On a recent trip to London, I was perusing the shelves at The Whiskey Exchange in Covent Gardens. I asked one of the staff to recommend a bottle that was from a newer distillery, one that I might not be able to get back in the States, and one that they themselves liked. The immediate choice was this bottle of Torabhaig Allt Gleann, which has traveled with me all the way back to Texas for a full review.
The Isle of Skye is not your typical location for a Scottish whisky distillery. In fact, only the folks at Talisker have previously successfully opened and operated a distillery on the island. (Legally, at least.)
Sir Iain Noble was acutely aware of the lack of distilleries on the island. He founded a company called Pràban na Linne in 1976, which was an independent bottler and distributor of spirits located on the Isle of Skye. They followed in the time honored Scottish tradition of importing spirits from other facilities, blending them together, and releasing the end product under their own label.
Around the turn of the millennium, Sir Noble decided that the island was big enough for two distilleries and started putting plans in place to open a second distillery on his beloved home island. He found a 19th century stone mansion that was for sale near the coast and started the process to convert it into a distillery. The plans were approved in 2002, but unfortunately Sir Noble died in 2010 before he could realize his dreams.
Mossburn Distillers came along a few years later looking to open a distillery on the island and found Sir Noble’s original plans and decided to turn them into reality. Renovations started on the old mansion in 2014, following the same general design principles that Scottish distilleries would have followed 200 years ago. Nearly three years later, on January 31, 2017, the very first production run of spirits passed through the pair of massive copper stills that had been installed and were sent into oak barrels for maturation.
Torabhaig is owned and operated by Mossburn Distillers, which in turn is owned by Marussia Beverages, founded by Swedish billionaire Frederick Paulsen, Jr.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
This is a brand new distillery that only started operation in earnest within the last decade, and today we are looking at their very first release: the Allt Gleann, named after one of the rivers that flows near the distillery and feeds its stills.
As a single malt scotch, this spirit starts with a shipment of 100% malted barley (a mixture of Concerto and Laureate) that comes pre-malted and ready for cooking. These grains would have been soaked in water and allowed to partially germinate before being slowly warmed over a peat fired oven to stop the process from continuing and eating up all the precious starch in the seed. These grains are then milled and cooked to allow the natural enzymes within the seeds to break down the starchy components into fermentable sugars.
Once sufficiently sugary, the mixture is next placed into traditional wooden vats where yeast is added to convert the sugary liquid into alcohol — specifically, Safspirit M-1 and Pinnacle MG+ strains of commercial cultured yeast. Wood is an interesting choice as it allows some of the yeast to remain behind after each fermentation, providing a natural local source for unique strains and colonies to develop that will over time augment the flavor profiles even with the continued use of commercial industrial yeast.
The mildly alcoholic liquid is then distilled twice in the traditional Scottish manner through a pair of twin copper pot stills, selectively capturing the flavorful components the distillers want and concentrating the alcohol content each time.
Following distillation, the spirit is placed into a combination of previously used American bourbon barrels that either are “first fill” (meaning that they are being re-used for the first time) or re-used from other Scottish distilleries. After waiting for at least three years, the resulting spirit is blended together to create the bottle we see here today.
At first glance, this looks like any other scotch whisky bottle, following the same design concepts and general shape — but there are some distinct differences that give this classic look a modern upgrade.
The bottle is shaped as you’d expect, but with some added contouring. The body isn’t completely cylindrical but instead has four flat-er sides to it that make it feel like a soft rectangle. It’s still round, but distinctly faceted. At the shoulder, there’s a sharply angled transition to the medium length neck with a distinct bulge and a more traditional shape than the rest of the package. The bottle is topped off with a wood and cork stopper.
In terms of the labeling, I feel like this is a good compromise. The distillery is brand new and so naturally there’s some buyer education that has to happen, and the labels here are designed to allow for some space for text without completely obscuring the contents of the bottle. It almost feels like a bulletin board the way the labels are laid out. I’m not blown away by the design work here, but I have to give them some serious points for not following the traditional “slap a huge label on it” approach.
Scottish spirits tend to mature much more slowly than in other parts of the world, and newer distilleries are much more likely to want to put out a younger expression of their spirits and start making money before they can really get some color on their liquid. The folks at Kilchoman have taken a similar approach and the results have been delicious. All of which explains why this “no age statement” whisky, that cannot possibly be any older than six years, looks as pale as light straw in the glass — almost a weak gold instead of a richer caramel or rust that we might be more used to seeing.
There’s also a more delicate and balanced aroma coming out of the glass. It’s less powerful and forceful than examples from nearby distillery Talisker (and definitely nowhere near the Islay contingent). It comes off as more floral and delicate but still supported by a foundation of rich and delicious peat smoke. I also get some notes of honey, floral blossoms, fresh baked bread, light vanilla, crisp apple, and pear accompanied by some slight salinity or minerality.
That peat smoke is immediately present as soon as you take a sip. It isn’t as overwhelming as it is with something like Lagavulin, but it is oversized compared to the other elements in the glass. The flavor is oily and viscous, coating your entire mouth and almost becoming slightly acerbic before correcting back onto the straight and narrow as the other flavors come into view. After a beat, some vanilla starts to join the party alongside what might best be described as fresh baked scones with a drizzle of honey on top. That adds some sweetness, a bit of florality to the flavor, and on the finish the peat smoke and some brown sugar mingles for a moderately long aftertaste.
I feel like this is an instance where a bit of ice actually makes the spirit better.
My biggest concern was toning down that peaty tidal wave that comes as soon as you take a sip. With the added ice, the peaty flavors are much more pleasant and better incorporated into the overall profile of the spirit. In fact, rather than overwhelming my taste buds, the peat smoke is just a single component of a larger painting that unfolds.
Up front, that peat smoke combines with some crisp apple, pear, and vanilla to make something that is light, crisp, and delicious, with the addition of some cocoa nibs or dark chocolate flavors that have now appeared. The vanilla components eventually add themselves to the mix as the flavor develops, and on the finish the honey covered scones finally make an appearance. It’s a much more enjoyable and complex experience.
I want to start out by giving this distillery some much due credit. They are a brand new operation, releasing a distributed bottle of spirits for the very first time, made during a period of unprecedented turmoil and global crises. It’s a tough spot to be in. And for a first release, I think this is a pretty good offering.
It feels like this distillery is trying to take a page out of the Talisker playbook and produce something that is peated, but not to the insane level that Islay spirits tend to be. Something more tempered with a focus on the floral and fruity aspects of Scottish spirits. In that sense, I think they are on the right track… but there is some work that still needs to be done.
The peat flavor is unbalanced and overpowered when taken neat, at least initially. I think that’s something that might be fixed with a little more time in the barrel, allowing those flavors to mellow out and better combine for a more consistently delicious flavor profile. It certainly isn’t terrible as-is, and there are plenty of delicious flavors that come in later to make it still worthwhile, but it’s something that can be improved.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what this distillery has to offer as they continue to perfect their craft.
|Torabhaig Allt Gleann
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $63.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
An initial blast of peat that eventually turns into a delicious whiskey distilled at a brand new facility on the Isle of Skye.