The idea is beautiful and simple, yet no other distillery seems to have done it before: Tomatin prepared a batch of whisky distilled on the same day (January 15th 2002), initially matured for nine years in traditional ex-bourbon casks, and transferred in June 2011 to different kinds of first-fill sherry casks for another three years.
Four different kinds of sherry, hence the name of the range: Tomatin Cuatro. Two biologically aged sherries (Manzanilla and Fino) and two oxidatively aged sherries (Oloroso and the sweet Pedro Ximénez) were used. This is a wonderful occasion to witness the unique characteristics of each cask and see the effect on the identical base whisky. Educational whisky!
Being a sherry aficionado as well, I asked Tomatin for more details about the sherry, most importantly: are these American oak sherry casks, were all casks / wines supplied by the same bodega, and which bodega would that be? It could have had an extra educational value, but unfortunately this was considered commercially sensitive information…
A limited amount of 1500 bottles is available from each expression. They’re sold for around € 55 each. Too bad there’s no tasting box with 10-20 cl. versions, this would have been a real no-brainer.
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Manzanilla (46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)
Nose: initially this came accross a little unfresh and porridgy, but it settled down nicely. A rather neutral Tomatin nose, with cereals, soft spices and waxy overtones. Yellow plums, pear and white grapes. Mouth: rather sweet (grapes, oranges, apples), hints of lemon cake, with a firm oaky spiciness (white pepper). Soft salty notes. Very smooth and enjoyable, the most natural of all? Finish: medium long, sweet (pastry-like) and peppery.
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Fino (46%, OB 2014, 1500 btl.)
Nose: really similar, the same base notes of sugared cereals, but more biscuity notes (vanilla). This one seems a little dustier and sharper at the same time. Zesty lemon, a little almond paste and walnut. More wood in general. Mouth: less sweet and less fruity. More lemon, slightly more tannins as well. The white pepper has become a chilli. If I had to choose, I would say this is the more coastal overall. Finish: medium long, less smooth than the Manzanilla, with a slight graininess and more spices.
It may seem surprising that I think the Fino is more coastal than the Manzanilla (although Manzanilla wine is produced closer to the Ocean). However a young Manzanilla can be close to a white wine sometimes, which may impart a certain roundness, and the savouriness of a Fino can also be perceived as slightly salty.
In the end it’s obvious that both whiskies are very close together – I don’t think you could guess the sherry type when tasting them blind. Also the influence of the sherry is relatively subtle here: you’re still close to a regular bourbon-matured whisky.
Now on to the oxidative sherries:
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Oloroso (46%, OB 2014)
Nose: a spicy profile rather than the dried fruits galore you may expect from Oloroso. Hints of Christmas cake and red plums. Bramble. Also a slight waxiness that reminds us of the Manzanilla version, mixed with rubbery notes. Mouth: really sweet, almond paste and plenty of Christmas cake now. Caramel and milk chocolate coated nuts. Growing more and more candied. Still hints of rubber. Finish: long, sweet, candied notes but also heavy spices from the wood.
Tomatin Cuatro 12 yo – Pedro Ximénez (46%, OB 2014)
Nose: a slightly more candied, more syrupy sherry influence. Molasses, red candy, blood orange, as well as a sweet liquorice theme. Plum pie. Big hints of cloves and herbal bitters. There’s a kind of vermouth or Manhattan-like element in this whisky, I like that. Mouth: still quite candied, although it’s on par with the Oloroso. Some fruit cake and chocolate but also spices like ginger, clove and pepper. A little fruit tea. Toffee and caramel underneath. Finish: long, heavy sweetness, dark chocolate and a slight oaky bitterness.
No surprises from these two whiskies: if you know these sherries, I’m sure you can deduct a lot of characteristics. Keep in mind though that most Olorosos are dry wines and PX is hugely sweet. This difference doesn’t really show in the whiskies (unless they’ve used sweet Oloroso – it does exist).
In general, a very interesting experiment, but I would have hoped for an even bigger difference between the four. Personally I was already convinced that the actual type of sherry is only of minor importance to the end result (oak type, biological / oxidative, treatment length… are more important) and the Tomatin Cuatro series underlines this.
Sure, there are differences between the four casks (especially between the first two and the last two), but there are also lots of similarities, which is surprising if you consider how far apart the actual wines are. I guess this comes down to the same wood and a relatively limited finishing period.
We hope the same experiment can be done with full-time maturation in the future, or maybe Tomatin kept back a couple of casks and they can release the same whisky with a lengthier finish? Anyway keep ‘em coming, these kinds of ideas!