Sep 112015

Tomatin 25 y.o.081

43% abv

Score:  90/100


This was a really, really pleasant surprise.  I remember being slightly underwhelmed with this one when I tried it in earlier days, but stacked up against the full range it was one of the superstars of a recent sit-down tasting.  There are some stunning old cask notes that blend with the sort of fruits you only get in really mature malts.  The whole comes together magnificently, to be honest.  It’s not without its little bumps, but those are swept away by the overall excitement of something that is more than the sum of its parts.

I’m assuming, since the bottle doesn’t say otherwise, that this quarter century Tomatin was matured entirely in ex-bourbon.  Typically their expressions will be clearly marked if finished or matured in something else.  Not only that, but the nose positively reeks (in all the right ways!) of fine old bourbon barrels.  I think this, other than the spectacular 40 year old, is the best of the Tomatin standard age-stated range.

For the life of me, though, I simply can’t wrap my head around the 43% abv.  Even the 18 was released at 46%.  I think this would have been a point or two higher if served up at a higher bottling strength.  Not that we’re greedy, mind, just that the flavours are so much more vibrant that way.  Oh well.  Still a great malt.

Nose:  A touch of paint and old book.  Poached fruits in syrup…with a dusting of cinnamon.  Peach.  Maybe a little raspberry.  Jam on scones.  Malty, with some chocolate.  Vanilla and polished wood.  Mild and quite attractive overall, but there is one very small off note in there.

Palate:  Those mature, tangy fruit notes are right up front.  Stone fruits, mango, papaya and a little bit of pineapple.  Some sexy old smells of…well…awesome.  Hard to describe as anything but ‘mature’ (kinda dunnage warehouse-esque.  Those lovely tart and tangy notes run all the way through.  Vanilla and malty barley.

Thoughts:  Yes!  Now we’re there.  Finally a Tomatin I can get behind.  Not perfect, but I could be convinced to work on this relationship.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:48 am
Sep 102015

Tomatin 18 y.o.019

46% abv

Score:  84.5/100


Ok.  Without even tasting this I can tell we’re finally moving in the right direction with Tomatin.  The nose on this 18 is miles ahead of both the choppy 12 and the rather milquetoast 15.  In fact I’d almost think this was an Aberlour if nosed blind.  Not quite a’bunadh territory, to be clear, but Aberlour nevertheless.

The Oloroso influence here is really the main talking point.  The bottle indicates that the malt is ‘finished in Oloroso’ (so not a full blown maturation), but it’s a seriously lengthy finishing period.  Whereas the 12 is a 6-9 month finish, the 18 is two and a half years in sherry butts.  Even so, the sherry notes are more mighty than expected and quite well integrated.  The heft of fruit and earthy tobacco notes kinda makes me think these were wet fill barrels though.  Just speculation on my part.

The unfortunate thing is that the palate simply doesn’t deliver what the nose advertises.  Bad, by no means, but certainly a lot sharper than expected.  And that bitterness?  Hmmm…not quite working for me.  All in all, a slightly unbalanced drink with a better than expected nose.

Nose:  Biscuits and jam.  Freshly milled grains.  Big sherry notes.  At cask strength I’d think we were in Aberlour territory.  A little berry and cherry.  Tobacco and spicy cedar.  Quite lush.  Vanilla cake with thick berry coulis.

Palate:  Fruity and spicy delivery.  A lot of wood.  Coffee notes, with a bit of chocolate.  With a bit of sharp bitterness.  Not nearly as pleasant as the nose.  Too tannic.  Like eating berries with some of the greens or stems still attached.  But…still quite solid.  Some ginger, pepper and apple skins.  Toothpicks.

Thoughts:  This could be much more special at cask strength.  And the nose is miles ahead of the palate, but still solid.  The nose actually hints at barrels older than 18 years.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:42 am
Sep 092015

Tomatin 15 y.o.014

43% abv

Score:  80/100


Here’s the big brother (or maybe sister?) of the Tomatin 12 year old we looked at yesterday.  This time with a couple more years of relaxation in wood, and a slightly different cask composition.  Tomatin elected to forego the disharmonious sherry finish on this one and leave the malt a little more ‘exposed’.  Meaning we see the spirit draped in only the gauzy trappings of bourbon barrel influence.  Normally this would be more to my liking, to be honest.  In this case, however, I’m kinda feeling like we’re still not seeing much more from Tomatin than generic mediocrity.  Can’t say there are big outright flaws, but this is a tight malt that takes way too long to bloom.

Perhaps I’m not alone in these sentiments either, as it seems this one has been pulled from production.  The Tomatin website refers to the 15 year old as now ‘archived’.  To be fair this is not a ‘bad’ dram, but it simply doesn’t cast a big enough shadow to distinguish itself from a bunch of other relatively entry level malts.  The 15 is no great loss, and fortunately things do take a step up with the 18 year old.  More to come on that one.  In the meantime…

Nose:  Slightly floral with a touch of pepper.  Apple and spice.  Ginger.  A lot of woody spice.  Some soft jammy notes build with enough time in the glass, but almost too late.  I don’t want to wait 25 minutes after pouring to enjoy a dram. Still an off note.  Like biscuits left in the oven just a minute or two too long.

Palate:  Some peach here that isn’t prevalent on the nose.  Apple too.  A decent amount of ginger and cinnamon.  Fruit leather.  Somewhat wine-y, but still fruity.  Something here is not working for me though.  Quite drying and tannic.  Leaves fruit skins as it fades.  Smooth enough, but should be a bigger abv and fruitier at this age.

Thoughts:  A tiny step up from the 12 year old (I think), but still not a lot of personality.  On a positive note, at least this is a smoother drinker than its younger sibling.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:56 am
Sep 082015

Tomatin 12 y.o.009

43% abv

Score:  79/100


Often touted as a great ‘value’ malt, Tomatin has made a huge splash in the whisky world over the past couple of years.  The black, red and white seems to be taking over.  The shelves in our local spirits retailers sag under the weight of an ever-growing range of expressions, the likes of which I haven’t seen since Bruichladdich’s heyday.  This isn’t to compare the two, however, as they’re simply night and day in so many ways.

At the time of writing I’ve worked through the age-stated range (reviews of all coming this week), the peated variants, some of the cask-finished expressions, single casks and even a raw cask sample, and I hate to admit it, but until you hit the quarter century mark, this brand is just not very exciting.  Not only that, it has some rather overt blemishes.  Poor spirit cut may be what is giving those solventy notes, I’d guess.  That or dead and sluggish over-used bourbon barrels perhaps, which haven’t given or taken enough.  The bourbon base with sherry finish seems a little incongruous here and somewhat out of balance; kinda like those home vatting experiments so many of us have tried (who has one of those little barrels?).

Perhaps I’m less forgiving than some others out there, as Tomatin 12 retails for about $60 locally.  I’ve read mention elsewhere of this one selling in the $30 US neighbourhood.  For that price I’d be a little more inclined to see why others are so supportive (even if still not being willing to buy it myself).  At $60 though?  Pass, thanks.  There are way better deals to be found on way better malts.

Nose:  Slight solvent notes. Dough and dry flour.  Kinda gristy.  Smells younger than 12 years old.  Apple pie.  Cinnamon, ginger and pepper.  A mishmash of unidentifiable fruit, but not very lively.  Maybe fruit candy, at that.  Malty.  A smooth toasted vanilla note.  Develops some toffee notes over time.

Palate:  Pastry with fruits and spices.  Orange zest.  Some loud notes from the cask; sherry influence for sure.  Something seems off here.  There is a dry, woody tartness that is not working.

Thoughts:  Meh.  More character than the big ‘Glens’, but more glaring flaws too and nearly double the price.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:15 am
Sep 022015

Port Ellen 27 y.o. Cask #6101 (Douglas Laing Provenance)027

46% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Incredible foresight or the ultimate in luck?  Either way, Douglas Laing’s early procurement of so many barrels of Port Ellen is unprecedented in the industry.  It’s rather widely accepted that Port Ellen, in it’s day, was generally referred to as a blender’s whisky, and not particularly coveted as a single malt.  It seems logical that casks of the young spirit would have been set at a very appealing price point for any independent bottler looking to fill warehouses with peated whisky, be it for blending, trading or bottling.  Years later, when the whisky world caught on to the niche collectability of whiskies from closed distilleries, Douglas Laing found themselves sitting on an absolute gold mine.

Thankfully, over the years many of those DL releases have found their way to Canada.  In fact, the vast majority of Port Ellen I’ve tasted has been courtesy of the Laing empire (in one of its varied incarnations).  The profiles of the Laing releases can differ by substantial degrees, but the quality is fairly consistent across most of them.  I’d go so far as to say that Douglas Laing’s Port Ellen portfolio is, generally speaking, second only to Diageo’s annual releases.

Enough generalities, though.  Moving on to this particular one…

Though initially skeptical of the low abv here (c’mon, guys…you don’t do this with old, delicate whiskies!), it only took a moment to be bowled over by this 27 year old.  It was made in 1983, the distillery’s last year of production, and was bottled in mid 2010.  Those 27 years were spent maturing in a refill butt, but don’t be fooled; in lieu of any sort of big sherry notes on this one, it seems to be built more on very soft fruits and only the faintest whiff of spices.  Exactly what I imagine when I think of Port Ellen, albeit a little more gentle courtesy of the lower abv (which isn’t that low, to be fair).

Nose:  Very Port Ellen right off the bat.  Soft biscuity notes.  Old book.  Clean grist.  Faint seabreeze.  Mild citrus and wet rock.  Very faded peat and smoke.  A whiff of Werther’s Originals.  A little bit of honeydew melon and caramel.

Palate:  More alive here.  More fruits.  Oh wow.  Now we’re deeply entrenched in Port Ellen territory.  Smoke and beachside bonfire.  Lemon juice over charred scallops.  Sugar cookies.  Burnt lemon rind.  The smoke grows over time.  Something slightly herbaceous.

Thoughts:  Still a special whisky, but lacks a little oomph that would have pushed it even higher.  Can you imagine at cask strength?  A very restrained and elegant Port Ellen that suits my palate perfectly.  Love this one.


 – Reviewed by:  Curt

 – Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:38 am