There is a lot of whinging and moaning in the whisky world. I’m sure it’s a matter of human nature to some extent, but could be uniquely British, or even Scottish. I’m certainly guilty of having the odd moan about the price of things, or the fashion for assaulting malt spirit with powerful casks. We moan about availability, price, flipping, clubs, societies, websites, ballots, the way the wind blows, and the amount it rains. Following whisky Whatsapp groups can really be a downer some days.
But rather than dwell on that, I’d like to focus on some of the most excellent things about having whisky as a hobby. Th most topical cause for celebration would be the huge sums of money raised recently for Ukraine. Corporations have raised money, individuals have raised money, clubs have raised money, cumulatively hundreds of thousands of pounds. Of particular note are those businesses who have gone beyond simply passing on profits from Ukraine bottles and actually made significant donations, and those individuals who have generously donated.
We also need to celebrate the return of in-person tastings, whisky shows, festivals, events, and impromptu visits to whisky bars. I enjoyed the fantastic Fife whisky festival last month and Kendal Whisky Festival at the end of 2021. I’ve attended a number of excellent events with the Capital Whisky Club in London.
We could moan about the flippers, but I’d rather celebrate those businesses finding their way around the market hysteria. Luvians took most of their sought-after allocations to Fife whisky festival shop allowing festival goers the chance to purchase these bottles. Passing their Cupar shop recently, we popped in and found a Springbank 15 on the shelves as a nice surprise for the casual visitor. Other retailers have adopted similar practices to encourage the whisky chase to move away from our computers and back out into the great whisky shops.
There are still dusty bottles to be found, too. These days you have similar odds to catching a salmon on the Spey; at least you don’t have to give a dusty bottle back after catching it. The dusty hunting extends to auctions, too, with investment focus on Macallan, Japanese Whisky, and now Springbank. The flippers churn inaugural releases and recent limited editions; the keen eye can grab some fantastic bargains outside these categories. Pre-facelift Connoisseurs Choice bottles from Gordon and MacPhail continue to offer good value; 1980s releases, or old blends, are seeing only minor incremental price increases year on year.
That leads me to the subject of today’s review. I have previously reviewed the Tomatin Whisky Meets Sherry release, my debut article back in 2019 and a whisky that remains my benchmark dram. I’ve made no bones about my fondness for Tomatin and have also reviewed the French Collection (twice). The Whisky Meets Sherry – comprised of relatively young whisky at twelve years old – being presented as two half bottles in a neat box is a very similar presentation to today’s whisky. As a result, when I have spotted these online, I assumed it was similarly aged whisky of around 12 years. However, something prompted me to look more closely.
Originally released in 2015, the set consists of two half bottles of whisky. The contrast is between whisky fully matured in ex-bourbon vs whisky fully matured in ex-sherry casks. What I had not previously understood is that each vatting is made up of some significantly well-aged stock. Graham Eunson (the Tomatin General Manager) selected casks from 1973, 1977, 1988, 1991, 2002, and 2006 to comprise each vatting. The hope is that this delivers whisky that has both the characteristics of age and vibrancy of youth.
It’s not an unusual approach from Graham, who released the original Tomatin Decades in 2011. It featured casks from each decade from 1967 onwards to honour the departing Distillery Manager Douglas Campbell. Decades II was released in 2019, and was comprised of casks from 1973 and each decade onwards until 2013.
All three releases are 46%, which is an ABV that generally works well with Tomatin’s spirit and can made it very drinkable. Where these releases differ is price. The original Decades can set you back as much as £300 at auction after fees, whereas the Decades II has settled around £150 and is largely available still at retail. With the Contrast release, you can get the equivalent volume of whisky for £60 at auction, though its original price was around £100. I have spotted a number of sets still at retail and – even at £100 – it’s an attractive proposition. I have to admit having held off this review until I had acquired an additional set!
Tomatin Contrast Bourbon Matured – Review
Casks from 1973, 1977, 1988, 1991, 2002, and 2006. 46% ABV. £60 as a set at auction.
Colour: Pale straw
On the nose: Immediately complex, with a tension between youth and age. Madagascan vanilla pods, fruity, bright and juicy. This has fresh juicy flesh of red apples from the younger casks and more complex tropical, slightly sour notes from the older casks including pineapple, pomegranate, passionfruit seeds, and some apricot jam. The fruit flavours yield to oak spices, powdered cinnamon, and freshly grated nutmeg. A bit of sweet baked pastry, glace fruits, a backbone of malty biscuit.
In the mouth: Light toffee, juicy fruits, cask spice, fruitiness turning slightly sour, rancio (how I love to find that in a whisky or cognac!), more oak on the finish. The initial sweetness also has vanilla and butterscotch, the juicy fruits are apple, a little pineapple, sour fruits are almost Cognac-esque really, damp cellars in Champagne, the oak is light and restrained with a little cracked black pepper on the finish. The weight is delicate but oily, and the finish is long and full.
Tomatin Contrast Sherry Matured – Review
Casks from 1973, 1977, 1988, 1991, 2002, and 2006. 46% ABV. £60 as a set at auction.
Colour: Warm gold
On the nose: Slightly rough on the nose initially, as the youngest sherry cask pushes through giving dark brown sugars and molasses. This quickly clears and the older sherry casks reveal treacle toffee that you crack with a tiny hammer, Medjool dates, cocoa powder, brioche, baked apple, pineapple upside down cake, salted macadamia nuts, candied orange peel, ruby grapefruit, chocolate profiteroles, lotus biscuits and milk chocolate. A bright fruitiness develops to contrast the deeper flavours developed over time and is absolutely the key to the success of this dram.
In the mouth: Praline, mixed nuts and dried fruit, baked apple, toasted hazelnuts, skin on almonds, a thick sticky toffee sauce, caramelised pineapple, a dusting of cayenne pepper, some bitter dark chocolate delice, golden raisins, a background sour rancio only found in the best well-aged Sherry casks, old leather books, some exotic spices, a little gamey, lovely mid-length complex finish of musty fruit, damp dunnage and oak.
A single conclusion for this unique presentation. These whiskies are great, and a great way to experience Tomatin. Both expressions had a wish list of aromas and flavours, a handful of which are usually pleasurable to find in any release, let alone having all the boxes ticked. If there was any criticism at all: the youngest sherry cask was a little harsh on the nose briefly and did not seem to have the quality of the other casks. At RRP of £100 I certainly think this is a worthy experience. If you can still pick this up for £60 like I did, it’s an absolute must buy. I’ve added an extra point onto the final score to reflect the value for money.
Great write up Graham. Regarding your comment re finding a Springbank in a local shop, I noticed that when visiting the whisky shops along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh last December, there were bottles of Springbank/Longrow/Hazelburn all placed, not quite out of sight, but on the lowest shelf behind the counter. I thought nothing of it until I visited my local whisky shop in Sheffield, and there again, were bottles on the bottom shelf, which were not immediately apparent unless you were actively looking. I wonder if this is part of some concerted effort directed by either Springbank or the retailers to keep the bottles in stock / available?
Cheers for the review
I’d suggest that hiding sought after bottles on low shelves, high shelves or behind bottles is more common these days. Also holding back stock and drip feeding them over time. Even bottles held through the back and offered if customers appear genuine.
In my view it adds a bit of fun to the game.
Graham, I know little about Tomatin. But I gotta say I love your tasting notes on this! Medjool dates, pineapple cake and cocoa sound like an amazing mix.
Certainly the layers or flavour from the various ages of cask reflect the changes over time of maturing Sherry casks and probably a textbook example of building flavour through blending.
In the bourbon cask the flavours are more cumulative and entwined.
Interesting and exciting.
Love your article and review. Tomatin is now on my radar. Special thanks for not moaning about limited availability or how these would have been better if they were 120 proof 🙂
Thanks for dropping by. I hope you enjoy your experiences with Tomatin going forward!
Hoping to continue to find great whisky to review positively! That’s the dream isn’t it.