Tomatin (Pronounced: TO-ma-ten or To-MA-ten)
57°20'21.67"N, 4° 0'36.05"W
Glen Mhor, Millburn, Royal Brackla
Allt na Frithe Burn
12 Wash stills, 11 Spirit stills
5,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Takara Shuzo > Tomatin Distillery Co. (since 1998)
Tomatin, Inverness, Inverness-Shire, IV13 7YT, Scotland
Yes - and quite a fancy one too, it seems
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2004 - The 12yo official bottling
of Tomatin is launched in the UK and mainland Europe. It's not the first OB of Tomatin at this age though; around the turn of the millennium a 12yo official bottling had been available in the USA. In the same year Tomatin starts with the part-time production of relatively lightly peated spirit (12 PPM) as well.
2005 - The range is expanded with a 25yo official bottling, priced at circa 60,- GBP.
2006 - The range is expanded with a 18yo official bottling, priced at circa 40,- GBP.
2008 - The range is expanded with a 30yo and a 40yo official bottling. Both are sold out pretty quickly.
2009 - The range is expanded with a 15yo official bottling, priced at a little below 40,- GBP.
2010 - The very first peated version of Tomatin is released; a 4yo. The bottling id destined exclusively for Japan.
2013 - Tomatin follows the lead of many other Scotch malt whisky distilleries by releasing a 'NAS' bottling.
In this case, NAS means 'no age statement'. That means that all we know about the contents of the bottle is the fact that it had matured in oak casks for at least 3 years, because that's the bare minimum required by law.
The RRP of the Tomatin Legacy is £25.99 per 70cl bottle, but the length of that legacy remains unclear... ;-)
The Tomatin distillery was founded in 1897
during the 'whisky boom' of the
late nineteenth century. The 'Pattison Crisis' that followed the boom wiped
out many distilleries, but Tomatin managed to struggle on for a few years
before it went bankrupt in 1906. The Tomatin Distillery Co. Ltd. resumed
production in 1909 and for half a century the history of Tomatin was fairly
uneventful. Their single set of two stills was quietly bubbling away on the
border of the Northern Highlands, Western Highlands and Speyside.
While the Tomatin brand may have a fairly low profile on the shelves of
liquorists around the world as a single malt, vast quantities of it were used
in various blends like Antiquary and The Talisman. Measured by production
capacity, Tomatin is one of the top 10 malt whisky distilleries in Scotland.
However, in 1956
things started to change for Tomatin. The number of stills was expanded
from two to four - and then they added two more in 1958. And then the people of Tomatin
started to think REALLY big. In 1961 they added 4 more stills, bringing the total to 10 stills.
But wait there's more... In 1964 yet another still was added, making Tomatin (temporarily at
least) one of only a few Scotch whisky distilleries with an uneven number of stills. By the
time the maltings at Tomatin were closed in 1974, 23 stills were operating there. At the time,
it was Scotland's largest distillery, annually producing 12 million litres of alcohol.
The Tomatin Distillery Company went into liquidation in 1985, but
just one year later two Japanese customers came to the resque.
In 1986 Takara Shuzo Co. and Okara & Co. bought the Tomatin
distillery and became the first Japanese owners of a Scotch whisky
distillery. I think that also made them the very first Asian owners...
In 1998 Takara Shuzo Co. (part of the Marubeni Group) acquires
the shares of Okara & Co. and becomes the sole owner of the
Tomatin Distillery Co. Ltd. By that time many more distilleries in
Scotland were owned by Asian companies, including Bowmore,
Glen Garioch, Auchentoshan, and Ben Nevis. After the Indian
take-over of Whyte & Mackay in 2007, the list grew even longer.
I didn't bother enough to make precise calculations, but I imagine that almost twenty
percent of the Scotch whisky industry is now in Asian hands. They seem to do quite well.
According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2008, the Tomatin distillery now
produces circa two million litres of alcohol each year. That means they're
not even operating at half capacity - while the current capacity of five
million litres is a mere shadow of the twelve million litres of alcohol they
produced around 1974. Remember that this equals over twenty-five
million bottles of (malt) whisky. Well, I guess that it's no wonder that
the 1970's went by in a blurry haze for so many people ;-)
The turbulent history of Tomatin is interesting for another reason - it was the first distillery in Scotland that used a novelty from the brewer's world; the lauter mash tun. Traditional mash tuns used turning rakes to keep mixing the malted barley and the water. In the lauter mash tun these rakes were
replaced by sharp knives, twisting and turning
to help the extraction of soluble starch. While the guides at many distilleries have a folksy tale to tell about workers falling into a mash tun and refusing to come out, I think the lauter mash tun has put an end to that practice in real life...
The 10 years old official bottling shown at the left used to be a favourite of mine in the 1990's.
It has since been replaced by a Tomatin 12yo expression shown above, while older official bottlings have become available as well. If you ask me, the design of the label of the 25yo makes it look like a bottle you might expect to find on the shelves of a brothel in the 1970's, but there's no accounting for bad taste I guess ;-) And looks aren't everything; I prefer the new 12yo over the old 10yo.
That being said - I've had the pleasure of trying some very decent independent bottlings of Tomatin over the years. Perhaps the 25yo OB became a just little too 'vatted' and polished for my tastes.
That's all the noteworthy information about Tomatin I can think of at the moment, but if anything else springs to mind I'll add it to this page later. The same goes for trivia and tasting notes for noteworthy new releases.
1) The altitude (elevation) of Tomatin distillery is circa 300 meters above sea level - according to Google Earth.
2) In 2002, eleven of the original stills at Tomatin were removed and dismantled.
3) Tomatin's malt whisky is matured in two dunnage warehouses and thirteen racked warehouses.
4 Tomatin is one of almost two dozen malt whisky distilleries that were founded over a century ago during the 'whisky boom' of the late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. The other survivors include Aberfeldy, Ardmore, Aultmore, Balvenie, Benriach, Benromach, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn and Tamdhu.
5) During the early 1970's Tomatin was the malt whisky distillery with the largest production capacity in Scotland.
During the second half of the 1970's Tomatin had no less than 23 stills, producing 12,000,000 litres a year.
Tomatin 30yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2011)
Nose: Light and fruity. Nice and polished with slowly developing complexity. Hint of parsley.
More spices and even some organics. A very pleasant malt whisky, but it doesn't feel like it's 3 decades old.
Taste: Apples. Cider. Aniseed. Not a lot of wood influence though - no tannins. Slightly tired casks perhaps?
Score: 86 points - a very good whisky, but it doesn't really show off the age that you're paying for.
Tomatin 21yo (52%, OB, Casks #31648 to #31654, Bottled +/- 2010, 2400 Bts.)
Nose: It starts relatively subdued, but picks up more sherry traits over time. Fruity complexity. A little nutty?
Taste: Lovely sweetness with touches of coconut and passion fruit. Perhaps slightly leaning towards perfumy.
Score: 85 points - it lost one or two points in the overly dry and perfumy finish. Still a pretty great malt whisky.
Tomatin 1982/2010 (55.3%, SSMC Maggie Miller, Sherry C#29, 574 Bts.)
Nose: Wow! Extremely rich fruits. Grape skin. Sweet, but something dirty underneath. Gunpowder? Sweaty?
Flowery. Over time more woody notes emerged. Opens up even more after I added a few drops of water.
Taste: Polished start - but not quite as complex as the nose would suggest. Fairly short finish. Burnt caramel?
Just like in the nose, the wood grows more dominant over time. Some smoke emerges as well. Hint of tea?
Score: 87 points - one of the best expressions I've had in a while. (Well, the 21yo OB was great too!)
Tomatin 15yo (43%, OB, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Grainy and overall a little immature. Green apples. Initially the profile leans towards the farmy side.
Opens up a little over time, growing fruitier and more complex with some spices and organics emerging.
Taste: Smooth and sweet, almost like an Irish whiskey. An oily component emerges. A little herbal too.
I found some bitterness in the gritty, dry finish. It lost one or two points for me at this point.
Score: 76 points - just above average, which isn't terribly impressive for a fifteen years old malt whisky.
Tomatin 18yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Light and quite spicy. Distant hint of antiquity? Some subtle spices too.
Growing complexity over time (well, at least a little), which pulls the score into the 80's eventually.
Taste: Starts fairly weak and smooth but powers up in the centre. Maltier & a tad sweeter than the 15yo.
Herbal like the 15yo later. Short, dry finish. Earns most points with the development of the nose over time.
Score: 80 points - although it drops out of the 80's if you wait too long with finishing your dram.
Tomatin 18yo 1990/2009 (56.6%, The Clydesdale, cask ref 0145/7717, 232 Bts.)
Nose: Light with a touch of oil. Some smoke & organics emerge after a minute, before the oil makes a comeback.
Overall it's quite malty. There are also some fruity notes and spices that emerge after circa ten minutes.
Taste: Slick and oily. Touch of 'beery' bitterness in the dry centre. The mouth feel is quite sticky.
More beer and aspirin bitterness in the finish. The gritty finish grows very dry over time.
Score: 78 points - too much 'plywood' on the palate for me; this Tomatin feels a tad pressure cooked.
Tomatin 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Oily start. Metallic notes and spices emerge after a few seconds. Not terribly complex, but enjoyable.
Taste: Smooth. Fairly weak at first, but it sweetens out wonderfully in the centre. Coffee. Honey sweets.
Score: 73 points - quite a drop in quality in just a few years. I found burnt notes & bitterness in the finish.
Tomatin 40yo 1967/2007 (51.8%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry butt #2632, 415 bottles)
Nose: First sweet, then woody, then fruity. Nutty sweetness in the background? Nice balance.
Taste: Woody and fruity. Buysman? Quite extreme in style. Too rough in the finish to win a gold medal.
Score: 87 points - the nose is quite balanced and accessible, but it's a love-it-or-hate-it malt on the palate.
Tomatin 30yo 1977/2007 (48.6%, The Whiskyfair, D. 02/'77, Btl. 02/'07, 223 Bts.)
Nose: Floral start with a fresh bite. Slowly subtle spices emerge. Slow but majestic development.
At first it seems like another candidate for the 90's, but it didn't show the 'staying power' of the Balblair.
Taste: Not quite as impressive on the palate at first, although the fruity centre feels great. Burnt coffee?
Score: 88 points - highly recommendable, and you don't need to spend an hour for it to reach its prime.
Tomatin 25yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Light and grainy with organics in the background. Hint of lemon, perhaps? Some smoke?
Taste: Sweet. Fruity. Maybe just a tad herbal? Pleasant but not especially complex. Gooseberries?
Well, perhaps all it needed was some time. Fruity with a lot of depth. Lovely.
Score: 82 points - very pleasant on the palate, but right now it doesn't seem quite 'recommendable'.
Revision: Light and grainy again. Not a lot of power. Based on the nose I'd still say 78 points is enough.
It's a different story on the palate, though. Let's go with 82 points now for this Tomatin.
Tomatin 40yo 1965/2005 (44.9%, M&H Cask Selection, Bourbon cask, 120 Bottles)
Nose: Whiff of paint thinner, quickly sweetening out. A sophisticated yet friendly malt. Fruit sweets?
Taste: Ooh, that's too bad. Nothing really 'wrong' here, but it feels a tad weak, bitter and a tad herbal.
Score: 85 points - but of course our Belgian maniac Luc scored it in the 90's. He must have a few bottles ;-)
Interestingly enough, an old 'Jack Wiebers' Tomatin had the same void between nose and taste.
Tomatin 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2004)
Nose: Light with a lovely honey sweetness reminding me of Balvenie. Slightly spicy.
This seems like an 'upbeat' whisky - despite some harsh grainy notes in the background.
It turns sour with a cidery prickle after a few minutes, but sweetens out again quickly.
Taste: Hmmm... Not quite as 'solid' as I'd expected, but quite chewy after a minute.
Feels a tad 'winey' on the gums during the long, cool finish. No obvious flaws here.
It feels a little gritty and winey in my mouth but it's pleasurable enough.
Score: 80 points - I can see myself emptying a bottle on a summer night, but it could have done with a higher proof.
Tomatin 37yo 1965/2003 (47.2%, Hart Brothers, Distilled 11/1965, Bottled 5/2003, 5cl)
Nose: Subtle fruits and sherry at first - very refined. Raisins? Furniture polish? Smoke?
A little more powerful with time. Spices. Not very complex, but very subtle and enjoyable.
Interesting development with time. Many shades of sherry. No 'sherry monster', though.
Taste: A fairly weak start picks up quickly with gooseberry and liquorice. Great centre.
Doesn't need any water. Minty. Salty? Just a tad too woody and bitter in the finish for me.
Score: 88 points - leaning towards 89. Some single malt whiskies that have reached such an old age have lost their 'thrill', but this one is still going strong.
Tomatin 1968/2001 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur's Choice, 5cl)
Nose: Wow! Deep overwhelming fruity sweetness, unlike anything I've smelled before.
Pipe tobacco. Not extremely complex, but I just LOVE this profile! Simply fabulous. Pickles?
After fifteen minutes some spices and organics emerge, along with the occasional whiff of pine.
Vegetable soup? It just keeps developing. I think Tomatin just earned itself another star as well.
Taste: Sweetish and fruity like the nose at first, becoming smokier and sherried. Packs a punch.
Once again not terribly complex, but extremely lovable. Great body, great finish. Some menthol?
Score: 90 points - That's right, mum. After 'life imprisonment in oak cask' (in this case more than 30 years) this Tomatin is still going strong, Now I start to understand how Gordon & MacPhail built its reputation. Something must have gone wrong at the company in the 1990's, but like Derek Hancock already explained to us during our trip to Scotland in 2003 (and the results of the MM Awards have proven) a fresh wind is blowing through the offices and warehouses of Gordon & MacPhail - and it isn't a farting cat...
Tomatin 19yo 1977/1997 (57,2%, Glenhaven, Distilled 09/1977, Bottled 06/1997)
Nose: Lovely!!! Big, sweet and spicy. It settles down in a minute - or should I say falls apart?
No, that's not it - but the profile changes quite radically, becoming fruitier. Gooseberry and peach.
Very interesting organics drift in and out of focus. Almost 'veggy', but with much more substance.
Taste: Gooseberries - very concentrated and sweet, almost like Gooseberry jam. Malty. Hint of smoke?
Burnt hazelnuts? Increasing bitterness towards the finish, but easily drinkable at cask strength.
After I added water I suddenly thought I detected something soapy and perfumy - and it grows...
Fortunately, it the soap and perfume vanish again after a while, leaving a solid malty dram.
Score: 87 points - despite the fleeting faint hints of soap and perfume on the palate.
Here they really don't disturb me so much; they are an integral 'part of the picture'.
The nose of this Tomatin is especially great - it might have made the 90's if it wasn't for the palate.
Tomatin 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995)
Nose: Something in it that reminded me of a visit to the dentist. Weird... Peanuts? Some smoke. Fruit sweets.
Spicy. Sour later. Very interesting. The nose of this malt has something new to offer every time you smell it.
Taste: It hadn't notably improved after extensive breathing in the bottle - a shame. A bit sweet, a bit malty.
Sherry? Ginger? Eucalyptus? Nutty and dry finish. The chameleon of Speyside wins a point for pure versatility.
Score: 75 points - this is a malt everybody should try some time. A challenge...
Tomatin 12yo (43%, James Mac Arthur, Painted Pot Still in Mountains Label, Bottled +/- 1995)
Nose: Starts mellow and a little dusty, but grows more expressive after a minute. Candy sweetness.
After some more breathing this Tomatin grows more potent with whiffs of spices, organics and smoke.
Taste: Rang fruit candy. Anise. Starts off lovely, but it grows a little too sharp towards the finish for me.
Score: 79 points - The profile may be a little uneven, but there is a lot to enjoy in this whisky.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Tomatin Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Tomatin page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Tomatin expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or