Ledaig is a peated malt that is produced on the Isle of Mull at the Tobermory distillery. Given that Tobermory officially is unpeated and widely available, Ledaig which means safe haven in Gaelic and is pronounced led-chig, is seen as a separate entity and truer to its traditional origins as a coastal island whisky.
Annually until March 2017, Ledaig accounted for around half the output at Tobermory, but with the distillery closing for at least 2 years for upgrading work, both styles of whisky are no longer in production. There is also speculation that Tobermory will never return to production and instead will become a visitor attraction along the lines of Dallas Dhu distillery. Only time will tell, but for Ledaig it comes at an inopportune moment as its profile as a single malt whisky was rising dramatically. Many peated whisky enthusiasts had become disheartened by the pricing and styles of whiskies being produced on Islay and some had found safe harbour with Ledaig.
A recent run of excellent official and independent bottlings of Ledaig had even suggested an Ardbeg rival in some quarters. This run will of course continue whilst the distillery is out of action, as peated casks are plentiful and Ledaig was not affected by the shortages of production versus demand that we’ve seen on Islay. Initially Ledaig was a heavily peated malt with more speculation that it had been toned down in recent years, but everything suggests a constant level of around 37-40ppm.
Tobermory distillery itself is a small producer by Scottish standards, on average producing annually 750,000 to a million litres in total for both styles of whisky. Most of this spirit is destined for the Distell Group’s 2 main blended whiskies in the form of the Black Bottle and Scottish Leader range. The latter is incredibly popular in Asian market and offers a range of blended options that are not available in the UK, which normally makes do with the standard bottling. Since the brand’s revamp in 2014, a higher concentration of malt whisky made up its recipe and this placed more strain on the trio of distilleries (Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Tobermory) within the Distell Group, who purchased Burn Stewart Distillers in 2013 for £160 million.
The actual history of Tobermory will be outlined in its own specific distillery article however Tobermory actually started out as Ledaig distillery in 1798 within the town of Tobermory. The specific Ledaig style spirit we know and embrace today was not produced on site until 1979. This is when new owners, Kirkleavington Property, who unsurprisingly were in the estate agent business, purchased the mothballed distillery. Given its site within the picturesque town, the central location was ripe for converting into holiday accommodation along with using other buildings to store cheese. Thankfully the full plans did not come to fruition and the lasting legacy of their tenure was the decision to produce a heavily peated spirit named Ledaig. The warehouse was converted into flats and shortly after taking ownership, the distillery closed once again but when revived in 1989 the peated run was repeated.
For today’s Ledaig, the official range consists today of a 10 and an 18-year-old expression that are naturally coloured, unchill-filtered and bottled at 46.3% strength. These are seen as good value for their peat levels but also their affordability. The 10-year-old debuted in 2007 with the older expression following in 2015. Since then, Distell has released a 42-year-old expression called Dusgadh that was limited to just 650 bottles with a suggested retail price of £2350. Other limited releases highlighting differing cask usage to good effect including Marsala and sherry cask finishes.