In the second edition of our Raasay Pioneers series, we are focusing on ‘Our People’ and specifically those members of our team based on Raasay who are contributing to the innovative projects in motion both at the distillery and on the island more broadly.
First we’ll talk about the Raasay Renewables Project – an exciting new hydro scheme that is currently under construction and is co-chaired by two young pioneers on our team, Rosie and Ross. Then we’ll move on to Martin, our Quality Control Engineer for a crash course in how he ensures every drop, of every bottle of our whisky and gin, is of the highest possible quality.
In September 2020, the community on Raasay population set up Raasay Community Renewables Ltd, a Community Benefit Society to develop sustainable energy infrastructure projects on the Island. Led by a young pioneering Board of Directors, Raasay Community Renewables sees the hydro schemes as the future to both environmentally sustainable power for the island as well as long term financial resilience, funding community projects which will improve the lives of the island’s residents.
Two members of the Isle of Raasay Distillery team sit on the board of directors so let’s chat to Rosie and Ross who can tell us more about the scheme and the exciting hydro projects on the horizon.Raasay Renewables
Two members of the Isle of Raasay Distillery team sit on the board of directors so let’s chat to Rosie and Ross who can tell us more about the scheme and the exciting hydro projects on the horizon.
Q: As Raasay locals, can you tell us what the main drivers were for setting up the Raasay Renewables scheme?
A: The scheme originated around 2014 when a local renewables company looked to develop a hydro scheme on the island. Their efforts fell through in 2017, however renewed interest and funding allowed the scheme to go ahead and with that Raasay Community Renewables was formed in July 2020.
Q: Please can you tell us a bit about your involvement and the ways in which you have contributed / are contributing to the scheme and why you decided to get involved?
A: Myself and Rosie joined the board as co-chairs and Ross Camilli (former distillery employee) as treasurer. We received a great deal of help from our Local Development Officer, Elizabeth Macleod and also Artemis Pana, a member who sits on the board on behalf of Raasay Development Trust. We helped to create the fundraising campaign in early 2021, we are now looking at how best to use the money received from the scheme as construction will be finished in September 2022 and it will be operational from then.
I (Ross) wanted to get involved as I was previously working for the aforementioned renewables company Manitoba Energy so I had a soft spot for this project and it seemed like an interesting thing to be a part of.
Rosie has a very keen interest in renewables and is currently studying a Masters in Marine Renewable Energy, so the opportunity to get involved with a project like this on her own backdoor was hard to turn down,
Q: To date, can you tell us where the funding has come from, the ways in which the money will be used / how it will impact the local community and environment on Raasay
A: SSE gave us £250,000 as part of their Sustainable Development Fund which brought the project back from the dead. CARES (Community and Renewables Energy Scheme) also gave us a loan and so much support over the years as they have been involved with many community schemes. Community Shares Scotland and Forestry and Land Scotland have also been a vital help. Finally, the £650,000 raised by individuals through Crowdfunder was the big one. It would have been impossible to have done this without so many people keen to support and invest.
The money raised from selling the electricity will be used to develop the island, leaning towards green projects and ways to reduce our carbon footprint here. Particularly after the announcement that Raasay would be part of the Scottish Government’s scheme of getting 6 islands to net zero by 2040. Social investment will also be important as Raasay is a small island with an ageing population and it is still fragile.
Q: Finally please can you talk about about the timeline of when the project will get underway and the estimated completion date?
Feasibility studies were carried out back in 2013 and fundraising went through various guises between then and 2020. That’s when the SSE fund was given to Raasay for the hydro project. Construction began in July 2021 and it will be complete by September 2022. It will also be commissioned that month and will start producing electricity.
If you want to stay up to date with the Raasay Renewables Scheme, you can find out more on their website here.
Next up we’re spotlighting young pioneer Martin, Quality Control Engineer who spends his days scientifically monitoring our water that goes into our whisky and gin to ensure it is always of the highest quality.
For us, this is a crucial step in our production line and isn’t often carried out in small distilleries such as ours, so we sat down with Martin to hear all about his water wizardry and quality control work.
Q: Please can you tell us a bit about yourself…
A: I’ve been living on Raasay and working at the distillery for a year now. My mum was brought up on Raasay and my Grandad was a crofter here. Interestingly, Sorley MacLean, the famous Gaelic Poet was born in the house I currently live in. I moved here after graduating with a 1st class masters in Chemical Engineering from Edinburgh university.
I work as part of the production team helping out with everything from milling and mashing the malt right up to the bottling of the whisky. I also look after all aspects of the water treatment from our onsite borehole to ensure the best quality of water is used for each process step.
Q: Talk us through the quality control processes that happen at the distillery.
A: We send a range of different types of samples of our liquids to our preferred lab in Sweden, including new make spirit, low wines, cask samples, final blended samples and gin to undergo analysis which enables us to monitor our flavours and keep them consistent. Similarly to our wider production practices outlined in last week’s blog post, this is another example of flexibility within how we make our whisky. We’re constantly tweaking the molecules within our liquids to achieve the desired taste.
The ways in which we do this is to use GCMS graphs such as this one below to look at how interventions such as cooling jackets, lyne arm and different barley varieties influence our products. As a new distillery we are still learning how these factors impact our spirit.
Q: So what exactly is GCMS?
Gas Chromatography Mass Spectroscopy is a lab technique that allows you to identify and quantify different molecules in a liquid sample, each of these molecules correspond to flavour and smells. The characteristics of Scotch whisky are strongly influenced by the cereals used in fermentation and by distillation, maturation and blending. Carrying out GCMS can produce characteristic analytical profiles for the alcohol congeners, which can be used as reference points in authenticity analysis.
You can find out more from the whisky flavour wheel, this one shows what molecules are correlated with certain flavours.
The below GCMS plot (also known as fingerprint analysis) is for a new make sample using unpeated salome malt.
We did our best to boil down into a few paragraphs the effort we put into making sure our spirits are the best they can be, but frankly it’s complicated stuff and that’s why we leave it up to our young pioneer and expert Martin!
Hats off to Rosie, Ross and Martin for all their incredible work both at the distillery and for the Raasay population. Look out for our final edition of Raasay Pioneers on ‘Our History’ and some of the inspirational people from years gone by who have left their mark, not only on the Island, but also on the wider world and will forever be a part of Raasay’s story.
Rooted in centuries of illicit distilling, the Hebridean Isle of Raasay provides the ingredients for the perfect scotch whisky.
Our signature Isle of Raasay Single Malt expression is lightly peated balanced with rich dark fruit flavours. A flavour profile inspired by some older style smoky Hebridean single malt whiskies.
The Isle of Raasay, an island rooted in centuries of illicit distilling, provides the ingredients for the perfect dram. Our lightly peated Isle of Raasay Single Malt is an expression of this magical place.
Our zesty, smooth and refreshing Isle of Raasay Gin combines an exciting selection of ten Raasay and traditional botanicals, including Raasay juniper, sweet orange peel, rhubarb root and our double distilled spirit.