Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull has had a stormy history. Opened in 1798 as both a brewery and distillery (under the original name of Ledaig) the site has had quite a few periods of closure over the past 200 years, most recently in 1982 when several of its buildings were converted into holiday homes. In 1993 The distillery was bought for the seemingly low sum of £800,000 by Burn Stewart Distillers who began the process of turning it all around.
Originally, Ledaig and Tobermory malts contained both peated and unpeated spirit, but now there’s some brand delineation with Tobermory being unpeated and Ledaig taking all the smoky stuff. There’s only two permanent expressions in the Ledaig core range, a 10 and an 18 year old – though in recent years a range of largely well-received cask finishes have been produced. The distillery is currently closed until 2019 as a process of refurbishment take places (though the visitor centre is still open providing tours during this period) with the stills being replaced rather than any plans to increase overall capacity. Current owners Distell have assured fans of both Ledaig and Tobermory that enough current stocks exist to keep both core and special expressions available throughout this refurbishment period. But, like many whiskies there’s also a whole range of Indy expressions worth looking at in the meantime.
Independent stalwart Signatory have bottled Ledaig for several of their ranges, including their Un-Chillfiltered Collection. Looking on the Interwebs, there seems to be a particular sub-set of this range produced primarily for the French market: The Un-Chillfiltered Collection - Very Cloudy. There have been 51 releases of Very Cloudy since 2005 – these expressions, all bottled at 40% ABV have a description on them which reads thus: ‘Due to no chillfiltration, this whisky may turn cloudy when stored in a cool place. It is both more full bodied and full flavoured’. And you only have to look at the bottles to see this to be the case – they really are extremely cloudy, offering very little transparency though the oily liquid.
Today’s Ledaig is one such bottling – a 6 year old distilled in June of 2010 and bottled in April of 2017. It’s entirely bourbon barrel matured (from casks 700367, 700368 and 700369) bottled like all Very Cloudy expressions at 40% and was specially produced from La Maison Du Whisky. It looks a lot like scrumpy cider!
Nose: Immediately peaty – both pungent and also rather mineral. The smoke is quite medicinal containing aromas of iodine, hospital floors and surface cleaner. This is supported by tart fruits – lemons and grapefruit. There’s more than a hint of coastal air here – salt and chalky maritime cliffs. A bonfire on wet sandy beach.
Taste: Oily mouthfeel with both sharp citrus and sharp smoke – though now slightly less medicinal and rather more charred wood. The minerality comes though stronger now – wet slate, flints and granite. Juicy lemons and piercing grapefruit are tempted with some light sweetness from barley water and wild honey.
Finish: Shortish and presenting the last dying embers of that beach fire.
This young Ledaig is highly idiosyncratic, but the experience is all rather front loaded. The nose is truly evocative of a time and place, offering a well-defined maritime smoke. The palate is less successful, losing some of the delineation between flavour, but still maintaining its overall shape. The finish alas is all too brief and at that point has misplaced much of the distinguishing charm we started with. Nevertheless, this is fun stuff and exceedingly well priced – I picked it up (albeit in a niche wine store in deepest france) for around £30 and at that price, it’s frankly a steal.