Tomintoul. The family distillery pronounced "Tom-in-towel".
Tomintoul. As most of you are probably like me with the Scottish dialects; I had trouble with this one. I was told by my lovely tour guide, Tom, who is also the distillery manager, that there is really only one true way to remember the pronunciation for this distillery. Imagine Tom, the distillery manager, on a cold day and he takes a nice, hot shower. When he gets out of the shower and wraps a towel around him then you have “Tom-in-towel”. That folks, is exactly how you pronounce this distillery! This was one of those visits where I was able to walk around for over two hours with the distillery manager himself. I learned a massive amount, not only about the Tomintoul Single Malts, but also their blending capabilities and capacity.
Tomintoul is located quite remotely compared to the other Speyside region distilleries. You will definitely lose service on your phone as you drive through the forest and national park to arrive at their facility. Tomintoul is owned by Angus Dundee. A family run company that made the distillery purchase in the year 2000. Apparently both the daughter and son run everything from sales, marketing, stock and production. You can probably assume why they don’t typically give tours, because of their purpose. Right about 98% of their production goes to blends for third parties. I was not told what blends these include and I am not sure my guide new all of them either. Usually this partnership information is held tight lip. This leaving 2% of production going to the Tomintoul Single Malt. Their grain and blend center is currently running at one million liters of spirit per year. It is then stored racked as seen in the picture below.
This racked system was really interesting to me. Most distilleries show you the beautiful dunnage warehouses where their single malts are aged. Usually only stacked about three high and all with the bung hole facing upwards. These grain spirits are not cared for as well. They are worth money and of course important, but if one leaks, it is left to die. No one is going into that stack to find it and it is just lost in the mix. Whereas if a single malt cask was leaking you would have someone mending it ASAP.
In regards to their production equipment and capabilities, everything was running while I was visiting. Nothing was polished of course though, because they aren’t trying to impress any visitors! Surprise..those pretty copper stills are not that shiny on their own. They use 6-7 barley suppliers and outsource their malting. They currently take in about 175 tons of malt per week and use concerto barley. Tom stressed to me that good quality barley is important, but the most important factor to whisky making for Tomintoul is how it is malted and the quality of the malt. They are always strict on no peat, no nitrogen and low phenol's. These specifications can all be dictated to the malt facilities. The mash tun is stainless steel and has a 70,000 liter capacity. Three waters are run ranging from 65 degrees Celsius up to 82 degrees Celsius. The fermentation process lasts around 60 hours as they prefer a slow fermentation period to help bring out the fruity flavors they desire. There are 6 washbacks on site and two of each kind of still. The stills were quite tall as you will see in the picture and a medium sized re-flux bulge. The lyne arm is angled upwards and has a narrow exit as to keep the re-flux intense and only take the lighter spirit. When it comes to aging they use everything from bourbon barrels, ruby port and olorosso sherry. The bottling is then done off site and whatever isn’t bottled will be sold away for blends.
I want to talk a bit about a process called “tea-spooning”, since it came up a few times during my visit. Some of you whisky folks know all about it and other people not so much. I am still not an expert on this, so if anyone reading this has corrections please do let me know. As I have learned through multiple distillery visits and distillery manager conversations, tea-spooning has been going on for decades and it is how a brand can ensure that their name is never used in a way they wouldn’t want. For example if Tomintoul decided to sell some of their whisky to the Johnnie Walker blend, then they would literally put a small, teaspoon amount of some other spirit into the tanker before they ship it off to wherever Johnnie Walker is being bottled. It then is received under a totally different name and not the brand name. By doing this, legally, the Johnnie Walker blend can never use the Tomintoul name at anytime. This saves the brand image and keeps people from abusing a successful brand name to increase sales.
Now back to Tomintoul and a few of the drams I tasted.
10 Year Tomintoul Single Malt
Holly’s Tasting note..
Nose: Honey, graham cracker, dry, old chocolate bar, coconut cookie, espresso beans.
Palate: Brown sugar, biscuit, coconut, peanut brittle.
This had a lot of bite to it. Was a little sharp for my palate.
16 Year Tomintoul Single Malt
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Caramel, nutty, lemon meringue pie and maybe apples.
Palate: Creamy sugar start, caramel chew, fresh barley and almonds.
This one was much better than the 10YR with less bite. Was very easy to drink and was a classic Speyside! Overall I like Tomintoul. They are obviously in existence for many different reasons, but still put out a good dram. I would stick to the 16 Year and the 25 Year if possible. I also want to give a quick shout out to my lovely guide- Tom Gerrie. He will be retiring soon and I am so thankful I was not only able to meet him, but pick his brain about the whisky world and learn from his wealth of experience. Thanks again Tom!