Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra)

First of all, let’s just all agree right away that at four to six years old, this Very Old Barton is not very old at all. Granted, “very old” is a pretty damn relative term. A six year old banana, for example, would widely be considered “very old”, whereas a six year old Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra)  would widely be considered a young toddler. As a completely unrelated aside, I just learned that the name Galápagos is derived from the old Spanish, galápago, meaning (possibly)…”tortoise”. Therefore, a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is basically a Tortoise’s Tortoise, with, I’m assuming, the implication being that among Tortoises, the Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the loftiest breed of tortoise you could ever want to meet. Given that a Galápagos Tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) can weigh up to 550 lbs.(!) and live to be 170 years old, I think we can also all agree the name is apt.

VOB-green 86As I was saying, Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey…is not very old. Even by whisk(e)y standards, it’s not very old. Very old bourbon is, what the hell, let’s say 20 years old or more. Six year old bourbon is still in the horribly awkward stage where you date all the wrong people, commit completely to a philosophy, or author, or band which, 10 years down the road, you’ll wince at the memory of. This isn’t to say six year old bourbon isn’t good, it can be very, very good…it’s just not “very old”. Plus, these days, we don’t even know how old Very Old Barton is. Sure, by law, it’s gotta be at least two years old, but past that, it’s not an exact science. It used to say “6 years old” on the bottle, but, in late 2013 (I think), in a stroke of marketing genius, Buffalo Trace, removed the “years” and the “old” part of “6 years old” and just left a rather ambiguous “6” up there on the neck of the bottle. If you need more background on the subject, I’ll refer you to the always excellent Sku’s Recent Eats who looked into the move a bit more completely 

IMG_6528
Six hand crafted what?

Why the fuck would you do away with the age statement on a bottle of whisk(e)y, yet decide to keep the number of that former age statement on the label of the bottle? I understand opting for a non-age statement version, it eases supply demands, and makes things more flexible for a company. I don’t really care for the idea, but I understand it. But to change a brand’s age yet decide to keep the most prominent indicator of that age on the label is sneaky at best, definitely shameful, nefarious at worst, and just a little asshole-ish in general. So, just in case you’re fondling a bottle of Very Old Barton, just know that the “6” on the bottle’s neck is only an indicator of Sazerac’s/Buffalo Trace’s great desire to more or less fool you into thinking you’re buying something you’re really not.

Ok, with all that hot-headed wind-baggery out of the way, we can finally take a look the actual bourbon inside a bottle of Very Old Barton. Distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery (formerly known as Old Tom), and aged for approximately four to six years, Very Old Barton comes in a variety of alcohol-by-volume guises: an 80 proof, the 86 proof we’re looking at here, a 90 proof and a bottled-in-bond 100 proof.

The Nose:  A nice, straightforward, “bourbon” nose. Carmel corn and baked apple are responsible for much of the sweetness, with a little orange juice thrown in for good measure. Balanced nicely by some vanilla bean, cinnamon & sugar toast, and damp, sawn oak. Subtler notes of coconut creme, Christmas spice, and burnt toffee in the background.

The Palate:  A bit punchier than the nose with early brown sugar and orange sweetness, and quite a bit more vanilla. A bit of boiled sweet corn makes an appearance as well. While the rye is still very subtle, it’s more present on the palate than the nose. Slightly edgy oak leads to spicier notes of cinnamon, clove, and black pepper.

The Finish:  The finish grows a little minty hot and quickly tannic and drying with oaky cinnamon and clove and briefly lingering hints of that boiled sweet corn.

Thoughts:  Very Old Barton has a reputation of being a unheralded yet excellent value bourbon, and I’d say I have to agree with that. There’s nothing earth-shattering happening here, it’s a fairly straightforward, high-corn-mashbill bourbon, but it progresses nicely and is fairly well-balanced. There are some sharp edges to it, but I found it much smoother than expected. The quite dry, somewhat spirit-y finish comes out of nowhere a bit, but overall, this is a terrific bourbon for the money. Usually found for around $12-$16, I think I’d even have to say this just edges out my usual go-to cheap bourbon, Evan Williams.

Very Old Barton Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky, bourbon, OB ~2014

43% abv

Score:  80

*As a completely unrelated aside, I usually like to include my own pics of bottles when I can, but in this case, the label was quite askew in one direction and the actual bottle was misshapen and leaned a bit in the other direction. I tried taking pictures of it, but to be honest, the pics looked so off, they made me a little sick-to-my-stomach to even look at ’em…so that’s why there’s the standard promo shot instead. Though why I’m worried about bottle shots making anyone nauseous and also including pictures of wanton tortoise sex with abandon admittedly seems a little inconsistent. 

Once Again, Yet Another World’s Best Whisky…Again.

The circus comes to town once again...
The circus comes to town once again…

Back in November of 2014, Jim Murray “stunned” the whisky world by naming the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the “best whisky in the world”. Oh, the humanity! Suddenly the best whisky in the world was no longer from Scotland and Scotch was roundly chastised for having let high quality slip through its peaty little fingers. Article after article, and post after post from click-hungry sites like Business Insider, Forbes, Huffington Post, etc. dutifully burped out articles with headlines like “The Best Whisky in the World is No Longer From Scotland”, and “You’ll Never Guess Where the Best Whisky in the World Comes From”. Rather sparse mentions were made about this being just one man’s influential opinion, instead it was just treated as universal truth that a great upheaval had happened and all of our lives would never be the same…especially the lives of those poor Scots who had somehow lost their way. Never mind that the same kind of hubbub had happened just 10 months prior when the World Whiskies Awards named a Tasmanian whisky its best single malt whisky of 2014

Well, here we are again, just four months removed from that great Japanese whisky epiphany, and a year removed from that Tasmanian shocker, and the World Whiskies Awards have come out and dropped yet another bombshell. You may want to sit down, because…the best whisky in the world isn’t from Scotland! Yes, you heard right, this year the title of best whisky in the world goes to a relative young upstart from Taiwan named Kavalan!

Now, to be fair, the Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength was voted best single malt whisky not simply best whisky. However, that fact seems to have escaped most headlines and articles. The UK’s Independent titled their piece, “Kavalan whisky from Taiwan named best in the world” (and published a picture of the wrong whisky, but whatever). Time trotted out the eerily familiar, “You Won’t Believe Where the World’s Best Whiskey Comes From”. FoxNews grabbed everyone’s attention with the attention grabbing headline, “Whisky from Taiwan named best in the world.” It’s certainly worth noting that while those first two had somewhat misleading headlines, they did eventually mention the “best single malt” distinction in the article. FoxNews, on the other hand, misses that important point, which is surprising given that FoxNews is usually, uh, so very, very accurate.

This is not meant to be a jab at the award-winning whiskies mentioned, all three I’m sure are deserving of high praise. It’s these awards and the ensuing media frenzy that are getting more than a bit tiresome and more than a little comical. Many of these whisky awards are simply grinding PR/money-making machines that thrive on the free advertising of hyperbolic, often inaccurate articles written by and for people far enough outside the industry that it’s fairly clear they don’t really know what they’re talking about. I know people involved will defend the “process” and the judging of these awards, but that’s not the point, the issue is with the underlying purpose of them all. With what seems like a bi-annual or even quarterly crowning of a new “best whisky in the world ever”, we’re basically seeing the same things said over and over with only the brand name changing. It all ends up feeling more or less like a pile of vapid, ever-mounting crap whose sole purpose is breeding misleading hype just to sell bottles.

As a perfect, and I’m sure all too common little example of how this all goes wrong, not long after Tasmania’s Sullivan’s Cove French Oak Cask won the 2014 World Whiskies best Single Malt Award, I was in a liquor store, taking a look at one of that companies other bottles when the following (approximate) conversation was had with a kindly gentleman who was carrying a couple of expensive bottles like prized cats:

Kindly Gentleman: (pointing to the bottle in my hand) “That one just won best whisky in the world, right there!”

Not-so-kindly Blogger: “Best single malt, actually, and this one didn’t win the award, I think it was the French Oak Cask…” (knowing full well that even the French Oak Cask the store had was not the same cask that won the award.)

Kindly Gentleman: (Interrupting me and walking away with his glass cats) “Nope, Sullivan’s Cove, right there, just voted Best Whisky in the World.”

Easily Exasperated, Not-so-kindly Blogger: (mumbling under my breath) “Gotcha, thanks.”

The validity or lack thereof of whisky awards and their accompanying hype might seem like an obvious thing to criticize, but I think there’s enough coverage of it all throughout the whisky community to make the criticism worthwhile. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a buck off of whisky, or whisky awards, or hastily written articles about whisky awards. But I also think this kind of fawning, mutually beneficial back-slapping bullshit is fair game, and deserves to be called out for what it is. So for the love of the whisky gods, please treat these awards with a grain of salt. Certainly wash over the ensuing semi-accurate, hyperbolic hype and coverage with a cynical eye. Just remember that while there’s a reason these whiskies are recognized – they’re often great whiskies, there’s also a reason the awards are hyped and covered so much, and that’s to sell whiskies, sell ad space, and make the award-givers more money.

April Fool’s Day Resolutions

Dürer's (probably) "Ship of Fools" from Brandt's tome of the same name.
Dürer’s (probably) “Ship of Fools” from Brandt’s tome of the same name.

 

  • I’m going to buy more bottles of $100+ whisky because they must all be worth it.
  • I’m going to start smoking cigars, because all that smoke really enhances one’s sense of taste and takes the edge off all those young $100+ whiskies.
  • I’m going to use Twitter more because it’s so productive, and because the company itself is doing WONDERFUL things for San Francisco.
  • I’m going to stop keeping all my money in a spirit safe because shit gets wet in there.
  • I’m not going to buy any more whisky books because, obviously, one can’t drink a book.
  • I’m going to read more whisky blogs just because.
  • I’m going to stop pretending that I can smell and taste all those different things in whisky because, as everyone knows, all those different things are not actually in whisky.
  • I’m going to buy more booze in Minnesota on Sundays.
  • I’m going to spend more time on whisky auction sites, because old whisky always tastes better whether it actually does or not.
  • I’m going to drink more whisky because of the health benefits I saw reported in such respected medical publications as Buzzfeed and The Luxury Spot.
  • I’m going to leave bottles open, taste them periodically, and then write a review when I think the whisky has really oxidized well because what the whisky is supposed to taste like and what I want it to taste like shouldn’t really be mutually exclusive…or should it?
  • I’m going to drink more hand-crafted spirits because I love the taste of hand.
  • I’m going to calibrate my palate more because it sounds dirty in a hunky-soiled-mechanic-meets-unfulfilled-housewife kind of way.
  • I’m going to start including more animal facts and Carl Sagan quotes in all my posts because…actually, I might really do this one.
  • I’m going to not write an April Fool’s Day post next year, because I keep putting them off to the last minute and frankly, I’m all out of ideas.

Eh, fuck it, I’m gonna go for a bike ride.

The Exclusive Malts 1997 Ledaig 17 Year Old – Review

ExMalts_1997Ledaig17

*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

I’m not sure you could ever say that the pronunciation of Scotch Distillery place names was a hotly debated subject, especially for those non-Scots who are just looking for an easy way to correctly say something without breaking their jaw. Still, for every Dailuaine, Glen Garioch, and Allt-A-Bhainne, you’ll get a few differing opinions on how to pronounce them…sometimes from the very people you’d expect to know best in the first place.

Ledaig is another such name and has the added bonus of looking deceptively easy. In a line up of Bunnahabhains and Bruichladdichs, one might breathe a sigh of relief to see this short, simple-looking name on a label, but there’s even a little phonetic curveball here as well. Ledaig is Gaelic (broadly, I’m assuming) for “safe haven” and the place name for the natural harbor around which the town of Tobermory is built. While it looks like it should be pronounced “le-dayg“, as far as I can tell, the general consensus is that it’s pronounced “led-chig” without spending a whole lot of energy on the “d” and “ch” sounds, adding a bit of “j” to the “ch”, and a little “ck” to the “g” there at the end. Of course, if you poke around enough, you’ll find everything from “led-ching” to “let-chick” to “led-jig” to “le-dig” to “lay-chuck” being touted as the proper way. Safe Haven”, indeed.

To confuse things even further, Ledaig whisky isn’t even distilled at Ledaig distillery. Hell, there isn’t a Ledaig distillery. The Tobermory Distillery was reportedly founded as the Ledaig Distillery, but at some point assumed the name of the town instead of the hard-to-pronounce place name. Today, the Tobermory Distillery makes two types of whiskies, the unpeated Tobermory and the somewhat heavily peated Ledaig. Which brings us to the Exclusive Malts 1997 Ledaig 17 Year Old. This lovely, independently bottled single cask from the Creative Whisky Co. was matured for 17 years in an ex-bourbon cask.

The Nose:  A very nice balance of mature sweetness and savory peat. Apple cider and salted caramels stand out along with barbecue char and smoldering beach bonfire smoke. Subtle notes of toasted marshmallow and malt syrup hover in the background. Vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, faint clove, baker’s chocolate and faint polished oak show off the wood spice influence. Adding a little water tamed the peat and smoke somewhat while adding a little burnt caramel and more spice to the mix.

The Palate:  Nicely oily mouthfeel. An briny burst of smoke leads to more bruised apple and burnt caramel sweetness. After that there’s vanilla nougat with salted nuts and more unsweetened, bitter chocolate. The peat is more earthy than savory now, with a damp, beach fire ember quality. Towards the end, there’s zippy polished oak tannins and greenish spice, ground pepper, ginger root, and allspice. With water, this lost some of its smoke and fire, but gained more hard candy sweetness.

The Finish:  Not quite as long as I expected, but still nice with dusty, yet lively tannic oak, vanilla bean, allspice, and a bit of bbq smoke.

Thoughts:  An excellent whisky. I’m realizing I’m a sucker for good, teen-aged Ledaigs, they seem to hold on to the peat and smoke well, while adding that mature layer of sweetness and spice. This one lives up to that expectation. The sweeter elements here integrate really well with the complex, weighty peat. Both in color and in the dry, spicy heat of the palate, this one does, at times, feel a bit younger than its 17 years, but that added zing also adds another layer of balanced complexity, so it seems a good trade. A little H2O calmed the more savory, peaty elements, while upping the sweetness. As much as I enjoyed it with water (especially the palate), I think overall, I preferred it neat. Definitely recommended.

The Exclusive Malts 1997 Ledaig 17 Year Old, Islands (Mull), IB ~2014

54.9% ABV

Score:  87

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey – Review

Teeling Small Batch 750ml Whiskey*Many thanks to the Baddish Group for the sample.

In 1972, Irish whiskey pretty much hit rock bottom. Bushmills had just been absorbed into Irish Distillers, thereby giving the company control of both distilleries (New Middleton and Old Bushmills) on the island. At the time, Irish whiskey was reportedly selling barely 500,000 cases a year (for comparison’s sake, Jameson sold approx. 4,000,000 cases in 2014). The style limped along on fumes until the mid-80’s, when a couple of things happened to revive it. In 1988, Pernod-Ricard bought up Irish Distillers and began to pour a lot of money and energy into their new brands, especially Jameson. In 1985, a man named John Teeling bought a potato vodka distillery (potatoes? In Ireland? Who knew?) and converted it into a whiskey distillery. By 1987, production was underway at the new Cooley Distillery.

Whereas Pernod-Ricard’s efforts re-established now ubiquitous brands like Jameson and Bushmills, Teeling’s Cooley Distillery breathed new life into formerly well-known brands, like Tyrconnell, and into throwback styles such as the peated Connemara. The only independent (and staunchly so) distillery in Ireland, Cooley helped raise the reputation of Irish whiskey past the cheap bottles everyone had gotten used to. It was a bit of a surprise when Teeling jumped out of the whiskey game and sold Cooley to Beam Inc. (now Beam Suntory), but luckily for Irish whiskey, his sons have picked up where he left off.

Stephen and Jack Teeling founded the Teeling Whiskey Company in 2011. Their long-term plan involves the first new distillery in Dublin in well over a century. If it hasn’t already, the Teeling Whiskey Distillery is set to begin production any day. In the interim, while they mature stocks of their own distillate, the Teelings are bottling expressions created from stocks purchased from their father’s former distillery. The initial offerings were very limited, usually quite old one-offs, but they have a larger “core range” available as well. Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey was first made available in the U.S. in April of 2014. Featuring a relatively higher malt to grain whiskey ratio, a slightly higher ABV, and being non-chill filtered to boot, the Small Batch goes one step further by finishing its married whiskeys in ex-rum casks. Put all that together in a great looking bottle, and you have a well-dressed, attentively crafted version of the standard Irish blended whiskey one sees pretty much everywhere.

The Nose:  A somewhat restrained nose, sweet but nicely balanced by earthy spice. There’s brown sugar over buttered oatmeal, floral honey, dark toffee, lemonade, and a tart apple cobbler. Subtler notes of grass, both fresh-cut and dried, freshly laundered cotton, and old boards hover behind with quite a bit of youthful spice; Candied ginger, vanilla bean, cinnamon candies, and faint nutmeg.

The Palate:  Weightier than the nose, a somewhat creamy mouthfeel begins with more brown sugar, even a bit of molasses. Citrus notes of orange-tinged honey are followed by almond paste and vanilla. Those earthy, grassy notes have retreated here, leaving more grippy oak, mild peppercorn, candied ginger and hot cinnamon. Grows a little harsh towards the end.

The Finish:  Not the longest finish in the world. More brown sugar, vanilla extract, and cinnamon, both red hots and stick. A lingering young, edgy heat is a bit too prevalent.

Thoughts:  A nice twist on a traditional Irish blended whiskey. The rum cask influence shows itself throughout, but never overwhelms. I typically have not been a huge fan of rum cask finished Scotch whiskies, but overall I thought rum finishing worked well with the Irish style. It’s integrated well, mostly adding layers of complex sugared sweetness to the proceedings. It’s clear that there’s a relatively high malt content here which is certainly good, but unfortunately, it’s also clear that most of the whiskies used were on the young side. I enjoyed this, but there’s a sharp, rough edge to the end of the palate and finish that kept me from liking it more than I did. Still, there’s certainly room for this kind of thing in the somewhat staid world of Irish blended whiskey. This is a good start, let’s hope they continue to mature the idea. A little pricey, value-wise (~$40), but if you’re an Irish whiskey fan, it’s worth checking out.

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey, Irish, OB ~2014

46% ABV

Score: 83

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Glen Garioch 1797 Founder’s Reserve – Review

Glen_garioch_founders_reserve

*Sincere thanks to MS & AS at Savona Communications for the sample.

So, who the hell founded this distillery? My keen and occasionally flagging interest in whisky history has drawn me down a dark road which seemingly has no end. According to the distillery itself, which one would expect to have the final say-so in this kind of thing, Glen Garioch was founded by brothers John and Alexander Manson in 1797. Hence the 1797 date in the title of the whisky under review here. I hesitate to assume the role of grammar cop for obvious reasons, but if the distillery was founded by two brothers, wouldn’t it be Founders’ Reserve, not Founder‘s Reserve? That seems like one of those fairly obvious typos someone would catch early on, but you know…interns just aren’t what they used to be.

So I was happy to accept the distillery’s history until I took a quick gander at the always reliable Malt Whisky Yearbook’s Glen Garioch section. According to this yearly font of whisky knowledge, the distillery in question was founded in 1797 by a man named Thomas Simpson. Then, 40 years later, it was reportedly sold to a John Manson. If this was the case, it would clear up the whole singular vs. plural possessives thing, but creates a bit of a mystery as to why the distillery leaves out this poor Tom Simpson character all together.

Now I’m confused and slightly more curious than I was when I started. Digging a little deeper, I found that no less of a source than Alfred Barnard’s seminal book, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, states that Glen Garioch was founded in 1797 by a firm named Ingram, Lamb & Co. who owned it until 1840 when they sold it to a John Manson & Co. Well, at least the year 1797 and the name John Manson keep showing up, perhaps we’re closing in on the getting the story straight after all. Or not. Turning to another beloved author’s text, Michael Jackson’s Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, in the Glen Garioch section, there’s reference to a local newspaper announcing in 1785, the licensing of a new distillery in the same location as the current distillery. There are no names bandied about, but it’s safe to say that 1785 was no 1797. We could keep going (I did). Variations put forth by other respected websites and books mention that the distillery was founded either in the year 1797 or in 1798. The Manson Brothers show up often enough, but so does this shadowy Thomas Simpson character. In some instances the name Mason shows up instead of Manson, throwing yet another monkey wrench into the works.

So back to my original question…who the hell founded this place? I’m not sure I’ve ever looked at a distillery with more ambiguity as to its origins. If there’s precious little documentation from the time, I suppose there are many possible explanations. It seems there were many distilleries in close proximity, so perhaps who founded what, where, and when has gotten a bit muddied over time. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. While I enjoy dissecting possibly shaky marketing, I can’t really blame a company for going with the best-sounding, most-likely backstory. No one ever came to a marketing meeting saying, “we’ve got a confusing and undocumented past, that kind of thing really sells bottles, let’s emphasize that!” Perhaps some historical facts (and possibly a little grammar) have been glossed over, or perhaps not. Perhaps someone with more authority and/or research acumen will weigh in and clear all this up.

Now then, on to the whisky! Glen Garioch (pronounced “Glen Geery”…we’ll save that one for another time), debuted the 1797 Founder’s Reserve back in 2009, when it handsomely revamped its entire line. This entry-level expression was matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, most likely all American Oak. In an admirable move, Glen Garioch has bottled this one un-filtered and at a significantly higher ABV than you see most whiskies in its price range…those decisions alone deserve some applause no matter who founded the place.

The Nose:  Fairly zippy with a sweet ‘n’ savory complexity to it. Dark amber honey and that old Buc Wheats cereal (god, I loved that stuff), along with a bit of lemon-lime soda. Nice soft touches of salty Manzanilla sherry as well. Softly beery hints of a Baltic Porter lead to very subtle savory notes of browned meat in oiled cast iron. There’s fine white pepper and polished oak as well, along with a little of the solvent-y furniture polish that polished it.

The Palate:  A very soft, almost airy mouthfeel with a peppery initial honey and citrus sweetness. More slightly salty Manzanilla sherry notes, now accompanied by some very dark chocolate. A bit of that savory character from the nose emerges towards the end with increased sharp, oak-y spice – toasted oak chips, peppercorns, and ginger. The youth of this one really shows up towards the end.

The Finish:  A little young, hot, and sharp, but eventually drawing to a close with a lot of tannic, drying oak, pepper, unsweetened chocolate and dried orange peel

Thoughts:  I have to say this really grew on me. I was not overly impressed initially, the young sharpness was overwhelming its interesting complexity. But coming back to it, that rugged flavor profile stood out more. While I like the sweet and slightly savory of the nose, and the sherry-esque notes throughout, I just wish some of those jagged, young edges were smoothed out. The high ABV (at least for an “entry-level” expression) is a very welcome sight and suits this nicely. It’s quite drinkable neat, water does smooth it out some, but many of the youthful notes remain. At around $40-$45, this is a fair value for a higher ABV, slightly more challenging entry-level malt. There’s lots of potential here, I’d love to see what the addition of some older whiskies would do to it.

Glen Garioch 1797 Founder’s Reserve, Highland, OB, ~2014

48% ABV

Score: 83

The Exclusive Malts 2004 Tomatin 10 Year Old – Review

ExMalts_Tomatin10

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

57.4% ABV

Score:  85