Tobermory (Pronounced: TO-ber-MORE-ee)
Highlands, Islands (Mull)
56°37'14.15"N, 6° 4'10.94"W
Talisker, Oban, Ben Nevis, Glenlochy
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
1,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Distell > Burn Stewart Distillers (since 2013)
Isle of Mull, PA75 6NR, Scotland, UK
Yes, under the names Tobermory and Ledaig
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2002 - Burn Stewart Distillers (who bought the Tobermory distillery in 1993) is acquired by CL Financial.
This venture capital firm is located in tax haven Trinidad & Tobago.
2007 - The old tun room is partially converted into an warehouse for the storage of casks of Ledaig.
The rest of the production is sent to Deanston for filling and then to Bunnahabhain for maturation.
2008 - The official range of Tobermory expressions is expanded with a 15yo OB, bottled at an ABV of 46,3%.
2013 - In March and April the isle of Mull had only one fifth of its normal rainfall. There have been hundreds of wildfires in the Highlands and Islands, and Mull was officially the driest place in the UK in March, with just 1.8 inches of rainfall. As a result, the water level in the loch that provides Tobermory with its water dropped to such an extent that production of Tobermory and Ledaig whisky had to be stopped temporarily. Meanwhile, Burn Stewart (owner of the Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory distilleries) was sold by CL Financial to Distell from South Africa.
Tobermory remained closed for four over decades, but in 1878 production
resumed again. In 1890 the distillery was obtained by John Hopkins & Co.
who were themselves bought in 1916 by DCL (Distillers Company Limited).
Unfortunately, Tobermory was closed again in 1930 and remained inactive
for more than four decades. Although distillation of whisky had ceased, the
buildings still fulfilled a function - they were used as a power station.
The Tobermory distillery
is the only distillery on the island of Mull, directly
North of Islay and the isle of Jura. It was founded in 1798 by John Sinclair
under the name 'Ledaig' (pronounced 'Let-chick'). Tobermory was one of a
small number of distilleries that was established before the Excise Act of
1823 that legalised the production of whisky, but it was closed in 1837.
A new company (a joint venture of a shipping company from Liverpool and Domecq sherry from
Spain) revived the distillery in 1972 with the name Ledaig Distillery Ltd. - the same name that
was used when the distillery was founded. This effectively means that up until this point the
distillery had been closed for nearly half of its life. And the restart in 1972 didn't break that bad
habit; the new owners filed for bankruptcy in 1975 and the distillery was closed again, this time
for three years. In 1978 the distillery was purchased by Kirkleavington Property Co in Yorkshire.
This company (an estate agent) formed a new company to run the distillery (Tobermory Distillers
Limited), rented out some of the buildings for cheese storage and converted others to flats.
After the take-over the distillery ran for only a few years; from 1982 to 1989 Tobermory was silent again. After production had resumed at the end of the 1980's the distillery was obtained by Burn Stewart Distillers who paid a friendly 600,000 GBP for the distillery itself and another 200,000 for the supplies of whisky.
The purchase of Tobermory / Ledaig
by Burn Stewart took place in 1993.
In 2002, almost a decade later, Burn
Stewart was acquired by a venture
capital company; CL Financial from
Trinidad & Tobago. Overall sales of
the Tobermory and Ledaig whiskies
is down, but the new owners did
inspire some great official bottlings.
These days the brand name 'Tobermory' is used for all their
unpeated malt whisky, while the (lightly) peated whisky is sold
as 'Ledaig'. The malt whisky produced on Mull is first shipped to
the Deanston distillery on the mainland for filling into casks and
then transported onwards to Bunnahabhain on Islay for ageing.
I wrote earlier that Tobermory / Ledaig was the only distillery on Mull, but I should have
been more precise; it was (as far as I know) the only LEGAL distillery on the island. In
fact, the first time when John Sinclair asked for permission to start a distillery on Mull
his request was turned down because there were already two stills in operation in the
area. The local dignitaries were willing to grant John permission for the construction of
a brewery, but he decided to apply again for permission the next year. This time his
request was granted. The competing distilleries (not entirely legal I presume) have
vanished in the mists of history, but Tobermory has managed to survive until today.
However, Tobermory / Ledaig has been inactive for large parts of its life.
The first time the distillery closed was in 1837, and it remained closed for well over
four decades before it was revived again in 1878. For a few decades the distillery
ran uninterrupted (but under different owners), until it was closed again in 1930.
During World War II Tobermory / Ledaig was used as a canteen for sailors who
were stationed at the naval base at Tobermory. The end of the war in 1945 did
not mean the distillery was re-opened though (which was the case with most of
the distilleries that were closed after 1940) - that didn't happen until 1972. Over
the last decades Tobermory / Ledaig regularly went in and out of production.
Confusion about the distillery wasn't helped by the fact that the whisky that is
produced there is sold under two different names (Tobermory and Ledaig) and
that the ABV (proof or alcohol percentage) has fluctuated quite a bit between
official bottlings. To make matters worse two very different types of whisky are
currently sold as 'Tobermory' official bottlings; a vatted malt whisky and a blend.
According to their website, the malt whisky, identified as 'Tobermory Malt Scotch
Whisky' is presented in a bottle with an enamelled label. It is a vatted malt that
contains some Tobermory whiskies of up to 20-years old and proportions of young
spirit from other distilleries. The latter has a conventional label and is described as
'Tobermory Blended Scotch Whisky'. If the information on the website (last checked
in 2009) is correct they currently don't bottle a whisky under the name 'Ledaig'
themselves (although independants bottlers do) and they currently don't bottle
a single malt whisky under the name 'Tobermory'.
1) The town of Tobermory was founded in 1788 and some of the people involved were the Stevenson brothers of Oban. A few years later they started whisky production in their own part of Scotland; they got the Oban distillery up and running a few years before the Tobermory distillery opened its doors. So, in the case of Tobermory the distillery was founded when the town already existed; the town of Oban grew around the distillery.
2) The current distillery buildings of Tobermory / Ledaig were erected during its first period of operation which continued until 1837.
3) According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook, 50% of the total production is Tobermory (unpeated) and 50% is Ledaig (lightly peated these days, more heavily peated a few decades ago).
4) During the early noughties the distillery released two lightly peated expressions of Ledaig; bottled at 42% ABV and without an age statement - 'Ledaig Original' at £18.95 per bottle and 'Ledaig Sherry' at £21.95 per bottle.
5) The name 'Ledaig' means 'safe haven' in Gaelic.
Ledaig 1998/2010 (61.8%, Malts of Scotland, Sherry Butt #800025, 256 Bts.)
Nose: Ah! Leather, organics and some cough syrup - very unusual for a Ledaig malt whisky. Then smoke.
Fantastic; an unusual amount of character for a twelve years old whisky. More going on than I can describe.
Even more complexity when I added a little water. Sorrel. Mint. Tea leaves. Lapsang Souchong tea. Tannins?
Taste: Farmy. Leather. Smoke. Surprisingly sippable at cask strength - but it stands water well too.
Score: 89 points - which makes it one of the top 3 Ledaig malts I've ever tasted.
Ledaig 2005/2010 (62.7%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Selected exclusively for Germany, c#900008)
Nose: Ashes and some overripe fruit. Pineapple? Wood. Quite some development, although the alcohol burns.
Taste: Wowee! At more than 60% this is indeed a sipping whisky. Big sweetness at C/S with a big burn.
Loads of smoke in the finish. More leather after I added some water. Tar. Quite some chewy tannins as well.
Score: 86 points - Although I can see how some would find this too extreme, I like it a lot. Silver medal!
Tobermory 10yo (46.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Leaning towards the oily and the farmy side of the spectrum. Some fruits evolve in the background.
Sour. Hints of chalk. Somehow this feels very rough and immature. Over time more fruits join the party.
Taste: Sweet and quite smooth, both in the start and the centre. Hint of smoke? Fairly dry, short finish.
Score: 61 points - I like it, but not very much. It's a single malt, but I'd prefer a decent blend like JW Black.
Ledaig 10yo (46.3%, OB, Peated, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Powerful and peaty with a fair dose of sweetness. Lots of phenols and some veggy notes. Young?
Taste: Quite peaty with some medium strength tannins in the finish. Dries out a lot in the plywood finish.
Score: 80 points - fairly simple, but not boring. The farmy notes suggest it's not a very old whisky.
Tobermory 15yo Oloroso Sherry Finish (46.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Heavily sherried with wood and pepper in the background. Plenty of nuances in the woody spectrum.
It grows sweeter. Fruity notes as well. After a few minutes some spices emerge as well. Nutmeg. Cardamom?
Taste: Quite potent. A sweet start, followed by a broad, fruity spectrum. Not particularly sweet though.
Score: 85 points - although I had it at 84 points for most of the time. In the end it jumps to silver.
Tobermory 15yo (46.3%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Crisp but fairly bland. A hint of smoke, but otherwise there's not much remarkable going on.
Apple; an old, sweet Golden Delicious. Some interesting fragrances emerge, but it remains very subtle.
Taste: Sweetish start, followed by a smokier centre. Malty. Smooth on the surface with a rough undercurrent.
Pretty good mouth feel, but very little sweetness in centre & finish. Menthol and pine in the finish.
Score: 78 points - it scores above average, but I wouldn't recommend it. I actually prefer Johnnie Walker Green.
Tobermory 13yo 1995/2009 (59.1%, The Clydesdale, cask ref 0281/1173, 273 Bts.)
Nose: Peculiar; much lighter than most OB's. Quite sweet. Straw. None of the fruits I found on the palate.
With water some gentle fruity notes emerge (water melon), which grow 'veggier' after a few seconds.
Taste: Loads of fruits - probably finished. Oddly enough, the nose isn't nearly as fruity. Marzipan. Harsh finish.
Starts off quite hot and really needs some water. With a splash of water the herbal traits start to dominate.
Score: 81 points - it is a good malt whisky, I imagine it works especially well on a hot summer evening.
This might even be one of those rare exceptions where a few ice cubes actually enhance the pleasure.
Tobermory 35yo 1972/2008 (49.4%, Whisky Doris, First fill dark sherry, 191 Bts.)
Nose: Wood, but balanced with fruit and some organics. Very special. Apple syrup.
Organics growing stronger. Very complex, although some elements remain quite subtle.
Taste: Sweet and peaty with loads of organics. Leathery. Serious, but with a playful undercurrent.
Perhaps just a tad weak. A surprising touch of liquorice and salmiak after fifteen minutes. Too woody.
Score: 89 points - This whisky came very close to winning a gold medal at the Malt Maniacs Awards 2008.
Tobermory 12yo 1995/2007 (56.9%, TSMOS, Sherry, C#482/828, D03/'95 B03/'07, 861 Bts.)
Nose: A tad flowery. Or rather rhubarby. Peanuts? Some rubber right after adding a few drops of water.
All in all, the nose remains quite restrained. In the nose I found very little of the menthol I thought I tasted.
Taste: Sweet and sour like rhubarb for a few seconds, dustier in the centre. Feels quite harsh, I'm afraid.
It seems notably sweeter after I had diluted it back to circa 48% ABV. Grows grittier towards the finish.
Score: 72 points - like many of its siblings, it's too much 'midlands' and not enough 'coastal' for me.
Tobermory 32yo 1972/2005 (49.5%, OB, 1710 Bottles, Brown/Purple Label)
Nose: Surprisingly peaty - peatier than the vast majority of Ledaigs I've tried. Leather.
Taste: Wow! Deep, tannic and smoky. For me, they got the balance just right here. Lovely!
Score: 90 points - the funny thing is that Alan pointed it out to me in the store before we went upstairs.
The pricetag of some 250 Euro's made me doubt it could be worth the money. Well, maybe it is after all.
I guess it all depends on your personal 'price ceiling'. It's a little too rich for my blood, but very special.
Tobermory 32yo 1972/2005 (49.7%, OB, 897 Bottles, Black Label)
Nose: Even more peat than the version with the brown/purple label. And once again lots of leather.
Taste: This one was smokier that the last one, making the overall experience slightly less balanced.
Score: 89 points - it's almost as good as the other version, but a smidgen too unbalanced for the 90's.
Tobermory 1994/2005 (60%, Natural Color, France, Bottled 2005)
Nose: Farmy and slightly organic. Smells very young at first. Prickly like a soda pop.
Taste: Strangely enough, there's not a lot of taste at 60%. What I could taste was quite decent, though.
Score: 72 points - and this Tobermory only stays in the 70's because it's an interesting malt. Deanston-like?
Ledaig 30yo 1974/2005 (48.7%, Signatory, Cask #3223, Shery hogshead, 208 bottles)
Nose: Heavy sherry - no surprise given the deep brown colour. Spices. Organics. Classic and brilliant.
Balsamico vinegar. A sherry monster par excellenence. One of the malts with the highest gold potential.
Taste: Heavy, smoky sherry and spices. Fits the bouquet like a glove. Lovely playful fruity notes. Some smoke?
Excellent chewy tannins. Powdered coffee. A hint of bitterness that's just enough for this malt. Almost perfect.
Score: 93 points - quite extreme, leaving not a trace of distillery character, if you ask me. What could it be?
Revision: Sherry fruits and spices in the nose. Maggi. A classic! The nose seems to drop off fairly soon, though.
On the palate it was sweet and smooth and just brilliant. And just when the sweetness fades there's peat.
At first I was inclined to crank it back a few notches, but over time it convinced me 93 points is only fair.
Tobermory 9yo 1995/2004 (46%, Murray McDavid, Fresh sherry, MM0420)
Nose: Sweet and grainy. Granny Smith? Not unpleasant and surprisingly powerful and complex. Beer?
Taste: Oooh... There's the infamous oiliness of Tobermory. It loses quite a few points here. Bitter finish.
Score: 64 points - but I should add that this is a very 'personal' score. This Tobermory was oxidised, perhaps?
Tobermory 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2002)
Nose: Oily. Not very expressive at first. Hint of pine? Eucalyptus? Maggi?
Taste: Oily as well. Hot and gritty in the centre. Just not my type of malt.
Score: 54 points - no significant improvement on the NAS version that I tried a few years earlier
In fact, I think I like this new expression of the Tobermory malt whisky even less...
Ledaig 7yo 'Peated' (43%, OB, short clear bottle, Bottled +/- 2002, Imported by Auxil, France)
(I'm not sure if this expression is intended as the replacement of the 'NAS' version or an addition to the range.)
Nose: Soft and a little oily. Not very expressive. Wait - some peat (not much). Herbal.
Chloride. Spirity. The peat drifted away to the background and didn't return.
Needs a while. Then things developed into a fruitier direction with tangerines.
Orange skins? Hints of menthol sweets. Something creamy. Intruiging.
Taste: Quite a bite, followed by a salty, peaty burn. Sulphur? Some organics.
Very dry, although it grows fruitier and sourish over time. Bitter burn in the finish.
Score: 77 points - an 'Islay Light' and decent value to boot. Still, I prefer the real stuff.
Ledaig 10yo 1992/2002 (43%, Blackadder, C#121, 506 Bts.)
Nose: Starts out flowery but grows oilier quickly. Sweet rubbery notes too, but the oil remains dominant.
After a few minutes some very faint farmy and metallic notes emerge, but not a lot else is happening.
Taste: Sweetish and oily, pretty much like the nose. Grows harsher in the centre and the dry finish.
Score: 73 points - not really my kind of profile, although it's certainly not boring.
Ledaig NAS 'Peated' 2000 Edition (42%, OB, Standard version, Bottled 2000)
Nose: Youthful. Briny and a little oily. Some smoke. Diluted power. Beer. Salt.
Hint of citrus? A faint whiff of dry peat drifts along the sweet fruity background.
The peaty component grows stronger for the first 15 minutes but then it drops off.
Taste: Sweet start with a clear toffee note. Liquorice? Then the powerful burn starts.
Once again, I tasted a beer-like bitterness on the palate. The finish is bitter as well.
Score: 78 points - a very pleasant surprise, especially when you give it 15 minutes. Although it doesn't strike me quite the same as before I think we can blame oxidation for that. To bad I missed this one when it was released; just like the sherry finished version it was sold for just 28 Euro's. Decent value.
Ledaig NAS 'Peated' 2000 Edition (42%, OB, Sherry Finish, Bottled 2000)
Nose: Indeed, sherry. Acidic. Citrus. A Fruity sweetness hangs around for quite a while.
Wait - now I get some peat! Smoke and organics. Hey, some breathing worked wonders!
Horse sweat. Chloride. Rubber. This really becomes much more interesting with time.
Taste: Rotting wood. Burnt caramel. Menthol? Sherried and woody after 15 minutes.
Smoke. Sour finish. Not really my style. Artificial; not as balanced as the standard version.
Score: 70 points - this is very strange - unlike most other malts I know, this seemed to drop off in the months after I opened the bottle, but after almost 18 months the nose really blossomed again. Based on the nose, I'd go with at least 76 or 77 points right now. Unfortunately for Ledaig, I won't 'count' any changes that occur more than a year after I opened the bottle. Quite entertaining, though.
Ledaig 5yo 1993/1998 (43%, The Ultimate, Oak Cask #28)
Nose: Whow! Clean. Spirity. Fruit, salt and even some peat. Spicy with lots of spunk.
Smoke, citrus and a little oil. Cattle feed. Dusty. Fruit and peat keep popping up.
Coastal. A little bit of everything, but it's pretty much dead after a few minutes.
Taste: Soft start, but it picks up after a few seconds. Good sweet burn. Toffee.
It grows sour and woody quickly, losing a few points in the process. Bitter finish.
Score: 73 points - a very decent score for a 5yo malt. I have to say I rated it even higher when I opened the bottle a few months ago. It seems this confirms my suspicions about young malts being more vulnerable to oxidation than older and/or cask strength whiskies. Will have to do some more thinking on that...
Tobermory NAS (40%, OB, Bulky, green bottle, Bottled +/- 1998)
Nose: Very restrained. Flat. A bit oily with a very faint hint of peat.
Cod oil. Notably sweeter with time, with impressions of mint and candy.
Taste: A bit sweet and malty, with some distant peat. Milk powder?
Lacks balance and complexity. Sweet, salt and bitter take turns in the finish.
Score: 55 points - this Tobermory bottling is really nothing spectacular.
Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB, tall clear bottle, Bottled +/- 1997)
Nose: Oooff! Paint thinner. Something chemical. Vegetables. Dusty. More sherried than the younger versions.
Fruity with some smoke. Winegums? After some breathing the coastal elements grow stronger - no peat, though.
Taste: Smoke. Dry. Hot. Long. Wow! A little bitter, but not unpleasant. Resin?
Pinch of salt. After a few minutes it grows fruitier with a sherried, woody finish.
Score: 79 points - it loses a few points on the nose, which is almost non-existent at first.
It grows more and more interesting over time. All in all, this is quite an inttriguing malt. Worth a try.
Ledaig 11yo 1972 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice, sample from Craig Daniels)
Nose: A lovely classic profile; sweet with a hint of menthol. Woody and polished. Hint of chloride after a while.
Taste: Surprisingly phenolic; a genuine peat monster compared to modern Ledaigs. A fair deal of liquorice.
More smoke emerges towards the finish, along with some meaty notes. Dry finish. Hint of something herbal.
Score: 86 points - but for the first five minutes I would have given it 87 or even 88 points.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Tobermory Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Tobermory page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Tobermory expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or