After centuries of creativity and tenacity, this Hebridean distillery is backing exciting artistic endeavours across Scotland
It must be hard to look at that iconic view across the bay at Tobermory every day, the rainbow of townhouses against a dramatic Scottish hillside, and not feel the imagination. Basking in that stunning landscape, it comes as no surprise that Tobermory Distillery are proud champions of creativity on the Isle of Mull and beyond.
The founder, John Sinclair, had a vision back in 1798. The local kelp merchant pioneered what is now one of Scotland's oldest distilleries, as Tobermory whisky was born. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, though. A jagged history of financial crashes and US prohibition in the 1920s led to challenges, closures and financial struggles. After the economic crash in the 1970s, the distillery was sold and carved up into flats. But in 1993, tenacity won the day and the building was bought by Burns Stewart Distillers and returned to its natural state, distilling whisky.
Cut to the present day and the casks and stills are back in action, having been on hiatus for much needed renovation and modernisation in 2019. Although the world has changed since John Sinclair uncorked his first whisky back in the 18th century, Tobermory's spirit remains the same. 'Creative expression is at the heart of everything we do at Tobermory,' says Stephen Woodcock, the Distillery Manager. Whether it's creating the perfect batch of whisky or coming up with innovative ways to marry distilling and art, Tobermory has become known for embracing creative challenges.
One of their first ventures to bear fruit is the distillery's very first craft gin, which is directly inspired by the exuberant natural splendour to be found on the Isle of Mull. Crafted on the island, the gin features a heady, hand-selected bouquet of botanicals, including juniper, tea, heather, elderflower and sweet orange peel. The ingredients are steeped for a minimum of 24 hours in the base spirit alongside a splash of whisky from the Tobermory stills, adding a dash of 220 years of expertise to Tobermory's newest spirit offering. The result is a gin that balances the taste of fresh juniper with a distinctively sweet and creamy malty touch, alongside lingering notes of citrus, coriander and spice.
But now the company's artistic streak is spilling out from the shores of Mull and onto the mainland, and not only in the form of bottled spirits. In November 2019, Tobermory was a proud sponsor of the Edinburgh Art Fair, and ran the UK's first ever 'fine art crawl' in Edinburgh. For one weekend, they transformed cosy pubs and swanky bars in the heart of Edinburgh into pop-up galleries as part of the Tobermory Studios event. Local artists like Yulia Allan, Allison Young, Karen Cairns, Ann Cowan, Graham Burrows and Clive Ramage were given pride of place, telling the stories of what inspired them and their process to the art admirers.
Art and whisky are a natural pairing, and the Tobermory Studios event is only the latest example of the distillery's ongoing passion for fostering local artistic talent here in Scotland. Therefore we can look forward to more artistic endeavours in the very near future, including an artists-in-residence programme at their cottage on Mull, to launch later this year and more events scheduled to take place throughout 2020.
'The passion for art in nature is reflected in the spirits that we craft at the distillery,' Woodcock says. As the scenery of the Isle of Mull stirs up artistic visions, Tobermory Distillery continues to use its surroundings to inspire creativity of all kinds; bottled, poured and painted.
Find out more at tobermorydistillery.com