I have been sick. Very sick. So sick that I went nearly two weeks without a single dram of single malt Scotch whisky! My work is all about due dates and deadlines, but last week, for the first time in the twelve years I’ve worked at my current job, I broke down and asked for help. Before I did so, I felt like I was trying to meet a deadline while being waterboarded! And yet, all the while, I was reading about whisky, moaning in bed, shivering under blankets in my reading chair, but surfing, as best I could, along the highways and byways of the World of Whisky. And then, two nights ago, when I felt I had regained sufficient health to brave a couple of drams, I poured myself a finger of Highland Park 18; and then, turning to my Longrow 14 year old cask strength, I had another finger, and another. It was like starting to breathe again after holding one’s breath for a dozen days! Oh, yes, Goddam! I was back in the world of great whisky!
If a body could just find oot the exac’ proper proportion and quantity that ought to be drunk every day, and keep to that, I verily trow that he might leev for ever, without dying at a’, and that doctors and kirkyairds would go oot o’ fashion.
– The Ettrick Shepherd, as quoted by Christopher North (1826) and later by Charles MacLean (2008)
When I started thinking about what the Maltfreak should next turn his palate and pen to, this Tobermory from The Maltman came immediately to mind. While I do enjoy an occasional dram of the Tobermory distillery’s own 15 year old, that is an expression it is possible to improve upon. Donald and Andrew Hart, the father and son team behind The Maltman series, are more than capable of achieving that.
This is, however, an odd one. After 18 years in a sherry butt, one would expect a bit of color, some blush, but this is diluted honey at best without a hint of any winey hue. I suspect the sherry butt this came from (#5011) had already been used not once, not twice, but several times before. On the more positive side, the clarity of the liquid is hazy – something I love to see. One can read that a whisky is un-chill-filtered, but it’s always better when that fact is obvious to the naked eye. The distillery’s 15 year old Tobermory has a nice golden hue, but it’s limpid as glass by comparison with this. Bottled at 46% ABV, the apparent consistency here is that of skim milk or lemonade; it has thin, moderately quick legs – nothing that’s going to keep you preoccupied for very long. (7/10)
The nose isn’t pungent – aromas don’t rise from the glass like smoke from a chimney – but it has many elements: cookie dough, wildflower honey, something green and vegetal, some kind of cooking oil – flax seed oil, maybe, and linseed oil, too – with some grass, some hay and something citrusy-lemony. There’s a bit of sulphur – not enough to be a negative quality and not nearly as much as one gets off the nose of the distillery’s current 15 year old. There’s a chalky or flinty aroma in there, too. And the slightest half-wisp of peat smoke. Very good and interesting – certainly enough elements conjoining here for this nose to be called complex, but not so rich that it distracts me from wanting to move on and take a sip. Maybe I’m getting spoiled? (17/20)
On the palate you get a satisfying malty, flaxy, diluted honey swirled with the linseed oil and with the lemony citrus taste intact. There is a hint of cinnamon. What was green and vegetal on the nose now reveals itself as fresh asparagus and baby spinach leaves. Like the nose, this isn’t ‘pungent’ on the tongue and the mouth feel has the consistency of heavily diluted, thin oil. The 15 year old distillery bottling is a bit more oily with a taste that is slightly richer, leading to a more luxurious overall impression on the palate. This is the one place where the distillery bottling is, to me, slightly, just slightly, preferable to this single cask. 17/20
The finish adds barley malt sugars, honey and spice – the cinnamon again but also white pepper. Though it is drying, it lasts long enough, with a sweet burn that continues through the throat and into the upper chest. The finish on the distillery’s 15 year old is more pungent and warm, but hotter and less complex; I prefer this Maltman 18 year old here. 17/20
The balance of elements in the palate and finish, from malt to honey to citrus, linseed oil and asparagus to drying spice, is excellent; and, though the nose takes awhile to decipher, it offers plenty of interest. One can quibble with one or more elements in the nose, palate and finish – but the fact is, as a whole, as a whisky, this works. 18/20
Quality of the Buzz
Finally, the quality of the buzz: This one adds a rather ponderous, low frequency element to something brighter and more sugary. As an intoxicant, this juice could offer more guidance. It doesn’t pull one toward dreamy introspective abandon, lost in the umbra of mythic forests, nor does it get one dancing out there in the moonlight of a simple summer’s eve. As it is, it’s interesting, but a bit undecided on direction; it keeps one hovering in mid-frequencies. 7/10.
Total points for this whisky: 83
Improving on a Classic…