I’m pretty excited about today’s pairing. First of all, because it’s from one of my only recently discovered and immediately newly favourite distilleries, and second, because I get to compare an entry-level distillery bottling against an independent, albeit a much older single cask whisky. It already sounds like the 22-year-old will win this round, but perhaps there is a surprise along the way. So let’s see if we can uncover the flavours. But first, music! Now playing: LAAPS 2020-2021 mix.
Tamdhu is a Speyside distillery named after the “little dark hill” in Gaelic. It is currently owned by Ian MacLeod, who, among the many brands of various spirits, also owns Rosebank, Glengoyne and Smokehead. One of the most significant Tamdhu’s “selling points” is that all of their casks come directly from their owned facility in Spain, where the company selects the oak, builds each barrel, fills it with Oloroso sherry from the local bodegas, and then allows each one to mature for about two years [you can watch their promotional video]. And although I am pretty wary of marketing, I feel that this process contributes to the overall taste of the whisky. I can almost smell the Oloroso sherry itself as I bring the glass towards my nose. On the taste, it has buttery and nutty notes of toffee, warm cinnamon roll, and vanilla toasted oak. It’s a pretty clean and very impressive dram, with balanced sweetness and a very full body, with just enough tingle on the tip of my lips. Coming in at 43% ABV and £43, this 12-year-old Scotch has no additional colouring and looks precisely as it would come from the first-fill sherry-seasoned casks [both from American and European oak]. My only question is – what do they do with all that sherry after it’s been sitting in those casks?
Moving onto the next pour, I’m exhilarated with anticipation, and I’m not at all disappointed from the very first taste [and yes, I’ve opened this bottle a while ago]. But what’s even more impressive is that this single cask is almost identical in flavour and tasting notes, except that it’s even smoother, rounder, with a touch of that dried grape sweetness (like a cognac finish). Because of its age, it’s an even easier drink, but your mileage may vary – it is bottled at natural cask strength (51.4%), so it depends on how much water you decide to put into it. I’m pretty good at maths, so I dilute it down to about 45%. Given that it’s a very unique bottling, I paid up a premium (I purchased mine at The Whisky Trail on The Royal Mile in Edinburgh for something like £130 [but who remembers these things?]), and yet it is still cheaper than Tamdhu’s new Cigar Malt [which I am very excited to try soon] or a 10-year-old from the 1980s which is currently going for £150. Also, because it’s from a single cask (a hogshead in this case), there is no mixture of the two types of oak. Bottled by Càrn Mòr, as an “unadulterated expression” to honour and “celebrate” each hand-selected special cask, drinking this Tamdhu is a truly unique experience, one which is a bit difficult to reproduce since even I can’t find the very same bottle again [there were only 187 of them made anyway].
At first glance, from the taste and impression, it feels almost natural to lean towards and select an independent bottling of an exceptional cask. I appreciate the higher ABV and a chance to encounter this whisky as close to “drinking straight from the cask as possible.” And without a doubt, this 1997 distilled and 2019 Càrn Mòr bottling delivers. It’s still a favourite. But I just can’t seem to shake off the initial revelation of the 12-year-old all on its own. It’s a single malt that really delivered for its pricing, ABV and the overall quality of Scotch, it felt more exciting and came in above expectations, so with that, I must proclaim, that the 12-year-old wins this round.