Occasionally, I’ll be thumbing through the shelves at my whisky shop and I’ll come across a name I’m not familiar with. It’s often a plain bottle, and there’s usually only one expression present. I begin thinking, “Hey, maybe this is a hidden gem that the ‘mainstream’ hasn’t found yet, and I could be drinking the next Pappy Van Winkle in a kilt, for… -checks the price tag- $34!” Smiling smugly to myself, I cart my newfound treasure home and promptly fill a glass. Channeling generations of intrepid explorers before me, I open myself to the new experience and take a sip…
Bleh. I check the bottle again. Yup, it’s a single-malt. Why does it taste like alcoholic wallpaper paste? The spiritous equivalent to dry matzo. It doesn’t taste bad, per se, it just tastes like nothing. Then it hits me – I’ve duped myself. There’s a reason I’ve never heard of Tomintoul before, and a reason the store was still plenty well stocked with the single expression they carried. Feeling like an explorer whose new land of opportunity turns out to be a barren, lifeless rock in the middle of the ocean, I relegated the bottle to the back of my cabinet, with the rest of the “mixing fodder.” Ah well.
Tomintoul, built in 1965 and now owned by Angus Dundee is a light-bodied Speysider sold with the marketing slogan “The Gentle Dram” – which may be the most lackluster marketing spin I’ve ever seen. The 10-year is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at the minimum 40% ABV. Process water comes from the Ballantruan Spring.
Nose: Yeasty/bready. A little on the hot side, with some brown sugar, dusty dried apricots, and nondescript caramels.
Palate: Medium-bodied, with a hint of creaminess. “Gentle” is right – there is no tongue burn to speak of. A nice maltiness complements a hint of oak.
Finish: Medium-short. Walnut skins, some oak tannins, and a vanishing caramel sweetness.
With Water: Water seems to have no effect on the aroma, nor on the palate. Take it or leave it.
Overall: This may indeed be “The Gentle Dram”, but even at 10 years of age it leaves a lot to be desired. The usual suspects for a Highland malt aged in middling ex-bourbon casks are present – the typical caramel, yeasty bread, brown sugar, and nuts – but nothing serves to elevate this dram above any other similarly-aged malt. At least at 10 years of age, it’s unfortunately forgettable. The 12 year may be a better bet, with some oloroso sherry aging behind it, and older expressions may condense some of that “gentleness” into some actual flavor. (Or not, here’s my review of the 16-year.) For me, I say skip the 10 year.