Tomatin 34, 1976 (The Perfect Dram)

Tomatin 34, 1976, Perfect Dram
“The Perfect Dram” is a series from the highly-regarded bottler, The Whisky Agency, and most geeks would be willing to describe any Tomatin from 1976 as perfect drams. 1976 is considered to be a special “vintage” for Tomatin. This gives me yet another opportunity to register my skepticism about magical years at distilleries (I didn’t get where I am by being shy about accepting the opportunities to repeat myself that I give myself). Here’s what I said on the occasion of my previous review of a Tomatin from 1976:

[T]hose 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).

That was a year ago. There hasn’t been much shift in the numbers in the intervening period, with only 7 more Tomatins from 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977 and 1978 combined being added to Whiskybase.

If relatively inferior whisky from the neighbouring years were indeed available that would bolster the claim that 1976s are special. I think it’s safe to say that bottlers would not be shy about releasing single casks of 1970s whisky (a 40 yo from 1974 would command a premium even if it weren’t as good as the middle-30 yos from 1976 released in the past few years). And in the unlikely scenario that bottlers (or the distillery) did decide that these were not worthy of single cask release we could expect to see oceans of expensive NAS Tomatin being released (a la Balvenie’s Tun 1401s) in which these casks would be spruced up with more vibrant younger Tomatin. But as neither situation has obtained we are left with two possibilities: 1) that for some reason indie bottlers and/or the distillery have chosen to pass on the likely profits from selling 1973s, 1974s, 1975s, 1977s and 1978s because they’re not as good as the 1976s; or 2) that the only thing magical about 1976 is that a large number of casks put down that year somehow survived the vatting tanks, allowing indie bottlers to, decades later, select the best of them for release as single casks. The latter scenario seems far, far more likely to me.

This is not to say that 1976 Tomatins are not, in fact, generally very good; this one, for example, is excellent (spoiler alert). It is merely to say that this very goodness quite likely does not derive from anything that happened in 1976. (Though I do suspect there’s some confirmation bias involved in the ratings of at least some of these 1976s released after the reputation of 1976 Tomatin had been established.)

Anyway, on to the whisky!

Tomatin 34, 1976 (51.9%; “The Perfect Dram”/The Whisky Agency; sherry butt; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Sharp acetone at first that rounds off quickly into bright fruit (banana, pineapple, apricot) with rich brown sugar, honey and toffee following; quite a bit of vibrant oak spice too (but very, very far from being tannic or otherwise overbearing) and some pastry/vanilla sweetness too. Blind, I would probably have taken this for an ex-bourbon cask at this point. Gets richer and deeper as it sits with marmalade, brown butter and sweeter notes of more tropical fruit (a bit of papaya, deep, rich mango). Gets stickier as it goes with plum sauce, brandied figs, a hint of date and quite a lot of raisins. Okay, the ex-sherry character is much more pronounced now. With even more time the brighter fruit returns and there’s some polished wood too now. With a few drops of water the brown butter/pastry/vanilla notes are emphasized.

Palate: Oh my, this is very nice. It leads with brown butter and polished wood and wood glue and bright citrus but right after that there’s a burst of the tropical notes with marmalade and apricot jam. Just a bit of oak too and then an intensification of the tropical notes (mango, guava, papaya) leading into the finish. After a few minutes I’m getting more lime zest and some more bitter wood. The lime/zest really expands with time. Water brings out some pine and also more of the sticky/sweet notes from the nose.

Finish: Long. The tropical fruit notes from the palate hang on for a good long while along with the wood, which gets a bit peppery as it goes with just a little more tannic grip emerging at the end than I would like. Water lengthens the finish further (mostly with the fruit) and gets rid of that tannic grip.

Comments: If you like uber-fruity whisky you would love this. I loved it myself–it’s in a completely different world than yesterday’s 25 yo. With a little more of the piney/resinous notes (and also some of the camphory notes that some older fruit bombs of the same kind have), and with a slightly more gradual uncoiling on the palate this could have really gone over the top. Please excuse the annoying quibbling.

Rating: 92 points.

Thanks to Erik for the sample!

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