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.
Like many distilleries, illicit distillation was said to have taken place on the site well before the distillery was officially established, it's said whisky had been made there as far back as the 15th Century. In fact, the name Tomatin translates to "Hill of the Juniper Bush" - with juniper wood being the wood of choice for use in secret distilleries, due to the fact that it gives off no smoke...
The distillery, known then as the Tomatin Spey District Distillery Ltd, was officially established in 1897 during the height of the Victorian Whisky Boom. Despite the elevation and apparant isolation, the site was rather a good one for a distillery, being nearby a newly built railway, and it's just 29km south of Inverness. Not to mention the constant supply of soft, Highland water from the Alt na Frith.
Predictably though, Tomatin 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. This boom however lasted nearly 30 years and set the foundation for whisky as we know it today, and Tomatin was right at the front of this charge.
Seeing early signs of good times ahead, the enterprising folks at Tomatin started thinking big, 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 a vast 12 million litres of spirit annually. To put this in context, it was (in production terms at least) larger even than Roseisle, Diageo’s $80million 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 distilleries 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 demise. Rapid expansion exposed it to risk and while it managed to weather most of the early 1980s recession, it finally went bust in 1984. 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 eighty percent 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, despite eleven of the stills being decommissioned in 2000, 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.
In 2013 Tomatin launched the peated Cù Bòcan single malt, that's produced during the last week of the year.
Their efforts are certainly not in vain if the recent string of awards are anything to go by, with Tomatin Decades II receiving a Master award medal at The Spirits Business - Scotch Whisky Masters Competition in June 2021. Tomatin Legacy won Double Gold at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, along with the 12, 14, and 30 Year Olds, and their Global Travel Retail range also bringing home Gold. The team’s dedication to whisky excellence was recognised and celebrated at the 2016 Icons of Whisky Awards, when their industry peers voted Tomatin ‘Distillery of the Year’.
Having been the biggest, Tomatin is now well and truly on its way to being the best.