I’ve been lusting after Tormore since I started reading MALT. From Mark’s peek behind the grandiose façade into the industrial interior, it became clear that this distillery was different. The endless vertical of nine bottles had its highs and lows, but Mark and Jason’s enduring passion for this distillery was what really captured my interest.
When people (particularly people I admire and respect as much as those two) care enough for a distillery to lavish this amount of time and attention on it, the question shifts from “why should I be drinking Tormore” to “why aren’t I drinking Tormore?”
However, I have mixed emotions about this approach. Beyond my constant, nagging concerns about objectivity, I also wrote before about the perils of reviewing a distillery with a strongly positive consensus. It’s a type of no-win from a critic’s perspective: If the opinion is favorable, it serves only to reinforce the prevailing viewpoint and is, in a sense, boring (according to Adam). If the opinion is negative then the partisans will be outraged, and I’ll spend a day or two fending off vituperative comments and tweets. So, conscious of the high regard in which Tormore is held in our little MALT circle, I’m embarking with more caution than is habitual for me (a.k.a. “none”).
In fairness to my friends, the 16 bottles of Tormore reviewed on MALT have an average score of 6.4, with a high score of 8 and a low of 4. There’s clearly some dispersion within the variety of expressions, no doubt exacerbated by the preponderance of independent bottlings, often of single casks. Or, as Jason put it, “Experience has shown that each Tormore is different; at times, the margins of variation are minor and other times extreme.”
Bottles of Tormore might be rarities in Scotland, but compared to the U.S. they may as well be Glenlivet 12-year-old on that side of the Atlantic. It took some serious searching to find a bottle in my state, augmented by a few bottles shipped to me from either coast. I took what was available but was able to ensure a range of ages, to give myself a fairer and more complete view of Tormore. I’ve decided to attack these in ascending order of age:
The first is from Gordon & MacPhail’s Reserve label. It was distilled in 1998, bottled in 2010 (the rear label states “aged 11 years”), at 59.6%. The label indicates this was “hand selected from a single cask” (#1582) by Maxwell Street Trading, a distributor based in Addison, IL. It is one of 207 bottles. I paid $56 for this bottle.
Gordon & MacPhail Tormore 1998 – Review
Color: Medium golden-copper
On the nose: Nutty at first, with walnuts, chocolate fudge, and a somewhat meaty note. A richness of vanilla buttercream sets in, accented by the slightly charred element of firewood.
In the mouth: Spicy and tightly-wound around a woody core at the front of the mouth. This broadens out at midpalate to encompass ample dried fruit flavors, some creamy citrus nuances of lemon meringue pie, and a pert crescendo of floral and woody notes at the back of the tongue. This has a long finish, again a dance between piquant (almost astringent) cask wood and the richness of stone fruit and Meyer lemon, with a faint waxiness hovering around the edges of the mouth.
I am assuming from the bottling run that this is an ex-bourbon cask, rather than sherry (though this could be a fractional bottling). However, it has the notes of nuts and dried fruit that characterize better uses of that wood in Speyside malts. The only knock is that it becomes slightly bitter in the throat, as the balance shifts more towards the wood. Still, this is a hell of a lot of whisky for under $60.
Next up is another Gordon & MacPhail selection, this time from the “Connoisseurs Choice” range. The only information on the label is that this is 14 Years Old, from a first fill bourbon barrel. A bit of printing on the bottle reads “18/01/17,” implying that this was likely distilled around 2002. It is bottled at 46%. I paid $60 for 750 ml.
Connoisseurs Choice Tormore 14 Years Old – Review
Color: Medium-pale straw.
On the nose: Winey and malty aromas mingle with a heaping helping of oaky sweetness. There’s a floral and soapy nuance. Buttery fruit, in the manner of chardonnay. Confectioner’s sugar. Lemon zest and sour cream. Honey mixed into Greek yogurt.
In the mouth: Mute at the front of the mouth.Wood dominates the midpalate. Finishes with a rounded texture. Some gently nutty notes persist through the finish, which also has an accent of freshly-cut grass and a recurrence of the soapy flavor from the nose.
It wouldn’t take an expert to know this was a Speyside malt in an ex-bourbon cask. It’s straight down the middle and is bottled at adequate strength. A quibble would be that there’s a fatty richness on both the nose and palate that somewhat masks the remaining aromas and flavors. For the price, it performs adequately.
Finally, a John Milroy selection. Milroy has yet to be covered here at MALT, and I was myself unfamiliar with them before I picked up this bottle. Started in 1964 by Jack Milroy and his brother Wallace (originally from Dumfries) near Soho Square Gardens, the brand was sold to Berry Bros. & Rudd in 2009.
The official materials describe the range similarly to most independent bottlers’: small runs of “the most exceptional cask whiskies in the world” bottled at optimal maturity, regardless of age. The man doing the selecting is Doug McIvor, spirits buyer for Berry Bros. & Rudd.
This Tormore was distilled in 1995, bottled in 2016 at 52.6%. It is cask #20210. I paid $150 for 750 ml.
I called in reinforcements in the form of Jason Rover for a collaborative review of this one. His notes follow my own.
John Milroy Tormore 1995 – Taylor’s Review
Color: Pale gold, with a peachy hue.
On the nose: The flavors come one after another, with no discernible order to the progression. Werther’s Original. Buttermilk pancakes. Birchwood. Rotisserie chicken. Lilies. Green apple lollipop. Mocha. Whole wheat bread. Cardamom pods. Key lime. Date and walnut cake. Ripe pear. I feel like the nose has its own dreamlike logic, with the elements appearing one by one like characters in a Lewis Carroll story.
In the mouth: What a surprise! Whereas the nose was comprised of individual elements standing very much on their own, the mouth feels very much “all together.” Some tart citrus notes of lemon to begin. At midpalate, this tightens up with a hot, woody spiciness, balanced against the richly fruity flavor of stewed peaches. There’s another butterscotch note on the back of the tongue, before this cascades into a distinctly yeasty and malty finish that, in all honesty, tastes a bit technically flawed.
Plenty of promise on the nose, but the palate underwhelms. I’m docking a point for the oddness of the finish and the high price.
John Milroy Tormore 1995 – Jason’s Review
Colour: Golden syrup.
On the nose: A harmony is present with sweet freshly plucked apples, vanilla sponge and candy floss. An old fashioned lemonade, a puff of smoke and Kiwi fruit. Given time, an apple flan, a touch of cinnamon and vanilla marshmallows. Water reveals wood spices, varnish and a pleasing degree of candle wax.
In the mouth: A gentle soul, the palate is less flamboyant. Rising up through the vanilla and apple meadow are citrus notes with candied lemon, a little melon and more of that waxy aspect. Water showcases butter that leads into waxed orange and creamed corn.
A soild Tormore depending on the price. The mid-90’s are variable ground with this distillery. I’ve had some crackers, but move a year on, or prior, and the outcome is totally different. This is always part of the appeal and this generous sample reminds me to seek out more from Tormore soon.
In a refreshing challenge to my preconceptions, it was the least-expensive and lowest-aged bottle of this that was the most pleasant. I’m still not entirely certain this wasn’t a parcel from a sherry cask. The 14-year-old from the Connoisseurs Choice range was alright and not much more. The Milroy started strong but became weird, particularly toward the back of the tongue.
In total, I am able to see the appeals of this distillery but am well aware that the distillate performs differently in response to various casks and maturation periods. I am better-educated for having tried these three in comparison to one another and would recommend re-creating this experiment to other Tormore novices who are able to assemble a clutch of bottles.