Over the last 2 years, I’ve noticed that Tomintoul’s owner Angus Dundee (who also own Glencadam) have been nose to the grindstone promoting expressions from both their distilleries. I’ve seen them at whisky shows both large and in some cases particularly small – usually with the same line-up of whiskies, but taken as a whole, a particularly broad offering (with plenty of age-statements). And yet to my mind there’s an issue. It’s not one of depth – there’s lots on offer here. Likewise, whilst some might argue the contrary, I don’t believe it’s an issue of quality nor of style – if you’re only looking for peat monsters, fair enough, move on. No, the problem I see with Angus Dundee’s range – in particular with Tomintoul - is one identity.
There’s a fine line between emphasising tradition and appearing old fashioned. From the outside this might simply seem a case of needing a makeover – a lick of paint, some new bells and whistles. Perhaps that’s something to consider. But, to my mind, that’s skirting the real issue. What exactly is Tomintoul’s offering? It has been described as a ‘the gentle dram’ for longer than I can remember – but does this really do the range (which now includes well-aged, vintage and peat influenced expressions) justice? Likewise, and more fundamentally, does it feel in step with the current market? There’s plenty of ‘smooth’ <shudder> whiskies out there – so what makes ‘gentle’ a particularly appealing trait? I suspect in years gone by, its positioning as an easy-drinking malt has had resonance for those looking for lighter alternatives – however in a crowded buoyant market – this feels off trend and likewise not entirely indicative of the range of whiskies Tomintoul is actually producing.
Certainly, having lighter styles of whiskies for those that prefer it, and as introductions to a category that can at times be intimidating is a good thing. But when most of the expressions are described in virtually the same way (‘loving crafted from a selection of the finest casks’ etc). You do start to wonder if Angus Dundee’s marketeers are just as lost with the brand proposition as many of us.
Tomintoul 14 year old stands differently to much of the distillery’s range – it’s bottled at 46% ABV and without chill filtering. A smart move and somewhat baffling that this has yet to be replicated across other Tomintoul age statement releases. The higher ABV reaffirms what many of us know to be true – that you don’t need to work to the lowest common denominator of 40% to produce a whisky that can still be easy-drinking. Indeed, the extra oomph and lack of filtering should add more discernible character to the whisky. This said, to label the bottle as ‘high strength’ seems once again to show a brand proposition largely out of touch with the market. There’s little more to be said about what goes into making Tomintoul 14 year old – presumably ex-bourbon casks, but that’s not stated.
Nose: A strong sense of ‘green’. Granny Smith apples, gooseberries, greengages and grass. And a strong sense of aromas starting with the letter ‘g’ it seems. Plenty of maltiness, but restrained by some of the barley’s natural sweetness. Toffee, butterscotch and honey sit with ginger, cream crackers and an edge of tart brassiness. Reduction (and to a degree resting) emphasises orchard fruits – pears and some riper and redder apple varietals.
Taste: The arrival delivers a rather successful combination of clingy mouthfeel alongside tangy fruitiness – almost carbonated. Dainty, but far from unassuming and at the right ABV. Similarly to the nose, we’re in apple and pear territory for the most part. But the development does have a story to tell – through malts and cereals onto spices (ginger and pepper) and dusty earthiness and finally herbs – mint leaves and menthol. The addition of water provides more of a weight difference than a flavour one – juicier, fresher ripe fruits with less mouth adherence but more silkiness. That said, this really is quaffable stuff, so there’s no actual need to water it other than for personal interest.
Finish: Short to medium, with white pepper and fresh grassiness
Tomintoul 14 year old is largely understated and certainly laid-back (like much of the distillery’s range). But, it’s also spirit-forward and entirely relaxed in its own skin. There’s no hiding behind the cask here – virtually all the aromas and flavours come from the distillate itself. Granted, in the grand scheme of big brassy whiskies, Tomintoul can seem rather unassuming to some – but, there’s an honesty here – whereas other whiskies will deliver much more punchy flavour, there’s often a disconnect between the relationship between the spirit and the wood. Not here. This is pretty naked. And I find that rather admirable. Perhaps this natural style is both more in step with the current market, and more of a selling point than its gentle style?