I’ve been planning to visit the Tomatin distillery since the end of May, but due to work commitments and illness at work it kept getting postponed. Then at the end of October I final got the opportunity to go and I jumped at the chance. I was looking forward to spending a nice weekend visiting Tomatin and a couple of other distilleries, as usual life got in the way and I was going to have to cut it short. so I decided with the help of my ever suffering wife I’d do a round trip to do the tour. My tour was booked for 10:30 on the Friday morning, with that in mind we set off on the drive upto Tomatin in the very early hours of the morning (at 1 am to be precise).
After a quite uneventful long drive I was sat in Cobbs cafe in Aviemore high street, with the wife having a lovely coffee and morning pastry. I must say the staff and service in there was excellent and would highly recommended it if your passing by. The rest of the journey to Tomatin took us about 25 minutes, now it’s been a few years since I was last at Tomatin and a few things have changed as you would expect. The most obvious was the grains plant that dominated the skyline the first time I visited was gone. Somethings don’t change and I was glad that as I drove upto the visitors centre, I passed the village built for the workers at the distillery. Still the picture postcard beautiful I remembered from my last visit and a place I could most definitely live.
At the visitors centre I was greeted by Scott and welcomed to Tomatin, asking me if he could help in anyway, I told him I was booked on a tour and gave him my details. He told me that we were just waiting for a few other people to turn up who had booked the tour as well, this gave me time to have a wander around the gift shop and watch the new updated video about the distillery. It was while I was doing my window shopping and planning the little extras I was intending to add to the list that I got to meet one of the true gentlemen of Tomatin. To meet Robert Anderson a gentleman I’ve spoken to on twitter for about a year in person was a great honour for me, being able to talk to him not just about Tomatin but about life in general and seeing the passion for his job alive and as strong as ever was a pleasure. This is one of the reasons I love Tomatin so much, no matter what your position is within the company from tour guide to mash man or CEO. The dedication and passion to produce the best quality malt possible is always present and visible.
When everyone had arrived and was ready to start, Scott gathered us together and set off taking us on our tour. I had decided I wanted to do the single cask tour for a more in depth experience. The tour started with Scott talking to us about the distillery and a little bit of its history, he also told us that we were allowed to take photos just about everywhere in the distillery except a couple of places and he would let us know when we were not allowed. The first area we entered was the malt storage and the huge red malt bins, with a little display about the malt and the process it goes through before arriving at the distillery. As we moved on to the see the mills that grind the malt to grist and the mash tuns, here Scott stopped and answered any questions we had about the process. Being patient as we asked our questions waiting as some wrote the answers down.
Tomatin has a unique advantage over every other distillery I’ve been to, in that you have the opportunity to have a look inside a mash tun. This is not just a look through a glass window, you get to walk inside and see every detail up close. This is because they have cut the side out of one to use it as part of the tour, a unique and great experience to us whisky geeks. Moving on at very steady pace we worked our way through the distillation process, with Scott keeping the tour quite informal and fun with lots of information for us to absorb. As we moved on to the next part of the tour, we moved in to the next set of buildings and this is where my interest was really peaked. As I entered all I could see was row after row of casks waiting to be filled, we had a chance to nose a few of the different cask types used while Scott explained the process of filling the casks. It was while we talking about the different effects casks have on maturation that Scott told us about the origin of the 1989 Cu Bocan release (which I’ll save for when I get to review it), we were then shown the distilleries own cooper’s workshop where all the cask maintenance is done.
From here it was on to one of the two dunnage warehouses that Tomatin have, this has got to be the place were any whisky lover wants to be. To be let loose in a warehouse like this to explore and nose and sample the maturing casks, would be the stuff of dreams for me especially at Tomatin. We also got chance to see some of the casks that could possibly be used for the warehouse 6 collection, there is some excellent years available for that collection with one of the oldest casks Tomatin have already being mentioned as a possible special release. From here Scott showed us into the sensory room and our guided tasting. We were to sample the complete bottle your own range with a sample of the latest new make as well. I’ll go through the tasting notes for the bottle your own at a latter date but I must agree with Scott our guide, the 1990 and the PX were my favourites followed by the Virgin Oak. From here it was back to the gift shop for a bit of retail therapy for yours truly.
As I’ve said before I’m a big fan of Tomatin (driving 800 miles there and back in one day to do a tour says it all), this is not just because of the quality of the malt they produce. It’s more because at Tomatin it’s a way of life for everyone who works there, it’s not just a job it’s a passion. To hear Scott talking about his experience working at Tomatin and how he loves being there, showed it was not just the people who have done it all there lives that have this passion but the young up and coming workers to. This combined with the great whisky is why I love Tomatin so much, it might not been the prettiest distillery to look at (the area is beautiful though) but I think you’ll be hard pushed to find a more passionate and welcoming distillery to visit.
I would like to say a big thank you to Scott Eunson our tour guide for the day, he always had some interesting little bits of information for us to digest. He made the tour very interesting but kept it informal and fun, I look forward to him taking me on my next tour when I revisit next year. I would also like to say thank you to Robert for taking the time out of his busy day to meet me, it was a great pleasure and I hope to get chance to do it again sometime. I can’t recommend enough the tour at Tomatin, be it a brief visit or a more in depth tour you’d like. They have something to suit everyone and a passion that makes you leave the place with a big smile on your face, knowing you’ve been somewhere special.
So until next year..