...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Tomatin Distillery's Single Cask Experience

It was more important for us to stay in Drumnadrochit than for me to attend a whisky tour while we were in the Highlands, but a window of time opened up on July 10th for me to hit one of two nearby distilleries.  Glen Ord and Tomatin both produce good stuff, though to find quality Ord one has to explore the independent bottlers or hit the secondary market for dusties.  Strike one.  Also, Ord is owned by Diageo and I already had a Diageo distillery tour scheduled on Islay (reviewed here!).  Diageo connection?  Strike two and three.  Ord out.  Tomatin was a go.

Tomatin's site shows a few different tour options.  Since I wasn't probably going to get another opportunity to visit Tomatin, I went with the fancy tour, the Single Cask Experience.

Our three days (two nights) in the Highlands proved to be the only rainy days while were in Scotland, so this was my only distillery tour that included an actual drizzle.  I showed up five minutes late, stressed out that the tour group left without me.  That was technically impossible, as I learned upon my arrival, because I was the tour group.  I had The Experience to myself.

My guide was Ken, a former radio guy, now a Tomatin Man.  I peppered him with questions throughout, and he held his own.

I can't tell you for certain how much of the tour section of The Experience is more in depth or behind-the-scenes than the regular tour.  There were plenty of stops to see some of the rustier, less romantic, nerdy stuff that may or may not be on the average distillery tour.

In any case I got a chance to hang out in their old mash tun.  I attempted three selfies.  All were frightening.  So here's just a photo of the thing and its blades:

And now here's their actual mash tun:

The distillery was down for annual repairs that day, so you won't see any wort down there.

Here's their very old kiln for back in the day when they did their own peated maltings, more than a half century ago:

After the distillery was expanded to a insane size 1974, it was scaled down a decade later.  But a lot of the gear is still there, like the kiln and mash tun.  A few enormous washbacks remain and have been sealed, but they're so enormous that they were impossible to photograph.  Tomatin did sell off (or scrap) their extra stills and now twelve stills remain (though only ten are currently in use).  The ones shown on the regular tour look like this:

See that nice color and shine?  That's the honey glaze all distilleries give to their showoff stills.  But this is what copper still looks like, without the glaze, gloriously oxidized:

We made a stop at one of their two dunnage warehouses, where I was told that this is the oldest cask in their warehouses:
Tomatin 50, anyone?
And then, it was single cask time!

These are the five single casks they're selling in their distillery shop, along with (yay!) their new make.  I received ~25mL pours of each.  Here are my notes, from left to right.

First was their new make at its barreling strength of 63.5%abv.  The nose and palate are lovely, very drinkable, like a delicate eau de vie, even at this strength, full of barley, white fruits, and clay.  But I'm a sucker for new make.

Next up was a 9 year old virgin oak cask (#69), distilled in 2006, bottled at 60%abv.  The nose leads with vanilla and coconut.  It's plenty sugary, lightly nutty, with a little bit of wood smoke.  The palate is creamy and loaded with coconut.  A slight green herbal note keeps it from being too desserty.

Then was a 12 year old (refill?) ex-bourbon barrel (#2592), distilled in 2003, bottled at 62.1%abv.  The nose is loaded with fresh apricots, caramel sauce, and sugar cookies.  Lots of pears, peaches, and countless stone fruits in the palate.  Excellent.  My favorite of the group!

Then, a 10 year old ex-oloroso cask (#5218), distilled in 2005, bottled at 58.2%abv.  Some fruit from the new make still peeks through in the nose, joined by pepper and a slight earthy note.  Meanwhile, the palate is mostly cask.  Raisins, prunes, and caramel, without any fresh fruits.

Next was a 14 year old (#34915), distilled in 2002, with 10 years in ex-bourbon and 4 years in ex-Pedro Ximenez, bottled at 55.8%abv.  The nose is blessedly light on gooey PX, instead it's mostly orange peel, almonds, and anise.  The raisins show up in the palate, lining up with some moderate stone fruit notes.

Lastly came the 25 year old first fill bourbon cask (#16366), distilled in 1990, bottled at 54.4%abv.  The nose is full of floral (blooms, not soap) and tropical fruit notes.  Some nice caramel sauce as well.  The palate is very fruity, but also carries with it a heft of creamy vanilla oak notes.

The 12yo ex-bourbon cask was the standout of the bunch (probably an A-/90ish whisky), and I've been kicking myself ever since for not buying a bottle of it.  Though the 25yo was good, one could get three bottles of the 12 for its price (£200+ vs £70), and I'd argue the 12 was better, showing off Tomatin at its best.  The other three casks were decent, but I'd happily buy a bottle of the new make instead of them.

If you're heading to Tomatin, intent on buying a bottle or two of their distillery exclusive casks, I'd highly recommend the Single Cask Experience.  For a fraction of the price of one bottle, it's the only way to try the casks before you buy, so it may save you from paying much more for something you won't like upon opening.  It's also the only way to try the distillery's new make, and you'll get a great tour along the way.