...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Single Malt Report: Tomatin Decades

I don't think it's much of a secret that I am part of the whisky crowd that bemoans the growing prevalence of NAS (no age statement) bottlings in the single malt market.  But I'm not against all NAS whisky.  In fact some of it has proven to be fantastic.

I don't think it's a bad idea for a brand's starter/cheapest malt to be an NAS bottling (examples: Bowmore Legend, Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve, Glen Grant Major's Reserve).  These whiskies underline the fact that these were the youngest and least expensive of the line to produce.  So while the company isn't advertising their age, they're at least honest(-ish) about the product.  They could call the whisky Glen Garioch 8 year old, but by removing the age statement altogether it allows them to be flexible in case it becomes 6 year old stuff in the future.  As long as they don't fling the NAS's price above the first age statement product I don't mind.

When a brand, like Macallan, rids itself of all its age statements and tries to get people to buy into all out lies like "color determines quality" and then charge much more for the disclosure-free products, I find that creepy and aggressively dishonest.  And I'm not sure how that is good for the future of the single malt market.  When companies, like Diageo (via Mortlach) name their NAS product Rare Old when it is the most prevalent and youngest in the line (and charge a premium for it and put it in a smaller bottle and...), that's a level of brazen bullsh*t that enters snake oil salesman levels.  Or when a company, like Diageo (via Talisker), plop their NAS bottling at a price above an older age statement whisky without offering a reason why, I don't really see how that's good for the consumer or for the future of the brand in general.

What negates much of my above arguments is the fact that some of my favorite modern whiskies are NAS whiskies.  Ardbegs Corryvreckan and Uigeadail, while probably no longer at their peak, are excellent.  My two bottles of Laphroaig Quarter Cask were much more complex and tasty than the 10 and 18 year olds.  Longrow CV (ye be mourned) and Longrow Peated both kick(ed) ass.  And then there's Balvenie Tun 1401, which is the argument stopper of all argument stoppers for a good reason.  Via the Tun 1401s, David Stewart has crafted some of the best whisky I have ever nosed or tasted.

Then there's Tomatin Decades.
Decades is like Tomatin's version Tun 1401.  It's in honor of master distiller Douglas Campbell's 50th year with the company.  Like Stewart, he has selected casks from different barrels and different years (different decades, if you will) in order to create a single new creation.  (On a side note, Glen Grant has done something similar, "Five Decades", with Dennis Malcolm recently).  Tomatin has actually gone a few steps further than other NAS whiskies by disclosing the vintages and cask types of its ingredients, and not just via whisky blogger leaks, but by listing the information on the box.

Here are the ingredients:
One refill sherry hogshead - distilled May 17, 1967
Oloroso sherry butts - distilled December 7, 1976
Refill sherry hogsheads - distilled June 21, 1984
First Fill Bourbon Barrels - distilled September 24, 1990
First Fill Bourbon Barrels of peated spirit - December 7, 2005
(inner box pic from Jordan's review)

Yes, there are some elements that have come from an unstated number of casks, but, seriously, is there another N.A.S. whisky that has so much A that has been S'ed?  (Please insert A and S jokes as you prefer.)

I actually did my Tomatin Decades tasting two months ago and was going to post the review it next month, but I was inspired by Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail's Monday review (please see here!) to toss this thing online ASAP.

Distillery: Tomatin
Ownership: Tomatin Distillery Co. (Takara Shuzo Co. Ltd., Kokubu & Co., The Marubeni Corp.)
Region: Highlands
Type: Single Malt
Maturation and Age: See above ingredient list
Bottled: 2011
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited bottling: 9000
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colored? Unknown

The color is a dark amber.  The nose starts out with a flood of fruit: guavas, then peach puree, then fresh orange juice, then peach pie.  Rich vanilla beans becomes vanilla yogurt.  After some air, the whisky reveals some sharper (younger?) spirity notes, followed by lots of flower blossoms and butterscotch.  If one took the nose's fruits, then stripped out the sugars leaving only the oils and essences behind, that is how the palate starts.  Some tartness is balanced by a very light sweetness.  Some limes begin to show up after a while.  With more time, it all becomes more liqueur-like, thicker and sweeter.  Hints of bitterness show up here and there, framed by the sweetness.  Lots of citrus oils -- lemon, lime, and orange -- in the finish.  A hint of mocha too.  The sugars slowly expand with time.

All of that fruitiness is reduced in the nose, but it's still present.  More toffee and caramel and flower blossoms.  Cologne.  Key lime pie cream.  Hot olive oil.  The palate gets tarter.  More citrus up front, tropical fruits in the background.  Some maltier notes start to develop, fortifying the fruit front.  Sweet and tart limes backed by a bitter black tea in the finish.

I really enjoyed Decades.  If, like me, you're a sucker for those fruits, then you're in for a treat.  Jordan and I both found floral and fruit angles in it, though he finds more flowers and I get more fruits.  He found some peat and young spirit in the early part of his bottle and less as it went on.  Since my review was from a whiskysamples purchased sample and I didn't find any peat, I'm thinking my sample came from somewhere mid bottle.

Like many of Tomatin's products, Decades is priced well, especially considering how much old whisky is floating around inside.  It also contains whiskies distilled in 1976, Tomatin's supposed great vintage (if you buy into whisky vintage theory and I'm not sure I do).  It's not cheap, but it's being sold at a fraction of the Tun 1401 price.  While it doesn't unseat the Tuns, Decades is still a terrific whisky.  I wouldn't mind if they tried a second batch.

Availability - Some specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $85-$120 in the US, though it was on sale for $60(!) in Oregon recently
Rating - 91