Tomatin “Water” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #5, Sherry Butts & Second Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2018)

Alas, we’ve come to the last of the five virtues. The four previous editions were all good, for me personally, especially “Metal” was very nice, but I love well aged seemingly simple ex-Bourbon casked Whiskies. All four are definitely interesting and different from one another. No duds between them. So now the time has come to put the series to bed with “Water”. Water is made with distillate from the winter of 2005, which doesn’t make things any clearer, since the year starts and ends in winter… Half of the Whisky was matured in second fill Bourbon Barrels and the other half in Sherry Butts. Although in some communications, Tomatin does mention Sherry Hogsheads as well (just not on the packaging). If memory serves me correctly, I really liked this one as well in London, and after the very nice Metal I have high hopes for this Water as well.

Color: Copper gold, like a Bourbon, definitely not the colour of water.

Nose: Spicy wood right upfront, with sweet smelling red fruits, hints of tar, an old warehouse with a stone floor, and toasted oak. Notes of wood and fresh air. Nutty, dusty and somewhat sharp and spicy. A take on modern Sherry casks, somewhat similar to the Sherry notes, (not the peat notes), of Benromach Peat Smoke 2010 I reviewed just recently. Old warehouse with old paper and pepper with hints of a more (smelly) organic note. Wet earth and a wee bit of virgin oak. Again a quiet and balanced expression from Tomatin with lavas and gravy and some more indistinct organics. Leafy with hints of old dried out leather and a garden bonfire. Nice (dried) kitchen herbs. The Sherry makes this smell “chewy”. More whiffs of paper are flying by. A Whisky for a sunny day.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy. Fruity. Jam-like. Red fruits. Thick. The Whisky sticks to my glass. This thick, fruity, (half) sweetness, somewhat masks the big note of wood this has as well, including the also masked bitterness. Paper again. Slightly tarry, as if tarry toffee was used for this one. Well balanced as expected. Raisins and ever so slightly soapy and definitely a bit smoky, must be the toasted oak. Vanilla and pudding are here as well, so these second fill barrels still worked their expected magic too, even though the Sherry bit turned out stronger in the mix. I noticed it in Metal, but Water is also a (designed or constructed) Malt which shows what its got, right from the start, lacking a bit in complexity and evolution. This is a minor gripe however, since the balance is there and it is a delicious (red) fruit-driven Whisky with enough back-bone to it. This is not a Sherry monster, but it still is all about the Sherry in this one. Classy stuff.

This is a great companion to Metal. Both are very good and quite different from one-another, but somehow fit together. Both are fruity, but with the Bourbon casks alone that were used for Metal, that shows us an entirely different yet classic Tomatin tropical fruitiness, whereas this Water edition shows us more the Sherry-linked red fruits, in this case, the thick jam-like red fruits. Amazing contrast. At first I thought, well lets review these last two samples I have, so I can open something else, but both are so nice I’m now wondering if I shouldn’t be opening both full bottles at once, after finishing off Earth. With the Metal-edition I was wondering how it would compare to the 15yo American oak. Here with Water I’m wondering how it would compare to the 18yo Oloroso version. Both the 15yo and the 18yo are from the standard range and widely available. “Wood”, “Fire” and “Earth” are all Whiskies which are good, but you have to work them a bit, all three aren’t really for careless sipping, or you’ll miss out on the best bits they have on offer. Metal and Water are good right from the start, more like instant gratification Malts, and in my opinion the best of the bunch.

Points: 88

Tomatin “Metal” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #4, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

The five virtues are coming along quite nicely. Metal is already the fourth out of the five virtues. Earlier I reviewed the first three: Wood (85 points), Fire (85 points) and Earth (86 points), the last one a rare peated Tomatin. On Paper, Metal is a fairly simple Whisky compared to Wood (which was made with three different kinds of wood), Fire (made with de-charred and re-charred wood) and Earth (three different kinds of casks and also made with peated barley to boot). Metal is made solely with first fill Bourbon barrels, filled with distillate from 2003 thus making it also the oldest expression of all the five virtues. It should be 13 or 14 years old. In earlier reviews I mentioned, that my journey with the Tomatin five virtues series actually started with this Metal (and Water) expressions in London 2018. I liked both and this made me backtrack a bit, buying the first three of the series. All three earlier versions didn’t disappoint, so let’s see if the last two are the best of the bunch, as I currently believe from memory. As said before, I did buy the whole set eventually, but the last two reviews will be based on samples I brought back from London.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Fruity and very likeable. This brings back memories! Sweet barley and cardboard. Perfumy soft wood (and paper), with mocha notes and dusty. Ever so slightly meaty with a tiny hint of lavas and an indistinct melange of dry herbs. Definitely well aged and this oozes style and class. Its very refined, but lacks a bit in the complexity department, (maybe this is the reduction to 46% ABV). I’m already smelling this for a while now, and not a lot of evolution is happening to be honest. Nevertheless all that is there is very fine and balanced and easily recognizable as a Whisky from ex-Bourbon casks. Vanilla notes and slightly creamy. Faint flinty note as well as a faint menthol note. I have to say that what is here does go together rather well together. Based on the nose alone, easily the best of the five virtues (’till now).

Taste: Sweet and fruity, something that is present in all good Tomatin’s from ex-Bourbon. Just have a look at the 30yo, which offers this in spades, tropical style. Here there are yellow fruits like maracuja and dried pineapple mixed with vanilla pudding or custard. Right next to this, or behind it, if you like, quite a firm backbone of oak, pencil shavings and a little bit of smoke (probably from toasted oak, which matches the flinty note from the nose). There is most definitely quite some influence of wood to be noticed in the back. Strong and spicy and even some bitterness, not too much though, the bitterness is adding to the whole, not taking it over. Sweet mint. The whole is pretty straight forward and comes as no surprise to those who know their Tomatins. Just don’t make the error believing this is simple, because it’s not. Very nice expression this one, and also after tasting it, still the best of the five virtues. I wonder how this compares to a recent, regular 15yo also solely from American oak casks, which is slightly older and slightly cheaper.

When pouring this, I was quite surprised, the colour being only White Wine, or straw as some people call it. This is said to be from first fill Bourbon casks, and especially first fills can impair quite some colour onto the Whisky, especially after some odd 13 years. Also, I wonder why this was called “Metal”. If I would pick a Whisky to show off the Metal from the still, I would have picked (third) refill hogsheads. These casks would certainly not overpower the distillate thus showing off the most distillery character. But then again, these first fill barrels aren’t overpowering anything as well. Considering the colour of this Whisky I still have a hard time believing this came from first fill casks. Based on the nose as well, I would still not believe this is from first fill Bourbon casks. Tasting it, however, there might just be a possibility this has seen some first fill Bourbon casks, since there seems to be quite some influence from wood, yet it is different from the “Wood” expression. Lets just forget about all this and conclude that this “Metal” is a very good Whisky. Tomatin does well in American oak, especially when it gets the time to mature for a prolonged amount of time.

Points: 87

Tomatin “Earth” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #3, Peated, Refill Hogsheads, Sherry Hogsheads and First Fill Bourbon Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017

After “Wood” and “Fire” here is #3 in the Five Virtues series. Wood was named wood because of three different kinds of oak used for that Whisky: American, French and Hungarian oak. Fire was named fire because of the de-char and re-char treatment of the casks, so these casks were set on fire twice. Earth is named earth because it’s made with peated malt, and peat, as we all know, comes from the earth. So until now, “the logic makes sense”. If I’m not mistaken, this may very well be the first and only peated Whisky bottled under Tomatin’s own brand name. (The peated Cù Bòcan, although made by Tomatin, is a different brand). Earth was distilled in 2006 and made from 50% refill hogsheads, 25% Sherry hogsheads, most likely from American oak, and 25% first fill Bourbon casks, so it must be 10 or 11 years old.

In a way “Earth” has quite some similarities to An Cnoc’s “Rascan”. Both are peated Whiskies from distilleries that aren’t known for their peated Whiskies. Both Whiskies are NAS and quite light in colour. Both claim they’re highland Whiskies even though many Whisky writers place Knockdhu in Speyside. Knockdhu is the distillery, An Cnoc the brand name, by the way. So it came natural to me to start a flight of Whiskies with said “Rascan” and to follow it up with this “Earth” or vice versa. Well, these two are both decent Whiskies, but they absolutely don’t work with one after the other. Both are able to bring out the worst of each other. No matter which one was tasted first. How odd, I wonder why. Rest assured, for this earthy review there was no Rascan in sight.

Color: White Wine.

Nose: Sweet, soft and dusty peat with citrus notes on top. Hint of glue (only when the Whisky is freshly poured). Smells more mature than “Rascan”, lacking the milky new make note Rascan initially has. Very nice spicy wood notes, American oak vanilla notes with sweet citrus on top. Warming peat and only slightly smoky. Rain water, Gin-like. Very aromatic. Smells quite tasty. Hints of sweet coffee with milk, and some added runny toffee. Dust and paper. Old damp wood in a cellar. There isn’t a lot of peat to begin with, but it also dissipates a bit, or is it my nose that gets used to it? Fruity, typical tropical yellow fruits, typical for the best Tomatin’s. Sweet yoghurt with white peach? Slightly peaty and well balanced. After you set you garden waste on fire, it smells like the glowing remnants of the biggest branches in the pile, just before it dies out. I’m sure some of you will share such an experience with me. Coffee candy comes back, together with a whiff of perfume, old almonds and some pencil shavings. When smelled in the morning, the fruits have more to say than it does in the evening. So for me this is more of a day-time dram than it is an after-dinner dram. It maybe is too delicate for after dinner or to pair it up with a cigar. It’s soft peat and sweetish fruit, but it isn’t smoky. It’s not a bonfire dram. This is a lovely peated Whisky, that’s more fruity than it is peaty (or smoky). Fruit comes from the earth as well, so the name is still valid.

Taste: On entry, the sweet and the fruit come first, as well as the almonds from the nose. After this, some prickly smoke and another sweet touch. Only after sipping the smoke comes forth in the nose with some pencil shavings. Creamy and fruity with a tiny hint of bitterness for good measure. Fruit, biscuits and cookie dough. The sweetness is just right, the peat is hardly detectable, yet present. This is a bowl of ripe fruits in a kitchen where preparations are made for baking a apple pie (just no apples in this nose, or are they…), no it’s about the dough. Even though this is peated (can’t be much), this is still easily recognizable as a Tomatin (when you know your Tomatin’s of course). Not super complex, but actually this is a very nice and interesting Tomatin. Sure we have Cù Bòcan, but I’m really interested how another peated Tomatin would turn out, hopefully bottled at cask strength this time, if they care to repeat the experience.

I have to say, that after the first three Five Virtues, this series is quite likeable. All three turned out to be decent Whiskies with interesting differences, and I believe the best is yet to come.

Points: 86

One point above Wood and Fire. All three are good and different, but this one is even more tasty and slightly more special.

Tomatin “Fire” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #2, Heavily Charred Oak, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

Where “Wood” is #1 in the Five Virtues series, here is #2, which is called “Fire”. It is called “Fire” because of the char and toast of the wood, and char and toast come about through the ways of fire. Tomatin “Fire” comes solely from a batch of stripped and (heavily) recharred oak casks. It is said that the distillate is from 2005, one year only this time, making this a Single Malt which is 11yo or 12yo, which these days is quite old for a NAS. “Wood” was blended from distillates between 1999 and 2006, and since 2006 is more recent than 2005, “Fire” is officially an older Malt than “Wood”  even though much older Malts were used for it.

What this bottling also might want to prove is: should you buy a new (or used) American oak cask, when you can also scrape out the insides, hopefully without losing the soul, of your old, dead tired and worn out cask and set it on fire to rejuvenate it? Boys do like to set things on fire don’t they? After this, one might have a reusable cask again. Recycled and good for the environment, maybe apart from the burning that is. Maybe very responsible and certainly sustainable. One less tree to cut down. This should be certified green!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Again, a woody Whisky, but this time a more vanilla driven Malt. American oak alright. Sweet, fragrant, slightly floral and right from the start this slightly acidic and creamy strawberry aroma. Sometimes a bit dusty even. Not as much char as I expected from something called “Fire” or “heavily charred”. Hardly any char really. Quite fresh, fruity and milky. The milky notes scared me for a while, but dissipate after a while in my glass and these milky notes disappear completely when the bottle cbecomes emptier. Paper and woody notes and initially not all that different from “Wood”, but after enough time to breathe the difference is bigger than I imagined possible. The “Fire” I do get from this Malt is the aroma of a burning wood fire in winter, minus the sharp smoke. Just like “Wood” this essentially is again about (recharred) Wood, and the woods in “Wood” are charred as well. To me it is more like a sequel to “Wood” so they might have called it “Wood II” just the same, but this probably would not have worked inside the Five Virtues framework.

Where “Wood” was about the blend of different kinds of wood, this is a little bit closer to a virgin oak type of bottling, just a bit more refined, especially after some breathing. This really needs to open up, because it really was disappointing when freshly opened. Where “Wood” was creamy, this is even more creamy. Again no new make aromas, but it is slightly closer to new make than “Wood”. Lots of fresh oak notes, creamy and yes, lets call it green. Fresh plants and garden notes. Breaths of fresh air and some burned toast notes, but not a lot. Initially quite simple, it seems much simpler than the “Wood”. Reminds me sometimes of Bruichladdich Islay Barley. That sort of simple, yet lovely, stuff. Only, Bruichladdich reaches that already after 5 to 6 years, Tomatin takes twice the time. Maybe simple, but especially after a while in the glass, it becomes quite nice. In the end a nice example of an honest Malt matured in American oak. Good smelling stuff, just not right from the very start, be warned.

Taste: Again, it starts fairly simple. Tea with a dash of sugar. Latex wall paint, sweet custard and definitely sweet malt. Mid-palate a cloying burnt note. Sometimes a slight hint of cigarettes being smoked in the distance, an aroma blown over by cold wind. I also pick up on some minty notes and some tasty ripe red fruits. Quite a short finish at first and a fairly non-existent and unexciting aftertaste. But buyer beware, don’t get fooled, this Malt also has a trick upon it sleeve. Yes it is more than a bit unbalanced when poured from a freshly opened bottle, but responds extremely well to some air, gaining lots of depth and some very nice black fruits suddenly emerge from nowhere. Wow, first we had the ripe red fruits and now these black ones. The return of fruity Tomatin, something absent from “Wood”. See how some Malts need to breathe? Quite some evolution. However, even after some breathing, the finish is still quite short and malty again and dare I say it, it remains a bit unbalanced.

It started out a bit really disappointing (not more than 82 points), but by now it is definitely on par with “Wood”, but I have to admit, you have to work at it a bit, and maybe have some experience (and patience) as a Whisky drinker, to see the beauty in this one. So “Fire”, in the end, turns out to have a nice, fragrant start and beautiful body, better than “Wood”, but it keeps struggling towards the end, the finish stays short, with hints of Beer, strange enough, and a thin, slightly woody and bitter aftertaste, and some creamy notes as well, which by now aren’t creamy. fatty or big enough to make the finish better. The second half of the experience therefore is definitely won by “Wood”. This is surely a flawed Malt on the outside, but with hidden beauty inside. Personally I find it very tasty right from the start with an additional fruity and appetizing body, just be very careful with it when freshly opened. I kept the cork off for at least a day after the initial disappointment. Did it lots of good. Interesting stuff and certainly an education.

Points: 85

Tomatin “Wood” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #1, French, American & Hungarian Oak Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

I like my Tomatin’s. Good Whisky. Good people work there and represent it, with wit, honesty, intelligence and humor, no funny business. Lots of releases too. From 2017 onwards, they started with this five part series, showing what the five virtues of Whisky are. Wood (2017), Fire (2017), Earth (2017), Metal (2017) and last but not least, Water (2018). Although all five are NAS Whiskies, I was told, that no young Whiskies were used throughout the range, and all would have some proper numbers comprising of two digits if they would have been bottled with age statements. Thank God, because I feel Tomatin spirit really does need it’s time in oak. Young Tomatin’s can be milky, somewhat sour and heavy on new make characteristics.

When I visited the Tomatin stand at a show in 2018, I tried the “Metal” and “Water” expressions, which I liked very much. I bought both of them, and looking at the two bottles, yes, I’m human too, I just couldn’t resist to find the previous three releases of this series. I have this series complete, and will open them one after the other, in stead of opening them all at once, due to a lack of room for too many open bottles. Well, actually there is never really a lack of room, but I do have to restrict myself a bit, Whisky madness and all. “Wood” here, is the first of the Five Virtues, and this one was matured in a combination of different oak casks, French oak (70%) and American oak (20%) we know, but this time also some Hungarian oak (10%) found its way into the mix. Am I already expecting Tokay now? The spirit used for “Wood” was distilled between 1999 and 2006.

Color: Light Orange Gold

Nose: Barley sugar and lots of cereal notes with late woody notes. Sweet, soft and fresh. Deep and accessible. Appealing. there is a lot happening in a furthermore very balanced nose. Quiet and distinguished. A sort of Steely Dan Whisky. American oak vanilla. Creamy, with vanilla pudding, custard, that kind of thing. Sweet fruity (peach) yoghurt. Some nice slightly acidic White Wine notes, again well balanced. It all works well on the nose. I don’t care for young Tomatin’s and luckily there is non of that here, so even when this is a NAS, it also tastes like there is quite some age to this. Quiet creamy and slightly funky. Nutty as well. In the distance a nice edge of toasted, and again, creamy and sweetish oak. The toasted oak also brings a slightly smoky note, which works very well for this fragrant expression.

Taste: Less creamy, (but still enough), than the nose promised and definitely some more of the acidic White Wine notes mentioned above. Fresher and lighter. Still not overly woody, but enough wood notes to warrant the name and thank god, not young tasting as well. Warming. A little bit of creamy wood and quite unexpectedly, some cocktail cherries. Sweetened fruit yoghurt. Sweet and acidic at the same time. After a while the more sweet notes from the nose come to the front. The body of this Malt is not as big and thick as one might think by now. It has more toasted oak (and wee licorice) than the nose had. Overall somewhat simpler than the nose was and even that wasn’t nuclear science to be honest. Still a very nice, somewhat sweet easy drinker. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance, yet the balance suffers a bit towards the finish. The fruity acidity seems to unhinge from the main, creamy, body, to hover above it and some woody bitterness emerges (finally). Still, in this case, the fruity acidity still has a positive effect on the whole. For an expression which was called “Wood”, it may have been blended from the various mentioned woods. French, American and Hungarian Oak that is, but it is not really a wood driven Malt. Although on some occasions, when trying this, I do pick up on some woody bitterness. Today a lot of over-oaked, new or virgin oak, bottlings emerge, but this isn’t one of them, even when carrying the “Wood” name. This has a nice nutty and warming aftertaste. Tasty too, but not as big as the nose promised. Final thought: this maybe more of a wood-Malt than I initially thought, because, this Tomatin lacks the typical tropical Tomatin fruitiness, so maybe this really is a wood-expression after all…

For a lot of people Tomatin is not the most well known Malt, which is a shame really, because over time, I’ve come across many well made and well blended Tomatin Single Malts. When I tried “Wood” for the first time, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this expression. I’m a bit afraid I may have not given this malt the attention it deserves. This is an easy drinking Malt and I carelessly reached for it many times. Now when it’s almost gone, and I’m analysing it more carefully when writing this review, before its all gone, I do come across very nice balance and some nice aroma’s. Yes I do regret not giving this Malt enough attention, since, this really is one that deserves it. Its a great example of a malt that is nice to analyse and contemplate a bit about the woods used for this Malt. Very nice indeed.

Points: 85

Thank you Alistair, Stan, Krish and Scott. This one’s for you!