*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Though Tullibardine is a pretty young distillery, being built in 1949, whisky was not the first refreshing beverage produced on that particular piece of land. According to the distillery, it was built on the site of an ancient brewery that won no small amount of renown for brewing up a few kegs of beer for King James IV’s big coronation. It’s a very little known fact, possibly even a made up one, that Kevin, one of James IV’s advisors, kind of submarined his career by making a pass at the new queen and later that night, throwing up in the bisque.
The site continued to be used as a brewery on and off through the years until 1947 when the architect William Delmé-Evans bought it with an eye towards turning it into a distillery. In many ways, Delmé-Evans could be called the father of modern distillery design in the same way that Charles Doig made a similar name for himself in the late 1800’s. Tullibardine was his first essay in the craft, and after selling it to Glaswegian whisky brokers Brodie Hepburn Ltd. in 1953, he went on to design and manage the Isle of Jura distillery as well as design the very modern Glenallachie. Tullibardine has changed hands quite a few times in the short time it’s been alive. In 1971, Brodie Hepburn Ltd. sold the distillery to Invergordon, who turned around and sold it in 1993 to Whyte & Mackay who promptly mothballed it in 1995. Being new and in fairly good shape with a fairly large production capacity, it didn’t stay mothballed for too long, and was sold to Tullibardine Distillery Ltd. in 2003. Production and stocks have been increased and added to over the years, but most of what is it seen from Tullibardine these days are independent bottlings of older stock such as this one from Blackadder’s Raw Cask series. Bottled as straight-from-the-cask as you can get without drinking wood chips, the Raw Cask series is, of course, cask-strength and non chill-filtered. This expression numbered only 190 bottles from a sherry butt.
The Nose: A fairly weighty and sweet nose with overripe cantaloupe, fat, sweetened malt notes and a raisins in rice pudding, no doubt thanks to the sherry. Nice secondary whiffs of French vanilla ice cream and salted nuts. Behind all that, earthier notes of fresh cut oak and dried hay ground the sweetness. With a bit of water, that fat sweetened malt takes on more semi-sweet chocolate and the sherry influence gets a littler winey-er.
The Palate: At strength, the palate is really tightly wound. Honey roasted nuts, pears in syrup and apple cider are quickly joined by a crisp sherried dryness, earthy spices, coriander, nutmeg, even a bit of cumin(?!), and a lot of nice wood tones; sawdusty tannins and more dried hay/grass notes. Water really helps the palate come alive, the wood is still strong, taut, and complex but the early sweetness and the more bitter spices are given a bit more space.
The Finish: Dusty and tannic, lots of wood hangs around, more fresh-cut oak, wood chips, with smattering of those slightly bitter spices as well.
Thoughts: An interesting, rugged Highland cask for sure. There’s no missing the oak influence here, both ex-bourbon and sherry finished, but as prominent as it is, it’s also interestingly complex. The nose and palate come across quite differently but the wood acts as a kind of unifying element. As with most cask-strength bottlings, water’s pretty much a necessity here, a few drops give all the elements on the palate more room to breathe and be a little more expressive.
Blackadder Raw Cask 1993 Tullibardine 17 Year Old, Highlands