Tomintoul Distillery, Speyside, Scotland
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Tomintoul Distillery, Speyside, Scotland

I recently had the privilege of tasting through a full line of single-malt scotch whiskies from Tomintoul, all of which reflected different ages, aging methods, and other variables. Tomintoul is located in the southern reaches of the swath of scotch-producing country known as Speyside. The distillery's motto is “The Gentle Dram” and indeed it fits. Tomintoul's Robert Fleming is a fifth generation master distiller. The result is truly artful and highly civilized. All these whiskies but one are unpeated.

I began my journey with the Tomintoul 10, available here for between $40 and $55. In the United States, 12 years seems to be our excitement point, but the 10 brought fine rewards: a lovely pale gold color, a soft, gentle nose with toffee, stewed fruit and hazelnut, a little spice, perfume with some malt on the palate. This is relatively light-bodied whisky to match the gentleness of the flavor profile but there is nothing metaphorically lightweight about it; the finish is long and pleasantly grassy.

Tomintoul does produce a 12 year old, part of which which they age 18 months in used Oloroso sherry casks. You will pay about $80 for this fine scotch. An inviting amber/gold, the nose brings across just enough of the sherry richness to interest but not enough to overwhelm; it brought also a light cedar element, with clean malt and some fresh herb. The palate—smooth as silk—brings malt and wild berry fruit. The finish is gentle and long. From initial attack to mid-palate to finish, very clean yet complex.

The Tomintoul 16 is a mainstream amber. The nose laces malt with bread with hazelnut and caramel; nothing in excess and beautifully balanced. The palate is soft, initially tinged orange blossom sweet, but then it opens up with distinct baking spice, nutmeg and butterscotch (as the payoff for the nose's caramel). Sweet oak leads on the long spice-enriched finish. You will pay $45 to $65.

The Tomintoul 27 will set you back between $200 and $250 (although I believe this is a set back that can actually advance the interests of a scotch-lover). Deep amber. The nose is toffee sweet with dried fruit, vanilla and some distinct oak. The palate is a confection of orange peel, toffee, vanilla, smoky here, sweet there, capricious in the best sense of the term. In the mouth, the 27 is rich and round, with a full-flavored and patient finish that ends quite dry, with a final coda of smoke.

The Tomintoul 31 will launch you beyond the $400 level, but you will feel the warmth of patriotic pride knowing that much of this whisky is bourbon cask matured. Gold ingot in color. Two major elements stand out on the nose for me: a rich rancio toffee-like note that brings the distinctness of a Hungarian Tokaji, almost with a botrytis element, and a multi-layered smokiness I likened to the deep smoke of a kippered herring shed. The nose also has cream, vanilla, heather and wild mountain berries; these come sequentially, allowing you to nose this marvel for a good ten minutes (which tends to protect your investment). The mouth-filling palate has spice, oak, vanilla, dried mountain herb and a smokiness that places you rather further away from the herring curing shack. The finish is rich and offers a mature yet ardent touch of the charred insides of those bourbon casks. These are but words of course; the 31 has its own vocabulary. If you do encounter this whisky, give the nose plenty of time.

The Tomintoul Peated—$40-$55—has no age statement. A nice sparkling gold, the major note at all levels is of course peat, and yet this is subtle peat. Sweet fruit, spice and earthy smokiness greet the nose. Medium-bodied. The palate adds a fine touch of chocolate covered hazelnut with some citrus. The finish, as one could imagine, is an affair of lingering peat, yet it also has some satisfying dried fruit, dried flower elements and more of the citrus. It is a mistake to liken this whisky to its Islay “brothers-in-peat” since, despite significantly different flavor elements to the other Tomintoul offerings, it shares that “Gentle Dram” quality. I guess you've figured out by now that I like the Tomintoul line.

Verdict: A rich array

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Good scotch whisky challenges the power of English vocabulary.

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award
James Beard Award Nominee Elliot Essman

food writer Elliot Essman James Beard Foundation Journalism Award

Fifth generation Master Distiller Robert Fleming at Tomintoul whisky distillery,
Speyside, Scotland.

Fifth generation Master Distiller Robert Fleming at Tomintoul.

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