April 2017 Whisky of the Month:
Tomatin 14 Year Old Port Cask Finish is a textbook end-of-night dram and you’d struggle to find a better example of an exceptionally well done Port wood finish. Join The Club now for exclusive access to more exciting drams like this each month and great member perks.
Country of Origin:
Tomatin is a remote Highland distillery located up in the Monadhliath Mountains near Inverness in Scotland. At 315 metres above sea level, it’s also one of the highest distilleries in Scotland after Dalwhinnie, about 40 miles South West.
The distillery, formerly known as the Tomatin Spey District Distillery Ltd, was established in 1897 during the height of the Victorian Whisky Boom but predictably it suffered during the ensuing industry-wide bust brought about by the collapse of flamboyant blenders, Pattinsons Ltd. The team managed to ride out the worst of the bust but eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1906. A new consortium stepped in, and by 1909 it was business as usual at the renamed Tomatin Distillery Co Ltd.
The next forty years or so were fairly uneventful until the 1950s when Scotch whisky once again entered a boom lasting nearly 30 years, which set the foundation for whisky as we know it today, with Tomatin right at the front of the charge.
Seeing early signs of good times ahead, the enterprising folks at Tomatin started thinking big – really, really big. In 1956 they doubled their stills from two to four, then added another two in 1958 and by 1974, boasting 23 stills, Tomatin was the largest distillery in Scotland producing an impressive 12 million litres of spirit annually. To put this in context, it was in production terms larger even than Roseisle, Diageo’s famed $80 million ‘mega-distillery’. This period also saw the emergence of single malts for the first time and while the majority of the whisky made at Tomatin was sold in bulk for use in well-known blended whiskies such as J&B, Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker, it was also one of the few distillers to offer a single malt, initially a 5 Year Old, and later also a 10 Year Old.
Unfortunately the success and expansion of Tomatin was also its downfall. Rapid growth exposed it to risk and while it managed to weather most of the early 1980s recession, it finally went bust in ’84. Fortunately help was close at hand in the form of Tomatin’s biggest customer, Takara Shuzo Co., who also happened to be Japan’s largest drinks producer. Japan, like the USA, had exited the recession early and Takara Shuzo Co. seized the opportunity to become the first Japanese company to fully own a Scottish distillery. By 1986 it was once again business as usual at Tomatin.
Whisky making is a way of life at Tomatin with more than 80% of the work force living at the distillery. Back in 1897 the distillery’s remote location meant there was no access to a local workforce, so the architect included a number of houses to accommodate workers and their families. Over the years the distillery has added more houses and today the settlement of Tomatin has 30 houses, many of which have now been inhabited by several generations of the same family, all working together at the distillery.
In terms of production, Tomatin is still one of Scotland’s top 10 malt whisky distilleries and boasts, in addition to its own village, an onsite cooperage, 14 warehouses, a vast reserve of maturing whisky and an unwavering focus on producing excellent Highland single malt. Their efforts are certainly not in vain if the recent string of awards are anything to go by. The core range scored higher than ever in Jim Murray’s 2016 Whisky Bible when it was last submitted with marks consistently above 91.5/100 and the team’s dedication to whisky excellence was recognised and celebrated last year at the 2016 Icons of Whisky Awards, when their industry peers voted Tomatin ‘Distillery of the Year’. So having already been the biggest, Tomatin is now well and truly in the running to being the best.
About Tomatin Single Malt Whisky:
Tomatin makes a lighter, unpeated style of whisky that showcases the softer side of the Highlands. You may’ve seen their quirky ad campaign to match the softer side reputation, with burly Scotmen alongside fluffy pooches and Highland cattle in winter booties, as posted on our Facebook page recently. The late, great whisky writer Michael Jackson described their softer ‘malty, spicy and rich’ style as ‘either restorative or for after dinner’.
The distillery operates twelve stills (each with a capacity of 16,800 litres), twelve stainless steel washbacks (each with a 7000 litre capacity) and a one 8-tonne Lautner tun. Tomatin was the first distillery to switch from the traditional mash tun, which uses rakes to turn the barley, to a Lauter mash-tun, which employs the use of rotating knives to improve the extraction of soluble starch from the barley.
While traditionally selling the vast majority of its whisky to third-party blenders, since 2002 the distillery’s main focus has been on producing single malt and today more than twenty percent of their whisky is bottled as premium single malt. The balance is used for blending, mainly for their own brands, which include Antiquary, Legendary Scot and Talisman. Tomatin have also recently begun making lightly peated single malt called Cù Bòcan, production of which takes place over a seven-week period each year.
The distillery boasts one of the strongest core range of single malts in Scotland, borne out by exceptional results as for example in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible with the Legacy bringing in 94.5 points, 12 Year Old 91.5 points, 18 Year Old 92.5 points, 1988 Vintage 95.5 points and the 36 Year Old romping home with 96.5 points. Jim also rated our whisky this month, the 14 Year Old Port Cask Finish, as brilliant, scoring 92.5 in the Whisky Bible. It’s a textbook end-of-night dram and you’d struggle to find a better example of an exceptionally well done Port wood finish. The whisky spends an initial 12 years maturing and mellowing in refill American oak ex-bourbon casks before undergoing a further two year maturation in first-fill casks, sourced from Symington Family Vineyards in Portugal’s Upper Duoro Valley, that had previously held their tawny port for 50 years. Graham Eunson, Tomatin’s head distiller has done a splendid job creating a powerful, balanced and textured whisky displaying ample lashings of strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, baked apple with cinnamon and nutmeg, red berries, raisins and of course rich toffee and butterscotch for good measure. A surge in global demand for this remarkable dram has totally depleted the distillery’s stocks, with no more available until late 2018. Fortunately we had our finger on the pulse and were in time to secure a whopping share of this liquid gold for the Club’s enjoyment in an Australian exclusive import.
Age on release:
Matured for 12 years in ex-bourbon casks before a further two year maturation in European oak ex-Port casks.
Tomatin quick facts
Place of origin: Tomatin, Inverness, Inverness-Shire, IV13 7YT, Scotland, United Kingdom
Water source: Alt-na Frith
Washbacks: 12 x Stainless Steel
Number of stills: 6 wash stills and 6 spirit stills
Capacity: 5,000,000 litres per annum
Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Big powerful, fruity and spicy with honeydew melon, red berries and baked apples. All bolstered by rich toffee, butterscotch and honey and a touch bitter dark chocolate to balance it all out.
Palate: Salivating lashings of succulent fruit with nutty praline, smooth vanilla and oak.
Finish: Smooth fruity finish that lingers on the palate.
Dark chocolate tart with rasperries and clotted cream ice cream. Add a sprinkling of chilli flakes to the dark chocolate if you dare.
Alternatively: enjoy by itself after a big Sunday roast.