Re: Bargain Tomintoul tasting, Edinburgh 28.4.11
Here is the write up of the tasting:-
Jings but its been a fair old week. After a tasting for some language students last Tuesday night I was meant to take a break and get ready for the Spirit of Speyside festival but some enthusiastic Danes were in town so it was off down the the Society and Vintners Rooms after a refreshment and some nourishment at Jenny Ha's. Michty me I felt the benefits. Any hoo the following night it was the Tomintoul bash.
This was a first for me- a whisky company supporting a tasting that someone outwith their control hosts. I'm hoping its not the last time we do such an event as the generosity of our 'sponsor' enabled ticket price to be very accessible.
So there were 34 of us squashed and squeezed into a buzzing Tolbooth. A nice mix of regulars, first timers both local and travellers as well as a couple of faces I'd not seen for a while. I've left my corrected version of Tomintoul profile at work so I'll post the addendum soon.
We started with a very new release 21yo 40%. The company have a great reputation for quality and affordability- this bottling sells for below £45 in Cadenheads. It's been a while since an official single malt at this age as been seen so modestly priced. Just think of the pricing of 21yo blends. When we first saw the details of the release we were hoping for a 46% strength but the decision was taken to go for 40%. Perhaps the desire to make the price point as competitive as possible was the motivation. 46% whisky contains 15% more whisky than 40% so the profit would be hit hard if the pricing remained the same when the higher strength was chosen. Alternatively sales might be adversely affected by a price hike. I'd not like to call the shots on deciding which way to go as without a crystal ball predicting the best route must be tricky. However I think its safe to say whisky buffs would be happier at the higher strength and the ommission of chill-filtering. That said the company bottles whisky for all whisky drinkers not just the minority who concentrate on detail. The 21yo fills the gap between the splendid 16yo and the award winning 33yo (which was replaced by the equally attractively priced but discontinued 27yo). When the stock arrived our anticipation was dulled to an extent due to the bottling strength and certainly initially our appreciation of the nose and palate met our lowered hopes. There seemed no wow factor and we were left thinking 'if only'. However on returning in the following days the reappraisal left us happier when we found the nose had more depth than we rememberred and a soft sweetness with a fine mix of floral, pear drop, soft summer fruits and a delicate richness. On the palate the texture is quite thick while the flavours are not particularly distinct due to a pleasing integration and balance. The finish could be longer and water seems to help this but at the expense of initial intensity. When asking the assembled to guess the age there were many estimates way low- although this is quite normal of the older drams. Pleasing noises were made when all was revealed and the price to age comparison could be made. 12222222334444444666677 a far from failing 42% but a big bunch of low scores cannot be ignored nor commended. 'A great every day whisky', 'good starter', 'Queen Mother (4)', 'young, harsh', 'bargain at price'.
Next we moved up a gear by going down the years- 14yo 46%. This one we had to wonder about for a couple of months before we cracked and Neil bought a bottle, it didn't last long I'm assured and with a much livlier nose and palate over the 21yo the whole experience is altogther more interesting. With quite a bit of nose prickle undiluted I can see why some were again under guessing age. I'm still a fan of the younger drams with an edge so the heat and bite were not uncomfortable but almost exciting. Jim Murray was most keen on this one with comments on how malty the dram was. Certainly the clarity and brightness of the cereal is easy to spot. Sweetness comes out with water on the palate and those pear drops appear politely on the nose. The finish is much longer than the 21yo while the pace of the whole is faster than the opener. Scoring however reflected a less impressed opinion- 1112222233333444444456= 33%- the lowest score of the night, struggling to reach into the high scores perhaps the 16yo would have been put to better use but we were surprised at the reaction especially by the concensus. 'Princess Anne (3)', 'too harsh chemicals', 'drinkable after 5 drams', 'like a dessert wine', 'improves with water'.
Next we tried the 12yo limited edition oloroso sherry finish 40% (I think we did anyway- I've mislaid the running order). The first time I tried this was after a visit to the distillery, for whatever reasson I wasn't expecting anything particular. I was wrong, I think this might have been the point where my affair with Islay was loosing its spark and my first true love, Speyside and its sherry flourishes, was calling me home. The finishing was used long enough to let Tomintoul and its malty pear-drops sing harmoniously in accompanyment with the richer voices of the mediteranian. The nose teases as glimpses of aromas come and go from the mix which as a whole is soft and inviting. On the palate the texture once again is bang on. A marvellous mouth feel both soft and oily. If only the finish lingered longer, we get quite a glow that fades rather than cuts off but even more would be better. Tastes are hard to unpick but the overall effect is to make a dangerously drinkable dram, on the night I refilled my glass. I can't point to why I like it as again there is no particular distinction but rather the complete effect is a success. Water thins most of the qualities but leads to chocolate mid finish. 04444444444555555666 a fine 49% (remember a middle of the road score is 45%- shoul be half way between disaster and perfection). 'The Queen (5)', 'inviting but poor finish', 'burnt sugar'.
Next was the treat: 33yo 43%. I can't remember the awards but there were two big ones - best Speyside in WWA at least I think. Of course awards are a mixed bag but this can be a useful indication of merit if not a guarantee of satisfaction. I am inherently sceptical of 'best' and the lke but when the systems in place at some of the awards are explained it would appear whatever wins has got to that point purely thanks to quality. Okay so I know how old it is but I'd like to think the nose, soft and comfortable as a quilt when you really need your bed, is clearly from that elite of drams who excel after years in wood. When this was made I was still in primary school. It always humbles me when I stop to think of the time that has passed and the events whisky this old has lived through simply sitting in a cask waiting to be bottled and enjoyed. Being a man of modest means and illiterate in many disciplines I find the ability to enjoy a whisky like this, to recognise the privilege it is to savour what to others is an unfathomable obsession is quite a relief. In other words 'yum'. Not being unfamiliar with whisky I know what I like and am constantly telling customers 'don't be fooled by age' - just like people maturity is no direct function of time. However if I was to list my favourite drams I expect there would be a heavy bias towards the older ones. A friend likewise blessed with experience said older whiskies did not do it for him. Can anybody out there say the same? Surely we must try many more younger drams thanks to their greater reach due to cost and abundance but is there something only present in well aged malts and blends that makes the difference in these fewer examples? If so can we point to a rough period when the corner is turned? 15yo, 18yo, 21yo, 25yo. Of course different malts do well at different ages but what is the magic element(s)? This one has it. Beautiful wood smoke emerges that wasn't first noticed in my hurry and otherwise everything fits like a velvet tongue glove. 034445666666677777788 the winner on 63%. 'Fergie (0)', 'wow'.
Next (I promise to keep the waffle down) another feisty number 12yo 46% port wood finish unchillfiltered, natural colour. I've been trying this a fair bit and nust say it is a bit of a 'moment dram'. Right now is a good time but on other occassions the classy, dark Christmms fruits, impressive body and nicely developing and lingering finish have come across quite brash and clumsy. These drams are frustrating and I imagine the individual is the problem not the whisky although it would be interesting to find out if there are certain bottlings that a number of people share this experience with. We choose clothes, food and music for certain moods and occassions and whisky is the same. Here the bold port character works well but being a fan of sherry and, progressively, red wine maturation/finishes this was likely to be for me anyway. Voting shows this is not universal- 01111122224444566788 - a lowly 41% but with quite a polarity of scores even if concentrated at the lower end. Water takes away the nip but it wasn't too unwelcome, again good texture replaces speed and brightness with a flightier style. 'Prince Andrew (0)', 'pleasant'.
Finally we discover just how diverse this distillery is. They bottle at 10yo, 12yo, 14yo, 16yo, 21yo, 33yo, a couple of wood finishes and two peat influenced expressions as well as the occassional special release. The distillery isn't small but it is only under the present owners that we have been able to try such a varied selection of character. 'Old ballantruan', named after one of the water sources is bottled at 50% and is not chill-filtered. There is no age statement like its sibling 'Peaty Tang' which is botled at 40%. This is another hit or miss outing for me. Now the nose is making sense but more often I find it agressive and unsophisticated. It reminds me of some Springbanks and coincidently I believe Springbank has used the same peat. On the palate a sweetness is evident and unexpected, new Bourbon casks? Although fine if big at bottling strength water brings out the manure on the nose without drastically changing the palate beyone shifting the sweetness around a bit. I must admit to being very impressed right now and wonder will this influence later tastes. Curious. 011111222244445667888 again an unconfident 41% despite some, limited, high praise. 'Princess Diana (6)', 'and I can afford it- hooray', 'PEAT', 'too much farmyard'.
My thanks go to Douglas and Robert for their support and the boys who helped set up the tasting on the night- it was a wee bit hectic, cheers. Next tasting same place same time 12th May the line up is yet to be finalised but probably: Springbank Society Local Barley 11yo recharred sherry butt 57.9%, possibly Lidl 30yo 40% single malt, Bains South African single grain or High West 21yo rye, Springbank 18yo 46% 2011 release or Dream Drams North of Scotland 37yo single grain, Royal Mile Whiskies Talisker 23yo refill sherry cask or SMWS Port Charlotte or Creative Whisky Company's Laphroaig 20yo...details to be confirmed. Until next time...