Whisky Review #60: Tomatin 1966 45 Years Old (The Whisky Agency & The Nectar bottling)

Tomatin is a distillery which tends to go about its business in a quiet and unassuming way. It is a distillery which produces some rather exceptional whiskies and it definitely deserves far more credit and attention than it presently has.

The distillery was founded in 1897 by a group of Inverness-based businessmen who owned the Tomatin-Spey Distillery Company and remained under their ownership until 1909, when Tomatin Distillers Co. Ltd. took over the distillery operations.

Over the next 75 years, the distillery underwent a series of expansions and upgrades, which resulted in them having a staggering 23 still at one point. However, the parent company which owned the distillery underwent liquidation in 1985, which caused the future of the distillery to fall into uncertainty.

Thankfully two long term customers, Takara Shuzo Co. and Okura & Co., purchased the distillery the following year and resumed operations. This resulted in Tomatin becoming the first distillery to be acquired by Japanese interests and this was followed by Nikka (Ben Nevis) in 1989 and Suntory (Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch) in 1994.

While Tomatin has historically produced bulk whisky for sale to other companies in order to be used for blending purposes, owners Takara Shuzo and The Marubeni Corporation (who purchased Okura & Co’s 20% stake in the distillery in 1998) switched the distillery’s focus in 2004 to producing a range of single malt offerings under the Tomatin brand.

Success quickly followed and while the distillery is still not as well-known, it sold upwards of 360,000 bottles in 2013 and the United States has become an important market for the brand, with sales growing by up to 80% in 2013 when compared to that of 2012.

Distillery+Houses
Tomatin distillery and surroundings (Picture credit: http://www.tomatin.com)

In terms of equipment, the distillery sports an 8 tonne stainless steel mash tun, 12 stainless steel washbacks with a fermentation time of between 57 and 110 hours and 6 pairs of stills (with only 4 of the spirit stills currently in use).

The distillery is capable of producing up to 5 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis, but is currently using only half of its capacity. In terms of production, 4% will be peated to 30ppm while the rest will remain unpeated.

The distillery also installed a wood pellet fired biomass boiler which is the first of its kind to be used in Scotland. By utilising it to produce the energy required by the distillery, Tomatin have reduced carbon emissions by up to 80%, which is impressive as this is the target that the Scotch Whisky Association has set out for its members to achieve by 2050.

The distillery has also looked into the feasibility of creating a wetland area to treat washing water and spent lees in order to eliminate the release of copper into the environment. This method has already been put into practice at Knockdhu distillery with a fair amount of success.

The distillery’s core range consists of Legacy (a non-age statement release), 12 Years Old, 14 Years Old Port Finish, 18 Years Old, Vintage 1988, 30 Years Old and 36 Years Old. The first peated offering, named Cu Bocan, was released in 2013 and is meant to be a standalone brand within the core range.

This week’s review focuses on a rather special bottling of Tomatin, which was distilled in 1966 and matured in a sherry butt for 45 years before being jointly bottled in 2011 at a natural cask strength of 46.1% abv for Germany’s The Whisky Agency and Belgium’s The Nectar.

So, let’s jump right in!

Tomatin 1966 45 Years Old (The Whisky Agency)
Tomatin 1966 45 Years Old (The Whisky Agency & The Nectar bottling)

Tomatin 1966 45 Years Old (46.1% abv, The Whisky Agency & The Nectar bottling)

Colour: Deep gold

Nose: Initial entry presents a pronounced oaky note followed by a hint of old sherry and a sulphurous note which is also somewhat meaty. There is a fruity note which emerges after some time, but it is rather restrained. Hints of old leather and tobacco pouch linger in the background and the age of this whisky is clearly discernible from the nose alone. (22/25)

Palate: Initial entry does present a much more forthright fruity note than the nose suggested, but once again it is rather restrained and does show a certain elegance rather than vibrancy. The oaky note from the nose is also present on the palate, as is the sulphurous meaty note, which adds a fair bit of character.

With time, herbal notes reminiscent of thyme and oregano make an appearance, along with hints of absinthe and white pepper. Figs, apricots and sherry also combine rather well to add a certain level of complexity, but without the cloying sweetness. Tobacco pouch and mint at the very end. (23/25)

Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with a pronounced oaky note and just a hint of white pepper and sherry. The herbal notes also linger in the background, keeping in line with the overall complexity of this dram. (22/25)

Balance: Not as balanced as one would have expected from a whisky that has been matured for such a long time, but what it lacks in balance, it more than makes up for in terms of complexity.

The oakiness of this dram is the dominant aspect, but not to the detriment of the other elements which it is made of. The herbal notes work surprisingly well with the restrained sherried fruitiness as well as the oak to craft what is an exceptional dram, but definitely not one that everyone would enjoy. I for one, enjoyed this immensely. (20/25)

Rating: 87/100

I have not had much interaction with the whiskies from Tomatin and this dram actually represented my first foray into the produce from this intriguing Highland distillery. Needless to say that I will be on the lookout for more expressions from them and they have gained a fan on the basis of this impressive offering.

Until the next post, have a great week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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