I’m not sure how many of us have been going through the awkward process of meeting friends made online during the COVID pandemic in person for the first time? Personally, I have had a significant shift in friendships during the last two years, discovering those who share more of an affinity with whisky. Initially, I did so via online tastings; now, I’m doing it in person, both at formal events and of our own volition.
I met a chap through our day jobs, rather than whisky. We became friendly throughout COVID meeting for online MS Teams “coffee breaks,” eventually grabbing beers in person. A few weeks ago we arranged to do lunch and introduce our partners to each other. As I’m always fraught with social awkwardness anyway, I made the fateful mistake of arranging the meeting on the Scotland vs England rugby matchday. I felt sure we’d miss the match as a result; I’m not normally allowed to schedule anything in our house for very good reason.
On the day, it turned out the lunch venue offered us a seat in the bar which had a view of a TV, then our partners turned out to be kindred spirits, and then Scotland delivered an exciting win against the Auld Enemy. Celebratory cigars were in order. At the cigar shop, I also picked up a bottle of Tomatin Legacy for £22.99. Yes, you read that right: £22.99. On special offer it’s normally about £30. The Tomatin was well enjoyed with the cigars.
On Sunday morning I paid the atrocious price of a heavy-head for that high-spirited whisky drinking on top of a lively lunch. Fortunately, I had returned with a reasonable sample remaining in the bottle to allow for this review.
That series of events, a mixture of chance miscalculations, potential social pitfalls, and scheduling mistakes (all with fortunate outcomes) reminded me of the good old pre-COVID days of unrestricted fun. I recommend all of you get out there and enjoy yourselves if you are not already doing it. I also learned that this Tomatin Legacy loses most of its good qualities if it gets too cold, so ice is not recommended. It’s not ideal with a full-bodied cigar, as it gets overwhelmed by the smoke.
When I came to draft this review, I reflected on why we are often reluctant to look at the “lower end” of a particular distillery’s output. I am generally a fan of what Tomatin do, having written about the reasonable French Collection in which I gave an 8/10 to a Cadenhead’s bottling of Tomatin from a bourbon cask. I also found the Whisky Meets Sherryenticing. Whisky snobbery takes many forms: only drinking single casks, requiring cask strength whiskies, derision of young whiskies, etc. It can be quite wearying.
BUT (and this is a big but), when it comes to the cheapest end of distilleries’ ranges, the whisky drinker is quite correct to be cautious. I had to scroll back to September 2021 to find a review of an equivalent dram with the Ben Nevis Coire Leis which Jon also scored well. Beyond that there is very little discussion on these sorts of NAS offerings on Malt. The category is massive: Cardhu Gold Reserve, Talisker Skye, Tamnavulin Double Cask, The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, Jura Journey, The Ardmore, Laphroaig Islay Select, Glen Moray Classic. The list is longer than it is distinguished.
In general, the whisky drinker derides these types of expressions as “supermarket whisky.” There’s the undisclosed age of the whisky (usually between five and eight years old). They’re normally presented at the lowest ABV of 40%, or sometimes a marginally more generous 43%. These are priced to compete with blends, driven by the desire for cash and not a love of whisky. In total: it’s thought that they’re to be avoided.
It’s worth reflecting on whether those opinions have been driven by recent informed experience, or just plain whisky snobbery. I’m not evangelising; it took a series of most fortunate events for me to give this dram ago. But, by being open minded, I have been surprised. What other “entry level” drams would readers recommend?
Tomatin Legacy – Review
Bourbon and virgin oak casks. 43% ABV. £22.99.
Colour: 18 karat gold.
On the nose: Fruit blossom, light stone fruits, deeper roasted pineapple, quite powerfully juicy and fruity, a little cream and vanilla fudge.
In the mouth: Starburst, juicy fruit gum, tinned pear, cloudy apple juicy and tinned pineapple syrup, powerful cask appearance from the virgin oak providing the ‘aged’ character of the mid palate with oak spices, a little fresh green chilli. This spiciness is a good substitute for the lower ABV, or the lower ABV helps soften the spice perhaps. Finally, some orange blossom, a little whisky cream, almost Cranachan, bready towards the finish and a hint of worn Barbour jacket.
Don’t let whisky snobbery get in the way; give this a go. It was sheer happenstance that I picked up this bottle at all. I’d speculate that the distillers, faced with increasing competition from trendy new distilleries, may well have reversed the cost cutting of the 1990s and early 2000s and invested some of those profits in delivering reliable quality across their range. If that is the case, as I am tempted to believe, then some other “entry level” whiskies should be very much worth our attention.
This example punches well above its £22.99 price tag, therefore I am awarding the customary +1 extra point for the good value.
Photo courtesy of Tomatin.
Now here’s a subject I can get my teeth into. As a regular user of the hotukdeals app with alerts set up for whisky, if there’s one thing I’d say about supermarket whisky its this: never pay full price. The majority of lines carried by the big supermarkets will go on promotion at least a couple of times a year. Some feel like they’re on promotion the majority of the time. The run up to Father’s Day and Christmas have the heaviest discounts.
I’d put them into a few categories.
Terrible efforts that at best are no better than blends and at worst bring down the reputation of the distillery.
Glenlivet Founders Reserve – Asda often have it for £24, but the offer price of Glenlivet 12 is only a couple of quid more so a false economy.
Auchentoshan American Oak – this is always £22 somewhere, sometimes £20. I’m a fan of the 12 and Three Wood but this is so thin and doesn’t compare at all.
Cardhu Gold Reserve, Tamnavulin Double Cask – these Speysides suffer from one inescapable fact. At this price range they are beaten on both price and taste by the Aldi and Lidl Speysides.
Jura Journey – Unlike most on Malt I actually like some of Jura’s output, but those slatings definitely made sense when I tried this. So tastless you’ll wonder if you have Covid. Always £22 somewhere but that’s still too much.
Ones I won’t buy again but had something of interest.
Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve – What would happen if you tried to recreate Glenfiddich 21 Gran Reserva using 5 year old whisky? This whisky is the answer. RRP of £36 is a joke but at £25 I don’t regret the punt.
Tamnavulin Sherry Cask – unlike the Double Cask this actually has a discernable finish. Was £20 in Morrisons before Christmas, normally a “here be dragons” price but I enjoyed this.
Jura 10 – Not a popular choice on Malt, but I think the offer price of £25 every other month at Tesco is a decent one.
The solid bargains
Penderyn Madeira Finish – always seems to be £26 or £27 somewhere. A great price for what I always call a “dessert whisky”
Old Pulteney 12 – frequently goes to £24 and you can’t argue at that price.
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie – priced higher than you’re average supermarket bottle, but Tesco have twice put it at £35 since it went on their shelves 6 months ago, and both times i was very happy to buy it.
Glen Moray Sherry Finish – the recent article here does a better job of writing about Glen Moray than I can, but both this and the Elgin Classic are priced very competitively, this one gets the nod for me.
That’s a veritable hit list of drams for us to review in the near future! It’s helpful also to get a steer from a seasoned fan on which ones might edge the competition.
Yesterday I actually picked up Chivas Regal Extra 13 years old at Tesco for £25 (normally £35) so hope to have a review of that in the next few weeks.
The Tamnavulin red wine cask also caught my eye but I didn’t go for it on this occasion.
I agree keeping an eye out for bargains can be rewarding and also prudent to avoid over-paying.
One of the things that makes this end of the market is particularly price sensitive is the lack of urgency. None of these drams is unmissable, and they will still be there next week, so waiting for offers makes sense. Not like if you see a Springbank or something at a good price when it is a mad scramble.
They’re also good for setting a baseline. When I buy one of these whiskies I know it won’t be in my top 10 this year. But it does put a level of expectation on whisky the next band up. In the £35-50 range there are plenty of whiskies no better than supermarket fodder. Often when trying something new I’ll use a supermarket dram from the same region to calibrate my tastebuds. Sometimes it helps accentuate the positives in the better whisky, sometimes it exposes it as little better than something a fraction of the price.
Always a surprise to me, this one. So much so I love using it blind and it’s become a staple. Almost like a reminder; a shield against snobbery. But, as highlighted in the comments above, there are some poor efforts and they’ve taught us to never pay full price.
Thanks for dropping by Roy, I know Tomatin Legacy has caused quite a stir on your Youtube channel in the past.
Actually always have Tomatin legacy on the shelf, Tomatin is something I enjoy (was actually my first whisky…many years ago), I’m obviously a keen Glen Moray Classic fan, but Tomatin legacy is always welcome to share the shelf
I don’t think you can go far wrong with Tomatin. I replaced the bottle I reviewed here too.
I hope you enjoyed the recent Glen Moray reviews too.
Old Pulteney 12 at 24 quid is always a must buy, Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair can often be found at 26 quid on offer and Cotswolds Signature (From the “auld enemy”) is often available in Sainsbury’s at thirty quid.
From a sassenach
Heeksy, Old Pulteney 12 was a regular go to dram of mine before the big price hike at re-branding. It’s great news that it is again available at keen prices.
6/10 amazes me. When the Legacy was introduced it was a very good NAS malt for reasonable money. But two years on people claimed it had changed for worse.
I suspected NAS drift – removal or fading out of older components in the vatting. Those components that make the 5 yo core of malt in such a NAS vattings palatable and give structure substance and an impression of drinkability.
There is always batch variation of course but when you fade out the good stuff from a NAS vatting it will have to change in a downhill way.
6/10 total score taking into account price. 5/10 taste alone. But yes the quality is there. I have no doubt there will be marginal changes in batches but believe the large producers will have a set recipe for these releases and manage their stocks to ensure that not only the core malt is available but also ready casks for the ‘top dressing’.
I enjoyed a dram of the Tomatin Legacy last night followed by a dram of 24yo Braeval and there was a fascinating common element to the palate. The element that seems to lift the Tomatin is a slightly funky hint to age which I can only presume is the work of the virgin oak but perhaps hints at some very smart topdressing.
The Legacy has more complexity that many a 12 year old whisky sitting on the same shelves.