It was late when we got there, but that didn't matter as the distillery staff were still there, working. In the still house there was a sense of, not quite anxiousness, but a focused concentration. Clipboards, hi-vis vests and various samples being tested, and the staff seemed to be in good spirits. Skye's newest distillery was taking its first steps towards production.
It's not often you get to be in that moment, the history making part of a distillery's life. To be honest it was really just a stroke of luck, right time, right island. The excitement of launching into fermentation, distillation and maturation for the first time, everything ahead, some things known, some unknown, but an adventure.
Considering Torabhaig sits under the banner of traditional farm steading turned into a distillery, it certainly is a decent size. Its eight washbacks feeding the two copper stills should be capable of producing 0.5 million litres of pure alcohol (mlpa) per year. Making it a sizable outfit compared to other distilleries in the same bracket.
Although spirit has run since I visited, the discussions back at the start of the year were to make a traditional island-style whisky; medium to heavy peated (approximately 50ppm) spirit; and with a long fermentation time followed by a lot of copper contact, and shell and tube condensers, should give quite a medium weight spirit with lots of fruit notes. Of course we will have to wait a little while yet to see how it matures, but then that is the magic and excitement of whisky.
It certainly looks like everything coming off the spirit still will be matured and used for the distillery's first single malt release.
The history of the site is rooted in the vision of Sir Iain Noble, the founder of Pràban na Linne independent bottler and blending company.
Sir Iain had planned to expand his whisky empire to include a distillery at Torabhaig, and had already been given planning permission, but he passed away in 2010 before his vision could become a reality.
The site was then acquired by Mossburn Distillers, part of the Dutch drinks group Marussia Beverages. Although the distillers had been searching for a site to build, the location at Torabhaig gave them a great opportunity, and also a few problems with renovating, restoring and preserving what back in 2013 was effectively a listed 19th-century ruin.
The distillery's pipework and facilities all had to conform to certain planning restraints, this included removing the roof to get the stills in; and then replacing it with a bespoke removable slate roof in case access is needed in the future.
After three years of hard graft, the result is something Mossburn, its owners, and the island should be proud of. The part stone clad and white washed building looks and feels part of the landscape. It is easy to imagine looking at it, and out over the Sound of Sleat, Knock Castle and across to the Knoydart peninsula, that in a few years it will be as if it was always here.
At the time of writing the distillery was coming on spirit and construction of a small visitor's centre completing, with café and retail shop expected to open to the public from July 2017.
The collection of washbacks
The wash and spirit stills
The spirit safe
A traditional style pagoda