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Tomatin distillery stands just off the A9 road between Aviemore and Inverness. Founded in 1897, the distillery saw various owners come and go until the 1950s when a period of stability led to a massive expansion project. The distillery’s pot stills increased from a single pair to an outrageous total of 23. Such incredible growth turned Tomatin into the largest malt distillery in Scotland at that time, with a capacity of around 10 million litres per year.
Tomatin never quite ran at full capacity though. The 1980s saw production grind to a halt as a result of an industry-wide slump. The distillery was only saved from obscurity when two of its Japanese customers merged to buy the business. The new owners sensibly rolled back much of the expansion of previous years, leaving the distillery to operate well within a capacity of around 5 million litres per year.
I paid a visit to Tomatin in June and found it in complete contrast to Dalwhinnie which I had visited a few days earlier. Where Dalwhinnie is quaint and charming, Tomatin is industrial and functional. Where Dalwhinnie comprises small white-washed buildings with Pagoda roofs, Tomatin is hulking and grey, albeit no less impressive, in its own intimidating way.
In any case, it’s what’s inside that counts and my tour revealed a vast yet attractive, distillery. Such tours will always follow the same basic route but often there are quirks in proceedings unique to each site that make a visit fascinating (to me at least). At Tomatin, visitors can stand inside an old disused mash tun! This was a new, rather fun experience for me!
The tour concludes with a tasting line-up consisting of six single malts produced on-site. There was Legacy, followed by the 12-year-old. Then the Cask Strength expression came before their 14-Year-Old Port Cask. The session culminated in the 18-Year-Old and heavily peated Cu Bocan. The quality on offer was impressive throughout, though I confess to feeling a little bit rushed during the tasting. It was a very busy day at the distillery, with tourists seeming to arrive in a constant convoy of coach tours and it seemed staff were pressed to wrap things up and get on with the next tour. That’s understandable and our guide Becky did a fine job of guiding us through the distillery and introducing the six drams but you don’t necessarily feel like a valued customer when you’re being asked to chug six drams in 30 minutes. Back at the visitor centre, I settled, after much deliberation, on a bottle of the afore-mentioned 14-Year-Old Port Cask edition, bottled at 46%.
Smell: Raspberry, Cranberry and Orange with Malty Biscuit, Toffee, Chocolate, Nuts. For some reason, nosing a Port Cask always reminds me of Furniture Polish.
Taste: Berries and Bitter Dark Chocolate, Pepper and Chilli Powder, Orange, Star Anise, Cinnamon and Toffee.
Thoughts: The bottle cost me around £50. That’s not a bad sum for a 14-year-old bottled at 46%. I’m a fan of port cask finishes so this one appealed to me right away and I wasn’t disappointed. Tomatin can be quite a light single malt and a big, powerful cask could quite easily swamp it but while the port influence isn’t exactly subtle, it stops short of being too dominant. There’s good intensity to the flavour and it comes at a reasonable price. One of the best I’ve come across from this distillery.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.