Gabi Toma is known at the distillery for being a hard worker. Bottling hall manager, Jonathan Carmichael, praises his work ethic, saying he is proud and competitive about running the gin line well on a daily basis. Says Gabi, in his distinctive deep voice, “You always want to do better for yourself, you know.”
Compared to what he was doing before starting here in 2011, Gabi says he loves his job in the bottling hall. His introduction to Islay was to work in the clam factory, where income was dependent on the fishing and therefore the weather. He confesses that his first impressions of the island were mixed.
“You get off the plane, it’s really cold, I thought, “Oh no man, where am I?” I was expecting to see something else, you know, it’s like fields and sheep and one house. “Christ man,” I thought, “this is the desert!” ”
Gabi is originally from Barlad, in Romania, a “big enough” town of 55,000 people. After college there, he worked in a bearings factory, which he says was a “pretty good job”. Ten years ago, when he left, youth unemployment was around 20%. He says of his peer group, “Only the people whose parents had loads of money or businesses stayed there to take over from their parents. The rest of my friends are all away, abroad. There’s no one in Romania, working; for such a nice a country, it’s so bad you know.”
In spite of his home country’s romantic reputation for natural beauty, he reckons, “Islay is maybe 100 times more unspoilt than Romania. There are bits where they’ve never been touched.”
Another thing he likes about Islay is, “There’s not that difference between low class, middle class, and high class, I don’t see it here. You get snobs everywhere, you know that way of feeling, but it doesn’t matter if you’ve got more money than me, I’ve got less, I’ll still talk to you, you know.”
“I know everybody, everybody knows me. I wasn’t really for it, for the first couple of months, I didn’t really like it. But 10 years on, I’m still here!” And having worked in the bottling hall for 6 years now, he is one of our most dependable and experienced operators.
Gabi’s valinch is number 26 in our people series. A bourbon cask, organic barley, aged 12 years, 64.1% vol. Available from the Laddieshop while stocks last.