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 1950’s when a period of stability led to a massive expansion project that increased the sites Pot Stills from a single pair to an eventual total of 23. This incredible growth turned Tomatin into the largest distillery in Scotland at the time, with a capacity of around 10 million litres per year.
Tomatin never quite ran at full capacity however and the 1980’s saw production grind to a halt as a result of an industry-wide slump. The distillery was saved from obscurity however when a merger between two Japanese bulk buyers of the Tomatin brand acquired the business. The new owners very 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 the distillery in June of this year 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 of 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 is whats 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 which make them endlessly fascinating (to me at least) and at Tomatin, tour groups can stand inside an old disused mashtun, certainly a first for me!
The tour concluded with a tasting line-up consisting of six single malts produced on site.. Legacy, 12 Year Old, Cask Strength, 14 Year Old Port Cask, 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. Understandable of course and to be fair, our guide Becky did a fine job of guiding us through the distillery and introducing the six drams. Back at the visitor centre, I settled, after much deliberation, on a bottle of the 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.
Value for Money: Available for around £50 – £55. Great buy at that price.
Score: 45.5 / 50. About the scores…
A delicious highland dram packing bags of flavour, a decent age statement and higher bottling strength for a reasonable price. My idea of heaven.