There is a Tomatin 30 out there at 46% abv; this is not that Tomatin 30, and I have no idea what that Tomatin 30 is like. This one is from the 1976 vintage and was released in 2007 at 49.3% as a limited edition of 1500 bottles. It is a vatting composed from whisky matured in hogsheads (presumably bourbon) and then finished in two oloroso sherry butts for three years. Personally, I think that three years is long enough to count as double maturation rather than a finish, per se, but who cares what I think.
Tomatin is situated in the Highlands and has a rather large production capacity (though apparently they put out considerably lower volume than that). Perhaps for this reason Tomatin’s whiskies are often very good values. The 12 yo is available in most US markets in the region of $30, and the 18 yo in the region of $65–while neither are world-beaters they are highly drinkable and excellent values, especially when compared to peers from better-known distilleries (you must look for the newer editions with the rectangular labels–these are at a higher strength). The 15 yo I am less impressed by but it is also very competitively priced.
At the high end too Tomatin is good value, but it hasn’t always had the best reputation. Lately, there’s been a bit of an image makeover at the distillery (seen most obviously with a label re-design and an increase in abv across the range); and as luck would have it, whisky geeks have anointed 1976 as a magic year for Tomatin–single casks from this year from independent bottlers are hot properties. As with 1972 Caperdonichs (as discussed here) those who make the case for Tomatins from 1976 don’t seem to notice that a disproportionate number of casks are simply available from this year as compared to others in that era–close to 60 bottles from 1976 are listed on Whiskybase, but only 23 from 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977 and 1978 combined (and almost half of those are from 1977). Be that as it may, the halo of the 1976 vintage seems to be spreading to the rest of the range and that’s not a bad thing.
This particular official bottling from the 1976 vintage was released in 2007 before 1976 Tomatins became all the rage–I suspect that’s probably why it’s not rated as high as the indie bottles released from 2010 on.
Tomatin 30, 1976 (49.3%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Polished wood and fruit (tropical and otherwise) from the get-go. The emphasis at first is on the polished wood–rosewood, sandalwood–but the fruit both rounds it out with musky notes and gives it an acidic edge. It’s a little hard to pick the fruit apart at first; it’s a cocktail of aromas: certainly some lime peel, some citrus, maybe mango (or is that papaya?) and some dragonfruit as well. With time the fruit gets somewhat fermented. With a lot more time the sherry casks begin to speak: a darker, raisiny sweetness begins to emerge from under the more acidic fruit. With yet more time (Jesus, how long have I been drinking this?) the woody fruit (or fruity wood) becomes kind of like wood glue (if only I’d paid attention in organic chemistry in the 11th and 12 grade I’d be able to tell you if this is the work of esters, aldehydes, ketones or lactones). Water brightens the fruit/acid back up and also draws out a creamy note.
Palate: Again, the wood hits first but is followed by a burst of fruit on the swallow: very similar progression as on the nose. With time the wood and the fruit come to near equilibrium, and there’s a touch of camphor and honey too. Water mutes the wood a bit and expands the fruit: a lot more lime; and some peaches and mango (tart, not sweet) in there too now.
Finish: Medium. The same wood and fruit interplay as on the nose and palate; gets the slightest bit peppery and bitter at the tail end (not tannic though, more like very dark chocolate). With time, makrut lime (that feels like it should be the tagline for something). Water makes the finish much longer, and keeps the fruit, in particular, going longer.
Comments: This is quite a lovely whisky–the interplay between the wood and the intoxicating fruit is quite something, but never quite as good as it is at first. Maybe it’s because this bottle has been open for some time and is now approaching the 1/3 full mark, but there is a slight lack of depth, which becomes most apparent on the finish. That said, as my rating tonight is exactly what I had when I first opened the bottle just a little over a year ago, I don’t think it’s changed very much since being opened. This keeps it out of the 90s for me, though if I was evaluating the nose alone it would be there for sure. I am not sure how different the regular issue Tomatin 30 (at 46%) is but I’d be interested to find out.
Rating: 88 points.
I think that if I was looking for a single cask to bottle, I would try to pick the best cask I could find. Therefore it would seem that 1976 must be a very good year since it dwarfs the amount of single casks chosen from the other years by the independent bottlers to date Just my opinion.
(I think this is a different Jeff.)
Occam’s razor suggests to me that independent bottlers are choosing from the casks that survive (that did not go into blends) and for whatever reason far more remain from 1976 than from neighbouring years–perhaps some broker took a bunch and sat on them/was unable to unload them over the years. The best of these are chosen and create the impression that 1976 was a magical year at Tomatin. If there were indeed similar amounts of 1974s, 1975s, 1977s, 1978s etc. available you’d expect more of them to appear from the budget bottlers, especially given the likelihood of being able to command high prices for 1970s whisky.
Finished this tonight (after saving a large sample for future reference) and after more than two years open this bottle was in immaculate condition (thank you, Private Preserve!). It was interesting to drink it again in close proximity to the Perfect Dram 1976 I recently reviewed. This is not a fruit bomb in the way that one is, but it’s really very good. Tonight I’d give it closer to 90 points. I think juxtaposing this alongside a single cask of similar quality is a good way of understanding the master blender’s art: this is a wonderfully balanced whisky; it may not have the exuberant fruit of some/many older single cask Tomatins, but it almost makes up for that in its stately progression of aromas and flavours. Certainly, tonight I appreciate this more and am enjoying it more than I would have the Perfect Dram.