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The trees have started to shed their leaves here in Scotland. Our nights are getting longer and the air is turning ever colder. The dreaded yet inevitable approach of All Hallows’ ’eve is once again upon us, bringing all the dark things of the night with it. Once again it is time for me to peer into Scotland’s darkest corners and unearth another eerie tale from one of our many distilleries.
Tomatin was established in 1897 but closed after just 9 years in production. The distillery reopened under new management in 1909 and the site was extensively renovated. Several expansions took place over the following years until it had become the largest malt distillery in Scotland with 23 stills and a 10 million litre annual output. The distillery rarely, if ever, ran to capacity, however. By the 1980s it had fallen on hard times. 1985 brought liquidation but a year later, Takara Shuzo and Okura & Co, two Japanese companies working in partnership, came to the rescue. The 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 Cù Bòcan – Scottish Gaelic for Ghost Dog. The bottle is inspired by the legend of MacQueen of Findhorn and the last wolf of Scotland. MacQueen was a legendary deer stalker hired by the Chief of Clan Mackintosh to hunt down and kill a wild beast that had been responsible for the deaths of two children in the hills near Cawdor. He eventually tracked down and destroyed a great wolf in Tarnaway Forest, taking its vile head to the Chief as proof that its reign of terror was at an end. Some weren’t convinced, however.
Even today, walkers travelling the road as night falls, catch fleeting glimpses of shadows that move and shift in the trees. Many shiver at the sensation they are being watched. Some have reported animal tracks in the snow, larger than any dog. Others have been driven mad with fear by a bloodcurdling howl that pierced the still night air. One traveller, passing close to the Tomatin distillery in the dead of winter heard a growl in the dark and froze where he stood, convinced some hellish beast was approaching. He spun round, only to find nothing but the empty road, stretched out 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.
Thoughts: For £50 you get a whisky matured for 11 years and bottled at 50% abv with no colouring or chill filtering. That’s pretty good going. It’s full of subtle complexities, as well. The touch of smoke never lets up but neither does it dominate or overpower. Don’t be fooled into comparing this to Islay. Highland peat is a different beast altogether. There’s none of that coastal, medicinal character here. In all, this is a very pleasant whisky that is reasonably priced. It also makes the perfect pour this time of year because who doesn’t want to spend Halloween with a spectral wolf.
*Disclaimer: ‘some’ artistic license was deployed in the writing of this article!