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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Single Malt Report: Tobermory 10 year old (old label)

On Tuesday, I reviewed a sherried independent bottling of Tobermory.  Today and tomorrow, I'm going to take a look at two versions of the main bottling of Tobermory's official range: the 10 year old.

Both of the whiskies above are Tobermory 10s, but from different periods.  The one on the left was bottled at 40% ABV, held caramel colorant, was very likely chill filtered, and was available from approximately 2002 to 2011.  The one on the right is the newer version of the 10 year old.  It became available in Europe in 2010, then in the US in late 2011.  That one is bottled at a stronger 46.3% ABV, is neither colored nor chill filtered.

Here's another look at these same two whiskies:

Their colors look a little different, don't they?  Tomorrow, I'll write about the one on the right.  Today, I'll be talking about the whisky on the left.  The Tobermory 10 year old "Old Label".

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory (the distillery's unpeated malt)
Ownership: Burn Stewart Distillers
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: probably ex-bourbon casks
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Bottled: March 2011
Colored? Yep
Chillfiltered? Probably

As you can see in this post's very first picture, I had a 50mL mini of this older version.  During one of my visits to see family in Arizona, I spotted a flock of these minis at a corner liquor store.  When I bought one, the man at the register asked, "Are you sure don't want any more?" with a noticeable level of desperation.  These bottles had been sitting on the shelf for at least two years, and almost no one wants to spend money on old weird Tobe.  The next time I went to Arizona, I considered just buying the rest.  But I didn't...

The color is a brownish gold.  A little brown-er and less gold-ish than than whisky usually gets on its own.  The nose is very quiet, almost like a cheap blend.  It takes some time to wake up and even then some clear nasal passages are required.  First, apple skins.  Then floral soap, caramel, and burned oats.  With more air, the soap recedes, replaced by milky oat flakes and corn flakes.  Then cardboard and maybe peach juice.  The palate is very grainy, like a bottom shelf blend (Lauder's minus the vodka notes). But it's also very bitter with an strong odd burnt note.  I know there are two schools of thought regarding if industrial caramel colorant can actually be tasted -- it can or it cannot -- but I'm wondering if the chemically bitter burnt thing is e150a, because it doesn't taste like a naturally derived flavor.  Beyond that, there's some uncooked rice and hair (also uncooked).  That bitterness carries over into the finish.  Also some more burnt stuff with dusty caramel and notebook paper.

I wasn't going to add water to this since it was already so thin, but then I did so anyway to see if the whisky could be saved.

The apple note grows in the nose.  But so does something that's reminiscent of rotting meat.  That note isn't large, but it's there.  Above it is cilantro, cinnamon, caramel, and cheap perfume.  And there's the vodka note that was missing in the neat palate.  No vodka in the watered down palate, though.  The good news is that the bitterness has lessened.  But the only other element I can detect is uncooked oats with fake maple flavoring (Quaker's Instant?).  The finish holds only one flavor: Kaliber, Guinness's ghastly non-alcohol beer.

The good news?  Three things:  1.) The nose was almost fun when neat.  2.) The palate wasn't horrible with added water.  It was plain and easy to sip.  3.) I felt no guilt dumping 20mL down the sink.

The rest is bad news.

As a Tobermory fan, I was very disappointed.  I had thought this edition of Tobe was disliked because of weird cereal, grassy, yeasty things -- and was actually looking forward to that experience.  But the reality is that this is $9.99 bottom shelf blend material.  On its LAWS page, they show it has having been $31 back in 2008.  That's unfortunate.

The LAWS dudes give it a C.  Serge gives it a 70.  Averaging out the two sets of old 10yo scores on Whiskybase, the public gives it a 74.11.  They're all being a little more generous than I.

Keep in mind, all of this is regarding the older version of Tobermory 10.  Had this version been a hit, Burn Stewart Distillers wouldn't have made some drastic changes to the brand.  But they did and for the better.  More on that tomorrow.

TOBERMORY 10 YEAR OLD (older label)
Availability - It's still around in lesser-visited liquor stores, but its space on the shelf is mostly filled with the new version
Pricing - probably in the $40-$60 range
Rating - 67