Taste Review #143 Tamnavulin Sherry Cask
Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. That’s the phrase that continually comes to mind when I think about Tamnavulin. It always seems to have a presence on any supermarket shelf, and never ever near the more premier brands. I’m a bit wary of Whyte and Mackay whiskies, as I can never understand their seeming obsession with chill filtering and adding colour, especially to Dalmore. I’ve never really connected to Fettercairn yet and the less said about Jura the better. I have thankfully connected to Invergordon, but normally just the independent bottlings. So that leaves the shelf queen of Tamnavulin. One of those whiskies that always seems to be available for £20 at the Co-op. As this price range often includes the Glen Keith NAS Distillery edition, you’ll understand why I give it a miss.
The Sherry cask edition appeared on Tesco shelves for £45 but it seemed to be a little more than I wanted to pay for a litre of whisky I may not like. But when it made a drop down to £30 it was a no-brainer to try. I did buy a bottle, but was reticent about opening it, so put it in the drinking pile in storage and then bought the sample from drinks by the dram.
According to the information on the Tamnavulin website, this has been matured initially in American Oak, which I am going to assume is Bourbon, and finished in a range of three sherry casks. I’m going presume that will probably be PX, Oloroso and I’ll assume another oxidatively matured sherry such as Amontillado, but no further details are given.
The Tamnavulin distillery opened its doors in 1966, so it is a relative newcomer to Speyside. It is one of three distilleries in Glenlivet, with Glenlivet being the most northerly one, Tamnavulin being the middle one, in the hamlet of Tomnavuilin on the B9008 Ballindalloch to Tomintoul road. The most southerly distillery in Glenlivet is Braeval, which is the highest distillery in Scotland according to my GPS. The whole area is quite remote and I’d hate to live up there in winter, but it’s easy to see why Glenlivet was so popular with illicit distillers.
Being on the west river bank of the River Livet, at this point the Tamnavulin distillery just sneaks into the Cairngorm National Park boundary. This distillery takes its name from the Scots Gaelic meaning ‘Mill on the hill’. There happens to be an old carding mill within the distillery grounds which is where local shepherds would take fleeces to be made into wool.
Rather than spinning out a story, let’s take a look at the whisky.
Tamnavulin Sherry Cask
Region -Speyside Age – NAS Strength – 40% ABV Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – a sharp acidic note which I am assuming to be E150, honey, vanilla, red apple, dried fruit, brown sugar, sherry notes, slight maltiness Palate – Slightly oily mouthfeel but thin. Cadbury Caramels – caramel and milk chocolate, blackberry jam. Slight nuttiness Finish – medium. Chocolate, sweet, slight wood spice, creamy.
There is nothing better than being proved wrong. I thought I was potentially up for a stinker of a whisky and I was mistaken. Premium this is not, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not complex in any way, but drunk neat this to my mind is a well balanced whisky. No sharp spices or alcohol burn. I mostly got fruit, caramel and chocolate from the smell and flavour notes.
In my humble opinion, £45 for a litre may seem to some as expensive but perhaps not. While I’m normally unlikely to pay that for supermarket whisky at NAS, at £30 this has to be a very good value bottle. I’ll probably buy another and open it, leaving one in store for later on as it would be something I’d want to drink again in the future.
My only complaint would be for Whyte and Mackay to stop chill filtering and colouring this whisky. I’m not a snob and I do enjoy whiskies that have been filtered and coloured, but I think it would be better without. 40% seems to be fine for what it is, I found the lack of burn was part of what made this experience much more enjoyable, so the flavours came through more strongly. For enthusiasts this may not the best whisky in the world, but enough of a sherried whisky experience without the sherry overpowering everything else, and would be a good whisky for a beginner to try. It certainly has my favour over the Aberlour 12 which at a similar price proved to be disappointing.
I’d say this whisky can represent value even at £45 for a litre. If you see it offered for less, snap it up. A 70cl bottle is currently being sold on Master Of Malt for £32.95 at time of writing and at Tesco £40 for a litre. At these prices you cannot go wrong. However I encourage you to seek this whisky out at your independent spirit specialist, as the big boys don’t really need your money.
Yours In Spirits,
All Photos – Authors Own
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3 thoughts on “The hill with a mill and now some stills.”
I was staying in Glenlivet one time, as in literally next door to the distillery, so I did a wee circular walk to take in Tamnavulin. It was a pretty industrial operation with no visitor centre and green rooves lending that cement factory ambience. but I did have a wee lookie through the windows at the stills. Tomnavuilin is the definition of a one horse town.
Anyway I also found the litre bottle at £30 in Tesco, I think it had just been introduced. Sorry to be contrary but it’s the only bottle of whisky that I’ve ever actually returned to the shop. From the moment I popped the cork all I could smell was sulphur and I couldn’t even stomach finishing a dram.
Of course, batches vary, maybe it was a one off but I’m not keen to find out. I recall, maybe 10-12 years back, Lidl’s Ben Bracken 12 was reckoned to be Tamnavulin. I had a bottle of that and it was OK.
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Don’t worry about being contrary! It’s good to hear of your experience. I suspect it was batch variation, as I dare say this isn’t premium whisky. The cheaper price of Tamnavulin has put me off trying the white wine cask as I’m betting given it’s obviously made to a price point, that the wine casks May not be the best. Plus I’m not a fan of dry white wine. Might take a chance though.
A good tip for sulphury whisky is to leave the cork off for 24hrs. I’ve done that in the past and often makes a totally unpalatable dram a lot better.
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Good time to try the wine cask, it’s discounted to £20 on Amazon today: