I have already posted accounts of my visits to Talisker and Lagavulin. Those were my second and fourth distillery stops and at both places I did formal tours (well, a warehouse tasting at Lagavulin). Here now are quick looks at the first and third distilleries I stopped at: Tomatin and Oban. Both were as close to drive-by visits as possible. Literally so: both were right by the highway between places we were spending more time at. We got to Tomatin at the end of our first full day, on our way to Loch Ness; and a few days later we stopped at the town of Oban for lunch on our drive from Skye to Kennacraig to catch the ferry to Islay.
In the case of Tomatin the stop was a strong possibility on our itinerary—I knew from Michael K.’s more detailed account of his visit last year that they have a number of “fill your own” casks and so I’d planned to stop if we got near enough before they closed; in the case of Oban it was accidental: I had no idea the distillery was right in the center of town and as we passed it on the way from our parking spot to lunch it was easy enough to poke our heads in for 10 minutes on the way out. Here then are two sets of visual guides to the non-production areas of these two distilleries.
We spent a few hours at Blair Castle before and after lunch on our first full day in Scotland, which was also the day we drove from Glasgow to Drumnadrochit. Tomatin is about another hour up the highway. We got in range at about 4.30 and so decided to stop for a little bit. There was no question of a tour and in any case my chief interest was in seeing what was available for “fill your own”. Our rental car’s fancy Sat Nav system decided to take us to the distillery through some unnecessary back road but no matter what direction you approach it from Tomatin is not the most attractive distillery (it’s a workhorse that produces a lot of whisky). And since it was raining I didn’t dawdle for long outside it to get much of a look at or a peek inside any of the buildings. We hightailed it to the visitor centre, which turned out to be large and bright and airy—perhaps the only visitor centre in all the distilleries I went into that had lots of natural light streaming in.
The centre has a couple of tasting areas (presumably for their various tours) and a room where you can watch video presentations about the distillery. And it also has a large shop that sells Tomatin malts as well as blends from the group’s portfolio. They do indeed have a robust “fill your own” cask offering. There were five casks available: a very young virgin oak cask, a 12 yo ex-bourbon cask, oloroso and PX casks which I want to say were in the 10 yo region, and a 25 yo whose cask type I don’t recall (as I wasn’t going to be spending that much money I didn’t pay attention or ask for a taste). Normally, you only get to taste these casks before potential purchase if you’ve taken a particular tour but when I asked if it was possible to try some before deciding which one I wanted they were only too happy to let me have tastes. It’s possible this may have had something to do with the fact that it was the end of the day and there was almost no one else in the shop, but I appreciated the generosity nonetheless.
I tasted bits of the 12 yo, the virgin oak and the oloroso cask. The virgin oak was not to my taste and the oloroso cask seemed generic; the ex-bourbon, however, I quite liked. And so that was the one I selected. It was a bit of a thrill filling the bottle myself and writing the label before it was stuck on. (Those of you who’ve done lots of these should stop rolling your eyes.) I got bottle 94, which means there’s a fair bit of the cask left. I should have a review in a week or two.
That done, we drove on. Michael did really enjoy his in-depth tour and if I were ever back in the area I’d probably try to spend a little more time at the distillery. Here are the pictures. Scroll down for Oban.
Oban is not one of my favourite distilleries. This is not because I dislike their malt; it’s only because I (and almost everyone else) have not tried very many iterations of their malt—this due to the fact that not many iterations have ever been released. As such I didn’t really have any real interest in visiting the distillery and indeed we weren’t originally supposed to even stop in Oban. We’d planned to stop in Glencoe; but we got close to Glencoe a little too early for lunch after leaving Skye—and it was raining—and so we decided to keep going and stop in Oban instead. On the way to Ee-Usk (details coming in a couple of weeks) I turned to take a picture of the waterfront and imagine my surprise at seeing the distillery bang in the middle of the picture. We had plenty of time in hand for our ferry from Kennacraig and so we stopped in for a bit.
It’s a far more attractive prospect than Tomatin—-presumably an ugly distillery in the centre of town would not make too many people happy. In fact, with the dark grey bricks/masonry it could pass as the exterior for an old boarding school. The distillery seems pretty compact but again we didn’t venture past the visitor centre. This visitor centre is not quite as theme park’ish as that at Talisker but it’s not particularly charming either. The shop is on the first floor—as at Talisker you can buy the distillery’s own products as well as other frontline Diageo malts. As at Talisker they had a “distillery only” exclusive, and as at Talisker, it is NAS. It also cost £20 more than Talisker’s. They had some out in a “Nosing Corner” but you couldn’t get a taste without paying at the bar and I got nothing from nosing the glass that had been lying out for god knows how long. I passed.
Upstairs there’s a large tasting area with a bar and, as at Talisker, displays that give the casual visitor both a sense of the distillery’s history and the production process. Again, I found it more tasteful than Talisker’s version. I do wish the bar had a better selection and better prices. As at Talisker, Diageo seems intent on making as much money off visitors here as possible. Tours cost £10 for adults here too (again there’re no other distilleries within close range) though they do include a cask sample and something they call “a beautiful whisky related gift to take home providing a lasting memory of your trip around Oban distillery”. I left with only these photographs.
(If someone who has done the tours at Oban is reading perhaps you could tell us what they’re like.)
Don’t worry readers, these will not be my only reports on the outsides of distillery buildings and the insides of visitor centres: I’ll have a few more from Islay as well. Next up, however, will be a more detailed report of the Distiller’s Wares tour at Laphroaig.