Were things really better in the old days? Well, yes sometimes, is the answer to that. We do tend to create in our minds an idyllic, sentimental attitude when we reflect on past memories. In my post on the Laphroaig 1815 Legacy Edition, I mentioned that people frequently lament the decline of a particular distillery, or of the whisky industry as a whole. Elder statesmen like Laphroaig and Highland Park regularly take some flak, frequently here on Malt, and Jura gets a bashing fairly often too. But decline is natural – it’s part of life – because it’s a by-product of change. And everything changes.
This “life was better in the old days” ideal creates a problem. We can’t go back there, other than to occasionally pick up an old bottle here and there, which can’t last forever and not everyone can afford necessarily. We know from history that they can do better. In knowing that, we’re lured into a false sense of hope that this time their new release might hark back to those good-ol’ days and deliver something great, the result of which is we place high expectations on new releases. Therein lies the problem. Having high expectations can (and for me often does) lead to dissatisfaction later on when these expectations are not met, and consequently, it takes the enjoyment out of our hobby. We spend a lot of our hard-earned cash on it, so why set ourselves up for disappointment? What do we do? It’s tricky. My proposal is that maybe we should appreciate new releases for what they are without prerequisite judgement. Hear me out.
I’m not saying we should be celebrating every single dram with 10 out of 10 and fanfares, but we need to realise each one has its place and take it at face value. We should take pleasure in drinking the spoils of each unique distillery that are available to us, taking the rough with the smooth and embracing the variety.
We need to think of our whisky experiences as an adventure that each tasting adds to, not detracts from. Occasionally on a lovely countryside walk you’ll step in some shit, but you don’t let it ruin the pint in the pub at the end, or the steak you’ll tuck into, do you? Each experience is different, and we learn something from it as in life, and life’s too short. Go find the new exciting thing when you’ve stepped in that turd. Highland Park 2.0. Or put aside your ageist issues and buy some Bimber and forget about what an acceptable price for a particular age of whisky should be (I’ve not tried it myself, but it has plenty of plaudits and is high up on my “buy next list”). I think in these testing times, this mindset is a pretty healthy one to adopt.
Anyway, rant over. I’m a big fan of Tomatin. The core range offerings strike a chord with me, but I’ve not yet explored anything beyond them. When I discovered Tomatin had released a rum finished whisky a few years ago, I got quite excited and poured over auction sites trying to find a bottle that was less than £50 (having found out it was all sold out) but alas to no avail. Liking a bit of rum myself, I’m intrigued by what the rum cask might bring to a whisky. I’ve also tried the Balvenie 14-Year-Old Caribbean Cask and enjoyed it quite a lot, so was pretty keen to try some more. Much to my joy, I found out Tomatin repeated history and released another rum finished whisky in the last year or so and jumped at the chance and picked one up. FOMO? Absolutely. The force is strong with this one.
I initially wasn’t going to mention anything much about cask usage in this piece other than what I think about the rum effect on this Tomatin, but Jason’s review of the Glen Moray Cider Cask Project created a bit of a stir on whether it was ok to use cider casks to age whisky on Instagram, so I thought I’d pop in a thought or two on cask usage. Frankly, I’m all for variety of woods and cask types being used to age whisky. Are you telling me in 1793 some bloke cooking up some dodgy spirit somewhere didn’t store it in a cask that had previously been used to keep cider, rum, gin, plum wine, peach schnapps etc? Ok maybe not peach schnapps, but you get my drift. All sorts of casks have been used over the years, including different wood types, it’s just recently that someone has come along and made all these rules. I think it’s a nonsense – chefs don’t say they can’t use one ingredient with another if it works; artists don’t stop their creative flows by preventing the use of a particular colour or medium. Why should whisky be any different? Whisky is an artform that uses science to enable its creation. It takes skill to marry up the right casks to the right spirit to make something good. There’s potential for success, and of course failure too. But isn’t that part of the fun? It tests the mettle of the master blenders, putting their money where their mouths are. You’ll pay a premium for it, but that’s democracy for you.
Ok, cask finishes might be used as a marketing weapon to shift a few cases which many of us realise, but who cares if it tastes good? And don’t forget, making whisky isn’t quick unlike baking a cake. It doesn’t take ten years to realise your cake tastes like burnt shoes and cabbage at the end of it. And you still have to sell it somehow.
The Tomatin 10 Year Old 2009 Caribbean Rum Cask Finish was initially matured in (unspecified) oak for nine years before its final year in first-fill Caribbean rum barrels, from an unspecified distillery. Tomatin use both bourbon and sherry casks so you could guess it’s quite likely that both types were used in the initial ageing. 7,200 bottles have been released at a nice 46% ABV. It’s non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available from either Master of Malt (priced at £48.10) or Whisky Exchange, but there are a few bottles still around from alternative sources that aren’t an auction house.
Anyway, let’s crack on and taste some of the brown stuff.
Tomatin 10 year old 2009 Caribbean Rum Cask Finish – review
On the nose: Toffee, pear, nutmeg and pepper come through with sweet pineapple. There’s a fair bit of vanilla with some dried fruits, and some subtle orange zest. Delving deeper some coffee comes through too. There’s a slight sour odour of blooming yeast – that initial bready smell you get when yeast is activated. It’s fruity, but I was expecting more oomph.
In the mouth: Sweet syrupy mouthfeel initially with more spice, more pepper, which leaves a nice warmth that envelops the mouth and lingers a bit. Some cinnamon, along with soft raisin. With water and time, there’s a hint of mint and some lemon that appears towards the end. It doesn’t lack much apart from character, which is the most disappointing thing of all.
I’m pretty disappointed with myself. I was too excited about the Tomatin and hyped this whisky up to myself way too much. I expected better, but this is a one-dimensional whisky. I don’t think Tomatin’s fruity spirit works well with this particular rum cask. It’s not horrid, but it’s just not as good as it could be.
I need more examples of rum finishes to truly make a judgement whether rum casks are a good or bad thing (I liked the Balvenie but I don’t like this as much). I think we need more cask finishes anyway, highlighting qualities and hiding inadequacies and all that. The Tomatin is missing something to make it a good whisky, it’s decidedly too “meh”. I’m penny pinching, but for £50 I expect better.
I think I’ve learnt my lesson – never hope for something good again. No, that’s not it. Don’t set expectations too high, otherwise you’ll be disappointed. This is just one bottle out of many in my experience that I won’t visit again.
Lead image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange and the link was commission based but it has now sold out!