Whisky Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label

Whisky Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label, 12 year old, Blended Scotch Whisky

Up next on this brief series, we have another of those ubiquitous Johnnie Walker whiskies found almost everywhere, the Johnnie Walker Black Label, a 12-year old blended scotch that, for many, represents an initial foray into the world of “peated” whiskies. Whereas the Red Label is a No Age Stated whisky, the Black Label, with what I suspect is a higher malt content, and with its 12 years of maturation, begins to demonstrate some of the refinement, richness, and breadth of flavors that scotch whisky fans seek! 



Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label, 12 year old, Blended Scotch Whisky, 40% abv, Bottled 2015, L5321CA000 29274188

Color: amber-gold with an orange cast.

Nose: (N) earthy scents; dust, damp wood, vegetation, a briny note and a faint smoke. Melted butter. Some fruit, more citric than apple or pear, and grassy notes creep in, but remain subtly in the background. Tobacco and leather. There are a wide range of aromas, but they are all very muted, nothing to give it an individual identity. Barrel char smokiness. (W) More of a citric start with lemon zest, cinnamon, fruity sweetness – pears, plums, and red apples. There are some spices; ginger and cinnamon, and a slight mustiness. Oaky notes and a hint of some nuts. Now some sea-spray, crisp and light peat, and juniper notes that likely represents the Caol Ila influence. A surprising hint of chocolate late, all with a perpetual soft smoke floating around the edges. 

Taste: (N) soft, but slightly spicy initial delivery, a bit of smoke, then showing a fruitier side, with apples, pears, and plums, accompanied by a dash of fresh lemon. Some butterscotch and vanilla sweetness in the middle, then it becomes increasingly malty, More of the soft smoke and tannic dryness in the later stages. (W) With water – just a few drops – on the nose the fruits are more immediately evident; ripe pears, plums, and apples. More of the Caol Ila juniper/peat notes. A very light smoke, the mustiness, oak spices, brininess, and that hint of chocolate. On the palate, the water evens out the flavors, but the mouthfeel becomes a bit thin. 

Finish: The finish is reasonably long, softly tangy, nicely sweet, before becoming drying with a slightly bitter, ashy ending.

Overall: Vastly superior to the Red Label in all measures: nose, body, palate, and finish. There is a nice delicate peat influence that may underwhelm confirmed peat heads, but serves well to introduce this historical characteristic of Scotch whisky. Also, I suspect that the Black Label has a much higher malt:grain ratio than the Red Label. With its additional aging, the Black Label shows levels of balance and integration that the Red Label sadly lacks. 

Rating 81




Region: Scotland

Type: Blended Scotch Whisky

Age: 12 years

ABV: 40% 

Maturation: Various 

Price: $29.99 – Total Wines (750 ml)

Availability: Always

Sample Source: My own bottle

The Johnnie Walker Red Label – Whisky Review

The Johnnie Walker Red Label – a review of one of the world’s iconic blended scotch whiskies!

Alright, after my brief Rye Whiskey diversion, it is time to get back to the Closet Clean Out! Over the next few posts I will be going through the bottles of Johnnie Walker that I have left from our September NWC meeting. As we did in the meeting, I am starting with the entry-level bottling of the range, the Johnnie Walker Red Label, perhaps the most ubiquitous blended Scotch whisky in the world! Much (too much?) has already been said and written about the Red Label as a whisky, but if I’m going to have a whisky website, it is one that I need to review as one of those standard whiskies everyone should try (before moving on to better things!)


Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label, Blended Scotch Whisky,  Bottled 2015, L5313T5000 17107547
40% abv

Color: Amber, orange-gold.

Nose: (N) Immediate and rather significant note of acetone, and it never really dissipates. Very woody with off notes of swamp oak, and also some cedar shavings. There is some ginger and black pepper, a light vanilla, and unripe Bartlett pears. The nose is very muted, really pretty dull. In the background, perhaps a very distant smoke. (W) The low abv to start with means that adding water is dicey, and frankly, water really doesn’t do much to help. Oak remains dominant, now also a hint of the butterscotch. Correction, the water does seem to reduce the acetone note, although not entirely. Pepper, mushrooms, cedar, ginger, with very little of the fruits.

Taste: (N) A bit of butterscotch on arrival, accompanied by pepper, mushrooms, cardamom, and stale ginger. Very thin body, Sharp and ragged. A big cereal note that remains throughout. (W) Even thinner, lemon vanilla, and pepper on the arrival. Unripe apple and pear, bitter twigs, mushroom again, tannic sharpness.

Finish: Peppery, bitter oak, a touch of the butterscotch, the cereal some vanilla, a hint of the smoke, tannic. Something softly chemical. Moderate length.

Overall: better w/o water, although not by much. Rough, ragged, oaky and bitter. Red Label is unquestionably one of the world’s biggest selling whiskies, and there are reasons for that fact; it’s inexpensive, it is literally everywhere, and it probably works sufficiently well in cocktails. As a sipping whisky, though, the Red Label really does leave a lot to be desired.

Rating 77




Region: Scotland

Type: Blended Scotch Whisky

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Maturation: not disclosed / various

Price: $18.99 (750 ml) / $25.99 (1 Ltr)

Availability:  Always

Sample Source: My own bottle

RYE ME? or the North Texas Spirits Society Rye Extravaganza

RYE ME? or the North Texas Spirits Society Rye Tasting Extravaganza!

This past Sunday the NTSS met at our usual haunt for another exceptional event! And on this auspicious occasion, our focus was on Rye Whiskies – American or Canadian – and it turned out to be an exceptional tasting session!

As per our stringent and highly enforced Club Rules, everyone was to bring ONE bottle. However, in typical fashion for these reprobates, er um, gallant enthusiasts, almost everyone failed to adhere to this simple edict! But, despite their flagrant rules violations, no one was ejected from the meeting or otherwise publicly flogged for their rather predictable transgressions!


Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know, get on to the whiskies!

Here’s the Main Course – otherwise known as the official submissions! We tasted these in order working from right-to-left in the photo, with a head-to-head-to-head comparison of the two Willett’s and the Old Scout. 


The Main Course

We started with an A.D. Laws Secale Rye Bottled in Bond that George brought. The information that I can gather on the interweb of the wide world, tells us that this is a seasonal release from the Laws Whiskey House in Denver, CO. According to their site, the Small Batch Secale Rye is made with a mash of 95% rye and 5% barley, all Colorado grown, using classic open air, sour mash fermentation, it is double distilled in their Vendome 4-plate pot/column still, aged no less than 3 years in full-sized 53 gallon new American white oak barrels, and then bottled at 100 proof. The Laws was a new one to me and it was a very pleasant first whiskey of the evening; nicely rich body, well-balanced blend of spicy and bready rye notes along with some well-developed sweeter vanilla. 


Next up was a bottle of High West Rendezvous Rye, compliments of Mark H. This was not just any bottle of Rendezvous Rye, though, this was a K&L Wines exclusive bottling. While it may just be marketing hype, this rye was a blend of a 6-year old and a 16-year old that were married together and aged for an additional 19 months in a used bourbon barrel. The High West website informs us that Rendezvous Rye is a blend of older Straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 5 to 19 years, with component whiskies from various sources and with varying recipes: a 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP; a 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% from the Barton Distillery; and/or a 80% rye, 10% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery. High West just puts together some exceptional rye whiskies and this one was on par for them. The additional bourbon barrel aging did seem to add a more pronounced vanilla kick to go with the beautiful spice and bready notes.


We followed the Rendezvous Rye with another whisky from High West, but one much rarer! Pete shared a bottle of the Rocky Mountain Rye “Very Rare”, Batch 10 and bottle number 2744. The Rocky Mountain Rye is not a straight rye because it does not comply with the legal definitions. What we have is referred to by High West as a “Whiskey Distilled from Rye Mash Stored 21 Years in Re-Used Cooperage.” It is the use of reused barrels mean that prohibits High West from calling this a straight rye whiskey. Regardless, we have 21-year old whisky made using a 53% rye mash and aged 21 years in these “reused” barrels, that is very good and shows that, like with other High West ryes, High West knows how to pick barrels and manage aging. Beautiful and rich spice notes, softly sweet, and lively. The 21 years aging did not cause too much oakiness to show up – thanks to the “reused cooperage” employed. 


Next we went to my offering – but before we continue, I have a major disclaimer that needs to be put into print. Technically, I brought a bottle of this Jefferson’s Presidential Select 25-year old rye to share; it was one I knew the NTSS crowd would enjoy. But, as I’ve said before, with this bunch, finding a whiskey to share that one or more of the guys doesn’t have, is an extremely difficult challenge. And so it proved with the Jefferson’s. As would have it, the Chris, aka the Liquorhound, had also brought a bottle of this whiskey, and which was already opened. Mine was still closed. Cross my heart, I was ready to open my bottle! But given my pending move to Spain, and the restrictions of shipping open bottles, Chris volunteered his bottle so I could keep mine closed. This 25-year old rye was released in 2013, and comes from Batch No. 1, Bottle No. 1800. This was a distinctly different from the previous High West ryes. Here we had a much more prominent ripe fruit aspect that carried the rye spiciness, as opposed to the previous rye spice-dominant High West whiskeys. The aging was very well-managed, virtually no oakiness, but rendering a deep, rich body, and a luscious finish. This one proved to be in almost everyone’s top one or two.


On we went to taste another special release, the Old Potrero Hotaling’s 18-year old. The Old Potrero Hotaling’s, from the Anchor Distilling Company in San Francisco, is a series of bottled in bond releases of straight rye whiskeys made with a 100% rye mash. Surprisingly, given that the Hotaling’s is a 100% single malt rye, this whiskey was very subtle, with a more fruit-forward profile, with the rye spice very subtle and very much secondary to this taste. There was a bit of oakiness, too, that popped up with the addition of a few drops of water. Good, perhaps not great.


After the Old Potrero, we decided to try the next three whiskeys together, comparing them to one another because of their shared origins. Mark S brought a 6-year old Willett Family Estate Bottled Straight Rye, bottled at 58.2%abv / 116.4 proof. Sean N brought an 8-year old Willett Family Estate Bottled Straight Rye (58.1% / 116.2 proof), and Mark E supplied a bottle of Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8-year old (60.9% / 121.8 proof) Straight Rye. The connection between these whiskeys is that they are all sourced from MGP in Indiana. 


The similarities between these whiskies was very evident, with perhaps one exception. There are references to the existence of “pickle juice” on the nose of some Willett ryes and with the 6-year old, we actually picked it up, although only before water was added and only after letting the glass sit for a few minutes. Picking up and moving the whiskey around eliminated that peculiar note, as did the water. All three whiskeys were strongly rye-spice centric with complementary ripe fruit and creamy vanilla notes; all three shared a rather loud spearmint note, too. The two 8-year old whiskeys, the Old Scout and the Willett, were frankly nearly indiscernible from one another. Adding water, and they will take quite a bit of water, improved all of them quite a bit, bringing out better balance and removing the alcohol heat. Consensus was (except for Mark E!) that the Willett 8 yo was slightly superior to the Old Scout 8 yo, followed by the Willett 6 yo which had some slightly rougher edges compared to the other two. 


Chris, aka the Liquorhound, brought (besides the Jefferson’s and others, as you’ll see) a star whiskey. Everyone’s eyes widened when Chris placed on the table a bottle of the 2012 release of the Thomas H Handy Sazarac Straight Rye Whiskey (66.2% / 132.4 proof)! The Thomas H Handy bottlings are part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, an annual release of cask strength whiskey with names of historical significance, and which are usually available only through allotment. The bottles in the Antique Collection include the George T. Stagg, the Sazerac Rye, the William Larue Weller, the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, and Eagle Rare. There is a reason these bottlings are highly sought after, they are almost always phenomenal! And we weren’t disappointed! The Handy was a big, bold, balanced, rich, and long-lasting tasting experience. Densely spicy, warm bread, vanilla, mint and some ripe fruits, this was universally rated our top whiskey of the evening!


In the unfortunate position of having to follow the Handy, Sean N shared a bottle of the Corsair Ryemageddon. While the Ryemageddon is a core release from Corsair, arguably the most experimental distillery around, this particular whiskey was a “Binny’s Single Barrel” bottling – Binny’s being a very large retail chain in the Chicagoland area. This iteration of the Ryemageddon was released in 2015 (N15-14-0426) and bottled at 61.8% abv / 123.6 proof. I really like the Ryemageddon, having bought several bottles myself and also included it in one of our previous NWC events! I’d actually tried this one once previously, and was more than happy to try it again. And despite having to follow the Handy, this one held its own very respectably. The Ryemageddon is a very lively, explosive whiskey, magnified by this cask strength bottling. Like the Willett’s this one takes water very well, and which then produces a surprisingly nuanced rye whiskey; definitely rye-forward, but nicely multi-dimensional. 


Dessert, anyone?

After working through the Main Course, and then a brief respite for more food, we moved on to the Supplemental lineup! Remember, I told you that this crowd can’t seem to restrict themselves to the single bottle that they are supposed to bring! Not that anyone really complains! Here are some of the additional whiskeys that showed up on the table!

Here is where the free-for-all started! Well, not exactly, but everyone was able to choose which of these others they wanted to try.


I started with the Old Scout 7-year old Straight Rye. Like its sibling and the two Willett ryes, this shared the same DNA and was very similar. A nice blending of rye spice, bready and floral notes, with an underlying vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and soft fruits.

Then I tried the High West Double Rye, one of the regular ryes I like to keep on my shelf. This one was from barrel no. 2570, bottled at 53.6% abv, and was bottle no. 56.  I really like the Double Rye for its very spicy and floral nature; this is not a “delicate” whiskey! Warm marbled rye bread, fresh-cut hay, loads of peppery spice, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, a dash of lemon, spiced vanilla.

Next I poured the Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye Whiskey, a NAS, standard offering from Anchor. Another bottle of this whiskey was the first rye from Anchor that I had an opportunity to try, and I liked it a lot. I even added another bottle to my supply closet! This one has lots of rye spice, too, along with mint, ginger, a bit of molasses, a bit more red fruits than the Double Rye, and soft hints of vanilla. Interestingly, this bottle was much darker than the Hotaling’s, which might come from different charring levels in the casks. 


Next was a Five Fathers “Pure Rye Malt Whiskey” that Chris also supplied. This whiskey was distilled by the Old Pogue Distillery, LLC in Maysville, KY and bottled at 55%. I’d not heard of this one before, so I was very interested to try it.

In looking at their website, they reference 100 years of distilling history, and that “Today’s Old Pogue is safeguarded by the 5th and 6th generations of the Pogue family.  The company remains solely owned and operated by family members.  It is our aim to create incredible whiskies of old and new while acting as custodians of the business, history and family home.”  Per Wikipedia, dating back to around 1869, the original distillery was Kentucky registered distillery number 3, in Maysville, Kentucky. The distillery was shut down by Prohibition, revived after 18 years, then shut down again during World War II. The brand remained off the market for about 60 years, being revived around 2005 by descendants of the Pogue family and Heaven Hill whiskey sourced from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd (KBD). The family established a new distillery in Maysville around 2012.

The labeling does state that this whiskey was distilled at The Old Pogue Distillery and given the 2012 restart, that seems reasonable. However, in tasting this whiskey, I’m not sure they were quite ready to hit the market. Sadly, this was not a good whiskey. The oak just dominated everything; no real rye spice, no sweetness, just off-notes of wood. Quite possibly this was released to generate some income and some brand awareness, but based on this experience, I think that they need to reevaluate their readiness! 


Next up was another interesting opportunity for comparison: a chance to taste consecutive releases of the WhistlePig Boss Hog Straight Rye Whiskey. The labels proclaim these to be part of the “Spice Dancer” series, one from barrel 6, the other from barrel 7; both are aged for 123/4 years, finished in bourbon barrels, and bottled at a whopping 67.3% abv / 134.5 proof. One other label item of note: the label now clearly states that these whiskeys were Bottled at WhistlePig Farm. I won’t bore you with minutiae, but Whistle Pig was at the forefront of the legal issues surrounding truth-in-advertising for sourced whiskeys. They had initially claimed to be the distiller of their whiskies, but were found out to have sourced their whiskeys from Canada. After denial and resistance, the producers finally acceded and no longer claim to be the distiller. 

As for the whiskeys, good stuff! Brightly flavored, with a well-balanced spice and fruit character. The high-proof doesn’t show up too strongly when tasted neat, but they do benefit from the addition of water, becoming richer and sweeter while retaining the spiciness. Honestly, there was very little to distinguish one from the other. Now, are they worth the prices now being charged? At $300 or more, simply no, not in my book. These are very good, enjoyable whiskeys, but there are numerous, more affordable options out there that offer as good, or better tasting experiences. 


From there, I went into the selection of Canadian ryes that were available. I started with Canadian Club 100% Rye. The Canadian Club 100% Rye Whisky is effectively the rye component that is used for the standard Canadian Club whiskey. Bottled at 40% abv / 80 proof, this one was both very delicate, and a little under-powered. Surprisingly soft and sweet, this also suffered from a lack of real personality. However, this whiskey is very affordable and probably works well as a cocktail whiskey, offering just enough spice and sweet vanilla notes to settle in with other components. On the simple side, not bad, but probably not quite as robust or intriguing as the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye I reviewed a while back.


My second to last whiskey was the Ninety “Decades of Richness” 20-year old Canadian Rye Whiskey from the Highwood Distillery, in High River Alberta. The interesting tidbit here is that a severe flood hit the distillery in 2013 and they lost all the bottled whiskey. The warehouse was mostly spared, so after removal and checks, the whiskey that was in cask continued to age until being bottled. This particular release was one of those. 

While Canadian whiskey has a historical connection to the term “rye whiskey”, in reality many Canadian whiskeys are a blending of corn, rye, and barley, making their profiles much rounder and, in some ways, more bourbon-like, than what we’ve come to expect from a “rye” based on the current American approach. The Ninety falls into the traditional Canadian whiskey camp. Soft, round, sweet notes of vanilla, buttered bread, orchard fruits, and light herbal spices, this is eminently drinkable.


For the final whiskey of the evening, one I’d specifically saved for last among the “desserts”, was the Canadian Club 30-year old, a special release to celebrate their 150th anniversary. This demonstrated all the beauty that Canadian whiskeys can possess. Certainly the aging led to a prominent wood influence, with some tannic dryness, but it still retained a liveliness that showed up on some light citric notes, ripe red fruits, vanilla bean, a hint of tobacco leaf, baking spices, and brown sugar. Bottled at 40% abv, this was delicate and round, supple and elegant, and an excellent example of what a good Canadian whiskey can be.


So, once again, we had to suffer through another evening of both extraordinary and questionable whiskeys. I know you appreciate that we take these risks on your behalf! Cheers!



Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Tasting with Dr Bill Lumsden

Trinity Hall Special Event:  A Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Tasting with Dr Bill Lumsden

Our good friend Marius Donnelly at Trinity Hall continues to spoil us with great events! This time Marius went all-in, hosting a fantastic whisky tasting of the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg whiskies – and presented by two very special guests: Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, and David Blackmore, the Glenmorangie Global Master Brand Ambassador!

As we entered the pub, we were greeted by tables filled with pre-poured whiskies and a small plate of cheeses, salamis, crackers and a lamb chop and we nibbled away while waiting for the festivities to start.

Finally, the hour arrived and Marius introduced the two guests, and from then on, it became a fun-filled couple of hours. Now I’d heard that Dr Bill would, on occasion, share some slightly NSFW humor, and that proved very accurate…..within the first two minutes he launching into a couple of off-color jokes – but he got the crowd laughing and we only stopped when we were sampling a whisky!

The Tasting

The premise of the presentation was a side-by-side “competition”, as Dr Bill described it, The Classic vs The Cult, with the attendees voting at the end to decide the “winner” for the evening. David represented the Glenmorangie range and Dr Bill carried the banner for Ardbeg; each would give a description of background of the whisky, highlight some of the key flavors, and talk a little about the development and maturation process.  

At our place-settings, we had three whiskies from each of the two distilleries. The format would have us compare them in pairings starting with the Glenmorangie “Original” 10 year old vs the Ardbeg 10 year old. The second contest was between the Glenmorangie Lasanta vs Ardbeg Uigeadail so that we could compare two whiskies with sherry maturation. And our final contest matched up two of the recent special releases, the Glenmorangie Bacalta and the Ardbeg Dark Cove.  This was definitely an interesting approach since the Glenmorangie range tends to be on the delicate, fruity-floral side, while the Ardbeg whiskies are full-blooded Islay peated!

In the end, The Cult whisky, Ardbeg, was clearly the crowd favorite, but I think everybody knew that going in based on their initial reactions. 


The Conclusions

For me, there were some interesting – and surprising – results as we went through the samples.

WIth our first whisky, I was reminded just how good the Glenmorangie Original 10 yo is: delicate, fruity, softly floral, but very elegant and enjoyable. This is a great introductory whisky for new whisky drinkers, or even some bourbon drinkers, while still one an experienced whisky fan can appreciate. Honestly, this may have been my top-rated one for the evening!

The Ardbeg 10 yo, one which I honestly hadn’t visited in quite some time, brought out that big smoke and peat muscle, supplemented by underlying fruits and vanilla sweetness. Still good!

The Lasanta, a 12 year old whisky that starts with the Original 10 and then is finished for two years in Oloroso sherry casks, was distinctly sherried with its spices, dried fruits, and chocolate. This is another reliable whisky from the Glenmorangie core range, but, for me, the sweet sherry notes are a bit too loud.

The Uigeadail, and this was the most recent batch, btw, was a bit disappointing to me; that is a tough statement for me to make, because I’ve been a huge fan of Uigeadail for many years. However, in this batch, the sherry maturation and the peaty core seemed out of balance, the smoke and the sweet and spicy notes not dancing together. And the finish was very drying, almost mouth-puckering dry, certainly more than I remembered from past iterations.

When talking about the two Special Releases for this evening, Dr Bill describes how he takes the standard 10 yo malts and then tweaks them through wood (cask) influence or finishing experiments. For the Bacalta, this one seemed to continue a trend of these Glenmorangie special releases toward being overly sweet, and the sweetness here really came across as a little bit manufactured.

In talking about this afterwards, I began to wonder if the difficulty in avoiding this result lies in the fact that the Original 10 is so delicate, that the care needed to influence a different flavor profile without totally losing the core malt, pushes the whisky toward sweeter final products. Or, could it be that there is an intentional, marketing-driven force to produce something sweeter with an eye on the US market, to bring out a whisky that is an appealing crossover for bourbon drinkers?  

The Dark Cove, like Bacalta, started with the Ardbeg 10 yo, but was then finished in “dark sherry” casks. Forgive me if I fail to recall all of the details from Dr Bill’s description – I didn’t bother taking written notes – but dark sherry is effectively a sherry reduction. Through whatever process, the sherry is coaxed into an almost syrupy consistency, rich, very dark in color, and sweet. If I heard correctly, this dark sherry can be used as a coloring agent in other sherries – but, please, don’t quote me on that and, by all means, let me know if I got this part wrong. After all, it was the end of the evening and the room had started getting louder, so I may not have heard Dr Bill correctly.

Anyway, for the Dark Cove, Dr Bill takes casks that had held this dark sherry and finishes the Ardbeg 10 yo in them for an unspecified time. The desired result was to create a smoky, peaty whisky that had a broader, sweeter sherry note. For me, as with the Bacalta, the Dark Cove, which I’ve had a few other times, while good, still has something artificial and lacks some cohesiveness. 


All-in-all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a fantastic opportunity to hear firsthand from Dr Bill about how he create both the new releases as well as the standard bottlings for these two distilleries. Thanks to Dr Bill, David Blackmore, and to our favorite local Glenmorangie / Ardbeg rep, Dan Crowell, for taking the time to come to Dallas.

And, of course, thanks to Marius for putting this together and sharing his love of whisky with the world! 


Tomatin 18 yo Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Review: The Tomatin 18 year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

After a quick trip through Austin and then down to Houston, I’m back, and onwards goes the Clean Out Project! Today, we’re looking at one of those often overlooked single malt whiskies, the Tomatin 18 year old.

The Tomatin Distillery, located in the Monadliath Mountains, just 16 miles south of Inverness, is one of the highest distilleries in Scotland sitting at 315 metres above sea-level. It was also one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. At one point in the mid-1970’s, Tomatin had a total of 23 stills (12 wash and 11 spirit), seven spirit safes, and an annual production capacity of 12 million litres! Long a major producer of bulk whiskies for various blends like Chivas Regal, J&B, and even Johnnie Walker, as a single malt, the Tomatin 18 flies under the radar, which is a shame because this is a good bang for the buck single malt. 


Review: Tomatin 18 year old, Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Bottled 2013, L1318328 774, 46% abv

Color: Amber.

Nose: (N) Starts with hints of sherry and raisins, dried fruits, and honey, but then notes of baking spices, cinnamon, some grasses, and a soft saltiness shows up. After a few minutes, I get some old leather. Becomes a bit fruitier with green apples or pineapple, as well as citric notes of lemon. A bit of dusty, oaky and cereal notes with remaining hints of light fruits. There are some floral notes that come in and out, like a whiff of potpourri from a distant room. Is that just a hint of bonfire smoke? Something piney, menthol-ly, too. (W) Water brings out more vanilla to go along with the honey, and also a bit of oakiness. But after a moment or two, the sherry notes take over again, with richer, riper red fruits, like plums and currants, raisins, then some leather, and that hint of lemon. I get what might be just a very slight hint of sulphur, but it is a “good” sulphur. More honey, more baking spices, and, once more, a faint smoke in the distance.

Taste: (N)  Initial arrival is, surprisingly, sour lemon candy, becoming warm and spicy honey. The body is oily and a bit heavy, with a good mouth-coating richness. There are orchard fruits, with red apples and pears amidst the citrus influences. Again, just a very slight hint of smoke. With more time in the glass, more sherry influence in the heavy, ripe red fruits, leather, cinnamon and nutmeg. (W) With a small splash of water, still a lemon-infused arrival, but the nose quickly freshens with early spring fruits, some heather, oatmeal, and that omnipresent honey. Soon, the palate becomes richer with more of the sherry notes: a beautiful spiciness, an influx of dried fruits, and the slight saltiness. There are some subtle floral notes, much less of the honey sweetness, and delicate grassy notes. 

Finish: Quite a long, warm finish with lemon, orchard fruits early, dried fruits late, more of the barley in a malty dryness behind the fruits Honey and leather, and, again, a very delicate touch of smoke at the tail end. The finish is quite long and very nice!

Overall: I admit that this is my second bottle of the Tomatin 18 and, once more, I was reminded just how enjoyable this whisky is. The Tomatin 18 has a good body, a lively nose, and a well-balanced complexity. Also, this one continues to improve once the bottle has been open for a while. Finally, even though it has risen in price, this remains a very good deal for a quality 18 year old single malt. If you’ve not tried this one, yet, you should!

Rating 86




Region: Highlands

Distillery: The Tomatin Distillery

Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Age: 18 years

ABV: 46% (non chillfiltered)

Maturation: “traditional oak” casks, final maturation in Oloroso Sherry butts

Price: $68.38 (Specs – 2014); $80 (2017)

Availability: Readily available

Sample Source: My own bottle