Sunday, May 24, 2020

it's 10pm and time to get speyed

Very belatedly - even more belatedly than last year, it turns out - here's the post-Christmas whisky round-up. I was lucky enough to get a good selection of stuff, including a few things I hadn't tried before alongside the old favourites like the Highland Park and the Johnnie Walker Black Label. There were four new ones, in fact, so what I'll do is compare them in pairs over two posts, to avoid either of the posts getting arse-numbingly long.

First up are Tomatin and Speyburn. Both solid, well-established distilleries that, coincidentally, were founded in the same year, 1897. Despite being only around 30 miles apart as the crow flies, the two distilleries are in different whisky regions, Speyburn being (as you'd expect from the name) in the Speyside region and Tomatin being in the Highland region. It's all about the water: despite the distilleries' geographical proximity the River Findhorn from which Tomatin takes its water finds its own way to the sea without being a tributary of the River Spey.

Back in the 1970s Tomatin was one of the biggest distilleries in the world, operating 20-odd stills (about the same number as Glenfiddich has today); things are somewhat reduced since then and it hasn't ever really been a big player in the single malt market. But here is Tomatin Legacy, conforming to what is the new standard for entry-level whisky by not carrying an age statement. Next one up in the range is a 12-year-old which will set you back an extra ten quid or so.

A quick scan of the box reveals no cryptic foreign text simultaneously announcing and concealing the presence of artificial colourants, so that's probably a good thing. It's quite a light golden colour, as befits something which claims to have been matured (for an unspecified amount of time) in ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks. There's a slightly "hot" estery magic marker whiff which is a hallmark of relatively young whisky - I should also add that this stuff is bottled at 43% so it's slightly "hotter" than some others purely by virtue of this.

Very few surprises when you drink it - slightly sweet, slightly biscuity, none of the corned beef and parsnips you get with some of the more wild and hairy-chested ones. Basically it's a perfectly quaffable dram which I would struggle to distinguish from a whole host of other non-peaty Speyside and Highland whiskies which have appeared on this blog; just from the recent-ish archives you've got Aberfeldy and Tamnavulin which would both fall into the same category.

Next up is the Speyburn: this one is 10 years old, though there is an entry-level no-age-statement one called Bradan Orach. So you can argue, if you like, that already we're not quite comparing apples with apples here, and I can (and will) say: bollocks.

Speyburn is guilty of having a slightly boring name; this isn't entirely its own fault, as it genuinely does reside on a burn that is a tributary of the Spey, and the obvious name making use of the name of the nearest town had already been bagged. It is nowhere near as rubbish, to be fair, as the new Speyside distillery which opened up in the 1980s and decided to call itself, after (presumably) literally minutes of brainstorming by the marketing team, *drum roll* The Speyside.

As you can see from the picture below, there's almost no difference in colour between the Tomatin (on the right) and the Speyburn; this is slightly surprising for no fewer than three reasons: firstly the Speyburn is older, which generally means darker, secondly it claims to have been at least partly matured in ex-sherry casks, which generally impart a darker colour, and thirdly the packaging carries the weaselly German and Danish disclaimers which denote the inclusion of a whack of caramel colouring.

There's very little to distinguish the two on having a sniff, either: big magic marker action, maybe just a hint of something a bit more meaty and interesting underneath, but you don't really get a significant difference until you have a sip, at which point you notice that the Speyburn is less sweet than the Tomatin. I mean, it's not exactly a chalk and cheese kind of thing, but there is at least a discernible difference.

Since there is barely a fag-paper of difference between them I'd struggle to express a firm preference for one or the other: on balance I'd probably go for the Speyburn just because there is a hint of slightly greater depth. But, you know, they're both perfectly fine if the polite end of the range is your thing. My preference remains for the west and north Highlanders and the non-Islay (no disrespect to Islay) Islanders.

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