I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not fair with whisky. Heck, life isn’t always fair, why should I be fair with whisky?
I have been drinking and purchasing whisky for about 15 years. I’ve likely been through hundreds of bottles in that time. But I’ve never owned a bottle of Glenkinchie. Or Glendullan, Glenglassaugh, or Glen Keith. And that’s just the Glens!
Tamnavulin? Not for me. Wolfburn? Maybe one day, but not yet. Bladnoch? I’ve happily glugged down samples at various whisky shows, but nothing to compel my wallet.
Ben Nevis, on the other hand? Probably several dozen bottles. Glendronach? Hard same. Bunnahabhain? Must have broached double digits some time back. Edradour? Heck, examine a portion of my blood under a microscope and I am sure you’ll find a hearty portion of that good stuff.
There is some rationale, some reasonable argument, that if I put my time and effort into writing for Malt I owe it to the readers – and myself – to educate myself across as many distilleries as I can. That’d be fine if it weren’t $100-plus dollars a pop. My primary responsibility is to buy bottles I think I might enjoy, and that’s where my loyalty to individual distilleries comes in.
I was thinking recently: how are these bonds forged? This sent me down memory lane to Tomatin. Between indies and official bottlings, I’ve owned my fair share of Tomatin. I don’t have any compelling reason to think its whisky is better than several distilleries that I shun… but the heart is a fickle thing.
In 2013, my then-pregnant wife was heading to London, from Melbourne, for a work conference. She promised to return with a whisky present for me from a London retailer, but wanted some pointers on what to buy. I decided to keep it vague and see what the lottery of chance might produce, so asked for something unpeated in a Speyside style, fruity and easy drinking.
She returned with the Tomatin 18 year old, as recommended by the whisky store staff, and at the time (it has been 10 years since then, give or take) I rated it as highly as any other whisky I had tasted.
About a year later we were in Scotland, driving into Inverness, with a baby now to keep us company. We were early to check into our accommodation and saw a sign for Tomatin distillery, so on the spur of the moment – and with the memory of that fine 18-year-old still fresh – pulled in to check the place out.
What happened next was one of my more enjoyable experiences in whisky, as we were warmly greeted, not treated as a commodity or just another number. The visitor centre was fantastic, and tastings were flowing free of charge. I set up at a stool at the bar where the friendly staff member kept pouring until I’d finally had enough. On that trip we visited about a dozen more distilleries over the next few days, and nothing came close to that experience.
We walked out that day with a bottle of 14-year-old and also, more importantly, a lifetime bond now forged with Tomatin.
So yeah, I do think Tomatin make a fine distillate. But anytime I pour a glass, I’m transported through the years, back to that bar in the distillery, and I raise a smile. It just took a little effort from Tomatin on that day in 2014 to create a lifelong customer. It isn’t rocket science.
On tasting today is a release from The Whisky Club of Australia. At a recent online whisky auction in Australia, I picked this bottle up for under $100, plus auctioneer commission. It seemed to tick my boxes on paper. A single cask official bottling, 11 years old, at 50% ABV, matured in a first fill bourbon cask. You’d think with those specs not much could go far wrong. The Club also claimed that upon release in 2019 this was the first 100% ex-bourbon cask Tomatin released in Australia.
The Australian Whisky Club Tomatin 11 Year Old – Review
First Fill American Oak Single Cask. Paid around $95 at auction. Originally sold from the Club for $125. Possible future availability at auctions. 50% ABV. 296 bottles.
Colour: Bright gold.
On the nose: About what you’d expect, nothing too intellectual, the first fill bourbon cask having left its imprint. Bright summery flowers, vanilla ice cream, a whiff of an outdoor swimming pool (you’ll have to believe me). Cinnamon and custard then a strong hit of coconut. Apple pie and buttery pastry. A bit of a winner so far.
In the mouth: Like transferring the vanilla ice cream from the nose right onto the palate. Then also mashed bananas, guava, ripe kiwi. Warm croissants, some honey, and also cream cheese. A little peppery in the finish that isn’t particularly long. Perfectly calibrated at this ABV, I’d say, and bottled at a savvy age.
It’s been about four years since this was first released by the Club. I figure if a similar bottle were released today, inflation would push that asking price to around $150, which makes the $95 I paid an even better deal.
This could well be the perfect whisky. Wait, hold the presses, Taylor! Let’s avoid clickbait. This isn’t a perfect whisky, but possibly, for this lone reviewer, a perfect whisky purchase.
A reasonable price, an unpretentious sipper, not asking too much of the drinker. There’s a time and a place for complexity and a little drama in a glass of whisky. I can reach for that when in the mood. But more often than not I am in the mood for this type of dram – something that, unconsciously, you might find me with a grin on my face when seated with a dram. The cat that got the cream indeed.
The score below could’ve been a half point lower if our scale allowed it, but instead of rounding down, I am rounding up as a homage to that bartender at Tomatin distillery on a fateful July 2014 day.