Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

The Rise of a Giant: Tomatin 18 years old

Around the turn of the century, Tomatin was mostly known for being at one time the biggest distillery in Scotland for producing malt whisky. Those days of bulking up the warehouses are long gone, even though the capacity to make 5 million liters is still there. According to the latest edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook, proposed production for 2024 is 2.3 million liters. Back to some 25 years ago, Tomatin had little presence in the single malt market, which itself had just begun its expansion. 

Then came a new 12 years old in a beautiful black tube, updated label and some gold embroidery on the packaging. A new dawn for one of the highest located distilleries of Scotland. Coincidentally, it was that bottle that got me hooked on single malt.

Soon thereafter followed the release that is in today’s glass on the table: the Tomatin 18 years old. Released around 2005/2006, the vintage years dip back to the late eighties. 

Still a difficult time for the Scotch whisky industry, and it is not entirely clear when or if Tomatin produced output in those years. A search on Whiskybase brings up little bottlings. One could draw the conclusion that this particular vatting of the 18 years old contained casks that were a little older, perhaps early eighties. Anyway, in hindsight, you could say it was in this period that Tomatin started their climb to being more of a household name these days, with accolades coming in on a regular basis.

Tomatin 18 years old, bottled around 2005/2006 at 43 % abv

 Makeup: Unknown from analyzing information on the bottle. Whiskybase mentions a “First Fill Sherry Cask Finish” but there is no proof for that, other than later incarnations of the 18 years old indeed mentioning this practice on the label.

General impressions: Attacking you right from the start is a subtle fruitiness that just screams “Tomatin” at a reasonably mature age. This light and gentle character intertwines nicely with a minty freshness, some heather and the slightest of inland peat. The aroma contradicts the claim first fill sherry casks were used in the makeup. Yes, there are some raisins to be spotted, but all very well integrated and laid back, not dominant.

The mouthfeel is nicely dry and oily, in perfect balance. Here, you do pick up some more active wood, but I can’t help but feeling it is more about bourbon maturation than sherry. Light chocolate notes counter an earthen tone. Creamy cinnamon dominates the mid-palate, before a sour note takes center stage just ahead of swallowing. The finish is as it should be: smoldering for a long time. The abv seems to be balancing out the totality of this expression.

Conclusion: Classic highland whisky that still has some fruity notes that remind me of peat whisky matured for a long time. But besides that, I have no doubt some early eighties vintages were used to add more complexity to this Tomatin 18 years old. The contrast with later expressions of the same age are clear, moving away from a balanced Highland whisky towards a more (blatantly) sherry drive expression. Which I also adore, I must add, but it is different nonetheless.

Score: 88 points

Disclaimer: taken from a self-owned bottle won at Whiskyauction.com.

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