Tomatin “Cask Strength” (57.5%, OB, Bourbon & Sherry Casks, 2016)

Today there are a few NAS Cask Strength Whiskies on the market that haven’t received a funny marketing driven name. Sure among many others, f.i. Ardbeg Corryvreckan and Uigeadail are very good, but considering the owners of Ardbeg, marketing is a given. There are also a few quiet boys in the back of the class, whispering about quality and quality only, not caring too much about marketing and don’t spend their money even on getting a funky name. A few of those come to mind as well. The last review I did is even one of those expressions. Glengoyne “Cask Strength”. Others are Tamdhu, Glendronach and Tomatin to name but a few. I never got around to review the original Tomatin Cask Strength, but now I have a chance at the first batch from last year’s newly designed release. As mentioned on the box, this Whisky comes from Bourbon and Sherry casks and will be an interesting comparison to Glengoynes expression with the same name.

tomatin-cask-strength-2016Color: Light gold.

Nose: Lots of barley and funky Sherry. Lots of cereal notes as well, but also a hint of smoke and cask toast (the former probably coming from the latter only). I can’t say this smells very appetizing and nice from the start, but the Glengoyne got better with extended breathing, so we’ll give this one some time as well, but I can already tell you that this Tomatin won’t take as long as the Glengoyne. There are also buttery and creamy elements and some hidden fruits. Sugar water and hints of licorice, clear glue and some sweet fruits. Pencil shavings, paper, cardboard and a slightly odd (or off) acidic note. Not much, but it’s there. Just not of the tropical kind Tomatin is known for…or is it, considering the evolution with air. Just like the Glengoyne version, It shows its youth and both show a somewhat similar young and strong style, based on both Bourbon and Sherry casks.

Taste: Yeah, strong at first but next, heaps of wonderful tropical fruitiness with nice nuts! It’s definitely a Tomatin all right. Sweet on entry. Toffee, caramel. Butter. immediately followed by some nice oaky notes. Not as strong as the number suggests, and also not hot. Pretty easy to drink, if you have some cask strength experience, that is. Cookie dough and cream, with just enough sweetness to present the finish which is definitely a bit drier. Just like the Glengoyne the taste is better than the nose is. Lacks a bit of complexity though, but in the taste it doesn’t remind me of a young Whisky. Whiffs of old style Whisky pass by as well.

The youthful cereal notes? I don’t like them. It’s that part of Whisky that transforms into something way better with some proper ageing in proper casks. When freshly opened these notes are pretty upfront, in your face. A bit off-putting in my opinion, but the same happened with the Glengoyne Cask Strength as well. Sure it wears off, but do you really want to wait some time after pouring it, before you can thoroughly enjoy it? Because you can, if you work at it a bit. After extensive breathing both become nice cask strength drams worth your money. The quality is there and therefore the score is up there well into the eighties. But for me, this is also proof why Whisky should be aged properly and why I’m also a bit hesitant when it comes to NAS-expressions, which most definitely are not all bad, just look at the WIP Kilkerrans to name but one. Luckily this one tastes so good, I have no problems forgiving it for the funky nose. Again one you have to let breathe for a while.

Points: 85 (almost 86).

Thanks Alistair!

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Tomatin 14yo “Port Casks” (46%, OB, Tawny Port Pipes Finish, 2016)

I come from a time when Distilleries started experimenting with other casks than the usual Bourbon and Sherry casks. When Whiskies finished in Wine casks, Port casks and Rum casks popped up in the market, I actually preferred the Rum cask versions the most. I didn’t particularly like the Wine and Port finishes. It’s not because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of change, because today there are lots of these finishes around that are pretty good, but when I taste back the first examples they still are not-so-good. Port was an easy choice for distillers and blenders I guess, since it is related to Sherry and both are fortified Wines. However Sherry casks and Port casks yield very different Whiskies.

I guess the early versions were finished in casks that previously held Ruby Port. Young and bold stuff, which made for a very raw and harsh Whisky, especially when finished for too long. The U.K. loves Vintage Port which are excellent Ruby Ports, 2 years old, so the obvious starting point for experimentation with finishing. Today we see more and more Port finishes done in Port Pipes that previously held Tawny Port. Tawny Ports are older Ports, that turn (reddish) brown from oxidation. For this 14yo expression Tomatin first matured the Whisky in Bourbon barrels and for the finish they used Port Pipes that previously held Tawny port for 50 years! The 14yo Tomatin was first introduced in 2014, a replacement for the 15yo, which came from Bourbon casks only. Tomatin also discontinued the 25yo which also was from Bourbon casks only. In 2016 we saw a complete revamp of the design, so this review is for the “new”14yo, number four in the core range preceded by the “Legacy”, the 12yo and a Cask Strength version without an age statement (We’ll get to that one later).

Tomatin 14yo Port Casks 2016Color: Gold with a pinkish hue.

Nose: Musty and definitely recognizable as a Port finish. It is quite obvious to say the least. Also the color gave it away. You don’t get this pinkish hue, from caramel coloring, and wine finishes smell differently, however it also reminds me a bit of a Jenever fully matured in a Bordeaux cask. Apart from the typical fruity Portiness there is an unusual hay-like aroma, like Grappa has, it is different from your usual Whisky. In the back there is also a more creamy, vanilla note, softening the whole up. Nice soft wood as well. Although the finish is quite strong, it isn’t overpowering, and the Whisky remains balanced. Nevertheless, the finish ís strong enough not to let Tomatin’s signature tropical fruitiness through.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. Chewy. Here the finish isn’t as strong at first like in the nose. Here it starts with sweet and creamy Bourbon cask notes, but the Port quickly exerts itself. I don’t know yet if the burnt note I get, comes from toasted oak, or from the Port pipes (or both). A fruity acidity lies on top, so less balance here than on the nose. Hints of paper (not cardboard, which is heavier and less likeable). The whole is quite creamy and friendly. Well made and quite bold to let the Port finish speak its mind. Creamy, fruity, slightly burnt and some nice wood. That sums it up. Medium finish.

This is daily drinker material. Something I would reach for quite often. Sure you can analyze it to death, but why should you. I already did that for you. Not very expensive and fun to drink and definitely different from most other expressions in the shops today.

Points: 84 (same score as the previous version)

Tomatin 12yo (43%, OB, Bourbon and Sherry Casks, 2016)

Not so long ago, I reviewed four twelve-year olds from Tomatin’s Cuatro Series. Whisky that started out in Bourbon casks but then were transferred for a finish into four different kinds of Sherry; Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez. A longer while back, I also reviewed the entry-level 12yo, calling it the new look bottle, built around the color of the distillery. Black, white and the red of the doors. That design was introduced in 2009 and now, in 2016, The company is changing the design again. This is the even newer look from Tomatin. Newly shaped bottle and a new logo, depicting a hogshead. Nope, not the cask, the head of a hog. I love it when people have humor. With the change came also the change in ABV. The old expression I reviewed was 40%, although 43% versions did exist. This new one is bottled at 43% ABV. I’m not sure yet if I like this new design. Although the old bottle themselves look pretty standard. I did like the color scheme of them. This 12yo for instance, looks like it was made for lumberjacks with a green camouflage label. By the way, the gold lettering on the label is hardly readable so bring your reading glasses when visiting your place of choice for buying Whisky…

Tomatin 12yo (40%, OB, Bourbon and Sherry Casks)Color: Light gold.

Nose: Creamy, creamy wood, leafy and definitely similar stuff to the previous 12yo. Sweet vanilla underneath and quite some funky, slightly acidic Sherry on top. LActic acid, toffee and caramel with a hint of raisins. Waxy and quite some woody aromas complete with toasted oak. It also has a powdery quality to it and I even get the occasional whiff of Beer. Even though it doesn’t seem to be pleasantly fruity and accessible at first, it does have a lot going for it. The nose balances out when it gets the chance to breathe for a while. With time, even a floral note emerges and finally some of the typical Tomatin tropical fruits as well. I don’t have the old 12yo around anymore, but if memory serves me well, this new edition seems to be slightly better balanced and seems to be of higher quality as well.

Taste: Sherry comes first. Funky and musty, but less so than the nose promised. Quite sweet and fruity. Funky Sherry and a little bit of burnt oak. Candy sweetness, caramel sweetness with some cocktail cherries. Creamy again. However, the sweetness subsides under the influence of the woody backbone, which also gives it a slight bitter edge. Drying it out a bit. Next, some more creamy vanilla and cookie dough aroma’s, although the Sherry part has the upper hand. This is quite an interesting entry-level Malt. There is definitely quality here and you get a lot for what they ask you to pay for it. The taste may be simpler than the nose, but quite big and nice nevertheless.

If you are willing to give this Malt some time to breathe you’ll be rewarded with a pretty good Whisky at a more than fair price. Sure, the Legend is even less expensive, but for that, you get a much younger Malt with less depth. I would go for this one instead…

Points: 83

Same score actually as the “older expression”, but I do prefer this newer expression over the previous one.

Thanks for the Whisky Erik!

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