Tomintoul Whisky Tasting Debrief | The Clydeside Distillery
On Thursday the 20th of February we were lucky enough to welcome both Iain and Erin from Angus Dundee – despite a Valentine’s Day injury that had left Iain with a bandaged hand and a ban from his kitchen. It feels as though a storm raging outside of our monthly tastings is now part of the experience but Iain brought a light and gregarious mood to the Clydeside that really warmed the room; matched only by his light and easy ‘gentle dram’s. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the Tomintoul range while the majority of the whiskies also remained true to those ‘gentle’ characteristics. We were also surprised by Iain’s generosity as he let everyone try, *drum roll please*, the Tomintoul Five Decades. A luscious dram indeed. Perhaps a new favourite discovered on the night was actually the 16. This whisky managed to balance light, airy and fine flavours with an interesting texture; discover more in the body of our blog!
A great host, Iain started off by asking his guests whether they would prefer to begin with some information about Angus Dundee or with the first dram. The people of The Clydeside chose the dram.
Tomintoul 10 lives up to its epithet by bringing in some lightly malty and sweet notes on the nose with, for us, an overarching strong floral taste on the palate. Something akin to freshly cut violets. Being so light it would make an excellent Introduction to Whisky for anyone with whisky novice friends who may have a more delicate palate. Iain let us in on the interesting production factors that help to create this soft flavour.
Tomintoul Single Malt Whiskies.
The nuance starts with the mill. These guys have got what Iain called ‘a big red box’ and which one guest rightly pointed out was also known as a Porteus Mill. For those not in the know, a Porteus Mill could be found in whisky distilleries from the 1900s and could be identified by its red colouring and excellent design. In fact, the story goes that the design was so excellent that none ever needed replacing and by the end of the century the Porteus company had gone bust. You can still find these relics dotted about the country, working away. As well as Tomintoul there are also some in Blair Athol and Aberfeldy, for example. Iain told us that their particular mill leaves their grist with a lot of husk fragments. These little jaggy pieces then have a job to do in the Mash Tun - they add an extra filter to the process, making sure the wash is extra silky and smooth. This is part of the reason why Tomintoul is so light and sweet with what we have decided is a silky mouthfeel.
If you’re not entirely sure what was just described, witnessing the action for yourself often makes it easier to understand so we would recommend a trip to The Clydeside Distillery to get to grips with the Art of making Scotch Whisky. You’ll be an expert on Mash Tuns in no time.
Before you go off to receive your whisky education we have some more aspects of the Tomintoul distillery to tell you about, ones that are perhaps more universally relatable: it is located in the village of Tomintoul by the river Avon in an area which, according to Iain, feels like it has twice as many sheep as people. Tomintoul is in Speyside, which is the region with the most single malt distilleries. So, it’s a region with a lot of sheep and a lot of whisky. Furthermore, here at The Clydeside, we have been pronouncing Tomintoul wrong. We have been calling it ‘Tom-in-tool’ whereas actually it is to be pronounced ‘Tom-in-towl’ – as in, ‘God it's so rainy outside I’m drenched, where is my tom-in-towel?’.
We have found with the last few tastings that the speakers prefer to lead with the flavour of their whiskies rather than age; Iain’s was no different and as such our second whisky of the night was the Tomintoul 16. This ‘Tomintowel’ was significantly older than the last and yet shared a surprising number of characteristics. For one, it had the same silky mouthfeel. For us, the strongest consistency was the fresh violet flavour but here it was tempered with a stronger biscuit note and a more intense, creamy finish. This consistent flavour may be a result of the interesting mash that we previously mentioned or perhaps it is also down to their pot stills. Iain shared with us that Tomintoul’s pot stills are almost as tall as the Glenmorangie giraffes and quite chunky too. So much surface area plus an ascending lyne arm creates a lot of reflux and a very light spirit indeed. Similarly to the 10, this whisky is matured in bourbon casks, the difference here being that for the 16 they use a higher proportion of 1st and 2nd fill bourbon casks for extra vanilla sweetness.
Pot Stills at Tomintoul Distillery
The next whisky we tried was the Tomintoul 14, which had even more bourbon influence with around 2/3rds of the maturation done in first-fill bourbon casks. This really came through on the nose with a much heavier vanilla aroma as well as some more oaky, spicy notes. This whisky was more warming on the palate owing to its higher proof at 46%. Despite these changes the lightness we found in the first two drams was still there; it was sharper due to the alcohol but still silky on the palate. This interesting adaptation is part of a limited release of Tomintoul: there were only around 8,000 bottles created to sell.
Yet the next whisky we tried was even more limited, The Tomintoul 15 Portwood Finish. We were all treated to a sample of the 2nd batch release of this tasty dram of which only 4,800 bottles were created. Iain revealed that ruby port casks were used for maturation which gave the whisky the juicy, sweet flavours associated with red berries. Ruby port, he explained, tends to give whisky these juicier flavours whereas tawny port may impart a drier, more nutty flavour. These red fruit notes combined well with the fresh, light, violet base flavours of Tomintoul to create a really vibrant dram. Interestingly enough there was also a pepper spice note to it too, creating a very warming effect. Whereas the previous whiskies had been silky, this one had a velvety texture.
The next dram was even more limited still; our fourth whisky was The Tomintoul Five Decades. For this whisky, the Master Distiller Robert Fleming chose casks from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s to create a single malt that would represent all of the decades that Tomintoul has been in operation. There were 6,000 bottles of this fine liquid created, 770 of which were not available for sale as they were given to friends of the distillery. As Iain aptly put it, ‘some old malts taste like biting into an old table’: if a whisky has spent 50 years in a cask then it may become oversaturated with oaky flavours. The Five Decades does not fall into that trap, instead miraculously keeping that fresh violet undertone while adding the warm, developed flavours you expect from a longer maturation. This whisky was buttery on the palate with a fresh fruity flavour that brought it to life. Like a very zesty and sumptuous lemon cheesecake. If you were looking to purchase one of these limited single malts The Clydeside have managed to hold onto two bottles in our Premium Retail section.
Tomintoul Five Decades
We finished off in classic style with a smoky whisky: The Tomintoul Peaty Tang. With such a light signature style Iain explained that making a peaty whisky every year is a high-risk move; they have to clean all nooks and crannies of the distillery very thoroughly afterwards with ‘10 full flushes’ to make sure no smoky notes will sneak into their spirit. For the five weeks of the year that they do use peated malt apparently, ‘peat reek lingers in the valley’; it sounds intense. They use a local maltings and specifically Highland peat for this expression which keeps any salty or harsh flavours out of the spirit. On the nose, it is similar to a Caol Ila or the independent bottling The Big Strand in that it is peaty but light and sweet-smelling. On the palate, it starts like smoky-bacon and finishes like an oak bonfire. An interesting addition to the Tomintoul collection!
By the end of the night a lot of our guests felt much more knowledgeable about a distillery they may not previously have heard much about. Many people we spoke to were also pleased to have tried such a special whisky as The Five Decades. Our thanks go out to Iain and Erin, for bringing light and laughter to the distillery that night.