Someone wisely once said never meet your heroes. It’s not a familiar or comfortable situation for many of us and very few examples qualify. Being within the presence of the Raith Rovers FC Coca-Cola Cup winning team from 1994 certainly ticks the box with a big fat black marker pen, but a void exists when thinking within the whisky realm.
Master blenders and ambassadors hold no sway here – although a certain colleague has a penance for a former Islay distillery owner – and meeting XYZ does not cause the heart to flutter or any anxiety to terrorise the mindset. Yet recently I was confronted by a hero in bottle form arguably confirming a new audacious level of whisky geek within my pursuit of all things Tormore. Yes, we’re talking about the 1966 bottled by Italian legends Samaroli in 1982 from a sherry cask. This is the stuff of legends and has been scored accordingly.
Standing at the Whiskybase Gathering in Rotterdam, I had travelled a great distance primarily for this bottle and to experience a festival weekend like no other. In front of me was the whisky equivalent of the Eiger north face with a marvellous and mesmerising bottle array of epic proportions. The Whisky Nerds stand was something to behold although I was carrying a bottle for a select few that matched anything on display. Enquiring about the 1966 Tormore, the bottle was brought over to me and I firmly held what is a rather valuable whisky and continued the conversation. The colour was incredible and a match for any of the infamous Karuizawa releases, but as a fellow enthusiast commented to me later that day it was more cask than Tormore. The price tag was a very generous 100 Euros and it weighed heavily on my mind during the rest of the event.
The Whiskybase Gathering brings together a tremendous symphony of bottles from all distilleries and ages with only the Glasgow Rare & Old show holding onto its coattails. Representing Malt and being my first visit, I felt compelled to experience the event – arguably more than the whisky itself – and engage in conversations with many I had only met online previously. The end result being that those 6 hours felt extremely brief. At the back of my mind constantly was the presence of the 1966 Tormore. In some ways I felt intimidated and its reputation was suffocating. Do I regret now not taking that final step and experiencing the whisky itself? Perhaps in some ways yes – especially if the Tormore avoids me until my last breath – although retrospectively it’s good to have such heroes but they should remain out of sight, or taste in this case.
In some ways the comparison has to be drawn with scoring whiskies. To give a 10 is the highest praise and indicates that you have indeed conquered the Eiger north face. After that conquest do you repeat or try to find new heroes? Why not just be content with your favourite array of Tormore, Glen Garioch, Glen Mhor, Kilkerran and Brora experiences? Keep looking and moving forward, discovering new whiskies and maybe one day a rival to any infamous bottling will present itself and for that moment you can indulge and enjoy. At least that’s what I’ll take from the experience.
Without further ado we’re back on firmer ground now with 2 recent independent releases from – yes, you’ve guessed it – Tormore distillery. An enthusiast during the Whiskybase Gathering bring your own bottle event asked why Tormore? Not that I was carrying an offering from this great Speyside distillery instead my choice bizarrely was the 2006 Glenrothes released by Abbey Whisky earlier this year. Admittedly an odd choice, especially as it isn’t a distillery I really enjoy but this particular cask had struck a chord within and seemed to go down well with those that tried a dram. My answer was simply why not, regaling the story of its discovery and diving into the range of whiskies we’ve seen released across the decades; with an obvious exception.
Kicking off with the Tormore 1998 vintage released as part of the Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Range, this was bottled in 2015 from a 1st fill bourbon cask making it 17 years in age or thereabouts. The strength was diluted to 46% as you’d expect in this range and will set you back around £60 for the experience. Oddly, I’m asked on a regular basis via social media about Tormore and the best bottles to seek out. This 1998 vintage is fairly unseen with only Gordon & MacPhail and Chivas themselves releasing from this year. Compared to the early 1990’s vintages that are vastly populated, 1998 totals less than 10 to my knowledge. Well, its interesting to me at least!
Connoisseurs Choice Tormore 1998 – review
Colour: a light gold
On the nose: a pleasing array of tinned fruits that could pass as a fruit salad. Peaches, pears, orange segments and some apple alongside yellow papaya and syrup. There’s a faint wisp of beeswax and a gentle honey glaze with a reassuring malty aspect towards the finish that has lingering notes of all-spice and nutmeg. I’m a happy camper.
In the mouth: very gentle with those fruits not coming through as strongly as anticipated. There’s a pleasant light toffee finish with touch of pepper that lingers for a considerable period. The actual main body of the whisky consists of cereals with added sugar, white chocolate and whipped vanilla cream. Generally, this is much better without water – Gordon & MacPhail have already taken it down for your convenience. A touch does loosen things up but nothing new is revealed.
Old Malt Cask Tormore 1988 review
This Tormore was distilled in November 1988 and sleeping in a sherry butt (#13189) until it was bottled in January 2017 at 50% strength. An outturn of 249 bottles were produced for this Hunter Laing range and expect to pay around £100.
Colour: a very pale apple juice
On the nose: funnily enough its apples that reach out of the glass initially followed by a touch of smoked ginger. Plenty of sweetness with white currants and some melon but also the aroma of a freshly baked vanilla sponge. Towards the rear you have the delicate sherry-influenced notes of tobacco, oranges and apricots. It’s nicely balanced and not forceful like so many sherry casks nowadays.
In the mouth: surprisingly light and restrained with a certain elegance. A dirty vanilla that moves into a bitter dark chocolate and a sprinkling of that tobacco again. There’s a clay-like element to the earthiness, apricots and marmalade with a gentle waft of smoke.
The Connoisseurs Choice is an ideal weekday whisky that you can appreciate with very little effort and should suck you into the realm of discovering more of Tormore. There’s nothing to criticise and it hints at the sheer monstrous capabilities of this distillery. Whereas the Old Malt Cask harks back to a previous era with a rather delicate caress from a sherry butt. It’s pretty impressive stuff overall and takes me back to the era of the 1960’s and 1970’s when sherry casks were the real deal resulting in wonderful experiences that offer precision balance.
My thanks to Michael at the Carnegie Whisky Cellars for these samples.