Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Whisky Review: Tomatin 18 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The brittle leaves, once green, had turned custard yellow, red, purple and every stained-glass shade  in between.  Nippy autumn gusts had scattered the kaleidoscopic foliage all over Roger's lawn.

Our friend had invited Keith and I over this sunny Saturday afternoon to ostensibly hang out, but what he really wanted was cheap labor to rake his yard.  While I look fairly rugged in my green Barbour and Keith in his military M65 field jacket, we are actually fairly averse to perspiration.  Yes, I know, shocking.

So, we were not warming up to these weekend plans, and instead made collective faux groans of tiredness over steaming espresso.  We hoped this near maudlin tactic tinged with a wee larceny would elicit some attempt at bribery from our good friend.

"You guys are shameless," Roger muttered in a bistro that morning.  He was sipping steaming Earl Grey with extra bergamot, and staring off at college-grade abstract canvasses hanging on the opposite exposed reddish-brown brick wall.  Suzanne Vega played quietly in the background.  Not my scene, but Roger liked the artist type cafe.  Hemp necklaces, piercings, Birkenstocks and all.

"Shameless?  Maybe," I thought to myself, and as if on cue, Keith and I resumed to catalogue our respective aches and pains to the point of harmonizing like Crosby, Stills & Nash at Woodstock.  Suzanne would have jammed with us if only her tour schedule permitted it.

In any event, after some back and forth bordering on brilliant call and response, we negotiated in exchange for our highly sought rake-wielding skill set: barbecued steaks in Cabernet-thyme sauce, adorned with pan fried mushrooms and sweet red onions, complimented by baguette, Gorgonzola cheese, spicy frites, and some Saint-Émilion vin Rog had tucked away.  I would supply the whisky.  Keith agreed to bear half that cost when he got paid next week, which meant I would bear the full cost.

Now, you may think that we were taking Roger for a ride, but he was paying for more than Fall leaf removal.  I had expertise to deliver in whisky meal pairing that he would benefit from for years.

I had to earn my supper, so I started thinking.

The question I had to ponder is what is an appropriate whisky in autumn that suitably compliments a steak-frites meal.

A Fall whisky has to be heavy.  Fairy dust light Lowland Scotches like Glenkinchie and Auchentoshan are for Spring.


Never with grilled steak!

Islay is for seafood.  Pair your Ardbeg with oysters or pan fried scallops in butter, a match made in heaven.

What about Speyside honey and spice whiskies like Cragganmore 12, Glenfiddich 15 and Dalwhinnie?

No!  Absolutely not!  They are orchid delicate.  The flavours and complexity are blotted out by the barbecued tenderloin and the spicy frites.

You need a malt flavour profile that can go toe-to-toe with a Gorgonzola and still be there in the 12th round!

You need a sherried malt, hell, a sherry bomb.  Think GlenDronach, Glenfarclas, Macallan, Balvenie 15.  So, in that vein, I thought I would try something new: Tomatin 18 years.  The Tomatin 14 years in Portwood was a dream and suitable, so the 18 should be better.

Tomatin 18 years single malt Scotch is aged for fifteen years in bourbon hogsheads (purportedly Maker's Mark), and then finished for a further three years in first fill Oloroso sherry butts.  With an ABV of 46% this malt should have the strength of flavour and character to not be bullied over by barbecued steak in rustic Gaulic gravy.

Nose (undiluted)
Powerful, punchy red fruit, you smell sherry big time, but woody too, all chased by Cabernet Sauvignon notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet red licorice quickly turning to bold sherry.  Mid-palate there is a transition to steak spice, Montreal Steak Spice, Lea and Perrins, or in other words Worcester sauce.

Finish (undiluted)
Tarragon, sage, summer savoury, oak, too woody, damp wood, and in some way is spoilt.  Part your lips and breath and taste stale cigarette.

General Impressions
For an 18 year old single malt, this disappoints.  It lacks complexity of flavours, the sherry tastes old, stale and somehow spoilt.  There is a funkiness, a barnyard quality and Worcester sauce on the finish that makes you wish you had your money back.  My gut feeling is that there is a problem with wood management.  The quality of casks is just not up to snuff.

Many 12 year old sherried malts would deliver equally well, if not better:  GlenDronach 12 comes to mind.

. . .

What did Roger think?

He liked the funky finish of barnyard and spoilt sherry.  He said it was distinctly French and something uncouth Anglophones like me could not understand.  That's ok, I am content to listen to a Francophile, hailing from Lancashire, spout forth, as I smoke his last Cuban Ramon Allones.  I can be bought.  So can Keith, our Chinese Canadian friend, who takes another swig of Saint-Émilion vin.  We can even endure some more Suzanne Vega if need be.

Jason Debly