As most of you will know I’m a huge fan of the Tomatin distillery and I’m due to visit this week, I’m going to do the warehouse tour with my long suffering wife. For me the warehouse is where all the magic happens, I know the process of making the spirit is interesting but it doesn’t hold the same mystery as a warehouse full of sleeping casks.
When you think about what is going on in those silent warehouses. Every cask sat waiting patiently to be chosen but forever in a state of change, waiting for that moment perfection is reached. It fills me with a deep respect for the person who has to choose when that moment has arrived for each cask, it has to be a special person that takes on that responsibility. Deciding which cask is ready but more so how it will be used, will it be a single cask bottling or will it be used in vatting or blend. With so many variables to take into account and so much resting on those decisions, the people who take this role on deserve our uttermost respect.
The person who has taken on this role at Tomatin is Graham Eunson, someone who has definitely got my respect. He has released some very special expressions from Tomatin like the recent warehouse 6 1971 bottling. One expression that Graham released that really caught my attention was Contrast.
This was a limited release from Tomatin giving you a unique comparison on how maturation varies between casks. Graham hand picked and vatted casks from the same six years for each type for this expression. In the box you have two 35cl bottles one fully matured in Bourbon and the other fully matured in Spanish Sherry. With the intention that you could see, smell and taste how the spirit had matured differently in the two types of casks.
I thought this would give myself the perfect opportunity to see what the individual casks used in one of the core expression were like. With the intention to compare them against the 12yo and see which flavors of the casks combined stood out compared to the Contrasts separate casks. Seeing if they balanced each other or did one dominant, would I be able to pick out the individual casks?
So with that in mind I set about Sampling my purchases, first up was the Bourbon cask from the Contrast..
Nose: First note to hit me was golden syrup, then comes some sweet fruit, pineapple, clementine oranges, a hint of almonds, the usual vanilla you get from bourbon casks, after a while in the glass is got a soft barley note..
Palate: Sweet manuka honey, the lime and orange from the nose is present on the palate, so is the vanilla (maybe a vanilla custard cream biscuit), there is a nice sweet warm spice with a subtle oak undertone, leaving me with a lovely light mouth feel.
Finish: Is warm, sweet and light, medium in length very moreish..
After a quick cleanse of the palate I moved on to the Sherry cask..
Nose: Butterscotch was the first note I got, followed by some rasins and sultanas, a little hint of cinnamon and orange, with time I got a sweet stollen cake note and a soft treacle toffee note, a rich nose..
Palate: Rich dried fruit (rasins, dates, orange and lemon peel etc), some clove and pepper, a subtle hint of burnt caramel and toasted oak, with a dry spice coming through, leaving a think almost oily mouth feel..
Finish: This is long and rich, the toasted oak and dry spice staying on..
After trying the separate casks I moved on to the 12yo which is matured in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, wanting to see how the marriage of both casks types compared to the individual.
Nose: A soft sherry note was the first thing to hit me, then came the rich dried fruits, dates, sultanas, orange peel etc, there is a subtle vanilla note in the background, with more time in the glass I got a soft earthy herbal note..
Palate: Poached pears, apples, rasins, candid peel, a soft warm spice develops with the fruit, a sweet rich creamy toffee undertone is also present, giving a full mouth coating feel but not to heavy..
Finish: This is a long finish with a hint of charred oak, very mouth watering and moreish..
This little tasting has filled me with even more respect for those people who vat and blend the casks of maturing spirit, to get a perfect balance that allows flavors to come through from both casks without one dominating the other. In the 12yo I could pick out the influences of the two different casks types after tasting the Contrast first, the sherry is a little more dominant but I don’t know the ratio of casks used to say it’s because of the sherry alone. What it did highlight for me though is how much bourbon casks do influence our drinks when used but in a more subtle way, with the softer sweeter notes in the background.
More than anything it’s just filled me with more excitement about my upcoming warehouse tour. To spend just an hour or two with the guardians of knowledge in the presence of those slumbering casks, learning how to appreciate the lovely amber liquid even more than I already do..