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The Story of Tomatin
There are stories of cattle farmers buying whisky from a still in the village of Tomatin in the early 1600s. The distillery as we know it today, however, dates from 1897. Production lasted less than a decade before the effects of an industry wide slump brought it to a halt in 1906. The site was re-opened under new ownership in 1909.
The late 1950s saw massive expansion with the number of stills growing first from two to four, then four to six and six to ten. By 1974, Tomatin housed a remarkable twenty-three pot stills with a capacity to produce 10 million litres per year. The largest distillery in Scotland at the time, demand for the Tomatin spirit never quite justified such huge growth and the distillery rarely, if ever, ran at full capacity. When the 1980s heralded further industry decline, Tomatin began to suffer once more and by 1986, the business had been liquidated. Seemingly a sad end for such a giant of highland distilling.
Fortunately, the distillery would be saved by customers, Takara Shuzo and Okura & Co., both of whom had been importing the malt to Japan for many years. The new owners invested heavily and worked tirelessly to strip away some of the needless expansion of decades past. Today the distillery has a capacity of around 5 million litres, though significantly less is produced and recent times have seen a shift in focus from the blending industry to the development of the Tomatin as a single malt brand in its own right.
The distillery now offer a core range of malts beginning with the No Age Statement ‘Legacy’ and continuing with 12, 14, 18, 30 and 36 year old expressions, as well as a peated variation under the name of ‘Cu Bocan’. The 12 year old comes bottled at 43% and retails in the UK for between £35 to £40.
Smell: Malty and Floral. Heather Honey, Grass, Creamy Vanilla, Butter, Pepper and Oak.
Taste: Oak Spice, Salt and Pepper, Apple, Toast, Faintest hint of Smoke perhaps?
Thoughts: The bottling strength of 43% is certainly a bit better than 40% but I’d still like to see this distillery go with 46% across their range. The 12 has no doubt been chill-filtered and as Tomatin is already a soft, Highland malt, it ends up lacking a bit of intensity. I’m not saying every whisky needs to blow your head off but neither should it feel inconsequential, or worse, forgettable.
Tomatin can be very good. I particularly like their Cu Bocan releases and the 14-year-old Port Finish is excellent. Crucially, however, they are bottled without chill filtering. I can still enjoy their more affordable bottlings, like this 12 year old, because there’s certainly nothing wrong with it but for me it just lacks a bit of personality. It’s a decent every day sipping dram but perhaps not one I’d rush back to with any degree of excitement.
*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.