I’ve not had very much Tobermory–just a few iterations of the 10 yo over the years. This is both because there isn’t a very large amount of Tobermory around in the US and because their malt does not, in general, have the best reputation and so I haven’t been moved to go out of my way to try it. In fact, Michael Kravitz, who I am once again simultaneously reviewing this one with, may be the only person I know who is generally a fan. (He’s reviewed two other Tobermorys leading up to this review and you should check those reviews out too.) The reputation of their peated malt, sold as Ledaig, has been on the upswing of late so it may well be that Tobermory is also due for rehabilitation. I have to admit I didn’t care overmuch for the Tobermory 10 when I last tried it back in February–let’s see what I make of it now.
Edit: Here is the link to Michael’s review. He liked it quite a lot more than I did (though our samples did not come from the same bottle).
Tobermory 10 (46.3%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Peppery, minerally, vegetal (celery?) notes. Reminiscent of oiled machinery. Gets sweeter (again, in a minerally way) and porridgy as it sits but also a little bit plasticky. With more time it gets grassier but there’s also a hint of lime. With a lot more time the sourness seems chemical/artificial and there’s definitely some dry smoke now. Okay, let’s set this aside for a while and see if the chemical/sour note goes away. And 10 minutes later it’s abated a little but the whole is still rather plasticky. Let’s see if water redeems it further. Yes, with water it’s less plasticky and more porridgy.
Palate: More sour (aspirin) and acidic on the palate with a bit of acrid smoke (or is that plastic?). Not a great first impression, I’m afraid. With a lot of time and air the sourness abates on the palate as well and there’s more minerally sweetness here, and not as much plastic. And as the chemical sourness goes down some lime emerges in its place. Water balances the palate as well, tamping down the chemical/plastic notes further and letting the minerally/oily sweet notes and pepper and lime take center stage.
Finish: Medium. The sour notes peter out and it’s sweeter and more minerally again. A little bit of bitterness with time. Sweeter still with water.
Comments: Well, as we say in Minnesota, it’s sure different. It’s reminiscent of some 1970s malts I’ve enjoyed a lot more but unlike those this doesn’t really have anything to shade the vegetal, grassy, mineral/plasticky notes in an interesting way. It’s no cookie cutter malt and it improved with prolonged airing but it’s still not my cup of whisky, I’m afraid.
Rating: 78 points.
Thanks to Florin for the sample!
For better or worse, I found that what part of the bottle I was drinking made an enormous difference. The first half was both off-putting and boring, which made it a slog. However, in the second half the first-fill casks finally showed up and balanced everything out, which made the odd notes from before an interesting counterpoint rather than the whole show.
I don’t know from what part of Florin’s bottle this sample came, and he may well show up soon to say he doesn’t recognize my notes, but does this resonate with your take on the first half of your bottle? I took these notes earlier in the week and when I was reading Michael’s review yesterday of the old Tobermory 10 it didn’t seem very far away from what I nosed and tasted in this one.
The first half of my bottle was unpleasantly vegetal with fairly naked malt and not a lot of cask influence to balance it. Can’t say that I remember plastic, but that may just be different interpretation.
Whenever I read about the second half of the bottle being an improvement, I immediately wonder if leaving the cork off for a long while will get the same effect. I actually followed Ralfy’s advice once on leaving a bottle of Glenlivet Nadurra open overnight and the strong alcohol notes were tamed.
My bottle of the 46.3% went from delicious ‘lemon icing on a cake’ the first few pours to cardboard and grass. My theory was that it was finished for a short period and that finish ‘wore off’ as the bottle breathed…lots of assumptions there, though.
This is getting interesting. So many very different taste and smell experiences with the same whisky (see also the LAWS and Whiskybase reviews). Though some of the differences in enjoyment depends on one’s feeling about grassy whisky. For instance, I know that Mr. Ries of LAWS really does not like that note at all, which explains the low grade he gave it.
I have heard comments about significant batch variation in Bunnahabhain 12 Year after it was similarly reformulated. It may have taken Burn Stewart a while to nail down what works. Getting the flavor right when changing proof, as I have found from some of my experiments, isn’t as simple as not adding as much water. Switching from what were probably tired refill casks (Tobermory didn’t seem to get much care before the change) to first-fill bourbon would also make reformulation trickier to nail down. Hopefully they have things worked out better now and can start getting more consistency.
I found Ledaig very changeable as well, all within the same bottle; sometimes as good, or better, than Ardbeg 10 and sometimes far too raw and spirity. It probably had as much to do with expectations as anything else, but it was a curiously wide range of experience, even if subjective.
Very interesting discussion! I wouldn’t expect less from Tobermory, probably the most polarizing whisky there is. Laphroaig is also a love/hate proposition, but mostly for whisky newbies; among whisky lovers it’s rare to hear someone say “I won’t touch that lamp petrol shit”.
The sample MAO received was from the second half of the bottle, West side of the label. I poured it with the right hand. The moon was in the house of Venus.
The difference from MK’s account is all personal preference – I drunk from the same bottle for the past three nights and loved it every time. My score is in line with MK’s – mid 80’s. I recognize some of MAO’s notes – I think what he calls plasticky/artificial is a sourness akin to sauerkraut (not pickle) juice, which I find very organic. Some of us grew up on this stuff or have it in their DNA – you can draw a broad stroke on the map from Sweden to Turkey and all the countries in-between claim stuffed cabbage (sour cabbage leaves filled with a ground meat mixture and cooked slowly in a cabbage and tomato juice) as their national dishes. After the bottle or the glass breathes a while these notes are well balanced by sweetness. Not sherry-like sweetness, of which there is none, but stewed-fruits sweetness, in the style of Laphroaig, with plenty of mossy, vegetal notes (like MAO/MK/Jordan noted). This sweetness evokes to me sour cherries steeped in alcohol – another Eastern European drink, called vişinată in Romania, or wiśniówka in Poland.
What surprised me too, before reading MAO & MK’s notes, was the peat! It’s clearly there, and unexpected too. Probably the master distiller figured out that Tobermory likes its peat. In fact, I mixed this with peated whiskies (Laphroaig, Talisker, Ledaig – not all at once) with very good effects.
It’s also true that this is a multi-faceted whisky – I never know what I’ll find on any given night. It changes in the bottle, it changes in the glass, and it changes with the mood. It likes air. The first taste out of the bottle was scary (pure sour cabbage) but it got better quickly.
It’s clear that this distillery has plenty of character. It’s perhaps easiest to appreciate it in the form of Ledaig, but I’m glad that there’s the more naked Tobermory out there as well. I give credit to Michael for calling my attention to it, and I’m now a convert. This is a baffling whisky – and I love it! I’m stocking up on the first good opportunity.
I love sauerkraut, for what it’s worth.