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.