...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Things I Really Drink: Tomatin Contrast, Bourbon and Sherry Casks

Tomatin's cask experiments in the 2010s won the hearts of many a geek (including this dweeb). Their first Decades release combined casks from 1967, 1976, 1984, 1990, and 2005, included actual cask information on the packaging, and resulted in a thick fruity delight. In 2015, the distillery tried out another pair of cask combinations that encouraged study and contrasts, and that also received raves.

The Tomatin Contrast box includes two half-sized (350mL) bottles. One bottle contains whisky aged entirely in bourbon casks, the other in sherry casks. Both whiskies held casks from 1973, 1977, 1988, 1991, 2002, and 2006. Here's the breakdown:

At first glance these combinations may look like they include very generous proportions of 35+ year old whisky. But when one considers chemistry and evaporation rate (aka "the angels"), and an analysis of the actual outturn, it becomes clear that either some of these casks lost A LOT of their contents, or only parts of the casks' contents were used.

To wit, some maths:
--5400 350mL bottles = 1890 liters (or 2700 700mL bottles)
--That's 1890 liters of diluted 46%abv whisky.
--The spirit went into the casks at 63.5%abv.
--That means ~55% of the sherry casks', and ~61% of the bourbon casks' alcohol content has vanished if the entirety of all the casks were used to make Contrast.

Taking into consideration that 30%-33% of the casks used were only 8-13 years old, one begins to glean that not much of the old stuff made it into the mix. I wouldn't doubt that there wasn't much left of the old vessels, and their contents may have been in "spirit drink" territory. It also wouldn't surprise me if the 7-12yo casks made up more than 70% of each Contrast whisky.

I'm suggesting that those individuals pursuing this release in the secondary marketplace should not expect to find much old whisky in these whiskies, and Tomatin's marketing team pulled a nifty little twist with their cask disclosure.

ANYWAY, Doctors Springbank and I split a Contrast set this year, and I've already finished half of my share. That's half of a half of half-sized bottles. It's time to finish half of what's left. So kids, how many fluid ounces of whisky will I actually drink in total during this session?

Tomatin Contrast - Bourbon Cask Matured 46%abv Tomatin Contrast - Sherry Cask Matured 46%abv
Its nose first arrives in the form of an interesting salad dressing: champagne vinegar, honey, and lemon. Vanilla marshmallows and applesauce rise up and take over. Hints of cologne and sawdust linger in the background. Diluting the whisky to 40%abv pushes it all the way into dessert territory, with brown sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon up front, hints of peaches and apple chips in the back.Its nose is funkier and mustier than the bourbon casks, at first. It cleans up fast, turning into vanilla, caramel, and almond extract. Apple skins, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and damp bark show up next. It gets flatter/staler with time. Once diluted to 40%abv, it smells of Glenmorangie Lasanta. And that's not a compliment. It's all oak spices, caramel, black raisins, and a hint of dried apricots.
The palate starts off tangy, a little malty. Plenty of vanilla, lemons, and tart nectarines perk up. Within 30 minutes toasty oak spices (like cloves) overwhelm, and it gets much sweeter. At 40%abv, it's loaded with vanilla and sugar. Maybe some tinned peaches and lime candy too.Anything other than very sweet raisins struggle to be found in the palate. Some tarts citrus, cloves, peppercorns, and cinnamon red hots whisper in the background. Then come the tannins. It may have improved at 40%abv, with tangier citrus, baked plums, and a mild bitterness.
It finishes full of brown sugar and vanilla, peppercorns and cloves. At 40%abv, it doesn't change much.It finishes with raisins, prunes, and lemon candies. Then come the tannins. At 40%abv, it's slightly less woody, and some off-season plums appear.


My first sips of these whiskies (long before this tasting) were not good. They were each a different shade of oak juice. Time has calmed the tannins a little bit, but both whiskies' results aren't super. They're decent, essentially generic bourbon cask and sherry cask whisky with a lot of vanilla, sugar, and raisins. The Sherry cask Contrast has the more interesting nose, while the Bourbon cask Contrast has the preferred palate arrival and departure, and they both wind up with the same score. Older whisky elements may appear as Oak and the early musty note in the Sherry, but otherwise remain hidden or absent.

I disagree with Malt-Review that these are "a great way to experience Tomatin". The standard 12yo and 18yo are much more representative of the distillery, and would likely mop the floor with Contrast in a blind tasting. And I'm not sure what Whiskyfun was drinking, but it's absolutely not the stuff in my Glencairns.

So yes, again I'm the party pooper, but a very curious party pooper. In my next post I'll do a little comparison to see how valid today's post was...

Tomatin Contrast, Bourbon Cask Matured - 80
Tomatin Contrast, Sherry Cask Matured - 80

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