Whisky Review #100: Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 1966 20 Years Old (Moon Import bottling)

And so here we are. The 100th review. What a journey it has been these last 2 and a half years and I am looking forward to hitting many more milestones on this wonderful journey. But let’s leave that for later and concentrate on the now.

Before I begin my review, I would like to state the rationale behind why I bestowed the high honour that is the 100th review to this particular expression from Tamnavulin.

Firstly, the provenance of this particular bottling is outrageous. When you consider that Tamnavulin distillery was established in 1966 for the sole purpose of producing bulk whisky for parent company Invergordon Distillers (and by extension, Whyte & Mackay), its history seems rather unfashionable.

But when you consider that this expression was distilled in their year of establishment and matured in a sherry butt of immense quality (when sherry butts were abundantly available and could be purchased by the cask with the sherry still in it from the bodegas in Jerez) for 20 long years, the provenance is undeniable. Unfashionable the distillery may be, but the produce is absolutely divine.

Secondly, this distillery being a workhorse meant that official distillery bottlings have been rare to say the least. It is also one of the reasons why the majority of releases of Tamnavulin have been done by independent bottlers, with Italian bottler Moon Import being one of them.

It is safe to say that Moon Import have released some absolute stunners over the last few decades and their releases from the 1980s have been legendary to say the least. This expression of Tamnavulin would definitely fall into that category.

But third and most importantly, why did I choose this particular expression for the 100th review? Simply put, sometimes you come across an expression which fundamentally alters your perceptions about what a sherried whisky can be. This is an old whisky, made in a bygone era and the marriage of quality distillate and a great sherry cask has crafted an exceptional expression which is meant to be sipped and savoured slowly.

Ironically, this expression is not one of those in my Top 5 all time favourites, but it sits just outside at 6th place. Not too shabby to be honest!

Now, time for some history!

distillery house
Tamnavulin distillery (Picture credit: http://www.whisky.com)

Tamnavulin-Glenlivet distillery was founded in 1966 by parent company Invergordon Distillers through their newly formed subsidiary, the Tamnavulin-Glenlivet Distillery Company.

As Invergordon Distillers were already owners of a grain distillery in the Cromarty Firth bearing the same name as the company, they felt that there was a need to build their own malt distillery in order to provide a supply of bulk whisky for their blending needs.

One of the earliest members of the staff at Invergordon Distillers was a man by the name of Chris Greig. He was an influential businessman who eventually became managing director of the company in 1983. His achievements in the Scotch whisky industry are many and some of the highlights include:

  • Being the first to bottle and sell single grain whisky with a view to enticing new consumer demographics
  • Predicting that the Russian and Eastern European markets would become extremely important for the future of Scotch whisky
  • Acquiring distilleries such as Bruichladdich, Deanston, Jura & Tullibardine

But one of his biggest achievements was being at the forefront of the Tamnavulin project and he was one of the main reasons for the construction of the distillery. Greig remained an integral part of the company for many years and passed away in 2012 at the age of 77.

The company remained under the control of Invergordon Distillers until 1993, when Whyte & Mackay acquired the company and its subsidiaries. Tamnavulin was subsequently mothballed from 1995 to 2007, with distillation taking place sporadically throughout that period of time in order to keep the equipment in full working order.

In that time, Whyte & Mackay changed its name to JBB (Greater Europe) in 1996 before a company management buyout in 2001 for ‎£208 million resulted in the name being changed once again to Kyndal.

The name was once again changed in 2003, with the company reverting to its original name of Whyte & Mackay. In 2007, Whyte & Mackay and its subsidiaries were purchased by Indian spirits company United Spirits and it was also that same year that Tamnavulin commenced production after 12 years of silence.

United Spirits was then purchased by Diageo in 2013, but the deal caught the attention and ire of the UK Office of Fair Trading due to antitrust concerns and this forced them to divest part or all of Whyte & Mackay.

Initially it seemed like Diageo would end up holding on to both Dalmore and Tamnavulin distilleries, but in 2014, they sold the entirity of Whyte & Mackay to Philippines-based spirits producer, Emperador Inc, who are also the world’s largest producer of brandy.

Due to the 12 years of silence between 1995-2007, there has not been an official bottling of Tamnavulin in a long time, with the previous 12 Years Old expression having been discontinued several years ago. This, coupled with there not being much older whisky left in the warehouse meant that the distillery was focusing its attentions on providing whisky for blending.

It then came as a complete surprise in late 2016 when the distillery released an expression called the Tamnavulin Double Cask, which was matured in American oak casks before being finished in sherry butts and bottled at 40% and without an age statement. The purpose for this release was to celebrate the distillery’s 50th anniversary of operations.

In terms of equipment, the distillery sports a full lauter mash tun with a capacity of 10.7 tonnes, 9 washbacks made of stainless steel with a fermentation time of 48 hours and 3 pairs of stills. There are also 2 racked warehouses which are able to store more than 35000 casks on site and the oldest casks within date back to 1967, although the warehouses also store casks from other distilleries.

This allows Tamnavulin to have a capacity of 4 million litres and the plan for 2016 and 2017 would be to conduct 16 mashes per week and produce approximately 3.5 million litres of pure alcohol. It is also interesting to note that 5% of the distillery’s yearly production from 2010 to 2013 was of peated spirit with a phenol specification in the barley of 55 ppm.

Now, on to the fun part!

This milestone review focuses on an expression which was distilled in 1966 (the year of the distillery’s founding), matured for 20 years in a single first-fill sherry butt before being bottled at a standard abv of 46% by legendary Italian independent bottler, Moon Import.

So, let’s jump right into the review!

Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 1966 20 Years Old
Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 1966 20 Years Old (Moon Import bottling)

Tamnavulin-Glenlivet 1966 20 Years Old (Bottled by Moon Import, 46% abv)

Colour: Deep red

Nose: Initial entry presents rich red fruits such as apricots, prunes and grapes, a hint of creosote and some acetone of the nail polish variety followed by rich dense sherry and a dollop of sweet malt underneath it all.

With time, sherried raisins, berry compote, cherries soaked in kirsch and some wood varnish emerge alongside some oak and allspice. The nose is slightly musty and hints at the age of this expression. (23/25)

Palate: Incredible. The rich red fruits from the nose have taken on a stewed character and is chased by acetone, wood varnish, black pepper, fat sherry soaked raisins and cherries soaked in kirsch.

This expression has a dessert-like quality to it and the hints of allspice from the nose intermingle beautifully with chocolate coated espresso beans and some dry oak. A veritable symphony of flavours! (24/25)

Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the rich and sweet red fruits combining well with the wood varnish, black pepper, oak and some late developing demerara sugar. An unbelievably complex end to the proceedings. (23/24)

Balance: An exceptionally poised and extremely well-balanced representation of what Tamnavulin is capable of. If anything, expressions like these should deserve their own official bottlings and it is an absolute shame that the distillery’s production is earmarked for blending purposes.

The mouthfeel is incredibly oily and the sherry cask is definitely one of exceptional quality, as witnessed by its wonderful influence on the wonderful distillate over 20 years of maturation. An unforgettable dram for sure! (24/25)

Rating: 94/100

I must admit that I agonised over the rating for some days after sampling this expression and finally felt that it deserved a high enough rating to be rated as exceptional, but fell just short of the Top 5 on the basis of the strengths of the whiskies which currently occupy those spots.

A very special thank you must be extended to Mr Emmanuel Dron of The Auld Alliance for graciously providing my friends and I with a half dram of this wonderful expression during our visit in early October last year and it was definitely the standout dram on a night when all the whiskies which we sampled were exceptional.

This expression can be sampled at The Auld Alliance for $75++ a half dram and I assure you that it is worth every dollar that you will spend. It may not be cheap, but it is worth it if you are looking for a profound experience while delving into the history of a vastly underrated distillery.

Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead and my sincere thank you to all of you for your continued support over the last 2.5 years and 100 reviews! Let’s raise a glass to the next 100!

Slainte!

Brendan

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