It’s the power of smell. Distinctive smells like cut grass and coffee and baking bread. I was recently given a bottle of Tomatin 18-Year-Old whisky, and this evening I decided to open it and try a wee dram. I took the cork out and sniffed at the neck of the bottle. Bam. I was transported back to my first visit to Jerez in Spain, and I was in a sherry cellar again. I was walking into Gonzalez Byass or Harvey’s, seeing the banks of barrels and inhaling that potent aroma.
It isn’t surprising as the Tomatin spends the last two and a half years of its life in Oloroso Sherry casks, having been transferred from the traditional oak casks in which it starts its maturation. I was getting so much pleasure from this whisky for that mental trip to Andalucia and my introduction to sherry, and I hadn’t even tasted it yet.
I’ve never visited Tomatin but have seen this Highland distillery several times from the A9 when driving to and from Inverness, which is about 15 miles to the north. The white buildings look so inviting from the road, but we’ve always been whizzing past with somewhere we have to get to. Next time I can see that the somewhere we have to get to will be Tomatin.
The distillery’s been there in the wonderfully-named Monadhliath Mountains since 1897. The name does sound better in the Gaelic as it translates simply as ‘the grey mountain range,’ which isn’t half as appealing. It’s the mountains, though, from which the water of the Alt-na-Frith burn runs, which Tomatin uses as its water source, along with local barley.
It’s very much a local community distillery, too, with 80% of the workers living on the site in 30 purpose-built homes, and many of the families have been there for generations. Cooper Allan Bartlett, for example, lives there with his family while Production Manager Charlie Edwards has been there for 41 years, having arrived at the age of three.
It’s the kind of heart-warming story that appeals to me about distilleries, the people behind them being as important and as interesting as what’s in the bottles. And influencing what’s in the bottles, of course. Will my 18-Year-Old be heart-warming too?
On the nose my sherry memory is a little less intense than it was in the narrow neck of the bottle. It’s still there, but the cellar smell’s mellowed by some sweetness, and the zing of a fresh apple aroma too. It’s definitely a satisfying and balanced blend of scents. That sweetness is also there on the palate, with a rich honeyness about it, but as with the aroma there’s a balance going on and there’s the unmistakable thickness of a chocolatey taste coming through as well. And at 46% ABV it’s certainly as heart-warming as the stories of the people who make it.