Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Tullibardine: the modest and honest Perthshire malt

Can we still say that Tullibardine is the Ugly Duckling among the Scotch single malts out there, or have times changed? I am inclined to join in the camp that says Tullibardine has carved out its own piece of the whisky pie, and proudly owns it. This is not only due to some very interesting bottlings done by independent companies, but also their own releases. The location of the distillery in the quaint little town of Blackford, where also the famous Highland Spring water comes from, is directly along the A9. As a tourist, this also made it easy for me to drop by, but I have to say this is well over 15 years ago. Back then, Tullibardine was really a bit neglected by whisky enthusiasts, and maybe not without reason. The bottles coming out back then were not the most spectacular, even though there were some affordable and nice spirit driven bourbon casks to be had. The more or less standard expression was a 1993 vintage which was bright in colour like white wine. I had a soft spot for it (and even bought a bottle on auction recently).

Tullibardine calls itself a Highland whisky and indeed it is above the Highland Line. To me, it is not the first distillery that comes to mind when thinking of Highland whisky. It does belong to the ranks of traditional Perthshire whisky, like Aberfeldy, Glenturret. Blair Athol and Edradour. And of course, newcomer Strathearn. Now there is a whisky region deserving of its own title! But does Tullibardine really fit in? Let’s try to find out today with two a bit older teenage expressions.

Tullibardine 15 years old, bottled at 43 % abv

Makeup: First fill bourbon casks used on this expression that contains whisky distilled after the reopening of the distillery in 2004. Tullibardine was closed roughly between 1994 and 2003.

General impressions: When I bought my bottle I tried to share it with some whisky friends, but there was an almost dead silence when I made the bottle known. I think they were wrong not to bite
, because sticking my nose in, this is exactly the fruity beast many of my friends appreciate. Some really nice tropical scents coming from the glass, giving the feeling of summer.

The palate however presents a different direction, surprisingly, more on wood spices and bitter notes. It proves Tullibardine is indeed a Highland whisky with a strong ‘middle body’. Even at a relatively low abv this is an interesting malt to wrestle with. On the finish you are left behind with fizzy-fuzzy peach notes.

Conclusion: A good one neat, but I am sure it will please in the tumbler over a few cubes of ice as well. A summer single malt, for sure, one that is pleasing and with enough complexity to keep you hooked. It could have been a bit more versatile, but the limitations of the 43 % are clear.

Score: 84 points

Tullibardine 18 years old, bottled at 43 % abv

Makeup: By the looks of it, this seems to be more or less the same whisky, based on first fill bourbon casks, but now there are also sherry casks used to create this 18 years old.

General impressions: Ah, a bit more complexity on the nose, which is what one would expect for three more years and more variation in cask types. It noses very easily and you get some nice fruits for that. Also, since Blackford has housed some breweries over the ages, I suspect the soul of a beer can be found in here as well. But in the end, this is a very honest malt.

Yeah, good Highland malt, to be honest. The sherry impact is there, bringing a typical nutty flavour and little sweetness. The darker side of the palate is woody, with pure chocolate. This hoppy character keeps returning. Again, this Tullibardine offers body and impact, and it makes me curious to see how this performs at a higher abv. Several indie bottlings I tried, recently a rather young one in the 100 proof series by Perthshire bottler Signatory, have shown that Tullibardine does well on sherry influence. Here, I feel it is almost a bit restrained.

Conclusion: Happy to see Tullibardine does not overestimate itself and ask you too big a price for this modest but well-performing malt (the 15 years old included). You get an honest whisky for a good price. That is something to cherish in today’s market. The 18 is more brooding, the 15 more playful. I prefer the younger expression, actually.

Score: 83 points

Disclaimer: taken from a self-owned bottle (15) and from a share with whisky friends (18).

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