Tomatin – The Softer Side of the Highlands
By Margaret Swaine
Named “Distiller of the Year” at the Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards 2016, the Tomatin Distillery Co Ltd has been on people’s tongues for centuries if not exactly top of mind. During the seventies it was the largest single malt distiller in the world, though not well known outside of industry circles as most of the whisky ended up in blends – until about fifteen years ago.
Johnnie Walker, J&B, Chivas Regal, Dewars and Ballantine’s all have used Tomatin in their blends. Today the distillery produces two million litres per annum of whisky with half a million litres laid down for single malt. The 14 working warehouses can store around 220,000 casks. It all started long ago.
The Tomatin area in the Monadhliath Mountains in the Highlands of Scotland, 16 miles south of Inverness, has been a producer of malt whisky since the 15th century. Originally it was produced illegally by the local laird who owned the land where the modern day distillery is located. The first formal licenced distillery came into operation in 1897.
Tomatin is a community distillery: 80% of the employees live in housing on the site which is provided by the company. It’s one of the last of these special type of distilleries left in the country and loyalty among employees is strong. Between them, the Master Distiller, Cooper, Head Mash Man, Head Stillman and Warehouse Manager have worked at the Distillery for over 180 years.
Tomatin (rhymes with satin) is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland at 315 metres above sea-level. The waters of the Alt-na-Frith (Freeburn) run pure from the mountains over granite rock, collecting few minerals. This soft water leads to a soft, delicate whisky. Hence their slogan “The Softer Side of the Highlands” is very apropos for the brand.
A few other factors help make Tomatin special. All the barley used is grown in Scotland by farmers with which the company has growers’ contracts to ensure quality and consistency. The pot stills are unique with long necks and an imposing ball in the neck to help create a reflux and ensure a nice soft final spirit. In addition they run the stills very slowly to make certain that none of the heavier flavours make it to the final cut.
Their ‘coup de grace’ is an in-house cooper who works with their casks which come directly from sherry bodegas, bourbon distilleries and other prime sources within the wine and spirit world. Experts believe that 70% of the final flavour in whisky comes from the wood, yet few distilleries in Scotland still employ their own cooper.
Japanese owned since 1986, about fifteen years ago the company changed focus from bulk whisky to brand blends and single malt. They have plans for steady growth of the core brands and some expressions. Recent repackaging efforts have resulted in a more upscale looking bottle that’s squatter and broader with classy colours. Watch for the new packaging to hit our shelves in about six months time.
Best news for whisky lovers – Tomatin has a good stable of older stocks, unlike many other Scottish distilleries which are running low.
Legacy is the newest edition to their core line and is a non-age statement entry level single malt aged in part in virgin wood. Tomatin 12 Year Old is a lightly sherried malt that’s the flagship of the range. Tomatin 14 Year Old is port wood finished which gives it a copper hue and fruity smoothness. Bourbon cask matured Tomatin 15 Year Old is about to disappear from the North American market so buy it while you can.
The delicious, full bodied Tomatin 18 Year Old is heavily sherried from time spent in oloroso sherry butts. Cù Bòcan is the lightly peated version of Tomatin – just 15 parts per million phenol in the distilled spirit – enough for a slight smokiness without the dominant reek of a highly peated malt. Cù Bòcan – The Sherry Edition – is lightly peated and finished in sherry casks. Only 6,000 bottles of this wonderful expression were produced so I suggest you stock up. The name in Gaelic means ghost dog and it’s easy to see how this would disappear quickly.
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More about Tomatin Distillery
OUR PRIDE. OUR PASSION. OUR PLACE.
At Tomatin, we are more than just another distillery. Since 1897, our people have worked hard to build the Tomatin community that exists today and lies at the heart of everything we do.
Tomatin Life is a celebration of our people, our place and, of course, our whisky. It is a taste of what makes Tomatin the ‘softer side of the Highlands’. Over the next few months, we invite you to share a dram and uncover #TomatinLife.
Please note: All fans must be over the legal drinking age in their country.