I believe I mentioned before that certain distilleries just have a recognizable style. Tobermory certainly is such a distillery—to me at least. So, I’m grateful Blind Tasting Competition organizer Nils van Rijn decided to fill sample #8 with a Tobermory 1994 25 Years, a joint bottling of Kintra and The Whisky Mercenary.
Tobermory is located on the Isle of Mull. It is one of the few places in Scotland I’ve yet to visit and with the current situation being what it is, it’ll probably stay that way for the foreseeable future. In recent years, many whisky drinkers will likely have come across a Ledaig or two; Tobermory’s peated single malt. There have been numerous independent bottlings of this style, many of them highly-praised and even dubbed the new Ardbeg by Serge Valentin.
By now their principal unpeated whisky, simply called Tobermory, has become somewhat overlooked. I’ve written reviews for a few, like the discontinued Tobermory 15 Years. Its flavour profile is, shall we say, divisive. I haven’t always been the biggest fan myself and I’m still not entirely convinced. It’s usually described as having a certain dirtiness, which to me translates to a distinct sourness and hint of copper coins. Green veggies sometimes.
It all depends on how that dirtiness interacts with other aspects of the whisky. If it’s the principal aroma, I’ll likely not enjoy it a whole lot. But if it is a complex whisky with room for other elements, Tobermory can be quite exquisite indeed. That is the case with this pick by Kintra and The Whisky Mercenary. But even then it still is an acquired taste.
Tobermory 1994 25 Years (50,9%, Kintra & Whisky Mercenary)
Nose: A touch of copper coins and sour beer, this sure smells like Tobermory to me (Ben Nevis sometimes has this distinct dirtiness as well). Soft tropical fruits as well, such as peaches and mango, but with a hint of vanilla sugar and traces of cloudy apple juice and rye bread. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel and a somewhat sweet (raw sugar) and spicy arrival (white pepper), with just a pinch of salt. A nice amount of almonds, some orange peel and more vanilla sugar. Finish: Lingering orchard fruits and straw. Medium in length.
It took me many years to appreciate this type of profile, but I’m definitely a fan of this particular release. Considering the light colour, you might be surprised to hear it matured in a refill sherry butt. It’s not a obviously sherry-matured whisky, but the sweet arrival was a sign.
After the inimitable Croftengea, this constitutes the second time during this competition that I managed to pull of a perfect score (praise be!). While nosing it, my mind went straight to a mature Tobermory or Ben Nevis. After tasting it became clear to me that it had to be Tobermory, because it didn’t have those bright citrus notes of mid-1990s Ben Nevis.
What finally convinced me to pick this exact bottling, was something called the bubble test. I don’t know why you would’ve, but if you’ve ever shaken a whisky bottle, you’ll have noticed a foamy, bubbly head that’ll dissipate either very quickly or remain for a while. By judging how these bubbles behave, you can fairly accurately assess the ABV of a spirit. The bubble test of this Tobermory indicated a strength of roughly 50 percent.