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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Where's the Love? Tullibardine Aged Oak Edition

Tullibardine.  Yep, Tullibardine.  Upon seeing the subject heading of this post, most folks are either going to skip reading this one altogether or glance down at the final score and move on.  But that's sort of the point of this series.  This isn't about Kavalan or Ardbeg or Stitzel Weller.  It's about the distilleries that receive little to no positivity or attention from whisky fans.

Before doing this tasting I didn't know much about Tullibardine other than their headache-inducing ownership history.  See Malt Madness's recap for the who's who's who what when.  And I knew they used to sell their White & Mackay-distilled stuff using vintages rather than age statements, and those bottlings used to sell for very reasonable prices.  Or rather they didn't actually sell.

Two years ago, the distillery's newest ownership decided to revamp its brand in order to catch some of that big scotch money.  So they removed the vintages.  And released a slew of NAS bottlings with different wine finishes.  And increased the prices significantly.  They did release a 20 and 25 year old, but priced them highly as well.  In order to make their brand "luxurious", they gave their products big price tags without offering anything that couldn't be had elsewhere for less (aka The Dalmore Configuration).  Thanks to that maneuver, you can now buy two Glenfarclas 25s for the price of one Tullibardine 25 in the US.  Good luck with that, y'all.

I bought this mini of Tullibardine Aged Oak Edition thinking it was one of these new NASes, when in fact it was one of their old NASes.  When Tullibardine Distillery Ltd (aka the folks who released the bottles with vintages) wanted to put out a single malt containing only their spirit, they went the NAS direction rather than calling it a 7-year-old.

I had also thought the "Aged Oak" nomenclature was a bit of unintended comedy.  But after I read the bottle's back label and actually drank the liquid, I realized the name wasn't referring to the fact that their whisky (like all Scotch whisky) was aged in oak, but that these casks were actually older oak casks.  Or to put it another way, very-very-refill ex-bourbon casks.

Distillery: Tullibardine
Ownership: Tullibardine Distillery Ltd (now Picard Vins & Spiritueux)
Age: NAS, but likely 7 years or younger
Maturation: likely refill ex-bourbon casks
Region: Mid-Highlands
Bottled: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill filtered? No
Caramel Coloring? probably not much
(Mini was purchased by yours truly)

The color is a very light amber.  The nose begins and ends with barley.  At the start there's also some pencil shavings and graphite along with something that seems like a light peating.  Then apples and a hint of marshmallows.  Light jasmine and rose-like esters meet up with subtle butter and caramel notes.  Eventually it picks up some lemon zest.  Wow, the palate is really malty.  Lots of roasted grains and mocha.  Soft peeps of bitterness and peppery spice.  But otherwise it's all barley.  Still malty in the finish.  Smaller notes of toasted marshmallows, black pepper, and vanilla fade in and out.

WITH WATER (~35%abv)
More barley in the nose.  Dried leaves, marshmallows, vinyl, and unripe pears.  No peat.  The palate is basically the same: roasty and malty with hints of pepper and herbal bitterness.  The finish gets a little bitterer and cardboardy. Otherwise, it's malt and sugar.

This surprised me.  I enjoyed the bushels and bushels of barley.  It felt crisp and about as refreshing as a whisky can be, a summer malt.  There's little complexity and it doesn't take water well, but I rarely add water to a 40%abv whisky anyway.

I could not disagree more with Serge's comment that this is not a whisky for malt geeks.  The whisky is all malt.  One couldn't possibly squeeze more barley into it.  It's a shame that it has been discontinued (replaced by an NAS "Sovereign" aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks).  "Aged Oak" would have fit into the nice simple starter-priced tier with Glenfiddich 12yo and Speyburn 10yo.  Unfortunately its US price tended to float around the $40s, which may have helped kill it off.  I don't think it's worth that much, but if I found it in the mid $20s then I'd be happy to get it.

Availability - Much easier to find on the European continent where it's also cheaper
Pricing - mid $40s in The States, $25-$35 in Europe
Rating - 81

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