Tobermory consists of unpeated expressions named after the distillery’s picturesque hometown. Meanwhile, Ledaig is a characteristically Hebridean peated malt range.
For many years after its foundation by John Sinclair in 1798, the distillery operated solely under the Ledaig name, which means “Safe Haven” in Gaelic. Its this guide, you’ll see why as you discover the distillery’s history as well as the brand today.
Tobermory has experienced many challenges during its long history. However, it has never compromised on its dedication to tradition nor their passion for producing rich expressions.
In this guide, you’ll learn about Tobermory and the influences that have shaped it into what it is today over the course of the centuries. We’ve broken the guide down into the following topics:
You can use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
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Where Is The Tobermory Distillery?
The distillery is named after its hometown, Tobermory, the Northern capital of the Isle of Mull, which is the second largest Inner Hebride on Scotland’s West Coast.
Accessible only by sea, the easiest way to the island is from Oban where a 45-minute ferry trip will take you to Craignure on Mull’s Eastern coast. From there, a further 45 minutes by car is required on a narrow single-lane country road along the island’s coast.
Alternatively, ferries of available from Lochaline that arrive at Fishnish. Although Lochaline is arguably harder to access on the mainland, Fishnish is much closer to Tobermory.
Upon arrival, the Tobermory distillery is tucked away just as you enter the idyllic fishing village across from a small harbour. Furthermore, there’s a bus terminal just across the road, which can take you back to Craignure.
Get Google Maps directions to the Tobermory Distillery if you’re looking to travel there now!
In 1788, the now picturesque coastal village of Tobermory was founded by the British Fisheries Society. Located on the North-East tip of the Isle of Mull, the village prospered as a village port.
Today, it is recognisable thanks to the colourful facades often featured in television including the children’s show, Balamory.
An Illicit Distillery
Only decade after the village’s establishment, a local kep merchant, John Sinclair, applied to lease 57 acres of land to build a distillery. However, a whisky ban had been in effect since 1795 in order to preserve grain while Britain warred with France.
Instead, Sinclair was only granted permission to build a brewery. Nevertheless, Sinclair decided to build it anyway just a year later. Additionally, he built a pier at the same time, which is known as “Sinclair’s Quay”.
The place on which the distillery was built was called Ledaig (deceptively pronounced “le-chick”), which means “Safe Haven” in Gaelic. This is likely due to the natural basin that nestles the harbour and fishing village.
The buildings seen today are those built by Sinclair yet they weren’t licensed until 1823. In 1890, John Hopkins & Co acquired the distillery but was then sold to Distillers Company in 1916.
A Four-Decade Hiatus
Just over a century later, the distillery was barely surviving. Due to a number of factors including Prohibition and the Great Depression, whisky demand crashed. As such, the distillery closed it doors and ceased production.
During this troubled period, the distillery’s infrastructure was used as a canteen and power station. It wasn’t until 1971 that the distillery reopened under the name of Ledaig (Tobermory) Ltd. However, it soon experienced its hardships of its own.
A joint venture between a Liverpool shipping company and Sherry producer Pedro Domecq, the duo was unusual to say the least.
Production had to cease in May 1975 due to a shortage of storage space. To make matters worse, the new warehouse construction suffered delays, which forced the distillery to dismiss over a dozen employees.
By 1978, the distillery had been purchased by the Kirkleavington Property Company after going into receivership.
Production wouldn’t resume until 1979. However, in order to make ends meet, the distillery was obliged to sell its warehouses, which were converted into flats. Its doors closed once again and wouldn’t be reopened until 1989.
Distinguishing Tobermory & Ledaig
In 1991, the distillery was bought by Burn Stewart Distillers for a total of £800,000 including stock. Burn Stewart itself was bought by CL Financial in 2002. However, it was acquired in 2013 by the South African corporation, Distell Group Limited, which are the distillery’s current owners.
Nevertheless, Tobermory operates directly under Burn Stewart, which itself is a subsidiary of Distell. Until Burn Stewart bought the distillery, there was a lot of confusion regarding the seemingly interchangeable distillery names.
Originally, the distillery’s single expressions were labelled as Ledaig. However, “Tobermory” was often used from the 1970s and usually for the blends. Since Burn Stewart’s acquisition, the names have been compartmentalised as expression ranges.
Whilst Tobermory whiskies are unpeated single malts, Ledaig consist of profound peat profiles.
Renovations & Renaissance
Since Distell’s acquisition, the distillery has once again begun to prosper. Appreciating the distillery’s importance and realising its potential, Distell are currently undertaking extensive renovation’s on its facilities.
Although the visitor centre remains open for tours, production has ceased since 2017 in order to allow for the refurbishments. At the time of writing this article, two of the four copper stills have been replaced. However, the other two will also be replaced in mid-2019.
Meanwhile, the four Oregan pine washbacks currently suffer from severe leaks. As such, they are expected to be replaced in late 2018.
Changing out distillery apparatus is no easy feat. In order to remove old stills and install new ones, the entire roof must be removed and the exchange undertaken with a crane!
Tobermory Distillery Installation & Processes
Although production has temporarily ceased to allow for renovations, Bespoke Unit visited the distillery in 2018 to learn about Tobermory’s own process. Read on discover how Tobermory’s distillation methods render their whisky both exceptional and unique:
The Tobermory distillery continues to source all its water from the Gearr a’Bkimm lochan. The water from this small lake is soft, very pure and naturally peated. Thanks to its low mineral content, it helps create a refined whisky.
Being a relatively small distillery, Tobermory carefully sources its malts externally. The unpeated malt used for their Tobermory expressions comes from Greencore. Meanwhile, their peated malt with a phenol value of 35 ppm is sourced from the Diageo Port Ellen Maltings facility on Islay.
Tobermory continues to use a cast iron rake-and-plough mash tun that is covered by a copper canopy. Fives tonnes of grist are used per mash with each flush consisting of 27,000 litres of water and increasing temperatures.
The final flush consists of recycled wort in order to obtain any lingering sugars and flavours in the leftover grist.
Rather than dispose of the remaining grist, Tobermory uses it to supply to island’s cattle with feed. One of their clients is the prize-winning Isle of Mull cheese and its said that the feed greatly contributes to the milk’s resulting flavour.
Although Tobermory’s Oregan pine washbacks are currently out of service, their replacements are expected to be of similar design. These deep washbacks feature no switchers and are used to ferment the wort between 50 and 100 hours.
Like the washbacks, Tobermory’s stills are currently inactive due to renovations. However, their two brand new boil-ball spirit stills have already been installed and provide a 14,500-litre charge between them.
As for the wash stills, these were installed in 1972 and will be replaced by 2019. They consist of two boil-ball wash stills of a similar design but offer a charge of 18,000 litres.
All four stills are indirect steam fired and use shell-and tube condensers. A very steeply inclined lyne arm ensures a heavy reflux for a particularly pure whisky. The result is a 68% ABV new make spirit.
In order to provide a rich variety of flavours, Tobermory use a selection of different casks while the filling strength is reduced to 63.5%. As well as first-fill and refill bourbon, there are ex-sherry Oloroso, Manzanilla, and Amontillado Hogsheads as well as virgin oak casks.
As the distillery no longer has the luxury of a warehouse, only a small number of casks are matured on-site and under the influence of an Atlantic breeze. Instead, the majority is aged at the Deanston Distillery in the Highlands.
Much of Tobermory’s whisky has historically been used for blends. Today it can be found in well-known blends such as Scottish Leader and Black Bottle. Whilst the distillery is capable of producing up to 1 million litres of pure alcohol a year, it tends to only produce around 650 million litres instead.
Since Burn Stewart’s takeover, Tobermory’s expression ranges were restructured to make them much easier to distinguish. In short, Tobermory and Ledaig are the names used for their unpeated and peated expression ranges respectively.
The Tobermory distillery is quite dynamic with frequent releases of limited edition runs. However, below we’ll explore some of its more consistent expressions:
- Tobermory 10
- Ledaig 10
- Ledaig 18
- Tobermory 14 Portpipe Finish
- Ledaig 20 Moscatel Finish
- Tobermory 21 Manzanilla Cask Finish
Following its 10-year maturation process in ex-bourbon casks, Tobermory’s signature expression is unpeated with only a phenol value of 3 ppm. A unique spirit of the Hebrides, its lemony gold hue has a nose that’s herbaceous with notes of ginger and oak.
As with their Tobermory expression, the Ledaig 10 is the range’s standard-bearer. A smoky single malt, the Ledaig 10 is the product of a decade’s maturation in oak casks following the processes detailed above.
A surprisingly light-bodied expression, this bright zesty gold spirit offers a nose that is medicinal and smoky with hints of brine. As for the palate, its sweet and mildly spicy but mostly flaunts the medicinal and smoky character of Ledaig’s profile.
As a characteristically Hebridean single malt, the 18 Year Old showcases rich and smokey flavours cast over a brine foundation. With its copper gold hue, the 18 exudes a fruity smoked nose with notes of spice.
With regards to the palate, there are rich sherry and tobacco aromas with a herbal smokiness that is reminiscent of lichen-laced Hebridean peat. A long salty finish reveals liquorice and sea breeze notes.
Tobermory 14 Portpipe Finish
As a Distillery Exclusive, you’ll need to pilgrimage you way to the Isle of Mull in order to experience the 14 Year Old Port Pipe. During the last five years of their maturation, the spirit had been racked into imposing port pipe casks.
The port-infused wood marries with the unpeated single malt in order to produce a rich and sweet palate. The result is a deep amber gold expression with an initimidating 57.8% ABV.
Ledaig 20 Moscatel Finish
Like the Portpipe Finish, the 20 Year Old Mosctal Finish is a distillery exclusive. Moscatel is an increasingly rare sherry grape that’s limited to the town of Chipiona. With its pronounced notes of fruit, it adds a rich character to Ledaig’s smoky personality.
First matured in whisky re-fill casks, the 20 year old spirit is racked into Moscatel casks for three years. With a caramel gold hue, the resulting flavours consist of a sweetened oak and grape profile with a long smokey finish.
Tobermory 21 Manzanilla Cask Finish
Manzanilla is a variety of fino sherry that originates in the Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Spain. The use of Manzanilla casks to finish the 21 year old malt sweetens the flavour profile and adds a spicy complexity.
An amber gold expression, tasters can expect a citrus yet gourmand palate with a long and dry spicy finish.
Learn More About Tobermory
Often described as the jewel in the island’s crown, Tobermory is the only distillery on the otherwise large Isle of Mull. Not only does it render this whisky special but also a highly-valued heritage site.
With Tobermory being a popular tourist destination, the distillery is one of the highlights that mustn’t be missed.
As for their expressions, they offer a unique perspective on Hebride whisky with nearby islands such as Islay in the south. However, you can detect the influence of mainland whisky with Oban being just a 45-minute ferry trip away.
If you want to learn more about the distillery, Tobermory’s official site offers a plethora of information regarding their history and expressions. You can even use this to reserve a tour in advance, which we’d recommend during the peak holiday season.
Otherwise, you can use the links below to see more of our quality whisky content:
- Learn about the best glassware for serving Scotch whisky.
- Learn about other whisky distilleries and brands that we feature.
- Finally, head to our whisky homepage to see all content that we offer.
Isle of Mull, Scotland PA75 6NR
"The jewel in Mull's crown. The Isle of Mull's distillery offers unique expressions from its relatively small and cosy distillery."Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★