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Old Malt Cask Tobermory 1996

Recently, I’ve been hit by a double whammy: becoming a parent and experiencing the whisky blues. I’ve been deprived of sleep on one hand, snowed under with nappies on the other, and simultaneously grown whisky-shocked by the sheer amount of whiskies being released that are distinctly… average.

In both cases, you must simply ride out the storm and hope that things don’t shift into something more undesirable. A new order is established. I’m quietly confident on the kid front, but for whisky, I do have a fear. Whisky is becoming preimmunised and in danger of believing its own hype. Sales figures continue to escalate (apparently) and everything is all rosy in the heavenly garden that is Scotland.

Except nothing is forever, and for the new distilleries that somehow try to justify their existence on gin and bottling a three-year-old whisky that clearly isn’t ready, the fall awaits. Where does it all end? What happens to those who enjoy whisky on a limited budget, but see the price continuing to rise and bottles of interest priced for the secondary market?

This theme occurred to me when giving the final edit and upload to Phil’s memorable Green Spot tasting article. It took me back to my own tastings, to seeing the reactions from attendees, and to their warm feedback post-event. I even had one person who was taken with a Carsebridge actually ask me if he could have the bottle tube as a memento, and another absolutely thrilled to have been able to experience the funk that is a Glenisla. Then the following year, an individual confessed they’d been inspired to open bottles they’d been sitting on years to celebrate a birthday of note. All of this is humbling, and for me personally, more valuable than any record-breaking figure set at auction.

More than ever, such tastings allow the mere mortal with a limited budget to experience the rare and unicorn. It’s important and vital that those of us fortunate to own such bottles take heed and offer this service. I’ve done this on a couple of occasions, and another tasting is overdue. The sheer number of bottles being squirreled away for investment or whatever is sickening and disappointing. The levels of narcissism on Instagram are off the charts. I ask myself, looking back over these events and my bottles, if I actually miss having something unopened sitting in a cupboard? The answer is a resounding no. Whisky isn’t anything until it is shared. It might as well be a bottle of gin or organic champagne you’re clutching with glee.

The same principle applies to sharing whisky samples. I’m fortunate to be offered all sorts from onlookers who are fans of what we do here daily or just friends. I cannot take up every offer, as I still apologise for those samples I still haven’t gotten around to writing about yet. In some cases, it’s been a couple of years! I suppose we could just do tasting notes in a single huge piece, but that isn’t the MALT way, or why so many of you peruse these articles before the grandstand finale of the score.

Sharing is rewarding and very beneficial. At times, it can also represent a huge amount of work. I know from experience via a bottle share club I was a member of that only a handful did the grunt work or opened their bottles. After a while, it felt like the club wasn’t a benefit to me personally. Some of the stuff I opened, as well, was incredible—easily something I could have flipped with ease or kept aside. I suspect that some of the members already had such bottles, and I had become a tasting service that kept their seals intact. It’s important, therefore, that everyone plays ball when you’re sharing whiskies or forming a club or collective. Be a member for the right reasons, and participate!

All of the above suggests that I have very little to say about Tobermory. This is true to a certain extent, but Phil’s article inspired the above plus a generous sample from @fromwhereidram of this 22-year-old Tobermory. It’s not a distillery I think of much. In reality, Ledaig grabs the attention for many of us. Given its closure for an extensive refurbishment, Tobermory is nearing a return and dispelling those rumours from 18 months or so that it would never restart production, and instead become a tourist attraction along the lines of Dallas Dhu, or the new Macallan (as no one drinks the stuff nowadays)! It remains a difficult distillery to reach in geographical terms and whisky appreciation. However, it is also generally affordable for those on a budget, and we need more of this going forward. I love it when an introduction comes together, so now for the bottle details…

This Tobermory was distilled during July 1996 before being bottled at 22 years of age from a refill sherry butt and 54.4% strength. It is a release exclusive to the K&L Wines chain in America. Meaning we’ve shared some of our produce once again. Priced at $89.99, quite rightly on paper, they suggest that this is an absolute steal compared to the $240 it takes to sample the distillery’s 21-year-old official release! Prompting concern that there is another reason for the pricing – let’s find out.

Old Malt Cask Tobermory 1996 – review

Colour: a morning dew i.e. very little influence.

On the nose: typical Tobermory with a mix of herbal and vegetative notes that almost showcase a cannabis waft. Wet tweed, wood chips and a density to it which might suggest what could be beneficial. Fenugreek leaves, fennel, green apples and some soot. Kiwi fruit and green mango skin. Water doesn’t herald a dramatic change in fortunes, showcasing lemon pips, a maltiness and more spirit.

In the mouth: the lack of definition jumps out immediately with a subtle sherry influence and those Tobermory feints. Almonds, pancakes and a mineral quality. Silver needle tea and a damp oakiness. More fenugreek again and weed-like with spirit and mustard seeds. Water reveals more malt and honey with a touch of sweetness.

Conclusions

This release underlines again that Tobermory is the ugly duckling of the Mull distillates. The sherry cask has had very little influence and from my experience must be verging on a 3rd or even 4th refill.

This allows more of the Tobermory character to come through, which depending on your point of view is either a good thing; or bad news. This is a whisky that isn’t for the beginner and is more suited to those who wish to explore the outer edges of whisky in general.

That Tobermory ‘funk’ is evident but not to the extent of the 21-year-old Dramfool release I had a few years ago that was heavily weed-influenced.

I also have to acknowledge that for a single cask exclusive in America this is well priced. Part of that is the unfashionable nature of Tobermory in combination with the below par whisky. A talking piece I’m sure for many Stateside who won’t see much from this distillery. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what Tobermory has for us in the future once its refit is complete.

Score: 5/10

Photographs from @fromwhereidram trying out a potential new camera – nae bad!

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Stuart Allison says:

    A great read as always Jason. I’m glad your tastings have inspired people to open their whiskies. After your recent post about instagram and taking some time away from it, I have decided to unfollow many of the ‘major’s accounts because I realised, thanks to your post, that almost every bottle they have posted is SEALED. This has prompted me to ask “have you opened this” or “have you tried this” and the common answer is “no” UNFOLLOW.

    I’ve had enough of it and I’m now more aware of this thanks to you. Cheers.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Stuart

      Thanks for the kind words. Instagram is becoming a cesspool of the worst elements of human/social behaviour (mostly North American) these days. Rampant ‘hey look at me’ behaviour and isn’t ‘everything great’ alongside sexist images and a lack of transparency. I’m posting less there, because my time is better served here. Also, I don’t see the benefit in offering another opinion, when in reality everyone is too busy doing giveaways or other antics to attract attention. Bottom line is not all whisky is great, or even good. Few people it seems want to face the reality of the situation.

      I’m sure I could guess many of the main accounts you mentioned. I follow very few because that is a reflection of how limited the scope is nowadays for worthwhile channels. Even now, I look at who I do follow and some are on the chopping block. I like them as people, but their actions demotivate me.

      Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    David Wright says:

    Whisky isn’t anything until it is shared.
    Amen.
    Congratulations on parenthood, you’ll soon realise how bad the Scottish hospitality sector is with a young family.
    Enjoy the ride!!

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