The whisky spotlight can only shine on a handful of distilleries such is its nature and scope. The craning of the neck and limitations of an environmentally friendly light bulb, kill off any illusions of grandeur. Whilst it will forever shine upon Tormore, the arrival of each New Year here at Whisky Rover prompts recollection and new benchmarks.
For 2017 the spotlight has been jostled towards a handful of distilleries that have only been covered briefly so far during the 7 years of existence. An orderly queue has formed for the Whisky Rover guillotine, where each bottle is placed upon the block and opened for the masses. The judgement is final and it’s my personal opinion. This year the scallywag of Tomatin has been dragged onto the stage along with the refined (and ultimately shallow) exterior of gentleman from Balvenie. These two individuals will come under more scrutiny for the remainder of the year.
Thanks to a recent trip to the distillery from Barry of WhiskyPhiles fame, I have two single cask expressions straight from the horse’s mouth as it were. The distillery offers a warm welcome to visitors and a sizeable selection of exclusive cask bottling’s, of which we have two to experience right now. As often as I’m driving on the A9, heading north towards sanctuary, Tomatin is too close to our destination and often with the onset of time, impossible to visit. I do need to return as it’s been quite a few years since I visited and alongside the spotlight, it would be welcome.
The sheer size of the distillery is what strikes you, as you turn off the A9 and creep onto the site, passing by an almost endless barricade of warehouses. This is confirmed by the once potential output of the distillery that would put it amongst some of the major producers in Scotland. Unlike Glenlivet or Glenfiddich that have massively invested in their sites and chasing single malt domination, Tomatin has been content to do its own thing. During the 1970’s it was the largest producer in Scotland with 23 stills producing over 12 million litres a year mainly going towards a variety of blends. I prefer this stealthy approach thereby letting the whisky speak for itself without too much interference or marketing. Tomatin has moved on from just bulk producing for blends after seeing the potential in their own single malt whisky and effective cask usage. Slowly but surely it has stepped out from the shadows with increased confidence and a fairly untapped potential for production and maturation on a sizeable scale across the site. Their pricing strategy is fairly reasonable as well.
The distillery itself was established in 1897, although tales exist of illicit distilling being done in the area prior to this. Being just 16 miles from Inverness and near transport links south would have made the location very attractive. One noticeable aspect when you visit is the number of houses on site originally for the workers. Recent company literature suggests that 50% of the workforce still live on the distillery site, meaning they live and breathe whisky.
Today the distillery is owned by Japanese company Takara Shozu Corporation who were one of the major customers in the 1980’s. With the distillery being mothballed in 1986, it was the logical conclusion as Tomatin had slowly reduced in size since the mid-1970’s. The rot had engulfed the site as much as it had across the whisky industry and Shozu saw the opportunity to acquire a major supplier towards its portfolio. Tomatin never produced at full capacity or took full advantage of its potential. Many of the stills from the boom time of the early 1970’s were stripped out at the turn of the millennium. Today, Tomatin has a more modest potential output but the focus has now flipped in favour of its own single malt.
Filing away the history books for another class it’s time to warm up the crowd and sharpen the blade for these distillery exclusives. Let us hope that they achieve a better standard than the ill-fated Tomatin Legacy, which endured a horrific reception and ended up as a component in my whisky sauce.
Tomatin 11 year old Oloroso Cask
Cask number 5248, distilled 11th November 2005, bottled at 58.2% strength
Colour: molten chocolate
Nose: oh wow, chocolate certainly and a big cinnamon emphasis. There's a beefy stock aspect and your traditional worn leather qualities. Also an oily buttery aspect that I wasn't anticipating. Conkers from my youth underlining that nutty characteristic along with treacle.
Taste: the chocolate trail continues and is joined by resin and a treacle toffee sprinkled with cinnamon.
Overall: a meal in itself. This is a bold Tomatin that will find favour with sherry enthusiasts. I enjoyed it, very much so, but has that end of the evening feel to it and not one I could drink too much of in one sitting.
Tomatin 14 year old PX Cask
Cask number 34915, distilled 18th February 2002, bottled at 54% strength, hand bottled on 17th October 2016, cost £90
Nose: a very light and gentle sherry, almost floral with golden syrup. Delicate sugars are no surprise given this is a traditionally sweet sherry. Chocolate and a dusting of coffee. I also wrote down lettuce, which seems odd now, but felt apt
Taste: initially its the drying finish that draws you in. A little orange peel, barley sweets and white grapes. That gentle sherry kiss from the cask. Peanuts, honey and a light caramel.
Overall: this Pedro Ximenez cask isn't bold or huge. Far removed from the Oloroso cask, I quite enjoyed it. This is a sherry bottling you could drink at any time and in any quantity. Very elegant.
Labels: featured, oloroso, px cask, tomatin