Tobermory is one of those distilleries that most would have heard of, but not many would have tried. It is also a distillery which produces two distinct styles of spirit which are somewhat different from one another.
The spirit styles are broken down into two simple categories: unpeated and peated. The unpeated style is known as Tobermory, whereas the peated style is known as Ledaig (pronounced led-chig). Interestingly enough, the distillery has interchangeably used both names over the years, with the present choice being Tobermory as it is somewhat easier to pronounce.
Both styles of whisky that the distillery produces have garnered fans and while Tobermory shares some characteristics with Hazelburn, Ledaig is seen as an alternative to the peated whiskies from Islay.
Tobermory distillery was founded in 1798 by John Sinclair and remained under his control until 1837, when the distillery was mothballed for an extended period. Distillation commenced once again in 1876 and the distillery was then purchased by John Hopkins & Company in 1890.
The purchase of John Hopkins & Company by the famed Distillers Company Limited (DCL) in 1916 saw the distillery come under the control of a behemoth which was purchasing a multitude of malt and grain distilleries in order to secure stock for blending purposes. Tobermory, however, was not seen as an integral part and the distillery was once again mothballed for an extended period in 1930.
The distillery remained closed until 1972, when a consortium led by a Liverpool-based shipping company and the sherry producer Domecq purchased the distillery buildings and embarked on a period of refurbishment. Upon completion of the necessary works, the distillery was renamed as Ledaig and was brought under the control of Ledaig Distillery Ltd.
The revival was short-lived, however, as Ledaig Distillery Ltd filed for bankruptcy in 1975 and this caused the distillery to close once again. However, the closure wasn’t for too long this time round and estate agent Kirkleavington Property purchased the distillery in 1979, formed a new company by the name of Tobermory Distillers Ltd and resumed production in the same year.
The 1980s was a terrible time for the whisky industry and a number of distilleries were forced to close either temporarily or permanently. Tobermory was not immune to this downturn and the distillery was closed in 1982. Its uncertain future forced the owners to convert some of the buildings into apartments while the others were rented to a cheese company for storage purposes.
The distillery remained closed until 1989, when production resumed once again. In 1993, ownership of the distillery was transferred to Burn Stewart Distillers for £600,000 and the company also paid an additional £200,000 in order to secure the stock of maturing whisky in the warehouses.
The distillery began its revival under the ownership of Burn Stewart, but the production was designated for two of the company’s biggest blends, Black Bottle and Scottish Leader. It was only when Burn Stewart was purchased for £50 million in 2002 by the now defunct Trinidad-based venture capital firm CL Financial that things began to change considerably.
Under the ownership of CL Financial, Burn Stewart was able to increase the production capacity of the distillery and they also began releasing some of the older stock within the warehouses, beginning in 2005 with a 32 Years Old expression of Ledaig which had been distilled in 1972.
The core range was then revamped to include a 10 Years Old expression of Ledaig in 2007 and this was followed by a limited edition 15 Years Old expression of Tobermory the year after.
Another huge change followed in 2013, when Burn Stewart Distillers was sold by parent company CL Financial’s subsidiary, CL World Brands, to South African drinks conglomerate, Distell Group Ltd for £160 million. To commemorate this acquisition, the distillery released a 40 Years Old expression of Ledaig in the same year.
2015 brought with it more releases as the distillery introduced an 18 Years Old expression of Tobermory as well as what is currently the oldest official bottlings of Tobermory and Ledaig. These expressions were distilled in 1972 and bottled at 42 Years Old by the distillery.
Interesting fact: The bottles of the 42 Years Old expressions of Tobermory and Ledaig are unique in the sense that the pieces of copper that adorn them were made from 2 stills which were replaced in 2014.
Recently though, the core range has been somewhat reduced and now represented by two expressions of Ledaig: the 10 Years Old and 18 Years Old. The 15 Years Old expression of Tobermory has been discontinued whereas the 10 Years Old and 20 Years Old expressions are now distillery exclusives.
One of the reasons for this reduction in the core range can be traced back to the success of the Black Bottle and Scottish Leader range of blended whiskies, which rely heavily on the whiskies from Tobermory/Ledaig as well as its sister distilleries, Bunnhabhain and Deanston.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a 5 tonne mash tun, 4 wooden washbacks with a fermentation time of 50-90 hours and 2 pairs of stills. This provides the distillery with a production capacity of 1 million litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis, most of which is designated for blending purposes.
The distillery also announced in early 2017 that it would be closed for a period of 2 years in order for critical refurbishment and maintenance works to be carried out. They did however mention that distillery tours and the visitor centre will remain operational during this period of closure.
This week’s review focuses on a rather interesting expression of Tobermory which was distilled in 1994 and matured for 19 years in an ex-sherry cask before being bottled in 2014 at a cask strength abv of 55.8% by independent bottler Specialty Drinks Ltd for their Single Malts of Scotland range.
So, let’s dive right into the review!
Tobermory 1994 19 Years Old (55.8% abv, Single Malts of Scotland)
Nose: Initial entry presents some sherried, salty and sweet hints which are soemwhat reminiscent of sherried raisins sprinkled with sea salt. There is a pronounced alcohol note on the nose, although it is not obtrusive.
With time, elements of camphor, nutmeg, cloves, oak and surprisingly, blue cheese, emerge and intermingle with black pepper, liquorice and aniseed. There is a meaty edge to this expression and the aniseed makes this somewhat araq-esque in character! (22/25)
Palate: Initial entry presents savoury, sweet and spicy elements, with the sherried raisins sprinkled in sea salt making an appearance alongside hints of blue cheese, iodine, liquorice and creosote. Ginger, black pepper and nutmeg emerge after some time and augment the meatiness of this expression.
Worn leather, tobacco pouch and dark chocolate shavings emerge late on to inject another layer of complexity. (23/25)
Finish: Long, lingering and satisfyingly good on the finish, with the sea salt, oak, ginger, nutmeg and dark chocolate carrying all the way through to the end. All these elements are underpinned by the meatiness of this expression, which is evident from the very beginning. (22/25)
Balance: A supremely well-balanced expression which exhibits a multitude of complexities and facets both individually and as a collective. The mouthfeel is generally oily at first but quickly gives way to the dry and oaky undertones. A truly exceptional expression from a vastly underrated distillery! (24/25)
I would have to admit that this is the best expression of Tobermory that I have tried thus far and it exhibits the distillery characteristics extremely well while allowing for a good amount of nuance and depth to showcase itself overtime.
As this expression was derived from a single sherry cask and only 279 bottles were made available, it is unfortunately sold out and will definitely be hard to come by for a reasonable price.
I had the good fortune of trying this expression at The Elysian Whisky Bar in Fitzroy during my recent trip back to Melbourne and it was something which certainly surprised me immensely as I had not expected such a profound level of complexity.
If you see this expression at a bar, shop or online, please do not hesitate and purchase it as it is definitely worth the outlay (but only if you are familiar with the style of whiskies that the distillery produces as this is definitely not something for everybody).
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
More reviews: https://www.thesinglecask.sg/blogs/news