Tasting Six Tomatin Whiskies (With Scott Adamson)
Tomatin has been somewhat of an unknown whisky for me. For whatever inexplicable reason, I had never taken the time to get familiar with this gentle giant of the Highlands. I know that 1976 is their best vintage and that well-known whisky bloggers Thomas and Ansgar Speller are big fans. But that was about it.
On Tuesday that changed when Scott Adamson visited my local liquor store. He is a brand ambassador for Tomatin, or as he so eloquently puts it, “a professional alcoholic”. Scott was accompanied by Jock Shaw, a well-known whisky personality in The Netherlands. Together they lined up a nice vertical of Tomatin-expressions, and they made sure we all left satisfied and with a lot more knowledge of the Tomatin distillery and its whisky.
Did you know that Tomatin once was the biggest distillery in Scotland? Me neither. But they produced over 12 million liters of pure alcohol annually in the early seventies. A record that has yet to be broken. Not even present day giants Glenfiddich or Roseisle produce that much. Nowadays they’ve slowed down and produce about 2.5 million liters every year, about half of the current capacity.
Tomatin is situated not far south of Inverness, right next to the A9. I’ve been to Inverness three times in the last couple of years and will surely visit the city in the near future again. I’ve looked into visiting Tomatin in the past, but’ve always opted to make the drive to Speyside and its distilleries. I think that’s because (a) I didn’t know much about Tomatin and (b) it doesn’t have the romantic exterior that a lot of other distilleries do have. It sort of looks like a factory. Which admittedly is a dumb reason for not visiting a distillery. I’ll make up for that the next time I travel to Scotland, because Tomatin is now high up on the list of distilleries I want to see.
The coolest fact I learned about Tomatin? Around eighty percent of the employees (around fifty in total) live on the premises. And even though most employees are not family by blood (some actually are), they do form a sort of family. A Tomatin Village if you will. And that more than makes up for the less appealing look of the distillery. It’s a very romantic notion, really. Scott will tell you that living on distillery grounds has its pros and cons. “On the one hand, you can get up at 25 after eight, and still be in time for work. On the other you never have an excuse for being late.”
Let’s continue to the actual tasting of the Tomatin-whiskies. I won’t give you detailed tasting notes, because an informal tasting session in a store is never a good place to really assess a dram. I’d rather do that in the comfort of my own home, without distractions. Instead I’ll give you some quick notes. Look at it as sort of a first impression.
Tomatin Legacy (43%): A NAS whisky, but Scott didn’t hesitate to say that it was actually four years old. Vanilla, malty and with green and exotic fruits on the nose. Smells a bit spirity. Taste of oak shavings, pinapple and vanilla sweetness with a hint of white pepper. Slightly dry and bitter finish (81)
Tomatin 12yo (40%): This whisky has been finished for up to one year in 1st fill Oloroso casks. This is noticeable in the nose, with dried fruits, but also some porridge and faint vanilla. Some apples and pears, along with oranges on the palate. The finish is short, but clean (80)
Tomatin 14yo Port Wood Finish (46%): A soft and smooth nose with nectarines, peaches and mango. The palate is a bit wine-y, with black pepper on the arrival. Also chocolate and wood. The finish is long and warming (83)
Tomatin 18yo (46%): This one actually spends the last 2,5 years in Oloroso casks, but the nose also has plenty of ex-bourbon notes. Fairly citrussy, next to pine wood, plums and almonds. The palate is more sherried I think, with chocolate, fudge, oranges and also ginger. Easily the best whisky of this line-up (86)
Tomatin Cù Bòcan (46%): Vanilla and coconut on the nose with a bit of fresh peat, similar to Ledaig, but with a much lower ppm-level. Also campfire smoke and pineapple. The palate is mildly peated and ashy, with a faint sherry influence and exotic fruits (84)
Tomatin Cù Bòcan Virgin Oak (46%): Pineapple, apple sauce, vanilla and oak, with barely any peat on the nose. Pears and vanilla, plus coconut on the palate. Some spices but no peat (81)
All in all a pretty good line-up, with the 18yo being my clear favorite. I would’ve liked an expression that had matured completely in ex-bourbon casks, since everything is now finished or has been vatted together with whisky from virgin oak casks. Scott explained that the Tomatin 15yo used to be a 100 percent ex-bourbon expression, but they discontinued that one to preserve more stock for the 18yo.
One final interesting piece of news before I wrap up this post: there is a single cask Tomatin in the works for The Netherlands, which might be released near the end of 2015. This is however not yet a certainty.
Thanks to Scott Adamson, Jock Shaw and the people from Het Whiskyhuis for showing us a very nice evening.
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.