First things first. Tomatin whisky does not contain tomatoes.
It may seem obvious to those who have heard of the brand or have at least a general idea of what single malt Scotch whisky is, but Scott Adamson, Tomatin Global Brand Ambassador, found out one day not to assume that everyone knows what Tomatin means.
“I’d taken a group of visitors around the distillery but at the end of the tour they said, ‘You’ve shown us everything, but you never showed us where you keep the tomatoes’,” he recalls, laughing. “I thought it was a joke! And that was when I realised that part of the story that we didn’t tell a lot was what the name means, which is ‘Hill of the Juniper’ in Gaelic,” he clarified.
“A couple of hundred years ago, when whisky-making in the highlands was illegal, excise officers looked for smoke to find the illegal stills, but the juniper bush, when you light it on fire, creates a non-visible smoke, so it was great for illegal whisky distillation. And the area we were in must have had a lot of that!”
These days, Tomatin is 100% legal, and prides itself on being at the forefront of sustainable practises within the Scotch whisky industry, which as a whole has pledged to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030.
In 2017, the distillery was awarded the Environment Award at the prestigious Highland & Islands Food & Drink Awards for its commitment to responsible environmental practices.
According to Adamson, in 2014, Tomatin became the first distillery in Scotland to introduce a biomass boiler (historically, the fuel used to heat up the stills, mash tun and so on tends to be oil and coal), which now contributes 80% of the distillery’s entire energy production.
Adamson assured us that changing that fuel source will not impact the spirit itself. “We’re still using the same heat, we’re just getting it from a different source. The biomass boiler uses small wooden pellets which are sustainable.
“We get these from a company which is about 30km away from the distillery, very close to us, so less travel time means less petrol or diesel used on the road,” he said.
The distillery has also introduced a system of reed beds, or wetlands effluent treatment system, consisting of over 18,000 varieties of plants, each with unique properties able to digest the distillery’s liquid waste products.
“Usually, this waste is spread over land as a sort of fertiliser, but by using this series of reed beds, it removes impurities and at the other end you get clean water,” he said. “At the same time, we also reduce the number of tractors needed to transport the waste to and from the distillery.”
The third thing the distillery addressed was the draff, which is the residue leftover from the mashing process. “Historically, that was taken by farmers to the field for cattle feeding. Now we sell them to anaerobic digestion plants and they turn that back into energy that goes back into the public grid,” said Adamson.
“We’re not so much reducing our carbon footprint, but we ARE increasing sustainable energy in Scotland. We’re also doing research into using the by-products of whisky as fuel for cars. We’re very proud of the things that we’re doing."
The important thing is that everything Tomatin distillery does to reduce its impact on the environment does not impact the whisky one bit. “No, it doesn’t impact the whisky at all. These measures don’t cost us more to do, and it’s good for us to do that. But the real benefit is we lessen our impact on the environment.”
Of course, at the same time, Tomatin still needs to uphold its quality standards, and thankfully, its whisky still stands up to the test. During the tasting, Adamson introduced four different expressions of the whisky – the Tomatin Legacy, 12 Year Old, 14 Year Old, and 18 Year Old.
The Legacy was created by distillery general manager, Graham Eunson, who has had stints at Scapa, Glendronach, Glenmorangie and Glenglassaugh, and joined Tomatin in 2011. Eunson created three recipes and gave a sample of each recipe to each member of the staff at the distillery, to try it at home and decide which their favourite was, which then became the Legacy.
The name ‘Legacy’ celebrates the impact the distillery has had on the community of the eponymous town. The distillery was built in 1897 and after that, the previously quiet and isolated village grew to become a town due to the influx of workers and building done to support the distillery.
Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels and virgin oak casks, the whisky itself has lovely notes of bourbon-influenced vanilla, coconut, along with some spicy, nutty notes from the virgin oak influence.
The 12YO, on the other hand, is matured in traditional ex-bourbon barrels and Sherry casks, and is a more traditional highlands single malt – softer, fruitier and almost like a Speyside-style whisky. The 18YO is also exceptional, a multiple award-winning malt that is bursting with sweet honey notes with a hint of chocolates and citrus, and a long, lingering sweet finish.
My favourite of the core range, however, has to be the 14YO, which is matured in a combination of Bourbon barrels and Tawny Port casks which previously held port for around 50 years. The result is a whisky that still holds that signature Tomatin soft, Highland fruitiness, but also adds cherry, dark chocolate, and nutty flavours into the mix, making for a wonderfully dessert-y, almost black forest cake-like flavour to the whisky.
Last but not least, is the Tomatin 36 Year Old, a small batch release that recently won double gold medals at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Matured in a combination of Bourbon barrels and Oloroso Sherry Butts, this truly is a wonderful whisky.
On the nose and the initial palate, there is just so much going on – a complex creaminess on the mouthfeel, with old sherry mustiness initially, but a burst of fresh guava comes through as the whisky stays longer in your mouth.
It may have a short, fruity finish, but trust me, this is a whisky that will linger on your palate, long after you’ve drained the glass.