A comparison of the Deanston Virgin Oak and Tomatin Legacy

A comparison of the Deanston Virgin Oak and Tomatin Legacy

I will not be reviewing the Tullibardine Sovereign anytime soon. I came across almost the complete Tullibardine range in the Derech HaYayin store in Tel Aviv just before Rosh Hashana on special offer.


When I saw them, I was always going to buy one as I have never tried a Tullibardine before, although I have passed the distillery many times as it lies to the left at the bottom of the A9 road which is the main route you take for all things Highland whisky. Tullibardine was never important enough for me to count it as one of the special few to bring back from London to Yerushalayim, but seeing them here in Tel Aviv, and at, what appeared to be such good prices, it was a “no-brainer”.
I was, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, impressed and attracted by the fancy packaging of both expressions.
I ended up buying two bottles. The first from the bottom of the range, the NAS “Sovereign” and the second is from their top of the range, a 20-Year-Old.

The Sovereign was only 150 shekels, that’s only a few shekels more than your standard Blended Scotch.

The Sovereign comes in a beautifully crafted and expensive looking box, similar to the Scapa Skiren and Benromach Organic with that large hollow moulded plastic top.

The 20 Year-Old’s packaging is completely over-the-top with a fancy Jewel like case, three times the size of the bottle it contains. Opening the case, you are presented with the whisky resting majestically inside a foam surrounding like some enormous precious gemstone. It’s all very striking but I hadn’t realised at the time that the box is so large that it does take up an inordinate amount of real estate in my cocktail cabinet, of which I can ill afford. This has turned my initially positive impression of the case into somewhat of an annoyance.
The 20-Year-Old I opened last Motzei Shabbat in honour of my Whisky Club meeting and initial impressions were very favourable. The 20-Year-Old is worth a full review. What other 20-Year-Old Single Malt could you get here in Israel which costs only 450 Shekels or for that matter, anything near that price? Oh, and it tastes really good as well.
The Sovereign I opened before Rosh Hashana in order to experience for the first time, the distillery style and also as preparation for a possible review of budget single malts suitable to serve at the annual grand Simchas Torah Kiddush. Sampling both the Scapa Skiren which cost me around 200 shekels and the Tullibardine Sovereign, one evening, I did not consider any of them worth recommending and therefore reviewing.
The more expensive Scapa Skiren starts off well enough with a sweet barley sugar and fruity travel sweets and caster sugar flavour but has a rather unpleasant off note honey aftertaste of something gone rancid.
The Tullibardine Sovereign was, to be candid, undrinkable. In my opinion, it tastes like poorly made, rushed “aniseedy” rough new make spirit dipped in American Oak for a few weeks. I ended up using it for cooking, adding a few tablespoons to my poached Salmon for first day Yom Tov Sukkos lunch. I came back to it last night, just to give it a second chance. I’m sorry to have to report that it’s embarrassingly bad. The Sovereign is called their “Introductory” expression. It’s a very affordable whisky and many people, just like me, will be tempted to give it a try in order to get to know the distillery profile. In my opinion, they are causing a lot of damage to the Tullibardine brand name by selling this awful stuff.
Lest you get the impression that I am some kind of whisky snob who only recommends expensive single malts I felt it was important to review two single malt whiskies I purchased which are actually even cheaper than the two budget whiskies mentioned above:

My original intention, as mentioned above, was to do a three-way comparison review of entry level whiskies including the Scapa, Tullibardine and the Deanston Virgin Oak.  You can see this by the photo I took of the three of them side-by-side.
However, I abandoned the idea as the Deanston was simply in a different league despite its price. For 120 Shekels you get a Non-Chilled Filtered, Natural Colour, high strength bottled single malt which really tastes clean, vanilla caramel toffee, ice cream and fruity rich with not a hint of burn or acetone often associated with immature whiskies. The Deanston Virgin won hands down. It was frankly, the only one worth drinking. Interestingly, watching a couple of reviews of the Tomatin Legacy, they made very similar comments about this whisky as well. Obvious conclusion? Go out and buy a bottle of the Tomatin Legacy and do a comparison of these two upstarts!

The Deanston Virgin Oak and the Tomatin Legacy.



A comment about NAS
Why make a NAS whisky from a combination of Ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak?
This is a legitimate question to ask about these two distilleries seeing as these two expressions are the only NAS expressions both distilleries have on the market. All the others in their ranges are all Age Statement whiskies. So why produce a NAS expression and why did both choose the First-Fill Super Active Ex-Bourbon/Virgin Oak combination?
The Tomatin clearly states on the front that it has been matured in a combination of Ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak casks. The Deanston is called “Virgin Oak” on the box and has led some to assume the whisky has been matured entirely in Charred Virgin Oak. However, looking closely, the Deanston bottle states in small text that in fact, it is only “Finished in Virgin Oak” and the whisky has been matured primarily in American White Oak First-Fill Ex-Bourbon casks and only then finished in Virgin Oak. Why have they both done this?
Both of these single malts are the bottom of their ranges, entry level whiskies. They are designed to be affordable enough to compete against the better standard Blended whiskies like Grants and Ballantine’s etc. These two give the Blended whisky drinker a gateway into Single Malt Whiskies. Moreover, most casual single malt whisky drinkers would never have heard of either Deanston or Tomatin so both distilleries need some way to entice this segment of the market to buy and try something new at little risk.
So, these whiskies have to be full of flavour but affordable at the same time. In order to keep the price down, the whisky needs to be youngish so that it can be replenished quickly but have that extra Wow factor to impress. To achieve this, they use good quality very active Ex-Bourbon casks which will impart a lot of white honey flavours and “smooth” malty biscuit vanilla factor and combine it with heavily charred Virgin Oak for accelerated sweet wood maturation to infuse a massive flavour boost and fuller body which, as the theory goes, will make up somewhat for a lack of years in the cask.
An experienced whisky drinker will however be able to tell that there is obviously some very young whisky in both these bottles, maybe as young as 4 or 5 years old. I am sure that their marketing experts have advised them not to put an age statement on the label for fear that their target audience will not be put off, assuming that whisky these young will likely taste like Red Indian Fire Water.
I am against NAS whiskies in general as it gives the distillery too much of a temptation to cheat us by starting off putting quality whisky into their fancy named NAS in order to build up a following and then once established, reduce the quality and age of casks they put into the whisky and hope most will not notice. In this case with the market these two whiskies are aimed at, I kind of understand why they would go down the NAS route.
Having said this, I am very concerned about reports of apparent batch inconsistencies of both these products. I have become very aware while watching reviews on YouTube and reading other’s blog reviews, there seems to be a massive discrepancy in opinions. For both whiskies, you get very positive reviews where they say how impressed they are with the lovely nose and express the opinion that there is sufficient maturation and flavour for it to work. However, others complain that there is far too much alcohol heat burn in their sample and the whisky tastes too young. It seems to me as if we are seeing a lack of consistency between the bottlings and this I’m afraid could be due to the fact that they are not being tied down to a specific minimum age statement and therefore, some bottlings have whisky which is simply too young where as other bottlings are just right, even outstanding.
I really do believe that the solution is to be found by going down the “Vintage Statement” option road (which Benromach, Kilchoman and Balblair use to great effect). This way, the distillery states somewhere discreetly on the label, the Distillation Year and Bottling Year which compels them to keep to a minimum age ensuring consistency of quality, yet at the same time will still attract the casual drinker who will not look carefully enough to calculate the age, and will also attract (and certainly not alienate) the more discerning single malt market which will not buy NAS whiskies on principle due to the problem with NAS expressions which I have described above.
By all means, call it by some fancy name using words like “Founders”, “Legacy”, “Virgin”, “Reserve” etc, give us a Vintage statement somewhere at the back, near the bottom. In my opinion, this will give the distillery and us, the best of both worlds!
Now to the comparison review…

Tomatin Legacy. 43% abv. Usual Price 150 Shekels.
(At the moment, 99 Shekels on Special Offer at “HaMesameiyach” in Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem market, Rechov Agrippas.)



Packaging:
This bottle is from the new revamped Tomatin packaging designed to make the range stand out. The old bottlings were very generic so I can understand why they invested in this.

They must be using really thick glass as the bottle is really heavy giving it an impression of something expensive. This is carried through to the big chunky cork which gives you a really nice feeling when you pop open the bottle. Full marks for this. Everything feels High Quality which you would not expected with a cheap budget expression.
The only criticism I would make is the horrible colour they have chosen for the Legacy. A kind of a dirty muddy grey? Perhaps a good idea if the expression was a big peat monster but it’s the wrong colour for a young Virgin Oak expression. You need a rich toffee brown or perhaps a lighter new wood colour to set the tone.

 






Nosing
The Tomatin has a much heavier charred woody character than the Deanston. I noticed that a few reviewers had mistaken the wood charring for a mild peatiness but you can tell the difference. One kind of smokiness is a peaty malted barley earthy smoke whereas the other is most definitely wood char smoke.

On the nose there is a lovely polished walnut wood “Cocktail cabinets” type smell. There is some kitchen mixed spice but the Deanston has much more. I then became aware of a strange Algae or moss in green pond water smell. At first, I thought that the glass wasn’t clean but I took another Glencairn glass out, smelled it just to check for that slight bacteria smell you get when it hasn’t been washed up or dried properly, and then poured some more. After a minute I noticed the mossy note again. I have never smelt this in a whisky before. It is similar to a seaweedy costal green you get in Islay whiskies but without the coastal brininess. It is not unpleasant, just unusual.

The dominant smells however are of sweet things. Dark Chocolate, toffee chews, apple sauce and honey.

Tasting
Bitter Dark Chocolate and Toffee pudding. There is a white sweet fruitiness in the form of a Gewurztraminer wine. For some reason I started smelling some Blue vain stilton cheese and white pears.
An overly sweet factory-made toffee caramelised pastry cake. There is a creamy Macadamia nuts on the short finish.
Despite the fact that it has a deeper smelling experience, oddly, the taste is a bit light weight compared to the Deanston.
The combination of Ex-Bourbon and Charred Virgin oak give this Tomatin lots of flavour but it’s all “in your face” without any subtleness. It is not rough spirit and very drinkable but is lacking refinedness. Nevertheless, it represents fantastic value for money at 99 Shekels.

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Deanston Virgin Oak, 46.3% abv. Price 120 Shekels in Israel.


If you want to know a bit more about Deanston distillery and their whisky profile, then please see my two previous reviews on the 18-Year-Old and 12-Year-Old here.
For 120 Shekels you get a Non-Chilled Filtered, Natural Colour, high strength bottled, craft presentation single malt which I believe is unique in this price range. The colour of this whisky is absolutely gorgeous and hints at quality maturation.
On the nose, it seems lighter than Tomatin but an experienced whisky drinker will not be fooled. The Deanston does not throw everything at you all at once. There is a lot there in the background waiting to be discovered if you have the patience. I found no heat burn whatsoever but the Deanston was a bit closed without water.
Adding water, it explodes with aromas and character. Despite it being a NAS and presumably young whisky, there does not seem to be anything immature in character about this whisky. Yes, it does smell fresh but also sophisticated, with a soft fudgy and gentle fruit body.
Despite the fact that they call it Virgin Oak which would lead people to assume wrongly that the whisky was matured exclusively in Virgin Oak, the first thing you notice is its very pronounced fresh Bourbon influence! In the background, there is light smell of charred wood like the smell you get by drilling into a piece of wood but it is blended into the whole experience and never dominates the storyline.

Tasting
Wet apple strudel, cinnamon with chewy honey, flaky wet stodgy pastry and peculiarly enough, a bit of curry powder!
There is kitchen Mixed Spice, Dried oranges, Yellow cooked Apple with lashings of white caramelized toffee which oozes from the middle of the tongue.
The finish is soft Fudge, White Toffee sweets, creamy Peanut and almond butter. There is some burnt caramelised coconut, Honey and apple cake made with powdered vanilla sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
This Virgin Oak is deliciously refreshing to drink. It is deceptively complex in the tasting and comes somewhat as a surprise after your initial nosing. However, after sipping and returning to the aromas in the glass, you realise that in fact, it’s all there if you take your time and don’t rush the experience.  This is a very “more’ish” whisky and despite its price is worth your respect and your time getting to know it despite it being only slightly more expensive than a well-known brand name Blended Scotch.
 
For the price it represents amazing value for money and is streaks ahead of anything in this price range. This I feel is its undoing. For me, I recognise this Deanston as a class act. As I said, it is sold as a craft product with a high alcohol volume, is a beautiful natural colour and of course, is not filtered which is very noticeable by its creamy peanut and almond butter mouth fill. Had Deanston put a Vintage Age statement on this, even if, like the Kilchomans, it had 5 or even 6 years, they could sell it at a much higher price and be recognised for the lovely sipping whisky this is. The Deanston Virgin Oak has won permanent place on my whisky shelf.
Two Tasting Sessions
Friday Night Family.
A comparison of the Deanston Virgin Oak and Tomatin Legacy

As you may have surmised by my comments, I preferred the Deanston Virgin Oak over the Tomatin by a large margin. However, I was completely outvoted by the rest of my family who all unanimously preferred the Tomatin Legacy. They said that it was more full flavoured, fruitier and sweeter. They described the Deanston as watery compared with the Tomatin. I completely disagreed with their assessment but felt it only fair to report it here.
On Motzei Shabbat I presented the Tomatin Legacy, all be it without the Deanston Virgin Oak, to my Whisky Club. Interestingly, these Malty Menches took a very different view of the Tomatin, some even saying that they actually did not like it. Some comments were that the heavy charred Virgin Oak added a bitter off note and made the whisky unbalanced. The sweet toffee flavour seems to drown out everything else. One less experienced member of the club described the Tomatin as really smooth, sweet but flat.
When asked for my comments, I expressed the view that there was plenty to like and enjoy about the Tomatin and it still offered a superior sipping experience over a Big Brand Blended Scotch. At this price, there is really nothing to complain about and everything to praise.
Bottom line: There are plenty of single malts out there at double the price and are not worth drinking. The Tomatin Legacy certainly is. As for the Deanston Virgin Oak,  it's so good and so affordable, you'd be meshugah not to have a bottle of this in your whisky collection, even if your collection was a collection of one!

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