So here we are at the end of Highlands Week (see here for Wednesday’s Ardmore and here for Monday’s Ben Nevis). It’s been a week of excellent whiskies so far and it’s also been a week of wonderfully fruity whiskies, albeit two of quite different profiles. Today’s Tomatin—which also takes us roughly another decade back in time in terms of bottling year—promises to keep that streak of fruity excellence going and it’s also likely to be of a different profile still. Tomatins of any era—leave alone the 1970s—don’t exhibit the mineral peat of Ardmore or the malty-gingery funkiness of Ben Nevis. What 1970s Tomatins—and 1976 Tomatin in particular—are known for is tropical fruit. I’ve registered on many occasions previously my suspicion of the notion of “magic vintages” for any distillery—usually these high scores turn out to be a case of sampling bias. That said, I have enjoyed the few Tomatin ’76s I’ve had immensely—I’ve reviewed two (here and here). This bottle is one I purchased from Binny’s in Chicago more than a decade after it was released—imagine that a Tomatin 1976 that hung around on the shelf of a major retailer for some 11-12 years—and didn’t pay anything approaching a king’s ransom for it—imagine that as well. There are a couple of these 23 yo, 1976s bottled by Old Malt Cask, by the way. This one was for the US market only (as far as I know), distilled in November 1976 and bottled in July 1999, yielding only 186 bottles. Let’s get into it.
Tomatin 23, 1976 (50%; OMC; from my own bottle)
Nose: A big wave of musky fruit off the top: tart-sweet mango, melon, passionfruit, overripe pineapple; some makrut lime peel runs through it all. Behind the fruit is some polished oak. The fruit gets more custardy as it sits. A few drops of water pull out more acid and then as it settles again it’s the passionfruit that’s in the lead.
Palate: As promised by the nose; not as intense at first but the fruit builds as I swallow. Framed nicely by subtle toasted oak. Nice weight and a perfect drinking strength at 50%. The fruit and oak meld as it sits. With time that slightly metallic note emerges that is often present in older whiskies bottled many years ago. Okay, let’s add water. As on the nose, water brightens this up quite a bit—more lemon here now and then, as on the nose, the passionfruit pops out. Water also pushes the oak back a bit and does away with the metallic note.
Finish: Long. The fruit goes on and on and then the oak emerges more fully. As on the palate with water.
Comments: This is lovely whisky. Would it have been even better if opened in 2000 when it was bottled? Hard to say. Right now I liked this a lot but not more than Monday’s Ben Nevis. And considering Ben Nevis is releasing just as fruity whisky at a reasonable price right now, I will not mourn the fact that this is the only bottle of 1976 Tomatin I will ever own. Well, unless this gets even better as the bottle stays open—I will report on its development.
Rating: 91 points.