"Glory to Tomatin's series! They have really succeeded in finding ways to truthfully show the different aspects of the whole whisky making process"
(Photo from Tomatin)
This recently released series from Tomatin Distillery symbolises the relation of the whisky-making process with the philosophy of ancient civilisations. Among others, the Chinese philosophy of the Wu Xing (which means moving) consist of the 5 elements wood, fire, earth, metal and water, which form a continues cycle: water feeds wood, wood sustains fire, fire gives life to earth, earth yields metal, metal gather water, etc. The idea is that these five elements form also the basis for the distillery process (peat = earth; water = water as one of the main ingredients, fire = drying, distilling & charring of the casks; metal = copper stills; wood = maturation). The look of the series has been designed by artist Eva Ullrich (movie in sidebar), who has painted 5 abstract artworks that represent the interaction between the 5 elements and the whisky.
Below are the characteristics of the 5 releases (in order of release).
Wood. Matured in ‘carefully’ selected French, American and Hungarian oak casks to represent the many varieties of 177,000 casks that Tomatin holds in their warehouses.
Fire. Matured in heavily charred oak casks which, having been fired before previous use, were stripped then re-fired stimulating new, fresh vanilla flavours.
Earth. Consists of peat-dried malted barley, quite unusual for Tomatin that only distills peated malt during the last two weeks of the year without ever releasing it before, and matured in refill hogsheads.
Metal. Matured in first fill bourbon barrels to represent Tomatin’s unique twelve copper stills.
Water. Deliberately employs winter distilled spirit, where reduced contact with the copper stills enriches the final flavour, thought to represent the water of the Alt-na-Frith burn, their year-round water source.
Wood. Friendly, sweet(ish) and pleasant. Some sweet cookie dough with vanilla extract, coconut scrapings, juice from tinned pineapples and then the oak spices start to arrive. In fact, these are quite pleasant, because I was just starting to think that the nose was not that exciting. Fresh wood, pine woods in the morning, a hint of pencil shavings, and some graphite itself included. Very well balance between wood-derived vanillin and tannins. You need to give this some time, because then the integration of the different components starts to take shape. The spirit is not to far with a clear scent of barley juice. Then melting brown sugar and burned pancakes start enter the mix. I must say that I quite like the start to this series!
Fire. Burned things. That’s my first impression. Wood that is just thrown into the fire, hot metal and burning rubber. I could be wrong, but do I detect some sherry influence? A tight one, which needs to be released with a drop of water. Develops into fresh apples, polished wood and a hint of leather. After more time some vanilla comes to the foreground.
Earth. The peat is present, but this is no Islay peat! It’s sweeter, very friendly, with a fruity backbone. I can find some citrus fruits (orange, lemon) and green fruits (apples, pears). The fruits grow stronger in time, and mix very well with the peat. Orange skin, a hint of tobacco, water with a slice of lime and a branch of rosemary. So far, my favourite.
Metal. We expect some evident bourbon cask influence, and yes, we got it! Full on oranges, and quite punchy on the alcohol. Could be that my mind is playing tricks, but I do detect some metallic notes. Some water reveals a bit more subtlety. Orange soda, lemon merengue, the typical Tomatin sweet fruits are released in the background. You to search a little bit, but there are hints of copper and iron. Maybe even tin cans. What I like is that, again, the nose is completely different from the other releases. This one is more clean and straightforward. Also more sour and spirity.
Water. Very pleasant, my first thought, with honey on crackers, gingerbread, grandma’s apple pie with nuts and cinnamon, and barley sugar. Perfectly balanced spirit with a good combination of sherry and bourbon cask maturation. Add to that some poppy seeds, hints of young rye whisky, and slightly floral. The apples, pears, some apricots, golden raisins, sweet cherries and Mirabelle plums brighten up the nose with an array of fruitiness. A few drops of water opens it up and makes it sweeter with more different varieties of honey.
Wood. An overload of tannins to start with. Sour wood shavings, sour dough, burned brown sugar and pine juice. Very drying and sharp. I think this might need some drops. Yes, better. Bitter vanilla, coconut candies and toasted wood. The palate is not overly complex, but adding some water brings a sort of balance to it. The finish is long with more wood (hence the name, probably?), raw vanilla and fresh coconut.
Fire. Smouldering wood fires, burned tannins (?), again this accompanies its name very well. Bitter, like burned almonds, slightly sour red wine and a touch of sweetness in the background. Bring in the water. Indeed, we get more notes. Crystalised sugar, maple sirup, a hint of reduced wine and raisins (again, sherry?). Much better now. Pancakes (with maple sirup), apple pie prepared with whole slices of apple covered with cinnamon. Develops into some lovely tobacco leaves. The wood is sappy and the tannins stay in check. The finish is fairly long with more sappy charred wood, tobacco leaves and vanilla.
Earth. Fruits open the ball on the palate. Sweet apples, juicy pears and some lemon drops. The peat kicks in, politely, with just a few ppm. Probably not for fans of peat monsters, but I find that it fits very well with the Tomatin style. The peat is earthy, sweet and herbal. You could probably add a few drops of Lagavulin, or a few more of Ledaig, to a standard Tomatin, and come up with this. The strength is perfect. Did I already say I liked it? Well, I do, very much. Now there are more and more oranges, citrus sweets and green herbs, rosemary, a touch of lavender. Simple but very effective.
Metal. Orange peel, ginger and cardamon. All the classics are there. A few drops of water soften the sharp edges. The orange-y notes become more complex, juice, parts, soda, peel. More ginger and cardamon, and some sour apples. The metallic edge is more clear in the palate. Like licking a copper thingy, uhm, well, something made from copper (we do not polish much in our house these days…). The finish is sour, slightly sharp, and contain stem ginger, orange peel, oxidised apples, calvados, and becomes slightly herbal in the end. Oh, I forgot the metals.
Water. Smooth with a spicy edge. Honey, winter spices (aniseed, caraway and ginger), freshly baked bread and croissants form a lovely combination. Brings water to my mouth. Rye bread, more honey, dough, bread and caramel appear after a few drops of water. Did they put some drops of a craft rye or bourbon in this? The finish is spicy and slightly drying. Minor critic: maybe this lacks some fruitiness from the other expression.
So this series has brought me an entertaining tasting session. I really love exploring this kind of (slightly) experimental whiskies that show the different aspects of the art of whisky making. Often this kind of releases only mean smart marketing of some kind of newly discovered cask type by someone in the distillery who thinks that this could be exploited to get increase profits. Not this time! I believe that they really thought this through and succeeded to find ways to truthfully show the different aspects of the whole distillation process. Glory to them! Anyway, I recently reviewed the 18-year-old Tomatin, and found it very good, so I expect to do some more Tomatin tasting in the near future. One of the distilleries to check regularly, definitely.
Wood. Golden straw. Fire. Pale straw. Earth. Pale gold. Metal. Pale gold. Water. Copper.
Big thanks to for sharing the samples!
• these are my personal views, so do not take them too seriously… nothing beats tasting these for yourself •