Saturday, 9 April 2011

Whisky on Eilean a' Cheo

Always good to get in a distillery or two during the spring break. And its always good to get to the Isle of Skye. Unlike the much smaller Islay, Skye only has 'two' whiskies though only one has its distillery on the island and only one has its offices based there.

Talisker is of course the only distillery and makes up the 'island' element of Diageo's Classic Malt collection. Talisker must be one of the remotest distilleries in Scotland due to the sheer size of Skye and the lack of regular and reliable public transport. The new Abhainn Dearg on Lewis is certainly as remote in geographical terms - tucked away as it is in far flung but beautiful Uig - but Comhairle nan Eilean Siar at least seem to run fairly regular buses to all corners of Lewis and Harris.

Back to Talisker though and despite having my 'Classic Malts' passport thingy handy, I really don't fancy another sanitised Diageo tour. Especially one that is reputedly less than generous when it comes to tasting the product. Glenkinchie is to be praised for giving the interested whisky student a chance to sample more than one malt from Diageo's vast range. Talisker though, like the disappointing Dalwhinnie, can only muster a thimbleful of its standard malt. For this reason, I phone ahead to book a place on their 'Connoisseurs Tour' which gives you an indepth tour and tasting of five malts from the Talisker stable. This only seems to happen once a week outside the summer season so I satisfy myself with a visit to the shop. Fortunately the local lass behind the counter is very welcoming and allows me to taste the 25yo which as expected is mellow but complex and generally lip smacking. The £150 price tag is beyond my budget though I settled for the equally excellent 57 North. This is far superior to the Talisker Distiller's Edition but is also cheaper and bottled at a higher "special" strength of... 57%.

As our but 'n ben is situated in Sleat peninsula, we stop of for photo ops at the stunning Eilean Iarmain, home of the Pràban na Linne or the 'Gaelic Whiskies' as its marketed to tourists. This is the whisky company set up by the late Gaelic enthusiast and merchant banker Iain Noble. This is the only whisky with its head office based in the Skye Gaidhealtachd though the whisky itself is something of a mystery to me. They bottle the blends Tè Bheag and Mac na Mara as well as the single malt Poit Dhubh at various ages. Free tastings are available on demand here in their office tucked behind the Hotel Eilean Iarmain and Pràban bar.

Pràban announced some years ago that they intended to build a new distillery in Sleat near the township of Torabhaig which would also give its name to the new malt. Plans were drawn up to utilise an old farm steading not far from the historic Caisteal a' Chamais and planning permission sought. However, this was more than five years ago and to my knowledge nothing more has happened. Iain Noble himself died recently and one hopes that whoever succeeds him at the wheel of Pràban na Linne or his Fearann Eilean Iarmain estate persists with this. A distillery on Sleat would no doubt provide further stimulus to this rural community which has already been revived by Noble's principle legacy here, the Sabhal Mor Ostaig Gaelic-medium college.

Torabhaig, Sleat