The whiskies from Tobermory (including Ledaig) have, in the past, been very hit and miss in my opinion, with more misses than hits. Tobermory is owned by Burn Stewart Distillers, which has now been folded into the South African Distell group, and we established in my recent review of the Deanston 40 Year Old that this probably means very good things for the distillery’s future.
Based on the Isle of Mull, Tobermory actually produces two distinct single malt brands. Tobermory being one, and other is the peated Ledaig (and the peat often disguises many of the sins in the spirit). Being established in 1795, the place has a curious history. In 1916 it made its way into the hands of the conglomerate DCL, but for a massive period – from 1930 to 1972 – it was actually closed. When it reopened, the name Ledaig was used as the main name – but then bankruptcy came, the buildings were used for all sorts of other things. Apparently there was a cheese stall in the stillhouse (Whisky Treasury, W.Schobert).
But it wasn’t until 1993 that Burn Stewart Distillers took over and made a proper go of things. Ledaig was separated out to be just about the peated stuff; Tobermory the unpeated. I’ll be honest, in the past couple of years I’ve only really tasted independent bottlings of Tobermory (and Ledaig) which used to be rather rare although they’re all over the place these days, so I am very interested to look at these new official releases.
The new Tobermory 21 Year Old Manzanilla Finish is a limited release, although widely available (as tends to be the way with limited releases these days). It’s bottled naturally without colouring or chill-filtration at 53.8% ABV. It will set you back £130 – which, in my mind, feels a little on the steep side for a distillery with an uncertain pedigree. The Ledaig 19 Year Old Marsala Finish, bottled at 51% ABV, also comes in at a high price of £125. These are brave prices. At least there is no fluffed up marketing story attached: a simple number on the bottle, and some information about what went in there. Perhaps it shows confidence?
Tobermory 21 Year Old Review
On the nose: something quite agricultural about this. A touch of the farm: earthy, malty, and yet there’s a whiff of floral, grassy, straw-like quality alongside. Nut roast, herbal; perhaps a nuttier kind of stuffing for your Sunday lunch. Let it settle and there are some attractive dried fruits beginning to show. It’s very pleasant indeed except for perhaps too prominent feints showing once the fruit fades: old gym shoes, yeasty and cheesy.
In the mouth: robust, earthy. Chilli peppers, lime pickle. Some maltiness. Oily. Tobacco notes. Some vanilla fudge, but there’s an overall savoury leaning to things. That sherried influence is very apparent, but it doesn’t manage to balance things out. Slightly nutty, praline-like chocolate. Prickly and aggressive in places, before falling back to farmyard undertones. Bit of an agri-yob. Water improves things a little bit more.
Ledaig 19 Year Old Marsala Finish Review
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: very Ledaig with that peculiarly ashy peat. Five Spice. Burnt sausages and ketchup, or maybe HP Sauce. Redcurrants. Grape juice. Burnt sticks. Once all the dominant fruit and smoke fades there is a slight feinty, yeasty, cheese quality, but the peat comes back to mask it.
In the mouth: ashy peat again, charred meat with some chilli spices. Slightly meaty – honey glazed ham. I think what knocks this off balance is the rather bitter peat (rather than a sweet peat) doesn’t quite improve with the sweetness of the wine. Tart, hot ketchup warmth. A slightly acidic note on a spicy finish. Water does much to improve things in an almost identical manner to the Tobermory: knocking the edge off things, the bitterness from the ash; but then again I suppose some people might enjoy that particular ride.
I still don’t think Tobermory is a great distillery. I suspect this one will be more of a challenge for the Distell group to get right – and I’ve no doubt, in time, they will. Indeed, there was a press release recently saying that the distillery would cease production for a couple of years whilst they refurbished the site. I just think both in terms of pedigree and quality, that the asking price is a shade too much for the whiskies; although the Tobermory has much more going on, and is my preferred of the two, if you’re feeling in the mood for something more unusual.
Note: these samples were kindly sent through on behalf of the distillery, but as ever Malt must remain an honest site.