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Issue 136 - Tobermory the Survivor

Whisky Magazine Issue 136
June 2016


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Tobermory the Survivor

A 'Safe Haven' for Distell International

The island of Mull is situated in the Inner Hebrides, a 50 minutes ferry trip from the west coast port of Oban. Tobermory is the island capital, famous for its distinctively colourful houses, which surround the harbour and served as the inspiration for the popular children's television series Balamory.

Tobermory Distillery is located not far from the centre of the village, which was established as a fishing port by the British Fisheries Society in 1788, a decade before local kelp merchant John Sinclair founded the distillery, which he named Ledaig, the Gaelic for ‘safe haven.'

When distillery chronicler Alfred Barnard visited Tobermory during the mid 1880s he wrote that 'The Distillery is planted at the head of the bay, and stands almost underneath a lofty and perpendicular rock.'

Despite being one of Scotland's oldest surviving distilleries, reviewing Tobermory's history leaves the sense that its survival has been little short of a miracle. Tobermory has actually been silent for more than half of its entire existence, first closing between 1837 and 1878. A dozen years later John Hopkins & Co acquired the distillery, and then it was taken over by the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) in 1916.

The harsh economic years between the two World Wars saw the demise of many Scottish distilleries, most of which were never revived, and Tobermory fell silent in 1930, serving as a canteen for sailors and even as a power station. Then, in 1972, the Ledaig Distillery (Tobermory Ltd) r...

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