Tomatin 15 Year Old (American Oak Ex-Bourbon Cask)

Tomatin 15-Year-Old Ex-Bourbon Cask (Old bottling) 43% ABV.

Tomatin distillery lies some 15 miles south from Inverness in the Northern Highlands. On a map, it is parallel to the Speyside region but further to the west. It is one of the easiest distilleries to visit as it sits off of a well signed slip road just off of the A9 main road. The facility looks like a well-kept modern factory complex which is effectively what it is. Most of the malt whisky produced here is destined to remain anonymous, just adding flavour and body to various Blended Whisky brands such as Antiquary Premium Blend and The Talisman. However, they do bottle quite a lot of single malt as well but with a rather low profile.
The distillery welcomes visitors and offers tours but compared to the other distilleries that lie just off the A9 main road, you feel as if Tomatin is very much a modern working industrial plant, lacking all the smells and d├ęcor of a traditional Victorian era distillery such as Dalwhinnie, Edradour and Blair Athol, despite the fact that Tomatin was established in 1897. These other distilleries offer a much more polished touristy Highlands style tour and are a welcome break from the monotony of driving up the notoriously boring A9.

Tomatin does have a very nice visitors shop though selling their entire range of whiskies with some Tomatin branded clothing and of course the obligatory Glencairn glasses with the Tomatin emblem etched onto it.
from the

The name is pronounced “Toh-Muhttin” with the emphasis on the “M” and not “TommaTin” as most people say.
The distillery has had a bumpy ride into the 21st century. At one time it had no less than 23 stills with a theoretical capacity of well over 20 million litres per annum (actually they only ever produced around 12 million at the height of production), which made it at the time, the biggest distillery in Scotland by far. To put this once mammoth distillery into perspective, the biggest distillery today is Glenfiddich with a capacity of a mere 14 million litres per annum.
Expansion unfortunately was too rapid and the owners, suffering from a chronic cash flow went “mechula” (bankrupt). The new owners reduced the amount of stills by 13, with 10 remaining, but soon after they also went mechula. The distillery was under constant threat of closure until eventually it was taken over by the Takara Shuzo Co. (Japan) in 1998 and since then its future seems to be assured with a stable output of around 5 million litres per annum but with expansion capacity to produce a lot more if need be.
This 15-Year-Old Ex-Bourbon matured expression was released in August 2009 and sadly discontinued in 2014. I am reviewing it because it is still readily available here in Israel and at a reasonable price. Interestingly you can only get it in the UK in specialist whisky shops for around £80. You can however still find it in Israel for around NIS 280 (about £60).

Packaging, materials and design are very functional and bland, the "London Bus" red box doing a fearly good impression of an upside down Royal Mail Post Box.

I am always complaining about too much marketing department influence. Well, it looks like they asked some supermarket own-brand label designer who won an award for his washing-up liquid and Ketchup label bottles to design the entire Tomatin range. The overall impression is totally uninspiring. The colours used are saturated as if they have printed out the labels using a home Inkjet printer.
The label fails to mention whether the whisky is a natural colour but examining the liquid up close, if they have added E150a caramel colouring then it is very little as this Tomatin has a beautifully natural Ex-Bourbon cask matured Malt whisky colour. It’s exactly what it should be. At 43% ABV it is almost certainly Chill-Filtered which is a shame.

This is the second bottle of this 15-Year Old I have bought. The first I bought quite a few years ago but am only reviewing it now. I bought this expression a good few years ago and was not overly impressed. Back then I was getting into all the heavy peated Islay whiskies and when I tried this, it tasted bland and uninteresting. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I tasted it again at a whisky tasting evening and really enjoyed it.  Then my dear wife bought a bottle for me for my birthday in chodesh Sivan!
Leaving aside the packaging design disaster, let’s pour ourselves a dram in a Glencairn crystal glass, sticking your nose about 2 cm above the rim of the glass furthest from your face.  Don’t sniff! Just breathe deeply and allow those vapours to travel up your nasal cavity. They say first impressions are the most important. This is when this Tomatin is going to win friends. It has a most wonderfully warm and enticing aroma even from nosing the bottle. (I don’t recommend this by the way at a tasting evening. A sure way for you to lose friends….).
What greets your nose is an aromatic concoction of sweet oaky country style heather honey and vanilla Baked Alaska. A whiff of lemon meringue pie straight out of the oven; In the background are soft kitchen pickling spices such as English Peppercorns, Bay leaf, ginger seeds, Coriander Seed and Allspice. Please don’t rush to taste this whisky. The smell deserves your appreciation for at least a few minutes. Add a few drops of water (not too much), and notice the creamy sweetness intensify. The sweetness is not “in your face” cane-sugar sweetness. It is a much subtler beeswaxy heather honey farm sweetness tempered by dry spices, stewed slightly sour rhubarb and organic farm marzipan. Truly lovely.
From the first sip you can tell that this is a very well balanced Ex-Bourbon matured Scotch. I want to point out that this is not one of these new-wave Malts that are finished in active Ex-Bourbon casks to make the Scotch taste more like an actual American Bourbon. This remains quite definitely a Highland Single malt with all that malty barley creamy grain taste but with an Ex-Bourbon cask wood influence that compliments rather than dominates the flavour. It is not overly fudgy sweet and has a lot more wood spices than the Glenrothes Alba reserve which I reviewed last week. The mouth fill suffers from heavy Chill Filtering, lacking what I would guess should have been a much more barley oily fuller mouth fill.
There is a slight wood sap sour note in the background (stewed rhubarb), that compliments the wood spices, and a whiff of wood smoke like someone burning dead leaves and straw in the garden next door…
They obviously have someone at Tomatin who really knows how to pick their casks.
At first contact, it seems to have a light body, but familiarity with it will give the impression of a medium bodied malt. This is a gentle and subtle whisky that an impatient drinker is sure to pass by. It is a shame because they will miss t delight of the light tangy fruits, citrus and pineapple with a slightly toasted Dundee dried lemony fruitcake in the middle, followed by lovely wood spices on the medium finish. The sweet soft honey maple syrup notes come over in a slow subtle manner. This s a laid back whisky and very confident in what it can do. The finish shows off some soft tannins like a fine red wine.
This is a whisky to sit down and saviour. Nothing is in your face. Everything comes with time and patience. Add only a small amount of water. This brings out a lovely balance of the maple syrup Ex-Bourbon casks with malted barley creamy cereal notes.
Conclusion and final thoughts
This is a great smelling and sniffing whisky with plenty of different flavours and spices to keep your interest. It represents excellent value for money here in Israel but I wouldn’t pay the inflated prices of London. Pick up a bottle while you can….
The Old Range

As I said, this 15-Year-Old is from the old bottlings. The new Tomatin expressions are being released in a restyled bottle shape with less bland but nevertheless generic marketing artwork, lacking imagination and, in my opinion, failing to make an impact and stand out amongst all the run of the mill Speysiders. The range available is increasingly being filled with Non-Aged-Statement, sherry finishes and Ex-Bourbon/ex-Sherry cask marriages.
The New Range

The factory style distillery in the middle of the beautiful Monadhliath mountains of the Scottish Highlands is symbolic of the whisky it produces. It is like a gentle giant who has been chained down, gagged and ordered to do menial work. Tomatin is capable of so much more as this now discontinued 15 Year-Old expression shows.


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