bubblegum sweetness with a slight lactose sour citrus profile. Straight ahead, likeable.

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Perhaps on another day we might have finished there, but we are clearly eager for more. Maybe we could try the Colombian cask, suggests Calum. We wholeheartedly agree and are honoured as perhaps only thirty people have tried this, explains Calum. The automatic doors close, [perhaps] due to nothing more than preventing the cold air getting in. In our minds, it’s a lock-in!

Raasay Peated 6 month old [2021] Un-Ob. Columbian cask sample #198 abv unknown

  • C: Remarkable! We are in Port Charlotte/Octomore-esque territory,….. all this and the extraordinary colour – like a mix of Port & Guinness – in just 6 months. In all the action and excitement, I initially miss the peat, putting it down to a heavy [alligator] char and my peated palate from the first sample. Add a little PX and/or transfer to a refill cask for 10 years, we ponder,… and boom!!

Raasay 2019/2021 Unpeated Un-Ob. Ex-red wine cask sample #429 abv unknown

  • C: With a quince jelly sweetness, a likeness to Hazelburn is never far away, and previous phenols [on my palate] further contributing to that likeness no doubt. Dry if not drying, you can see how this works with ease with the chinquapin and ex-rye casks. Though the Colombian oak cask is easily the standout of the tour, I like this one just as it is.

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As we merrily make our way out of the warehouse, Calum points out Raasay’s ‘100% Local Barley’ casks. Collecting just a tonne of Raasay barley a year, it’s enough to produce enough spirit to fill just three casks. Given the rarity, there is no chance we are going to try any today.

Talking of casks, the latest one’s are sporting Raasay’s latest logo design:

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With huge thanks to Calum for his passion, commitment and knowledge – also a photographer and artist who after working on the ferries, finds himself working at a distillery and building a home right next to Raasay’s two [soon to be three] warehouses [in addition to the original warehouse situated behind the distillery itself]. A very key member of the distillery team, it was Calum’s geological rock rubbings that inspired the mottled 3D-printed design that features on Raasay’s bottles.

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Wayne signs his cask with a message that begins with the line ‘Sleep sound,… ’. Talking of which, it’s time for Wayne & Morag to enjoy their complimentary £350-a-night hotel room whilst I enjoy a second night at the old mine [and no red wine].

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END

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