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Friday, April 25, 2014

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

Today, it's the last of this week's Tobermory Trio.  Tuesday, it was a sherried 18 year old indie.  On Thursday, I looked at and (sadly) drank the previous version of the official 10 year old.  Today, it'll be the new edition of the 10 year old.

Just as a reminder here are the pics from yesterday's post:

The whisky I'm reviewing today is the one on the right.  I tasted the one on the left yesterday and found it to be disappointingly poor.  The one on the right is much different.

The updated edition of Tobermory 10 began retailing in Europe in 2010.  It came to The States in late 2011.  The old version was 40% ABV, colored, and probably chill filtered.  The new one is 46.3% ABV, and neither colored nor filtered.

I've had the pleasure of trying this new version on several occasions, but usually wasn't taking notes.  For the purposes of this review, my main notes are from the above Master of Malt sample.  But I also have some brief notes I took during a tasting led by brand rep Travis Tidwell, last November.

ALSO, as an extra bonus, this is the fifth of Five Fab Fridays of simultaneous reviews between Diving for Pearls and My Annoying Opinions.  I'll post the direct link to MAO's review of this new version of Tobermory 10yo once I wake up this morning.  And here's the link to his review.  It's a little different than mine...

TOBERMORY 10 YEAR OLD, current edition

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory (the distillery's unpeated malt)
Ownership: Burn Stewart Distillers
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: all ex-bourbon casks
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Colored? No
Chillfiltered? No

The color is plain ol' amber.  The nose is intensely herbal at first sniff, think anise and juniper.  There are lots of grasses, dead and alive.  Pungent burnt grapefruit peel, pine sap, mild hand soap, and something mossy (though this is their unpeated whisky).  It likes air, getting slightly fruitier (ripe lemons) and developing cream of wheat and mild cheddar notes.  After 45 minutes, it smells like the inside of a barn.  The palate is sweeter than the old version, but without being very sweet.  The old one's chemical bitter/burnt thing is replaced by a baking-chocolate-type of palatable bitterness.  The mystery moss note oddly but pleasantly continues along here.  Barley and yeast (worty?) meet cracked white peppercorns.  Subtle notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and sour apple.  It's mostly very grassy and spirit forward, which continues on into the finish.  Some pepper in the throat.  Vanilla pudding and oatmeal.

And here are my notes from the November 2013 tasting:
Nose - Spirity, cereal grains, anise, red delicious apple skins, nutmeg, baking apples, cut grass
Palate - Nice, grassy and grainy, those hot cereal notes, pepper.

Three things to note:

1.)  I included that second set of notes because this Tobermory can change quite a bit in the bottle (see Chemistry of the Cocktail's notes here, his bottle eventually came together nicely) and can also differ quite a bit from batch to batch.  My buddy Florin (I think it was him!) noted, quite accurately, a "sour garbage" character at the top of his bottle but then things got much better as the liquid made its way to the bottom of the bottle.  Speaking of variation...

2.)  Peat.  I was a little weirded out by the distinct peat moss notes I got in the Master of Malt sample.  It wasn't Ledaig-level peaty but it was unmistakable, and unique to all my previous Tobe 10 tastings.  As soon as my Taste Off was over, I went online to gauge my nuttiness.  Thankfully, Senior Sergio Valentino had found peat notes in both of his Tobermory reviews.  So it's good to know, as crazy loves company.  Could it be that Tobermory's stills sometimes carry some peat residue from previous Ledaig distillations?  Many of Caol Ila's "Unpeated" releases are noticeably peated, but they have quotation marks on their labels.  I don't think Tobermory has any quotes around its unpeated designation.

3.)  Peat or no peat, this is more than just a step up from the old version.  The two are barely related.  Could this change be as simple as removing the colorant, avoiding filtration, and adding less water?  Or did the company institute better barrel management?  Or did I just get a crappy mini of the old edition?  I don't think Tobermory whisky is as much of an acquired taste as the reputation that precedes it.  It is undoubtedly quirky, but accessible if you like herbal, grassy, barley-forward malts.

Don't fear the Tobe.

Availability - Most liquor specialty retailers
Pricing - probably in the $40-$60 range
Rating - 85 (current edition only!)


  1. Switching to all first-fill bourbon casks probably made a difference as well. That richness was really apparent from the second half of my bottle, which helps to balance out a lot of the weirdness.

    1. There are times I've had this one and it seems very spirity and oak free. I wonder if that was due to a top o' the bottle pour. I'm going to need to eventually get a bottle of my own to track the oak influence.

      As I mention below, I doubt if the consistency issue will help Burn Stewart sell more of these bottles.

  2. Yeah, we're not on the same page on this one. As I noted over in the comments on my blog, I actually thought some of your notes on the old 10, which I read after reviewing my sample of the new 10, applied quite well. I don't know if Florin's bottle and the one your sample came from are from iterations separated by some production variable but I got a lot of the chemical/plastic/bitter stuff on mine. I got smoke in mine too though.

    1. It's fascinating how wide ranging people's opinions are on this one. The LAWS guys hold it in similar esteem as you do, but each find very different notes. Meanwhile, Florin likely had a completely different experience.

      This issue won't exactly help Burn Stewart move bottles. Springbank can have wide batch variation, but their brand is more beloved than Tobermory's. And also Springbank is Springbank.

      I'm relieved that you found smoke in your sample too, though. Unpeated isn't what it used to be or is currently or ever was. I suppose.

    2. I definitely found peat as well, though it was more vegetal than smokey to me.

    3. Ditto. To my nose and palate it was mossy. So perhaps my discovery wasn't as unusual as I had thought.

  3. In the comments and tweets for both sites, there appears to be good split in votes for Tobermory 10yo 46.3%. 3 for, 2 against, 1 mixed. The LAWS guys aren't crazy about it, giving it a C-. Serge gives it 80 & 81. Jim Murray gives it two different reviews -- 85(!) and 73.5 -- but hates it less than the old version (67.5). Michael Jackson's Complete Guide gives it an 81.

    Apparently, there won't be a consensus on this one.

  4. If your review of the old Tobermory 10yo is representative of the whisky, and not just the result of a flawed mini, then Burn Stewart must receive a prize for most improved bottle! I really like the new Tobermory 10yo! I posted my take on MAO's blog, but I'll reproduce it below.

    Very interesting discussion! I wouldn’t expect less from Tobermory, probably the most polarizing whisky there is. Laphroaig is also a love/hate proposition, but mostly for whisky newbies; among whisky lovers it’s rare to hear someone say “I won’t touch that lamp petrol shit”.

    The sample MAO received was from the second half of the bottle, West side of the label. I poured it with the right hand. The moon was in the house of Venus.

    The difference from MK’s account is all personal preference – I drunk from the same bottle for the past three nights and loved it every time. My score is in line with MK’s – mid 80′s. I recognize some of MAO’s notes – I think what he calls plasticky/artificial is a sourness akin to sauerkraut (not pickle) juice, which I find very organic. Some of us grew up on this stuff or have it in their DNA – you can draw a broad stroke on the map from Sweden to Turkey and all the countries in-between claim stuffed cabbage (sour cabbage leaves filled with a ground meat mixture and cooked slowly in a cabbage and tomato juice) as their national dishes. After the bottle or the glass breathes a while these notes are well balanced by sweetness. Not sherry-like sweetness, of which there is none, but stewed-fruits sweetness, in the style of Laphroaig, with plenty of mossy, vegetal notes (like MAO/MK/Jordan noted). This sweetness evokes to me sour cherries steeped in alcohol – another Eastern European drink, called vişinată in Romania, or wiśniówka in Poland.

    What surprised me too, before reading MAO & MK’s notes, was the peat! It’s clearly there, and unexpected too. Probably the master distiller figured out that Tobermory likes its peat. In fact, I mixed this with peated whiskies (Laphroaig, Talisker, Ledaig – not all at once) with very good effects.

    It’s also true that this is a multi-faceted whisky – I never know what I’ll find on any given night. It changes in the bottle, it changes in the glass, and it changes with the mood. It likes air. The first taste out of the bottle was scary (pure sour cabbage) but it got better quickly.

    It’s clear that this distillery has plenty of character. It’s perhaps easiest to appreciate it in the form of Ledaig, but I’m glad that there’s the more naked Tobermory out there as well. I give credit to Michael for calling my attention to it, and I’m now a convert. This is a baffling whisky – and I love it! I’m stocking up on the first good opportunity.

    1. Thanks for the comment! It brought back forgotten memories of the stuffed cabbage my grandmother used to make. She is a second-generation American, her stuffed cabbage is/was from her Polish mother's recipe. It used to gross me out when I was little -- with that great young American palate! -- so she used to whip up some chicken schnitzel for me instead. Wish I'd been less of a picky eater back then because I don't remember what that stuffed cabbage was like.

      Is wiśniówka or vişinată available in the US? It sounds fun. At least it sounds better than Cherry Midnight Moon (http://www.juniorsmidnightmoon.com/spirits/cherry/).

      Back to whisky. There are other divisive individual releases, but those are often due to oak preferences and sulphur tolerances. But when it comes to the base single malt distillate, Tobermory is the most divisive that I can think of as well. Though I'm sure Loch Lomond would be another candidate.

  5. It seems that Burn Stewart has begun bottling new miniatures of their revamped line. I picked up a Tobermory 10 and Bunnahabhain 12 mini. I will say I'm not detecting any peat in the Tobermory but I am finding this a quality single malt.

    1. That's good news. I hope the minis make it down to the southern half of the state. As you and I have referenced before, it would be great if more whisky companies were releasing minis in the US.