Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Whisky Review: Tomatin 18 years Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The brittle leaves, once green, had turned custard yellow, clay brown, 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 fir green waxed cotton Barbour and Keith in his worn  and patched 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 an Italian sandwhich 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 echoed off the terra-cotta tile floor.  Roger liked this quirky artist friendly cafe with the gently whirring ceiling fans, skylights and glass bead doorway separating the kitchen from behind the counter.  A place where hemp necklaces, eyebrow piercings, Birkenstocks and back issues of Mother Jones did not seem out of the ordinary.  Patrons sip from recycled paper cups containing unbleached tea bags while their sedate, eco-friendly Subarus and Volvo wagons lie in wait curb side.

"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.

After some back and forth, 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, 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 non-chill filtered 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.

This bottle is not flawed, its just a style of whisky with less than ideal ex-sherry casks.  It tastes a lot like Tobermory, another less than stellar sherried malt.

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.  I can be bought, just not cheaply.  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.

Yours truly hemp necklace free,

Jason Debly