Tomatin 12yo 2002/2014 “Pedro Ximénez Sherry” (46%, OB, Cuatro Series #4, 3 years Pedro Ximénez Sherry Finish, 1.500 bottles)

The fourth and final installment of the Cuatro series is the one finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) Sherry casks. Understandably the last one of the series, since PX is a very dark and sweet dessert Sherry. The grape variety itself is white, getting its color of drying in the sun. We started out light (in color, not aromatics) with the Fino and Manzanilla expressions. Examples of Sherries that age under flor (which keeps oxygen at bay). The third expression was the Oloroso one. Oloroso is a Sherry that ages without flor and thus prone to react with oxygen. So finally the PX. Even darker than Oloroso and also very sweet as opposed to most other kinds of Sherry. Historically, Oloroso casks were always the most popular casks for ageing Whisky. Back in the day, one was sure the Oloroso butt (or puncheon) was made of european oak, giving off some more tannins than the American oak that is so popular with Sherry Bodega’s today. American oak gives off a more vanilla like and creamy aroma. Today, PX has become quite fashionable as well, for ageing Whisky, since it gives off a lot of color and a sweetish aroma. However, the sweetness does not always come through though.

Tomatin Cuatro Pedro XiménezColor: Gold, more or less the same as the Oloroso expression, ever so slightly darker.

Nose: Thick and a very rich nose. Hints of burned wood and even some tar and coal. Nice, and right from the start a better balanced nose than the Oloroso expression. Underneath, thick, creamy and chewy, like crème brûlée. If you smell it vigorously, you can recognize the PX. On top lies a nice acidic winey note as well, adding to the complexity of the Whisky. All well-balanced here. A nice grassy note emerges, aided by some fruits. Nice overripe red and yellow fruits, but also a very distinct aroma of unripe bananas, biscuits and vitamin C pills (another acidic note). An Autumn Whisky, just for the moment the leaves start to fall. Wonderfully rich and elegant nose, better than the nose of the Oloroso expression. I hope it tastes better too!

Taste: Big. A lot from the nose comes back in the taste. Slightly tarry, burnt wood again, with hints of vanilla and butter. Burnt sugar, yet not sweet sugar. All of the (acidic) fruity notes are there, but here, even some hints of white grapes show themselves. Add to that a typically Dutch coffee bon-bon called Haagsche Hopjes, and you’ll get the picture. Nutty. Hazelnuts and even fatty peanuts. The body and the finish are not thick, chewy and cloying like a true PX Sherry, but the aroma’s are there. A somewhat Beer-like finish. The different “burnt” notes; the tar, the wood and the sugar, are on the rise, so if you don’t like that, don’t get this one. It starts out elegant, but ends a bit raw and bold.

And there you have it. The whole Cuatro range explored. Was it worth it? Yes! A very nice learing experience. Do you, and I, as consumers need the whole set of four? Yes, we do if you want to share the experience with lots of others. Four bottles of study material from the Tomatin University Distillery. Do you need a whole box to drink by yourself? No, not really.

For this end piece I did a proper H2H2H2H. Yes, that means I have four drams in front of me. Comparing the Fino to the Manzanilla is interesting, but for a drinking Whisky both are too similar. Especially on the nose. If you only want one, I would opt for the Fino expression, since it tastes slightly better. Oloroso, supposedly the best Sherry cask for Whisky, was in this case a bit disappointing. Smelled less aromatic than the first two, but otherwise surprisingly similar. Not the same but certainly very well related. On the taste it is somewhat unbalanced especially toward the finish. I would pass on that one. Finally the PX does show poise, and yes it does start a bit sweeter on entry compared to the other three. It’s well-balanced, and definitely the one to pick over the Oloroso expression. But, and there is a but, the PX does show a lot of burnt notes you’ll have to like, although those notes are more and more obvious in the Oloroso expression as well. In the end, I would take two, The Fino and the PX, Both are very tasty and somewhat different from each other, but not as much as expected beforehand. If I had to pick one, I would definitely go for the Fino, which for me is the best of the bunch.

Points: 85

Tomatin 12yo 2002/2014 “Oloroso Sherry” (46%, OB, Cuatro Series #3, 3 years Oloroso Sherry Finish, 1.500 bottles)

Number three is the Oloroso finished one. Hands down the most popular Sherry in the Whisky industry. Somehow casks that once held Oloroso Sherries produce the best Whiskies that (once) graced the face of the earth, even though the Sherry itself isn’t seen as the best there is in the (fortified) Wine world. Oloroso Sherry is produced by oxidative ageing, meaning, there is more contact with air than the previous two expressions that age under flor. The forming of flor is suppressed by adding alcohol from distilled Wine, thus prohibiting flor to form. This oxidative ageing produces a darker more nutty Sherry which is not sweet. Dark sweet Sherry will be the topic of the next Sherry finished Tomatin. Let’s see if our precious Oloroso finish also manages to fetch the best results in the cuatro series. Up untill now the “Fino” expression managed to get the highest score so, 85 is the score to beat.

Tomatin Cuatro OlorosoColor: Gold, but slightly darker than the previous two.

Nose: Funky and dusty. Slightly acidic. New wood and raisins. Yes its nutty. Quite complex and lovely. New wood and toasted wood, slightly tarry. Spicy wood and slightly herbal. Vanilla, creamy and fruity, although new, fresh oak is always right up front. Very aromatic. Loose, unlit cigarette tobacco mixed in with the new wood aroma and licorice. Actually this smells like coming from a red wine cask. It’s sharply defined, fresh and slightly acidic. Tannins and spicy. Slightly dusty and smoky. Very nice stuff if you give it time to develop in your glass. Mocha and tar (again). Nice.

Taste: Sweet and funky on entry. Nutty with a fruity acidity, and very aromatic. If you ask me, easily recognizable as a true Oloroso. Tasting the nuttiness brings out the nuttiness in the nose as well. Milk chocolate and a sharp spiciness. Wait a minute. Where is the Tomatin in this? Where are my tropical fruits? Quite the finish ‘eh? Yup, a bit overpowering. Heaps of fruity acidity now. Red wine (finish). The new (peppery) wood from the nose comes to the fore right before the finish. Luckily it doesn’t dominate it. Breaks down a bit in the finish, which is a shame really. A hot sensation stays behind, with wood and the acidity with the longest staying power. Big and raw, but also lacking a bit in complexity as well as in elegance both the Fino and the Manzanilla expressions showed.

This one is big, but not the best balanced one. This one has its moments, but also has its flaws. Its nice, but not the best one up ’till now. Maybe the Oloroso Sherries and/or the casks they were matured in aren’t what they used to be? On the other hand, what still is…

Points: 83

Tomatin 12yo 2002/2014 “Manzanilla Sherry” (46%, OB, Cuatro Series #2, 3 years Manzanilla Sherry Finish, 1.500 bottles)

On with #2. The second installment is the Manzanilla Finished one. Quite the logical #2, since Manzanilla is also a type of Fino Sherry. Manzanilla is made in the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda in Andalusia. Just like Fino, it is a very dry and pale kind of Sherry. The region is less hot and more humid, so the flor here is even thicker, giving an even better protection against oxygen. Manzanilla’s are therefore even fresher than their Fino-brothers. Manzanilla’s also have a somewhat salty feel to them. The Sherry ages near the sea, but should that allow for a more salty liquid? In Spain, Manzanilla means camomile tea. The Sherry is named as such, since the aroma’s are thought of resembling camomile. So salt and camomile are the things to look for in a Manzanilla Sherry, but are they also the things to look for in this Whisky?

Tomatin Cuatro II - ManzanillaColor: Gold.

Nose: Starts immediately less funky than the Fino. It also doesn’t need a lot of time to breathe, to settle, its ready for consumption right of the bat. Subtler and more restrained. Hints of burning wood and toasted cask. Dry grass, vegetal and dry warm barley. Easier than the Fino and seems less complex as well. Sweetish and again full on aromatics. Just not as thick and cloying. Smells nice. Fruity, and quite similar to the Fino expression. Tropical, ripe, sweet and aromatic fruit, which is typical for the Tomatin spirit. Dried apricots, but also a hint of bicycle tire. If you ask me, no traces of camomile in the nose. Salty? Nope again.

Taste: Sweet and boasts a fruity start. Chewy toffee. Fruity, yes, but this time slightly fresher and more acidic. Fresh green apple skin and white pepper. Not (as) hoppy as the Fino, but there are some fruity Beer aroma’s to be found towards the end of the body. The wood moves into the realm of pencil shavings. I don’t get the camomile one might expect, nor do I find it salty, although I do have slightly salty lips. Quite a simple expression. Likable, but simple. Maybe next time they should finish this for a while longer, although this finish carries just enough bitterness for me.

Slightly more approachable than the Fino, but with that also slightly less “special”. Sure, you have to work the Fino a bit, and its start can be a bit of a scare, but when it opens up, lots is happening, especially on the nose. Yes the Fino has definitely the better and more complex nose of the two. In the taste both are closer to each other. The Manzanilla expression actually doesn’t show as much development in the glass as the Fino. It is immediately clear what you have in your glass. This one is more of a daily drinker. No faults, but also no ooohs and ahhhs as well. Good, but not as special as the Fino. However, I do feel that these casks that once held Sherries that aged under flor, show a lot of potential for ageing and finishing Whiskies, and especially the tropical fruit spirit of Tomatin.

Points: 84

Tomatin 12yo 2002/2014 “Fino Sherry” (46%, OB, Cuatro Series #1, 3 years Fino Sherry Finish, 1.500 bottles)

It’s Monday, vacation is over, September is already visible at the horizon, so back to “work”. Time to pick up again with a nice box of four Tomatin’s, the highland distillery known for it’s Whisky with tropical aroma’s…

In 2014 Tomatin released a box with four full-sized bottles called the “Cuatro Series”. All four Whiskies were distilled on Tuesday the 15th of January 2002. All four were matured for 9 years in American oak, however, all received a final maturation of three years in four casks that previously held different kinds of Sherry. An excellent way to show the adventurous public the differences between finishing with four different Sherries. A novel idea and the pricing was reasonable as well. Just releasing it as four full-sized bottles in one box made for slow sales. Who wants to buy four more or less similar bottles of Tomatin where the difference lies in the details? Learing from the experience, Tomatin released several similar ideas since, but always in half sized bottles. Nevertheless, the “Cuatro Series” did sell out eventually, although the odd single bottle seem to be still available.

The four Sherries used in this series are, Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. The first expression, as numbered by the distillery, is the Fino expression. Fino Sherries are very dry and very pale. What makes Fino stand out, is the fact that maturation in the cask happens under flor. Flor is a layer of the Saccharomyces yeast strain, that lies on top of the liquid. The layer of yeast prevents the ageing fortified wine from oxidizing too much, making for a fresher Sherry. In the Wine-world Sherries like this are considered the cream of the crop, as opposed to Scotland’s favorite, Oloroso.

Tomatin Cuatro I - FinoColor: Gold.

Nose: Very musty on entry, which is not very pleasant. Luckily the mustiness dissipates rather quickly. So you really need a glass for this one. Underneath a nice note of olives, burning coal, some charcoal and lots of fruit. Yellow fruit, overripe or sometimes even candied. Some pineapple, mango and maybe even some nectarines. This nose is exploding with aroma. Dusty and creamy vanilla and nice soft oak, so the original cask did it’s work well. The Fino cask also seems to be of high quality, since it did impair some wonderful aroma’s to the Whisky. This one is wonderfully balanced and eventually smells rather nice. The fresh oak bit turns floral. More vanilla but this time with a touch of jasmine and, dare I say it, a hint of paracetamol. Wonderful nose for a 12yo. It has the tropical fruit traits Tomatin is known for. Reminds me a bit of a Fino Glenfarclas I once had.

Taste: Sweet and spicy. Beer-like hops, and again lots of fruits carried by the beer-like bitterness. Is it the yeast from the flor that does this? Again, like the nose, wonderfully balanced, but not as complex as the nose. Here the Fino impairs a nice nutty flavour as well as some italian laurel licorice (sweet). Creamy with a note of buttery vanilla. Strange enough there is an acidic top-note now. Finish has some length, with again some bitterness that carries it. And beyond that a nice lingering and fruity/nutty aftertaste. This may not turn out as the easiest of the four, but if you have mastered tasting Fino (finished) Whiskies, this is certainly no dud.

For those of you who also read my Rum-reviews, you’ll know, that I found Rhum Agricole to be wonderful stuff as long as you give yourself the time to grow into. More or less the same goes for finishing in Fino Sherry. There are examples of Whiskies with a Fino finish that work exceptionally well, but I also found Fino finishes, something I had to get used to.

Points: 85