R&B Distillers’ Zoë White tells us the story (so far) of the award-winning whisky makers, their quest to build two historic distilleries and the old ledger that started it all.
With roots in both the Scottish Borders and the Hebrides, at R&B Distillers we will build distilleries in both – uncommon provenance for whisky production.
We have the tip and tail of Scotland covered when it comes to styles of whisky; expertly handcrafting our award-winning historic blend, distinct single malt, and uncommon single grain Scotch, we demonstrate the vast differences in profile across drams.
“We have the tip and tail of Scotland covered when it comes to styles of whisky, we demonstrate the vast differences in profile across drams”
Build a Distillery on an Island off an Island
The next exciting milestone in our journey is the opening of the Isle of Raasay Distillery on the small Hebridean island off the East coast of Skye. Co-founder Bill Dobbie had plans to turn the Victorian Borodale House into a distillery and when he met Alasdair Day, with whisky aspirations of his own, all came together.
As part of our pre-planning application for the Isle of Raasay Distillery we were required to conduct protected species surveys for bats, otters and the indigenous Raasay vole.
The results? We have one otter who occasionally visits our distillery site, affectionately named Olli after our architect, and for whom we’ve since built a tunnel alongside the burn so he can keep his feet dry should he wish. There are no Raasay vole on our site though you may find them if you go exploring elsewhere on the island. As for bats, we have plenty. Hundreds of pipistrelles and what turned out to be the UK’s most North Westerly population of Brown Long-Eared bats nesting in the roof of Borodale House – verified fittingly around Halloween 2015.
We have our very own ‘Bat Man’ who conducted our dusk and dawn surveys and advised our mitigating action to construct a bat hotel, The Belfry, in the roof of Borodale House along with bat boxes in surrounding trees to protect these magnificent creatures. If you’re more a bat fan than a whisky fan, we plan to host bat tours once the distillery opens too.
Following pre-planning we submitted our full planning application in December 2015 and approval was granted in February 2016, along with grant funding from HIE (Highlands and Islands Enterprise) and FPMC (Food Processing Marketing and Co-Operation Grants Scheme)
On Monday 13th June we broke ground on the site and demolition of the 1980s extension onto the Victorian house began to make way for the production unit; the distillery itself. Since then the site has been completely transformed.
All the rock used in the wall below where our bonded warehouses are coming to life was taken from the site below during levelling, and we’ll further nurture the natural attributes of the site by replanting only native trees or those relevant to spirits production (such as Juniper) after many required felling due to deterioration.
Our copper pot stills are sitting proudly at the distillery, though yet to be installed along with other process equipment in time for opening to the public this Summer.
“Our copper pot stills are sitting proudly at the distillery, though yet to be installed along with other process equipment in time for opening to the public this Summer”
R&B Distillers Whiskies
As we have no distillery of our own just yet you’d be forgiven for wondering how we can have three awardwinning whiskies already in international markets.
We’ve worked with a Highland distiller since 2015 to produce whiskies representative of the styles yet to come from our own production facilities. These are specifically crafted based on what we know about how the landscapes will influence our whiskies in the future and how we want to tell our story via dram, and are products not bottled or sold under any other brand.
Raasay While We Wait single malt
As we wait for the Raasay Distillery to be completed our aptly named single malt Scotch, Raasay While We Wait, is carefully representative of the style of whisky to come from The Isle of Raasay Distillery itself in a few years’ time.
As such it is deliberately young, though with no official age statement, lightly peated and finished in Tuscan red wine casks. We’ve just introduced the second release of Raasay While We Wait which spent 18 months in finishing casks as opposed to just 8 weeks for the first release.
Raasay Distillery will begin producing this year and our first single malt from the stills will be bottled at minimum maturation (3 years) in 2020 so it made sense to us to introduce people now to what a really good, well-crafted young whisky can be.
The lightly peated profile of our Raasay whiskies is and will be no accident. We’ll be one of very few Scottish distilleries who use our local, natural water supply in all stages of the process including reduction – not just distillation.
“The lightly peated profile of our Raasay whiskies is and will be no accident. We’ll be one of very few Scottish distilleries who use our local, natural water supply in all stages of the process including reduction – not just distillation”
Our water supply is filtered down through the volcanic rock of Raasay’s iconic Dun Caan and through sedimentary rock into the site of what once was a Celtic spring. Using this truly unique water throughout means that we won’t lose the volcanic mineral influence when we reduce our whisky down from cask to bottle strength.
And why red wine casks – specifically Tuscan red wine casks? For one thing, the fruity wine flavours perfectly balance the peaty notes, and the origin of Tuscany is a homage to Raasay Distillery’s copper pot stills manufactured there by Frilli.
In fact, one of the vineyards our finishing casks come from is not far from Frilli and uses its barrels for three vintages of a Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend before passing them to us.
Since procurement of these casks we’ve also lent them to some friends in the beer world – Raasay Brewing Co. and Plockton Brewery for a special old-style ale called Groundwork, and soon to Crossed Borders brewers.
Na Tùsairean Whisky Club
We’ve realised that many people are just as excited as we are about our new distillery on Raasay. So early on we created an exclusive whisky club to invite fans to become part of our ongoing journey is a unique way.
The first 100 casks from the Isle of Raasay Distillery will be reserved for this Na Tùsairean Club. Gaelic for ‘The Pioneers’ it’s a fitting term for just 1000 members who will own the first whisky from this innovative distillery and have their names displayed there. This whisky will never be available for public sale, so the only way to invest in this liquid history is to become a member.
The welcome pack includes Raasay While We Wait single malt with miniatures – so you can collect and enjoy – an R&B branded Glencairn whisky glass, R&B canvas tote bag, personalised membership certificate, card and welcome letter. Each year following you’ll receive Raasay While We Wait until the members’ casks will are bottled in 2020. This first Isle of Raasay single malt will be delivered annually from 3-year old to 10-year old.
Members also experience Raasay in luxury accommodation boasting arguably the best views from any Scottish distillery, and into the production unit.
Borders highland single grain
Our Borders highland single grain was launched alongside Raasay While We Wait in November 2015 – a perfectly contrasting pair in style, just like the contrast of regions they represent.
The Scottish Borders has not seen a whisky distillery since 1837 though it once would have traditionally produced single grain whisky to add as bases to blends – before the age of the single malt.
Lowland whisky in general tends to be lighter and sweeter in profile, as is single grain – and so Borders is a single grain finished in Oloroso sherry casks, with no peat at all in contrast to Raasay While We Wait.
“Lowland whisky in general tends to be lighter and sweeter in profile, as is single grain – and so Borders is a single grain finished in Oloroso sherry casks, with no peat at all in contrast to Raasay While We Wait.”
It is our highest ABV whisky, at 51.7% it packs a spirited punch but with a light well rounded flavour, and the only single grain Scotch we know of to be 50% malted barley and 50% wheat.
In 2015 we invited whisky-lovers the world over to vote on where in the Borders we should build our future distillery. Overwhelmingly the winner was the town of Peebles and although we don’t have a site yet, watch this space!
Although our Borders distillery project won’t begin for another few years, it’s closely tied with the beginning of the R&B story.
The Tweeddale and The Cellar Book
R&B Co-founder, Alasdair Day’s great grandfather Richard was a licensed grocer in Coldstream, Scottish Borders in the early 19th Century. Richard began at J&A Davidson in 1895 as an office boy and later took over the business and making it his namesake in 1923.
The blending of whisky by licensed grocers, often for the local manor houses, was common place at that time, John Walker & Sons and Chivas Brothers are just a couple of others that have gone on to become staples in whisky today.
Alasdair inherited Richard Day’s Cellar Book – an accounts ledger, in the back of which was recorded all the whisky blend recipes. After 20 years in the food industry and countless conversations with his father about what they should do with the book, Alasdair began recreating The Tweeddale blend after its 70 year gap in production.
Since then there have been 5 batches of The Tweeddale Blend; an award-winning combination of 8 single cask single malts and one single cask single grain. In 2016 R&B bottled a premium small batch blended malt called The Tweeddale The Last Centennial to celebrate 100 years since the last page in the Cellar Book. This special release is made up of the last 4 single casks that went into each batch of The Tweeddale Blend to date.
The Tweeddale whiskies as well as our new Scotches are always natural colour and non-chill filtered. Our heritage brand was brought into R&B when it was established in November 2014 and is set to see an exciting path as we continue on our whisky journey.
Originally published in Issue 1 of our Flavourly magazine.