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Tomatin 2007 Distillery Exclusive

Ethics creeps into quite a lot of Malt writing. Whether that be in relation to flipping whisky for profit; receiving payment for internet content or post-rebrand price hikes. Another strand in the moral fibre of the industry I would like to test is in relation to environmental stewardship.

At a recent tour of Tomatin distillery our guide, Neil was explaining how sustainable the process was, from the reuse of the draff as cattle fodder to the pot ale being spread on the hillside as fertiliser. Other changes such as steam heating the stills are also lauded as being energy efficient although I would argue the changes have occurred over the last 50 years were driven by cost efficiencies long before the environmental crisis was widely understood. This, of course, is nothing new in the whisky process, but for me, the ‘branding’ of this as sustainable and environmentally considerate is a new take.

A recent article in the magazine of the Energy Institute highlighted some other interesting changes. The Orkney Distillery is considering the feasibility of locally produced hydrogen to replace LPG or kerosene for heating stills. Brewers are finding profit in anaerobic digestion of waste to create bio-methane; not just to power facilities but also feed into the national grid.

Most notable is the new distillery at Macallan that includes a biomass heat and power plant that also provides power to around 20,000 homes. Of course, the steam produced in the plant fires the stills and saves significant costs to the whisky manufacturer.

The Energy Institute article starts and finishes focussing on the consumer, firstly noting that consumers shopping habits, increasingly motivated by environmental issues and finishing with the suggestion we will be able to add ‘sustainable whisky’ to our list of special versions along with the Local and the Organic that are currently popular. Considering the road miles involved in sourcing barley from the continent, or the peated barley shipped all over the globe for the world whisky industry a truly carbon-neutral bottle of whisky seems a long way off.

This brings me back to Tomatin, and the end of my ‘sustainability’ focussed tour of their facilities. Tomatin has one of the largest ranges of bottle-your-own options of the distilleries offering 5 different casks. The 5-year-old Virgin Oak was a bold pick and very delicious, but I played it safe with a middle of the range Oloroso Cask full maturation at 12 years old. I filled it myself and it was placed into an elaborate presentation box complete with non-recyclable plastic insert. I challenged Tomatin at the time about the sustainability of the packaging but regret simply refusing the box altogether which would have been more appropriate.

Many retailers are favouring recycled packing for postage of orders but plenty still favour plastic bubble wrap or the inflatable sleeves that, as I understand, are non-recyclable.

It’s laudable that businesses are considering the environment and improving efficiencies; obviously, these improvements will be driven by multiple factors including overall profit. However, if the system is not considered as a whole the positive message is devalued and appears more like trumped-up marketing than a concerted effort to be more green.

It seems only a matter of time before one of these distilleries can run their entire process on the waste hot air generated by the marketing team.

Tomatin Distillery Exclusive Single Cask, 2007 – Review

This is cask #3514, Oloroso Full Maturation, 60.9%

Colour: Waxed antique pine.

On the nose: Winey then rich deep sweetness; Omani Halawa, Christmas pudding, flamed orange peel and Moffat toffee.

In the mouth: Decent body that holds up well to water, initial minty burst with prominent wood, then Oloroso sherry and some alcohol heat and back to sherry again; fruity, richly sweet, with a slight whiff of sulphur. This is not massively complex; the sherry has blasted it all. The finish is classically drying with some wood too but missing the tobacco or cigar notes you might expect from a full maturation.

Conclusions

I’ve no affiliation with Tomatin distillery (despite 2 of 2 reviews on the distillery); its output means that it’s widely available both independently and core range. The team at Tomatin seem to do cask finishing well and the spirit stands up to all sorts of casks from tawny port to red wine. Oloroso is such a powerful flavour that it can really smash a whisky after 2 years let alone 12. As such it’s difficult to score an oloroso finish too highly as some of the nuances of the spirit are lost. That’s not to say it’s not very tasty but I think the success of an oloroso whisky is a function of the quality of the sherry more than the distillate. I should have bought the 5-year-old virgin oak.

Score: 6/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

  1. Avatar
    Mark P says:

    For context, what did this cost Graham? I’m guessing right on 100 quid?

    Interesting you say Tomatin is widely available independently as I’ve not really found this to be the case, aside from a G&M here and there. Perhaps it doesn’t make it down to Australia. My sole visit to Tomatin brings many happy memories and I’m generally a fan of the core range. It seems to be an operation that genuinely care about quality product

    1. Graham
      Graham says:

      Mark, actually it was £75 I think which is not bad. I agree Tomatin is solid whisky and a safe pair of hands really. Which is reflected in the score. This is just not that exciting. Given that some visitors apparently buy this by the case load it’s a popular expression.

  2. Avatar
    James Hope says:

    Hi Graham. I think you’re spot on to highlight the green issue within Whisky, over the next few years it’s going to be more and more important. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the big companies move and whether real change is introduced or just more marketing nonsense. I’ve recently bought a cask from Ardnamurchan and of course I’m excited about the spirit. However the two things that really sold it to me were the fact it’s supporting a fairly remote and local community and also a very green distillery. They claim to be the greenest in Scotland, with all energy use coming from local renewables. I don’t know if it genuinely is or not but they clearly care and I like that. I think my point is that it can be a win win for distilleries if they implement real change, it makes them a more attractive proposition to people who are more aware every day of how we interact with the environment.

    1. Graham
      Graham says:

      James,

      Yesterday I was reading that Diego calculate Johnnie Walker produces about 1.2kg of CO2 per litre with the caveat that it is not a full lifecycle review only considering the energy taken to produce it. I also saw a bottle of Scotch at auction that had been on the Taiwanese market assuming that it was shipped there and flown back you can estimate that journey producing 50kg of CO2 for one bottle which is astonishing. On the news last night one Scottish gin producer is aiming to make carbon negative gin using legumes. Our role as consumers of course is to challenge aspects of packaging etc. whenever we can.

    2. John
      John says:

      Hi James, I don’t mean to hijack Graham’s post but if you haven’t seen my Issan review I suggest you check it out. As I also touched on sustainability with regards to spirits production.

      Cheers

  3. Avatar
    Smeds says:

    Pleased to “meet” you, Graham. A profile that could be mine! Sustainable and ethical have been cynically hijacked as mere (irrelevant) tasting notes in order to corner that niche market. Similar to low salt low sugar baked beans that you have to add your own salt and sugar to, to reproduce the FLAVOUR of baked beans. Not every topic in the world has to be cross referenced with such “grandiose ideas” of ethics et al. Why not stop drinking expensive whisky and give all that money to the poor and homeless? I’m sure the dinosaurs weren’t bothered and things turned out okay for them (and the Romans). I just want to enjoy a glass of whisky without feeling guilty – and I chuck my inflatable bottle protectors in the recycling to provoke the reaction from the recycling centres that they should take action to ensure that it is “widely recycled” and not the other evil/world shortening alternative of ” not currently…. “(that or shove it directly into an endangered bit of sea life, which is impractical, given my central location). I also drink Ardnamurchan cos it’s darned tasty and I like the idea that local kids can afford to go to university (even if they’re a bit thick, how many potential Einstein’s are in the Ardnamurchan peninsula? I’ve been, there was nothing obvious). Slanjeevaurus

    1. Graham
      Graham says:

      Smeds,

      You are welcome to enjoy your whisky guilt free. Of course. But just as an ice cold beer tastes better after a day of hard graft, I think life’s luxuries taste a little better if there is some low key good stuff happening as a spin off. Like your example of Ardnamuchan. I just don’t want companies to sugar coat their product in that good deed and try and sell it back to me. Maybe ‘ethics’ do sound grandiose perhaps but integrity is something I think about every day.

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