Alasdair Day is the Co-founder of R&B Distillers and also the Isle of Rasay Distillery, the first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay in northwest Scotland, a unique whisky destination with one of the best views from any distillery in Scotland. More recently, he has been kept busy with the rise in demand for virtual whisky tastings, but he was kind enough to spare some time to talk to Inside the Cask.
Inside the Cask: Hi Alasdair, you are the co-founder of Isle of Raasay Distillery in Scotland. However how did it all start for you? Where did the interest in whisky initially come from?
You could say my connection with whisky goes all the way back to 1820 when J&A Davidson were established in Coldstream, in the Scottish Borders. They had a licenced grocers shop, the Coldstream Brewery, the whisky blending business, and a number of pubs in the town. My Great Grandfather left school in 1895 and joined the business as an office boy, in 1923 he took over the business and changed the name of the business to “Richard Day” sole proprietor.
Unfortunately for me, he retired after the 2nd World War and that was the end of the business. As a boy, I spent all of my school holidays in Coldstream and became fully aware of the family heritage. In 2009, I inherited my Great Grandfather’s cellar book which contained all of the “recipes” for all of the blends the company produced from 1899 to 1916. I then set about recreating one of his blends from the book called ‘The Tweeddale’ and released my first version of his whisky in May 2010.
Inside the Cask: Most people will have no idea of the work involved in making Scotch whisky, so what is the experience like and what does it entail on a day to day basis?
It is incredibly varied for me and really any two days are never the same. It’s more like an ever changing journey with all of the challenges that brings.
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about the Isle of Raasay Distillery, and what was it like setting up a distillery in Raasay itself? What were your highlights and also the main challenges to overcome?
The Isle of Raasay itself is rooted in centuries of illicit distilling, and we set out to combine that history and tradition with contemporary thinking. The distillery really is an expression of the place and the people that make our spirit.
We distil, mature, and bottle every drop of spirit we make on the Isle of Raasay using water from our well that is influenced by the geology of the island.
We set out to build a contemporary island distillery with state of the art equipment designed around our fine-tuned processes for producing our intended fruity single malt style. We designed the process first and then asked the architect to design the building around the process.
Significant highlights were receiving planning permission in February 2016, breaking ground in June 2016, starting distilling and opening the distillery in September 2017 and of course releasing our first ever single malt in November this year.
As with everything, there is always challenges but when you taste the spirit of Raasay, it all becomes worthwhile. We have had amazing support from the community and a great, hardworking team at the distillery helping tackle and overcome any challenges we have faced. The challenge with whisky is always the waiting!
Inside the Cask: You have recently launched your inaugural Isle of Raasay Single Malt Release 2020. What type of Scotch whisky are you producing at Isle of Raasay Distillery? What is unique about it and what are you looking to produce to release in the future?
In simple terms, the style of whisky we are producing on Raasay is smoky, with dark fruit flavours. Inspired by a much older style of Hebridean whisky from the 1970s & ’80s that had dark fruit flavours, which are now no longer as common in single malt Scotch whisky. An elegant style but with balance, complexity and depth.
Our Inaugural Release is the link to our signature lightly peated Isle of Raasay Single Malt that we intend to release in May 2021. We used heavily peated barley >48 ppm, 3 to 5 day fermentations, but took a very narrow cut on the spirit still to ensure a lightly peated new make spirit. This was then matured for two years in first fill ex Tennessee Whiskey barrels and then one year in first fill ex Bordeaux Red Wine casks, which gave us some sweet and savoury spice combined with the tannins and dark fruit influences from the wine.
I am really looking forward to vatting the six different cask types for our signature single malt next year. Unpeated and peated new make spirit matured in three different cask types; first fill ex Rye barrels, virgin Chinkapin oak (with high char & high toast) and first fill ex Bordeaux red wine casks.
Inside the Cask: There is a growing interest in purchasing whisky casks at present. What is the Isle of Raasay Distillery approach and what do you offer to those who may be interested? Are you open to distillery visitors and how can this be arranged (once normal service resumes of course)?
We offer a range of casks for private sale via our website. Our current offering focuses on the six recipe casks we are using to mature our signature single malt. For more information if interested, just click on this link.
We have been previewing these casks as part of our virtual tastings that we launched in spring this year. You can ‘try before you buy’ as part of these virtual experiences.
We hope to be open in spring 2021 for tours, tastings and accommodation, all of which can be booked via our website. Until then, our online shop remains open 24/7!
Inside the Cask: I have attended your Virtual Whisky Tasting this year and it was one of the best I have seen to date. What do you look to convey to those attending and how much interest have you had on them?
Our online virtual tastings are based on our six cask maturation policy and include samples from our six signature casks. They have been very popular, and we have really appreciated the feedback from them.
We were delighted to receive an award from the Scottish Whisky Awards for ‘Brand Experience of the Year 2020’ for our virtual tastings.
As well as getting to preview some unreleased single malt, we talk with guests about the Isle of Raasay, what’s unique about our production processes, our water, our community, and more. It’s been great to give people a chance to virtually experience the distillery from the comfort and safety of their own homes – some of whom may never have had the chance to visit Raasay otherwise.
We have more planned and again these can be booked online – just click on this link for the virtual tastings.
Inside the Cask: What is your favourite dram and why?
Inside the Cask: Can you tell us more about your personal background? What else are you passionate about?
I’d say I was a family man, passionate about rugby (food, beer, wine and whisky too).
Inside the Cask: What would be your advice for anyone else wanting to work in the drinks industry?
It’s a great industry full of great people, if you are passionate about it then you should follow your passion.
Inside the Cask: What is the favourite part of your job? Anything that you would like to share that not many people would know about you?
The best part of my job is the variety and being able to do something I really want to do. Not many people know that my first job was growing mushrooms (and I then worked in the food industry for over 25 years), oh and I love cheese.