In the beginning of 2014, a great many red-blooded, whiskey-drinking Americans were saddened, incensed, and apparently betrayed somehow to find out that Japanese beverage giant Suntory, was buying Beam Inc. Such was the outrage that the quintessentially American Jim Beam brand was now owned by a foreign company that many of these red-blooded, whiskey drinking Americans (true patriots all, I’m sure) poured their Jim Beam down the drains in some sort of…protest, I guess. A fairly stupid gesture, if you ask me, but then again, the U.S. is increasingly known for its futile gestures and lack of intelligence. I’m sure it never occurred to these people that many iconic “American” brands are now foreign owned. I’m sure it never occurred to these people that most of what we buy/own/wear/eat/drive is now made in foreign lands by foreign companies, but again…that’s good ol’ ‘Merica for you.
While this acquisition might have raised a few eyebrows and ires amongst knee-jerk Americans who like to waste cheap booze, those in the whisky world knew that it was simply one more ownership change in an ever-consolidating industry, and certainly not the first time a Japanese company has waded into foreign whisky waters. Hell, this wasn’t even the first time a Japanese Company snatched up an American bourbon company. Kirin Brewery Co. has owned Four Roses since 2002 when they bought it from a British company who briefly owned it after buying it from an Italian company. I don’t remember any reports of grossly misplaced outrage aimed at Four Roses, though perhaps that was because the Four Roses that was on the shelves at that time was outrageously gross.
In an effort to get to the point here, Tomatin, the somewhat large and somewhat largely unheralded distillery this long-winded review is about, was actually the first distillery outside of Japan, purchased by a Japanese company. In 1986, two Japanese companies formed the Tomatin Distillery Co., and bought the distillery from its long-time owners, Tomatin Distillers Co. Ltd. In 1998, it changed hands again with the Japanese company Marubeni buying out their fellow countrymen. Tomatin has a relatively large production capacity, with the majority of its output going towards blended whiskies including the Marubeni-owned brands, Antiquary and Talisman. However, for the last several years, the distillery has successfully focused more and more on its single malts, expanding the core range, and releasing several single cask vintages. In 2013, the range was expanded further by the introduction of the peated Cù Bòcan expression. This independently bottled 10 year old from the Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range was aged solely in a sherry cask.
The Nose: Though a touch spirit-y, an interesting nose. Quite malt-y with milky caramel and powdered malted milk mix, along with some floral honey. Subtler, almost red wine-esque fruit notes follow – red grapes and under-ripe plums. There are strong, youthful, oak notes, but not much spice; a little nutmeg and grated ginger perhaps. Adding a little water allows those fruit notes to come forward more and adds a dusting of cocoa powder.
The Palate: Very nice. The palate expands quite a bit on the nose. Bigger red fruit notes, even a little jammy initially, are followed by a nice hot fudge sundae. Lovely hints of chocolate and salted nuts. Richer, slightly hot, spice notes of oak (both sawn and polished), cinnamon, vanilla bean, and mild pepper round things out. Water flattens out the early complexity a bit, bringing up more vanilla and only toning down a little, the youngish spice at the end.
The Finish: Medium-ish, nicely tannic and grippy, with dark Mexican chocolate, oak, and pepper.
Thoughts: A really nice surprise. While I found the nose of this interesting, I also found it a bit young and lacking in depth. The wonderful palate, however, really stole the show. The sherry influence is not strong but it’s present throughout, shining best at strength on the palate. While the youth is also evident throughout, I think there’s a beguiling complexity here that would make this one a pleasure to come back to. Recommended.
The Exclusive Malts 2004 Tomatin 10 Year Old, Highland, IB, ~2014