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I find Tomintoul to be a bit of a strange brand. By Scotch whisky standards, it’s a relatively young distillery, having been established in 1964 but that still makes it almost fifty years old. Yet it seems rarely to be discussed or written about in any great detail. It makes my job that little bit harder when it comes to finding something interesting to talk about!
The distillery was founded by Glasgow whisky traders Hey & Macleod and W. and S. Strong. It was then taken over by Scottish and Universal Trust in 1973 only for the owner themselves to be sold to Whyte & Mackay in 1989. Then, in 2000, Whyte & Mackay passed Tomintoul on to Angus Dundee Distillers, who remain at the helm today.
Tomintoul has been available as a Speyside single malt since at least 1973. In 1990, Whyte & Mackay introduced a 12-year-old which was then replaced by a 10 when Angus Dundee took over a decade later. Within three years, the new owners had introduced a 16-year-old and today there is a wide array of bottlings available.
Something that is worth mentioning, however: Tomintoul is the proud employer of one of the Scotch whisky industry’s longest serving Master Distillers. Robert Fleming joined the company in 1990 and for more than thirty years he has guided the production of the distillery’s single malt, overseeing the creation of the entire current range of expressions. It’s an impressive stint by anyone’s
*Full disclosure: The whiskies featured in this article were sent to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the drams and the value for money they represent.
Smell: Malty. Nutty. Honeyed. A wee bit of dry grass. Citrus. Vanilla. New oak. Solvent. Grist. Muesli. Bran. Orange & lemon. Biscuit and baking spices.
Taste: More viscous than I was expecting. Follows on from the nose – malty biscuits, dry roasted peanuts and honey. Caramel and vanilla. Oak spice. More of the solvent / wood stain note. A splash of water brought out some green apples and more of the citrus.
Thoughts: I was pleasantly surprised. In the past I’ve found Tomintoul to be a little lightweight and inoffensive. However, whilst this certainly isn’t the most robust dram I’ve ever come across, it’s more fully flavoured than I was anticipating. Maybe not the most complex but a nice, straight-forward single malt that’s perfectly poised between spirit and oak.
Value for money: It’s not overpriced at £50 yet I still don’t know that I’d pay it. I think traditional age statements like this are suffering a little in comparison with younger, higher-strength, flavour-intense bottlings. There was a time 16-year-old age statements would have been more than enough to justify a £50 asking price but now, with so much competition on the market, I find myself asking if I wouldn’t rather have something younger and higher strength? The fact remains, however, this is a really solid bottling from Tomintoul and it would make perfect sense for those who prefer their whisky easy drinking.
Smell: The nose is quite typical for an older Speyside single malt. It’s malty with caramel, toffee and butterscotch. It has a varnish / solvent note very similar to that found in the 16-year-old. In fact the whole experience feels like a natural progression from the previous dram. Some nice baking spices like cinnamon and ginger. Cumin seeds. Honey and digestive biscuits. There’s wee flashes of some interesting berry top notes. Citrus. Red apples.
Taste: Toffee. Sweet fruits. Then the presence of oak demonstrates the whisky’s age. Toffee biscuits. Chocolate. Butterscotch. Pepper. Citrus – lemon and lime. Water brings out some apple and pear. Even a little pineapple.
Thoughts: This does feel like a step-up from the 16-year-old although they are very much cut from the same cloth. The 21-year-old has that little bit of depth that only comes from a lengthy period in oak. There’s a tannic note that runs through the whole experience. The nose in particular is pleasantly complex though the palate can’t quite live up to its promise. Water opened things up a little but some weight and mouthfeel was lost as a result. A pleasant if somewhat predictable example of a mature Speyside.
Value for money: This one carries an asking price of around £110. That’s a helluva jump from the 16. Apparently those five extra years in cask have more than doubled the price.
I find myself asking if the impressive “21” on the label is enough to justify such a large sum? No doubt it used to be but haven’t things moved on? Haven’t tastes evolved? Nowadays there are fantastic whiskies at just three years old and there are no-age-statement releases with such intensity and complexity that age almost seems irrelevant. I’m not advocating an end to age statements, only suggesting that they aren’t necessarily the attraction they once were.
I mean sure, if you want the status symbol of an old single malt to show off to your friends whilst still having an easy drinking, sessionable whisky, Tomintoul fits the bill. I suspect, however, that many consumers nowadays would prefer something a little more characterful, a little more intense and they wouldn’t particularly care if that meant buying a much younger whisky.
There’s nothing wrong with Tomintoul. It just seems a wee bit old-fashioned in its approach. I think ultimately, it’s just too gentle for my tastes and that means it wouldn’t be worth me spending £100+ on a bottle. If you enjoy the lighter side of whisky, you may feel differently about it.
Incidentally, if your tastes are more aligned with mine, I suggest trying out the distillery’s Old Ballantruan brand which is an entirely different beast altogether.
You can buy Tomintoul 16-year-old from Master of Malt here
Likewise, you can buy Tomintoul 21-year-old here
*Please be aware that these are affiliate links and as such I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make.
**Other retailers are available.
For more on Tomintoul visit here