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Here in Scotland the trees have begun to shed their leaves, our nights are lengthening and the air turning ever colder. Once again the dreaded yet inevitable approach of All Hallows’ ’eve is upon us, bringing with it all the dark things of the night. This means the time has come for me to peer into the country’s darkest corners and unearth another eerie tale from one of our many distilleries…
Tomatin was founded in 1897 but closed after just 9 years in production. New management arrived in 1909 however, and the site was rejuvenated. The decades that followed saw expansion after expansion until Tomatin had become, by 1974, the largest malt distillery in Scotland with 23 stills and a 10 million litre output. The distillery rarely, if ever, ran to capacity however and by the 1980’s, times had become hard. 1985 brought liquidation and the future for this former giant looked bleak. Then, a year later, Takara Shuzo and Okura & Co, two Japanese companies working in partnership, came to the rescue. The Tomatin stills were reduced to 12 and the focus shifted from the bulk production of blend fodder to the bottling of single malts.
In 2013, Tomatin announced the release of their first ever peated expression to be named ‘Cu Bocan’, Gaelic for Ghost Dog. The inspiration for the bottling was the legend of the last great wolf of Scotland and MacQueen of Findhorn, a legendary deer stalker hired by the Laird of Clan Mackintosh to hunt down and kill the beast responsible for the deaths of two children in the hills near Cawdor. MacQueen eventually tracked down and destroyed the great wolf in Tarnaway Forest, taking its vile head to the Laird as proof that its reign of terror was at an end. Some weren’t so convinced however…
Even today, walkers travelling by night catch fleeting glimpses of shadows in the trees and shiver at the sensation they are being watched. Some report animal tracks in the snow, larger than any dog and others have been driven mad with fear by bloodcurdling howls that pierce the night air. One traveller, passing near to Tomatin distillery in the dead of winter heard a growl in the dark and froze where he stood, paralysed, as though some hellish beast were drawing ever nearer. When the terrible moment came that he felt its foul breath upon his neck he spun, ready to face his fate, only to see nothing but the empty road stretched in front of him…
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
– The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798
Smell: Burnt Toffee and Wood Smoke with Lemon and Malt, Honey and Fudge with Liquorice and Blackcurrant.
Taste: Smokey Bacon with Caramel and Honey, Forest Fruits, Pepper and wisps of Subtle Smoke.
Value for Money: For around £50, you’re getting a whisky matured for 11 years and bottled at 50% abv, with no colouring or chill filtering.
Full of subtle complexities, the touch of smoke never lets up but neither does it dominate or overpower. In all it is a very pleasing whisky, reasonably priced and it makes the perfect dram to mark the occasion of Hallowe’en.
*Disclaimer: ‘some’ artistic license was deployed in the writing of this article!