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Monday, December 7, 2020

Tobermory 10 year old versus Tobermory 12 year old

To mark the distillery's 2019 reopening, Tobermory bumped up the age of its intro malt from 10 to 12 years. They also changed the recipe in a matter I don't find promising. The 10 was aged in ex-bourbon casks, a large portion of which seemed to be refill (per my senses). The 12 is a mix of first-fill ex-bourbon and new oak casks. So the modern Moar Oak! Method has now been adopted by yet another uniquely-styled spirit producer. I do not understand why they did that. It's not like all the rich kids are suddenly going to start drinking Tobermory.

One wonders if this would have happened under Ian MacMillan's watch.

Of course if I actually like the 12 year old better than the 10, you can just ignore every sentence above, except for the first one. I did weary of my last bottle of the 10yo, which is why I kept adding it to vattings and pouring out samples. At the time of that review, I applauded the producers for resisting "trying to turn it into something cuddlier and more commercial", yet I was left with "no interest in ever buying it again". And now here we are.

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory
Owner: Distell International
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: ex-bourbon casks
Bottling year: 2015
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Color added? No
(from the bottom third of my bottle)

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Tobermory
Owner: Distell International
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: first fill ex-bourbon casks + virgin oak casks
Bottling year: 2019
Alcohol by Volume: 
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

Lots of grains in the foreground, like oats, wheat and barley. Grass, moss and limoncello fill out the middle. Hints of sugar and whipped cream float in the background.

It takes a very long time to open up. Once it does (after 25-30 mins), it's all apple skins, toasted oak spice, black raisins, cheese danish, apple crumble and roses. Manure and marshmallows begin to appear after 45 minutes.

OBSERVATIONS: The 12's nose, once it finally opened, was much better than I'd expected. Though zany and unbalanced, it's also thoroughly entertaining. I still prefer the 10's simple, rustic nose. I can't think of another single malt like it.

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

It's still very youthful, but also has a silky mouthfeel. Toasted barley, apples and ginger snaps appear first. Then minerals and hay. After 30 minutes, a vibrant citrus note takes the fore.

Fresh ginger, lemon cookies and floral white stone fruits register first. When the oak kicks after 30 minutes, sugar, vanilla and caramel push nearly everything else out of the way, with limes being the only fruit that remains.

OBSERVATIONS: The 12's palate reads bigger than the 10's, and at first it's a bright, brisk drink, but then the casks arrive, neutralizing anything unique about the whisky. Though admirably raw and spirit-forward, the 10's palate continues to burn me out after 30mL.

Tobermory 10yo (2015) Tobermory 12yo (2019)

Minerals, roots, hay and ginger in the first few sips. Limes, lemons and grapefruits gradually take over.

Tart and a little grassy at first. Hints of herbal bitterness and pickled ginger. Most of those notes are pushed away by a massive sweetness in later sips.

OBSERVATIONS: As with the palate, the 12's finish starts off fresh and crisp, but then takes a turn for the sweet and generic. My thoughts about the 10's finish mirror those of its palate, though I do appreciate that it never gets sugary.

As whisky production is not a charity, the folks at Tobermory were left in an awkward spot. The 10 year old's sales and word-of-mouth never seemed to lift off due to the single malt's unique style, but if the producers were to aggressively tinker with the whisky, then it wouldn't appeal to the few existing Tobermory fans.

A choice was made. By oak-doping the new 12 year old they elected to push it towards a modern, nearly characterless, character. While the quirky nose probably shows the best that can be done by mashing together a bold spirit with heavy wood extraction, all Tobermory notes quickly abandon ship in the palate.

On a positive(?) note, the 12 puts the 10 in a better light, making the retired single malt look like one of the last holdouts from a previous era. Other than the new 18 year old, all other official Tobermory releases have fortified wine finishes. They haven't gone Full Murray McDavid, but they're close. And that is why I have no other Tobermory samples in my collection.

Availability - phased out but still available throughout Europe and USA
Pricing - $45 - $65
Rating - 82

Availability - Available at many European and American specialty retailers
Pricing - $45 - $65 (Europe), $80 - $90 (USA)
Rating - 79

1 comment:

  1. Reading your notes I wonder if blending the 10 and the 12 together would arrive at a good place. I remember my own bottle of the 10 took half to two-thirds of the way through before I feel like it became balanced and enjoyable, so I can envision a bit more oak being a welcome addition. But it sounds like they've gone too far in the other direction. I wish they had been willing to approach it with a lighter hand - maybe more first-fill ex-bourbon casks instead of new oak.