I’m a fan of Tomatin.
I debuted at Malt with a review of Tomatin Whisky Meets Sherry that remains my benchmark dram. I’ve reviewed the cracking entry level Legacy, distillery exclusives and, more recently, the great value Contrasts release. I will certainly review more of their range over time.
I have also tasted a number of dreadful independent bottlings, often overlong in finishing casks, where the Tomatin spirit has been bludgeoned to death. However, indie bottlings in bourbon are often great; their only challenge is meeting the price point delivered by the brand. Tomatin can be good at 40% ABV, better at 43%, and absolutely sings at 46%; I don’t believe it needs a cask strength presentation. All of this plays into Tomatin being one of the few distilleries where the official bottlings are my preference over independent releases.
Being a big fan also often results in being a critic, too. I steer clear of the Cu Bocan peated range, for example. But there is more than the whisky to love about this borderline Speysider; “borderline” because Tomatin’s regionality is decided by SWA through the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009. The line was drawn perhaps unfavourably for Tomatin, whose character is closer to the more robust Speysiders and more gentle and fruitier than the punchier Highland drams within which region they are designated.
You could argue that Tomatin is closer to Speyside than Speyside distillery itself. You could also say all Speysiders are Highland drams, in that Speyside is a sub-region of the Highlands, so it does not matter (hence Macallan still proclaims to be a Highland dram). You could also say that regionality is pointless anyway for anything other than marketing, as there is no real common characteristic between regions beyond perhaps Islay peat, and even then it’s not always true. But no matter what your position, there is a uniqueness to Tomatin which is enjoyable.
Tomatin have recently wielded the marketing tools more heavily than in times gone by. The ‘under the radar’ distillery is certainly taking a more prominent position. Global Brand Ambassador Scott Adamson has worked hard to build relationships and is often to be found turning up on interesting blogs and podcasts promoting the brand.
The French Collection, launched in 2021, was supported by a shiny immersive video for each of the wine finishes in the range. The campaign was slick, glossy, very contemporary. Perhaps most importantly, Scott Adamson explained at the time to Malt that there remains a focus on creating great value to consumers, by releasing large outturns of limited editions at a price which makes them accessible for most fans, which should be celebrated in the face of spiralling prices.
That ethos has carried over into 2022, which brings the 125th anniversary of the foundation of the distillery. To mark the passing of this milestone year the distillery of this milestone year the distillery commissioned Emily Hogarth an Edinburgh based illustrator and papercut artist to produce an artwork (more details here) which was then used to decorate the Tomatin 12 year old boxes. This approach flies in the face of the elitist campaigns of other big brands, where the special releases are so exclusive as to be unobtainable for the whisky drinkers who keep the brand turning over year on year. Macallan and Peter Blake spring to mind, but no doubt readers can add to that list.
Also in 2022, Tomatin launched the “To What Matters” campaign lead, by Made Brave PR (whose clients include, Diageo, Edrington William Grant & Sons, Distell and Beam Suntory). It should be no surprise that the campaign is slick. It is also quite abstract, which is smart in that it allows the consumer to project their own values onto the general story and decide for themselves “what matters.”
There is a tear-jerking advertising video of a young Scottish lassie recalling what matters at her grandfather’s funeral. It contains a confusing snippet where grandfather pours a healthy amount of Tomatin 12 into the river. I assume this is a tradition in river fishing communities? There has been a press release which you’ll maybe have seen rolled out in other magazines and more general spirit press. On the Tomatin website, the brief blurb focusses on relationships and social interaction. With the post-COVID return to normality, it’s an idea I can get behind.
For this article “what matters” is that Made Brave sent Malt a gift which ended up in my hands. It turned out to be a rather charming hip flask – not the actual one from the tear-jerking video, but a similar one – and a miniature of Tomatin 12 year old. That was rather well timed, as I had just opened a 1990s bottle of Tomatin 12 year old and it allowed me to do a side by side review for our readers, and also provided me with a little bit of material for a preamble to this review… so, thanks Tomatin.
Tomatin 12 Year Old (1990s release) – Review
40% ABV. Approximately £35 at auction.
On the nose: A big busty of fresh juicy red apples, pressed apple juice, brown sugar, vanilla fudge, spiced apple sponge, pineapple fronds, a nice malty oak spice.
In the mouth: Red apples, red currants, a nice oaky mid-palate, malty and a little spicy toward the finish, mint chocolate too. The finish is quite short but also brings in an interesting fruity funk.
The nose is brilliant but there is not much development in the mouth. I’d guess this is a mix of sherry and bourbon casks, similar to the current 12 year old, but here the whisky is soft and has very well integrated flavours which delivers a little more sophistication than the current bottle.
Tomatin 12 Year Old (current bottling) – Review
Bourbon and Sherry Casks. 43% ABV. £36 to £45 at retail.
Colour: Warm gold
On the nose: Baked apples, caramel, fruity toffee, bread and butter pudding, vanilla sponge, a bit more juicy fruit developing, biscuity shortcake, fudge donuts, marginally more spirity and certainly spicier than the old 12 year old.
In the mouth: Malty, oaky, very bourbon forward, actually my maximum amount of bourbon cask, then sherry sweetness arrives, bringing butter popcorn, fudgy traybake, charred sugar, toasted marshmallows, darker fruits like raisings and then baking spices and feeling a little raw.
Quite a modern whisky style; a little forced; whisky by the numbers, hitting a price point and a place in the range. There are no doubt there are many whisky drinkers who will score this more highly, but for me the components are competing with each other rather than complimenting each other. I really expected to love this, but I’d choose the Legacy over this expression and save myself £10.