I find the sharing of a dram with friends one of life’s simplest but most satisfying experiences. It’s all very well sitting down each evening and taking a systematic approach to tasting and reviewing whisky for this site – but sometimes there’s much more pleasure to had just kicking back and enjoying whisky for what it is. There are few better places to do that than with the lovely folks attending Dramboree this weekend.
Commencing tomorrow and now in its sixth (and possibly last – at least in its current incarnation) year, Dramboree is taking place at Rowandennen Lodge on the shores of Loch Lomond. The event brings together enthusiasts from across the world for a gathering that’s about more than just whisky appreciation (thought there’s certainly a lot of that along the way) – there’s a real focus on people, friendship and sharing - and this is what really makes this weekender one of the highlights of my whisky year.
A big part of the Dramboree experience is the ‘dram table’ – a veritable cornucopia of bottlings as diverse as the events’ attendees. Last year there was some 150 bottles - many fantastic, some oddly interesting and a handful best forgotten (Fujikai 10 year old being last year’s most/least memorable example). In many ways it really doesn’t matter which bottle(s) you bring to the dram table – it isn’t a fashion parade – the emphasis is firmly on enjoyment and exploration with friends. Nevertheless, seeing as this is potentially the final Dramboree (boo!), I’ve spent a lot of time and thought in selecting my dram table bottle.
My pick this year is the 25 year old Tullibardine from the Stillman’s Dram series. It’s a whisky I’ve had snaffled away for quite some time, and Dramboree feels like the perfect environment to share it at. It is stone cold delicious and a wonderful example of a well-aged, exceedingly balanced whisky. It’s got a bit of history, and being an older bottling is rarely seen out in the wild beyond the confines of auctions houses, where the price now is considerable more than I originally paid for it. I’m going to be treated to an abundance of exciting and interesting whiskies this weekend – so this bottlings feels like the right mix of quality, history and interest to treat everyone else with. Sharing is caring.
As far as I can tell, the Stillman’s Dram series first started with four bottles of Tamnavulin produced in the mid 1980’s and composed of late 60s/early 70s distillate. The series was not properly seen again for another 15 years until the turn of the millennium, when Whyte and MacKay produced 35 expressions from 8 different distilleries (Bruichladdich, Dalmore, Fettercairn, Invergordon, Jura, Tamnavulin, Tomintoul and Tullibardine) over a five year period. Most distilleries featured in the Stillman’s Drams received a handful of bottlings. Tamnavulin however, as the origin of the series (and mothballed shortly before these newer bottlings) got the lion’s share of the attention with 12 unique age-statement expressions from 21 up to 35 years of age. Tullibardine featured in the series three times with 25, 27 and 30 year old bottlings.
The 25 year old Tullibardine was bottled at the turn of the millennium – ergo the spirit was produced around 1975 – when the distillery was still owned by its founder Invergordon Distillers. It’s a pure ex-bourbon cask matured whisky and is bottled at 45% ABV.
Nose: Expressive, fruity and proudly wearing its age on its sleeve. Floral honey, peaches and overripe bananas provide sweetness that is tempered by waxy furniture polish, charred wood and some slightly mineral undertones – steel and hard lacquered wood surfaces. There are touches of both grassiness and breadiness that side alongside spicing – pepper and saffron. The addition of water adds deeper aromas – gold leaf tobacco, barley water and mossy forest greens.
Taste: A silky arrival that focuses on orange zest, melons and well-aged polish flavours. Soils and old wet woods are at the fore an deliver increasingly intense sharp and bitter spicing with a real focus on pepperiness. There’s honey and golden syrup sweetness which is juxtapositioned against the underlying minerality of the spirit – now in the form of coal dust. Reduced, the fruits become soft and syrupy – rather like apricots stored in their own juices. The steeliness is increased, part aged-wood polish, part burnt and slightly charred. The balance throughout is notable – everything has its place – nothing feels jarring here.
Finish: Long and steady drying throughout. Earthiness and dunnage floors mix with a healthy dash of prickly pepper spicing.
This Tullibardine is an epitome of both an older style of whisky and of balance. The aged characteristics are well on display – maturation has been active – but the spirit still has plenty of room to shine here. There’s a near perfect combination of sweetness, spice and sourness making for a whisky that is balanced from nose through to finish. I’ve had several of the Stillman’s Dram whiskies over the years and they’ve all been exceedingly good – this is no exception. I hope the good folks of Dramboree enjoy this one as much as I do.