Tomatin Distillery flies a little under the radar but to those who seek it out and strive to know a little more it has some very unique and pioneering history.
Built in 1897 the tied-third highest distillery in Scotland didn’t get off to a very salubrious start as its stills only ran for 9 years before it became bankrupt. By 1909 however it was under new (and more capable) management.
Tomatin is one of only a few distilleries to survive both World Wars and also Prohibition. Initially it was built to feed the growing demand for whisky for blending, at one point it had 23 stills and would have had a theoretical capacity of 12.5 MLPA (million litres per annum) which would have made it one of the largest and most efficient distilleries of the era.
The whisky downturn of the late 70’s and 80’s unfortunately led to the company being liquidated for the second time. But by 1985 it had been bought by two of its largest customers, the Japanese companies of Takara Shuzo and Okura & Co. Interestingly enough this made it the first Scottish distillery to become Japanese owned.
11 of the 23 stills were removed in 2000 and the distillery now has an output of 2 MLPA. Half of which is used for its own brands, the other is used for reciprocal trading in the blending market. Tomatin owns The Antiquary, Big T and the Talisman blends.
I have previously looked at both the Big T and The Antiquary blends in a previous review. Click here to read.
Since the early 2000’s Tomatin have become more focused on their single malt releases. Even to the point of buying back casks from its earlier customers. Casks that on many occasions had never even left the warehouse but were still being stored there on their owners behalf.
I had a pleasure of dipping in to a few casks in the warehouse and safe to say that older Tomatin still caries a vibrant and fruity punch. 1972 being a remarkably peachy year…
Tomatin still has its own on site cooperage. A quick rummage around finds not only the usual Sherry Butts and Bourbon Hogsheads but also some intriguing Amarone (A dry and rich Italian red wine) casks awaiting inspection and filling.
Until recently the Tomatin core range contained a 1988 vintage. This year (2018) it reaches the grand old age of 30 and this new 30 year old will now become a permanent feature.
Which brings us on to todays review.
The 1988 vintage historically contained a significant percentage of whisky matured in port casks however the feeling within the company was to go back to a more simple presentation to allow the Tomatin house style to come through. The 30 year old is a marriage of two refill hogsheads (2nd fill) and 8 first fill bourbon barrels.
I was able to taste samples from both component cask types and the finished article so I thought it might be fun to try a bit of deconstruction and learn a little about how the marrying process builds levels of flavour and complexity in a whisky.
Tomatin 30, unknown abv, Refill Hogshead cask, (not commercially available)
I’ve always been a believer that there is no place to hide bad spirit in a refill cask. There isn’t a lot of wood influence gained from a 2nd fill cask. It does however require to be left for a period of time into the high teens to allow for that increased oxidisation after evaporation to get the full flavour impact. The refill hogshead really allows for the fruiter nature of the spirit to shine through.
The nose is really fruity and caries a tropical feeling. Peaches, pineapple cube sweets, and apricots. Red apple elements come and go along with a faint malty note. Given time there is slightly earthy element and a feeling of warm honey.
The palate is massively fruity with big hits of juicy fruit and sprinklings of spice. There is some soft wood here and it is mildly tannic. There is quite a syrupy feel reminiscent of tinned fruit cocktail alongside a fresh cut green apple.
The finish is very much a cliff edge. The nose is generally quite deep and complex, by the palate its complexity has waned and by the finish its more of a cliff edge as it drops away.
I could nose it all day, but the palate nor finish doesn’t hold me.
Tomatin 30, unknown abv, Bourbon cask sample, (not commercially available)
The nose initially seems much darker and a little deeper. There are many similar flavours here but presented more strongly. The tropical fruit is ever present but this time there are some banana and melon elements. A pleasant touch of florality and a slight citrus twist add a freshness.
The palate is way more buttery and creamy due to the first fill bourbon influence. There are additional flavours of white chocolate and the faintest wisp of woodsmoke. In general there is much more depth on the palate and a more complex and rounded flavour profile.
The finish is much longer and distinct. The vanilla is really noticeable and brings a fantastic lingering creaminess mixed with a mild wood.
Tomatin 30, OB, 46%abv, press sample.
3000 bottles of Tomatin 30 year old were produced with only 450 to be made available in the UK. Bottled at 46% abv it has a RRP of £300 and is available from specialist retailers.
On the nose it is the typical Tomatin style of pineapple, peach and heather honey. There is a faint earthy tone which takes me back to standing in the dunnage warehouse in which the casks were matured. There are elements of fruity boiled sweets (notably pineapple cubes) vanilla, smashed green apple and fresh baked apricot pastries.
The palate is a delicious combination of white chocolate, gooseberries and apples all wrapped up in a blanket of vanilla, butter biscuits and custard. The fruity undertone is still here, but is cleaner and sharper in presentation, almost lending it a white wine feeling. There are the faintest touches of woodsmoke, but this lingers in the far distance. It is still fresh and vibrant for being 30 years old.
The finish is where we start to see the appearance of a gentle wood note which mixes with a sprinkling of drying and flavoursome spices. There is a slight but perceptible nutty note
Despite its age it retains a fresh and vibrant feeling whilst maintaining both balance and a subtle refinement. It is easy to for whiskies of this age to become overly woody but Tomatin have avoided this to produce what is my favourite expression from the distillery thus far.
*Disclamer: Although I tried the drams noted above whilst at the distillery I was kindly given samples away to allow more accurate and thorough notes to be made in a more controlled environment*
You can find more tasting notes and whisky news in the Amateur Drammers Archives.
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