Review: Tomatin 1989 SMWS (61.4%)

A fair few months back, I got to blind taste a 1970s bottle of VAT 69 head-to-head with a contemporary bottling. Long story short, flared trousers beat skinny jeans, hands-down. In a few weeks’ time I’ll be repeating the experiment with some other household name blends, but it got me thinking.

Modern basic blends are widely believed to be inferior to their 70s and 80s counterparts. It has been posited that this is due to the global demand for single malts decimating stocks of aged malt whisky. What about malt whisky itself? Certainly, there are some people within the industry who maintain that the character of the spirit coming off the stills can change over time. During my summer excursion, one distillery worker in particular stated that the stuff coming out of Dailuaine is now so waxy in character, Diageo’s shelving of the proposed Clynelish expansion won’t be as detrimental to the master blenders as initially thought.

To gain a bit of an insight, I would need to sample from a familiar distillery. The whisky, although distilled a few decades back, would need to be relatively young; I didn’t want the wood overpowering the spirit. For similar reasons, refill cask would be good. Throwing any pretence of scientific integrity out of the window and ignoring the fiercely debated effects of bottle conditioning, I sourced my subject and began my notes.


Nose: Toffee sponge cake for starters, followed by roasted chestnuts and Ovaltine. Dried apricots and candied lemon peel followed soon after. After a few hundred drops of water, lemon tea came to the fore, with a dollop of porridge and golden syrup.

Palate: Prickly at full strength (surprise surprise) with that beautiful, pared-down bourbon cask citrus that Tomatin delivers. Water adds a new dimension bringing marmalade, lemon curd, pepper, new leather and earthy tones. More water turns the whole thing creamy, with rice pudding most readily identifiable.

Finish: Long, fizzy and citric, with new wood, grapefruit pith drawing it out and ending on ash.

Thoughts: Not the most balanced of whiskies, the youth is certainly evident, however it’s punchy, complex and well structured. Very interesting.


score BBig, bold and undeniably Tomatin. I can’t say it’s markedly different to the young cask strength offerings of today; it is, in my opinion, a consistently good producer. This was a pitifully small sample group; I need a lot more time to research… and crisps.

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