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The subject of this review is an impressive old whisky from independent bottler Dràm Mòr. A 25-year-old single malt from Tobermory distillery, the dram marks the family firm’s first move into the premium end of the market. The only distillery on the Isle of Mull, Tobermory is a fascinating prospect, home to two single malt brands and a gin.
Mull is an island in the inner Hebrides, off Scotland’s western coast. The people of the island have always had a close connection to the sea with much of their folklore relating in some way to the rolling waters of the Atlantic. It wasn’t uncommon for offerings to be made to the sea. Pots of porridge were thrown into the ocean from high cliffs and folklore tells of people wading up to their waist to pour a cup of ale into the icy waters in honour of Shony, the Sea-God. This was done in hopes of a plentiful supply of seaweed that could be burned and turned into fertiliser.
The offerings worked, it seems. The town of Tobermory was established in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society and in 1797, a man named John Sinclair, rich from a successful career as a kelp merchant, submitted a planning application to the Society. Distilling was banned at the time so his application was approved only on the agreement that he would establish a brewery instead. Tobermory still claims 1798 as the date of its foundation but exactly when it began to distill is something of a mystery. The site wasn’t officially licensed until 1823.
Tobermory has endured a somewhat tumultuous existence. When the distillery was taken over by Burn Stewart in 1993, it had only been in operation for eight of the last sixty-three years. Fortunately, its fortunes have improved in recent times. Now under the ownership of South Africa-based Distell, the distillery’s single malts are more widely available than ever before and some truly exceptional bottlings have been produced.
*Full disclosure: The whisky featured in this article was sent to me free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Originally matured in a refill bourbon hogshead before being transferred to a first fill Calvados cask. It’s bottled at 50.1%.
Smell: Caramel and toffee apples. Brown sugar. Apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. White pepper and sea salt. Oak – surprisingly fresh. Honey. Biscuit. Milk chocolate. Cinnamon. Chilli powder and cayenne pepper.
Taste: Big apple juice arrival. Touch of pear. Salted caramel apple crumble. Pecans. Some big peppery spice. Dry oak. Sweet pastries and vanilla. A wee splash of water seemed to improve the balance a little.
Thoughts: I haven’t always been convinced by Calvados finishes in the past but this was a really interesting choice. It works well, although I suspect the original refill cask had a fairly minimal impact because there’s an almost surprising amount of spirit character on show. How it arrived at its current status is irrelevant, however. It works and that’s all that matters.
There’s a pleasant creamy texture on the palate and just enough warming spice to remind you you’re drinking a cask strength Scotch. Whiskies of this age could so easily become over-oaked but that simply isn’t the case here. At 50.1% it has retained an excellent drinking strength, meaning it only required the smallest drop of water to open up beautifully.
Value for money: This Tobermory will set you back around £320 per bottle. It’s not exactly budget-friendly but you’re not going to find a particularly cheap 25-year-old whisky anywhere (Glenfarclas is the clear outlier at £215 a bottle). You’ll pay the same or more for official bottlings of Glengoyne, Bowmore and Bunnahabhain, for example – and those would all be lower strength. Given that this is a rare single cask with an unusual finish, it seems to compare quite well to the wider market.
For more on Dràm Mòr visit here
For more on Tobermory visit here