On Friday 23rd August 2013 we attended a Tomatin tasting masterclass with Alistair Mutch held at Wood Winters [http://www.woodwinters.com/] specialist wine and whisky shop in Edinburgh.
Tomatin distillery [http://www.tomatin.com/] derives its name from the Gaelic for Hill of the juniper and was established in 1897. The distillery is located 315 metres above sea level in the Monadhliath Mountains, making it one of the highest distilleries in Scotland, about 16 mouths south of Inverness a little north of Aviemore and a stones throw off the main A9 highway. The distillery and its 14 warehouses currently holding around 170,000 maturing casks spread over a 140 acre site and draws its pure, clear water from the Alt-na-Frith (Free Burn). Tomatin traditionally supplied most of its spirit to the blending industry and between 1950 and 1974 increased its capacity by upping the number of stills to 23, however following the Uk recession in the 1970’s and a changing market with tastes moving away from blended whisky the distillery found itself faced with administration in 1985. Faced with the option of purchase by Diageo, who would likely shut it down, the distillery was the first Scottish single malt producer to be acquired by Japanese investors Takara Shuzo and Okara in 1986. Of the stills, 11 were dismantled in 2002 leaving 12 still running and producing about 2.5 million litres of spirit per year [with a potential maximum capacity of up to 5 million litres per year]. In 2006 with new managing and sales directors the distillery started moving the emphasis away from blended and towards single malt scotch whisky. The distillery is one of the few in Scotland to retain their cooperage and also the practice of shipping in their casks whole [rather than broken down into staves for shipping] to retain the whole character of each cask.
Ok history lesson over lets get dramming!
What they say:
Nose: peaty, earthy and solid, while in direct contrast displaying delicate fresh lemony lime characters. Nicely rounded and malty.
Taste: a mellow yet feisty palate; predominately malty, citrus flavours come through well with a gentle peaty touch.
Finish: short yet full with a pleasant lingering peatiness.
What I say: A nice blend with little of the grain whisky oiliness and acidity and a lot of the single malt qualities.
Colour: Light golden yellow straw
Nose: Fruity with a hint of oak and brown sugar
Taste: Sweet, soft and light with lemon and citrus
Finish: Fruity with hints of plum and cherry, short with a subtle warmth
Tomatin Legacy. NAS [no age statement], 43% ABV, RRP £24.99 for 70cl.
New to the market, this whisky is the brainchild of the new master distiller at Tomatin, released to showcase the recent changes in distillation practices and taking the pace of the new entry level Tomatin on the market. Reputed to be made from spirit matured in American virgin oak and bourbon casks [most likely previously holding Makers Mark, Buffalo trace or Four Roses] for less than 12 years [probably a range from 4 to 8 year maturations].
What they say: This whisky is light and delicate, true to traditional Tomatin style. However the introduction of Virgin Oak casks into the mix offers a new dimension with a vibrant and enticing sweetness.
Nose: Vanilla pods, marshmallow, sponge cake and fresh pineapple, mixed with citrus lemon and boiled sweets.
Taste: Light and delicate with a candy sweetness which is peppered with hints of pine. Lemon sherbet, pineapple and crunchy green apples with a touch of freshly baked sponge cake.
Finish: Clean, light and refreshing.
What I say: Not bad entry level, a little green for me with some of the virgin oak character reminding me of sawdust and freshly cut wood.
Colour: Light yellow gold
Nose: Ripe bananas and victoria sponge, like banana bread
Taste: Sweet and buttery with a hint of vanilla and spicy pepper tastes, a fizzy zing on the tongue
Finish: Shortish finish a little drying
Tomatin 12 year old. 40% ABV [may be rising to 43% next year], RRP £33.99 for 70cl.
The Tomatin 12 year old has been the flagship malt for the distillery since 2003 when it replaced the 10 year old. Made from spirit matured for at least 11 years in 1st or 2nd fill American oak casks and 1st fill bourbon barrels before being transferred into Olorsos sherry butts for 6 to 9 months. This whisky won the recent World Whisky Awards Gold for Highland region whiskies of 12 years or younger.
What they say:
Nose: A complex, fresh and airy bouquet which contains rich malt and fruity aromas with a hint of peatiness.
Taste: The palate is rewarded with a unique combination of attractive flavours – a balance of apples, pears and malt with a gentle hint of nuttiness introduced by the subtle use of sherry wood. Very smooth and silky.
Finish: A wonderfully rich and elegant taste produces a long and satisfying finish; there is an oily richness which leads to a desire for more…
What I say: Good mildly complex whisky, something to mull over, whilst the dry finish is quite moreish.
Colour: Gold with a hint of bronze
Nose: Like good Christmas cake with lots of fruit and nutty aromas, sherry fruity and fresh aroma
Taste: Soft and cleaning uncomplicated and green, then rich and rounded with a light buttery then red fruity flavours
Finish: Short, slightly warm then drying
Tomatin 15 year old. 43% ABV, RRP £45.99 for 70cl.
What they say: The newest edition to the standard range was released in August 2009. Soft and delicate, with significant influence from the North American oak.
Nose:Light and fresh, with delicate oaky notes coming through. An explosion of fruit follows with peach and citrus flavours dominating, vanilla and orange peel linger in the background.
Taste: Soft, gentle and very fruity. Smooth, medium body, delicate honey, mild orange and apricot.
Finish: Gentle and soft flowing. A wonderful addition to the standard range.
What I say: Refreshing, palate cleansing, huge citrus punch with a face full of lemons – pow!
Colour: Pale yellow gold
Nose: Citrus lemon and oranges and grapefruit
Taste: Spicy clean and subtle, pleasant flavour of lemon and grapes and grapefruit
Finish: Very refreshing and slightly drying
Tomatin 18 year old. 46% ABV, RRP £58.99 for 70cl.
What they say: Introduced to the market in 2006, this malt has become a firm favourite among connoisseurs world wide. Cask matured in Re fill American Oak Casks and finished for 18 months in Spanish oak Oloroso sherry butts.
Nose: The nose is intense. Delicious sweet sherry bursts upon you, and plateaus with undertones of apple, cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup and a hint of smoky heather.
Taste: Sweet and honeyed at first, with an oaky edge. It develops in the mouth with a bite of citrus and dark chocolate.
Finish: The finish is long and lingering, with warming alcohol and smooth rich sherry, and it all keeps alive in the mouth for several moments afterwards. A world class single highland malt.
What I say: Probably my favourite out of the range but then I’m a real sherry fan and chocoholic too.
Colour: Dark gold
Nose: Spiced fruit, sherry and nut, distinct fines [alcohol] aroma
Taste: Chocolate, nut and raisin, hint of plum and smoldering oak. MIneral elements of clay and copper.
Finish: Long, vaporous and alcoholic
Tomatin 30 year old. 46% ABV, RRP £132.99 for 70cl.
What they say: A rich and elegant non chill filtered single malt with intense fruity aromas which develop in the mouth alongside some more robust spices which emanate from the combination of American and European oak casks. Limited to 1500 bottles per annum.
Nose: Intense juicy aromas arouse the senses – Green Apples, Passion Fruit, Honey Dew Melon, Blackcurrant and Blueberries. Citrus notes come to the fore, all the while a candy sweetness drifts along with hints of polished leather in the background.
Taste: Gooseberry, Ginger and Hazelnuts make way for spicy oak which hits the middle of the tongue. The oak is balanced beautifully by a honey sweetness that drifts to the back of the palate.
Finish: Long, clean and pleasurable.
What I say: Unlike any other whisky I have every tasted, a real exotic fruit explosion
Colour: Orange gold
Nose: Unusual pineapple and grapefruit
Taste: Pineapple with a little black pepper, mango and passionfruit. Builds to a pepper intensity when held in the mouth.
Finish: Massive burst of exotic fruits drying with a little sulphur
Overall this is a good range of whiskies revealing a real depth of styles and flavours that cask maturation brings to the Tomatin spirit. For me the flavours of the 12 and 18 year old really ring my bell as the citrus of the spirit and the sweet fruit of the sherry finish followed by the spicy, nutty and chocolate flavours represent a perfect after dinner whisky whose complexities are revealed the more you sip. On the flip-side the 15 and 30 year old reveal clean refreshing citrus and tropical fruit flavours that really cleanse the palate and would be ideal after strong food such as Chinese or Indian cuisine. In truth I struggled to find a favourite as my pleasure derived from switching between the styles to revel in their differences. However for my personal tastes the 18 year old hit all the right notes, definitely one to spend your time over each sip.
Thanks to Alistair at Tomatin and Alex at WoodWinters for a fantastic masterclass. Slainte.