Ledaig

Ledaig (pronounced: led-CHIG) A peated whisky distilled at Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull, Ledaig was for a long time one of the most inconsistent spirits for whisky lovers. Ledaig was first produced in 1972, when the Tobermory distillery was reopened after more than four decades of...

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Ledaig (pronounced: led-CHIG) A peated whisky distilled at Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull, Ledaig was for a long time one of the most inconsistent spirits for whisky lovers. Ledaig was first produced in 1972, when the Tobermory distillery was reopened after more than four decades of silence, and is the name given to all peated malt produced at the Tobermory distillery.  

Ledaig has only recently become widely available as a single malt after renewed investment and promotion in the 1990s and early 2000s by former owners Burn Stewart and their successors Distell.

Founded: 1798 but with very sporadic production history.

Capacity: 1 million litres
Stills: 4. 2 wash and 2 spirit

1972-1975: Intense, oily, visceral peat. Dry, minerals, vibrant fruit and coastality.

When the Tobermory distillery was reopened after many years in 1972 it was actually named Ledaig - however many casks were labeled as Tobermory also, and almost all production in these early years was peated. Ledaig whiskies from the early 1970s were still being bottled well into the 2000s and they often portray the richly peated character of the distillate.

Youngish expressions of the 1970s Ledaig vintages were bottled in the eighties and are considered the greatest examples of the early Ledaig malts. These bottlings are classics, produced in an old-style way with slower fermentation and distillation methods.

Every bit as potent as many Islay whiskies from the same time, these Ledaigs balance intense peat flavours with beautiful coastal and fruit-laden undercurrents. They are expensive but well worth seeking out. Sadly, however, the early 1970s revival was short-lived and the distillery was closed again in 1975.

1979-1993. Diminishing peat, salty, often quite fruity but sometimes excessively honeyed and cardboardy.

The Tobermory distillery was reopened once again in 1979 and this time distilled two separate spirits, peated Ledaig and unpeated Tobermory. These years, as for all distilleries, were years of change. Production methods were rapidly modernising, paving the way for the mass production of malt whisky.

The character of Ledaig from the late seventies and early eighties can often contain some very attractive tropical and green fruit notes, laced with some peat oils and delicate smokiness. The best examples of this era include the old red label 20-year-old and blue label 15-year-old official bottlings.

However, the peat was very variable. By the end of the eighties the peat levels were incredibly inconsistent and it is from these years that the most frustrating Ledaigs can come. Many bottlings can seem almost unpeated, showing more in the way of spiciness, coastal characters and honey. They can be very flavoursome whiskies but they often lack something.

Mid-1990s –present day: Reinstigation of higher peat levels, drier, smoky, grassy and salty.

The modern era of production at Tobermory has seen an intensification of the peat levels in Ledaig, first made apparent in the late Noughties' 10-year-old bottling. However, as with so many modern-day whiskies when compared to their 1970s predecessors, the whisky is noticeably thinner in texture and mouthfeel, lacking some of the oiliness that it once possessed - although the distillery's uncompromising leathery, farmy, rubbery notes remain central to the whisky's character.

As the 1990s casks got older, Ledaig's spirit developed in a direction very much to the liking of the new wave of malt whisky fans that sprang up around the turn of the millennium.  It wasn't just the 1990s casks though - Ledaig's popularity exploded from around 2010 onwards after a string of magnificent young cask strength sherried editions were bottled by indie bottlers like Berry Bros & Rudd, which caused a sensation and quickly brought Ledaig a legion of peat-hungry fans.

Following Distell's purchase of Tobermory's owner Burn Stewart in 2013, Ledaig's newfound cult popularity has been carefully managed and sustained, with a much greater range of bottlings available compared to any previous era. Official and independent cask strength sherried Ledaigs remain hot property and are highly sought after. 

Today, Ledaig is certainly more consistent than it has been for a long time and the rewarding peaty, island character and intensity are back.  Although the Ledaig house style remains an acquired taste, this endearingly odd whisky seems finally to have found the audience it deserves.

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