The origins of whisky production in Tomatin are hard to be precise about, the formal distillery which operates today was established in 1897 but there is reason to believe that whisky production (although illegal) has been an important part of life in the area since the 1400s.
“Tomatin” translates to “Hill of the Juniper Bush”, as juniper wood gives off no smoke while burning it has long been a favourite of illicit distillers. Today, a building known locally as “The Old Laird’s House” still remains on the site of the current distillery and it is believed that this is the spot where the cattle drovers taking their livestock from the north of Scotland to the central markets would stop and fill their flasks from an illicit still.
In 1897 at the peak of the Victorian Whisky Boom that three men, John MacDougall, John MacLeish and Alexander Allan, along with other investors, decided to open a formal distillery on the site and formed The Tomatin Spey District Distillery Ltd.
Tomatin is over 1000 feet above sea level on the eastern edge of the Monadhliath Mountains, it was a very practical location, next to a newly opened rail line, not far from a market being just over 18 miles south of Inverness, and on the Alt na Frith burn (meaning ‘free burn’) which provided a perfect source for soft, Highland water.
In 1956 the original two stills, which were capable of producing 120, 000 gallons, were joined by another pair. Only 2 years later another two stills were added. Once full capacity was realised it was again time to increase potential output and 1961 saw the total still count reaching 5 pairs with another single still joining them in 1964. 1974 saw the most significant boost to capacity with the total number of stills reaching 23 (12 wash and 11 spirit) requiring seven spirit safes and with the capacity to produce around 12 million litres of alcohol every year. At this time Tomatin was the largest distillery in Scotland.
The growing export of Scotch Whisky meant that Tomatin’s biggest customer was Japan’s largest drinks producer, Takara Shuzo Ltd. As Tomatin was forced into liquidation in 1984 during the whisky industry downturn, Takara Shuzo joined forces with the respected trading company Okura and purchased the distillery, forming the Tomatin Distillery Company Ltd and thus creating the first fully Japanese owned Scottish distillery in 1986.