Tobermory: The expressive island distillery
A vibrant gem nestled among the beauty of the Hebrides, the town of Tobermory has become a haven for creativity. We recall a trip to the town’s namesake distillery – which produces its eponymous single malt, plus Ledaig – and revel in the expressiveness.
Picture a traditional whisky distillery and you’ll conjure up something strikingly similar to Tobermory. Its white-washed walls and cottage vibes speak of a long and storied history – and rightly so; it dates back to 1798, a badge it proudly wears for all to see on those alabaster-hued walls.
Tobermory is a small town on the Isle of Mull, its distillery the only spirits producer on the island. It’s a little tricky to get to: a ferry hop from Oban on Scotland’s west coast, followed by a drive along what often feels like a perilous single-track road. In fact, traversing parts of the island feels like an exhilarating expedition. From dense forests to towering rock faces (beware falling boulders as you drive underneath), and even sweeping, sandy beaches, Mull feels like a whole world in one island.
And with such a striking landscape, it’s perhaps no wonder that Tobermory is home to a colony of artists as well as its distillery. The town has a population of around 1,000, and it’s a peaceful place. The perfect habitat for creativity. At the centre, and in clear view of the distillery, is the harbour. Small fishing boats bob in the sheltered bay as they would have done for centuries, splashes of colour on the sapphire water. Just back from the harbour walls are the vivid houses, each one a different hue. Stacked like Lego bricks between the sea and the hills that surround the town, the cheerful buildings house studios, craft stores, galleries. It’s a place that welcomes creativity, imagination, and expression. The little town’s artistic flair is evident in the whisky, too.
Tobermory essentially makes two styles: Tobermory, the lighter, fruitier, unpeated Tobermory, and the robust, pronounced, unapologetic Ledaig, which features in January’s Pour & Sip box. Peated to 30-40ppm, Ledaig is packed with not only rubbery, smoky phenols, but a mouth-filling jamminess with earthy undertones, too. It speaks to the wildness of island life, the drama of the landscape, how the island isn’t afraid to tell its own story.
Tobermory Distillery unveiled a new look for its brand in early 2019, a move that saw it align even more closely with the community of creatives on the island. It took on a splashy watercolour feel, mirroring the vibrancy of the harbour, and appointed an artist-in-residence. Gray’s School of Art graduate Catherine Ross moved in, and through her painting (which, in her own words, ‘explores the crossover between the “idyllic” and “authentic”’) brought a whole new aesthetic to the spirits maker.
The art-forward philosophy remains, informed by the island and its inhabitants, and the characterfulness of the whisky itself. And the approach is compelling. You can’t help but be inspired by a trip to, or even a taste of, Tobermory.
Until next time,