Tomatin Distillery barrel room
Drinks,  Scotland,  Travel,  United Kingdom

City Girl Whisky Diary: Exploring the softer side of whisky with Tomatin Distillery 

Okay, ladies. This question’s mostly for you. Regardless of whether you enjoy a dram or not, when you think about whisky, what comes to mind? Don Draper from Mad Men? Stuffy old men with cigars? Maybe the thought that it tastes like rocket fuel?

The second and latter of those were my thoughts on whisky for the longest time. And then I travelled to Scotland for the first time. Turns out I had been trying the wrong kinds of Scotch. And then one day, I found one that didn’t taste (for me) like rocket fuel. But that’s a story for another day. My point is that while the vast selection of whisky available can be intimidating (as discussed here), the misconceptions and stereotypes need to be addressed.

So let’s quash the stereotypes. 1) Yes, Don Draper drank sale increasing amounts of whisky on Mad Men (though it wasn’t Scotch, it was Canadian Club), but Peggy Olson steamed her way into the advertising boys club and sipped whisky while she was breaking through that pesky glass ceiling. Whisky isn’t just for men to enjoy. 2) Whisky is not old and stuffy. It’s fresh and fun – but if you want to smoke a cigar while drinking it, go for it; and 3) Everyone’s palate is different. What tastes like rocket fuel to one person will taste like nectar to another.

I encourage everyone to get curious and figure out what they like. While some whiskies can taste a bit harsh, there are some lovely, softer-tasting Scotch whiskies out there.

The softer side of whisky

Case in point: Tomatin Distillery, with their award-winning Highland single malts and recent rebranding to their ‘Softer Side of the Highlands’ slogan and campaign. The girls and I went there for a tour on our recent Highlands road trip and we had a great time.

When I was researching distilleries for us to visit, I came across Tomatin on Google Maps as it is right near where we were staying. I clicked on their link and immediately fell in love with the coo (not a typo) in red wellies on their landing page.

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How can you not fall in love this adorable creature?

I did some digging, and kind of like how I occasionally buy wine based on fun or pretty bottle labels, I decided we needed to go this place based on their ad campaign. And this description of their product:

The smooth, rounded hills sheltering the Tomatin Distillery reflect the softer side of nature in this quiet corner of the Highlands. Here, bubbling pure spring water, tender barley and gentle patience all go into creating an incredibly soft Highland whisky. A whisky which is as easy to enjoy as it is hard to forget.

Who doesn’t want to taste that? I immediately emailed them to arrange a tour.

Located 16 miles south of Inverness and 15 miles north of Aviemore, Tomatin is a beautiful and vast property. When you’re driving up to the Visitor Centre, it feels like you’re en route to the manor house in a historical novel. It’s obviously not a manor house, but you know what I mean. That being said, there are homes on the property, as most of the staff live on the grounds.  (I had an ‘awww’ moment when I found out that the Office Manager and Groundsman are married.)

The Tomatin Distillery tour

Tomatin Distillery

Tomatin opened in 1897 and has gone through the highs and the lows of the alcohol industry in its 120 years. Though Tomatin is now Japanese-owned, their owners have left them be to combine their legacy and tradition with 21st-century marketing and technology. An example of this ‘blend’ is the on-site Cooper who makes all the casks, and the VR headsets they bring to trade shows so people can virtually tour the distillery and grounds. (Fun fact: The Cooper (barrel maker) is the son of the Office Manager and Groundsman.)

But if you’re after an in-person tour, this is a fantastic one. We were put on their first Legacy Tour of the day, with the adorable Scott as our tour guide. He was very knowledgeable and entertaining, which always makes a tour that much more fun. All the Tomatin visitor tours take you step-by-step through the whisky-making process, on a wander through the cooperage and barrel room, and of course, end with a dram in the tasting room. The Legacy Tour, at £8, is the basic and most #GetThrifty option — and includes a tasting of three of their selections.

Tomatin runs a very impressive operation and the tour is top-notch. Very tangible and nothing really like any of the tours I’ve been on in the past. I mean, how many places have decommissioned mash tuns that you can stand in?

Decommissioned mash tun at Tomatin Distillery
Me in a decommissioned mash tun. It was easily the size of a hotel room!

The tasting experience

When we got to the tasting room, I was very excited that we got to taste their lightly peated Cù Bòcan (named for a mythical black beast). This was right in my wheelhouse. The 12 Year and Legacy were a pleasant surprise for me as they were, as advertised, very smooth and much softer in their taste than most Highland whiskies I’ve tried. The 12 Year was particularly lovely. These are excellent options if you’re curious but don’t want anything too strong in taste.

Tomatin Distillery whisky bottles

Normally, a non-peated whisky tends to illicit a wrinkled nose from me when the liquid hits a certain point in my throat. Not this time. And while I’ve been told the nose wrinkle is cute, I was pleased my palate managed to not embarrass me.

Tasting at Tomtatin Distillery

As most places with tastings do these days, Tomatin acknowledges the poor soul who didn’t get to experience the tasting: the designated driver. Alison got to leave with a very nice little bottle of Legacy whisky. I thought this was a nice touch, and spoke to the caliber of the distillery and what they put forward. The shop also provides the option to fill your own bottle of their cask strength distillery exclusive whisky.

Girls trip to Tomatin Distillery
Exploring the barrel room with some of my very best friends.

We had such a good time and I highly recommend a distillery tour as a fun activity for a group of friends, a date, or for a family (educational for the kids, fun for the adults). Personally, I would like to go back and do their tutored nosing and tasting, which is part of their Single Cask Experience. As with wine, I want to better my palate and nose.

I hope you get a chance to visit this lovely place!

P.S. If you’re curious about the whisky-making process, here’s a great infographic from Tomatin. It describes things way better than I ever could!

Thank you to the Tomatin Distillery marketing team for making this excursion possible for me and the girls. As always, opinions are my own.

I love a Scotch that’s old enough to order its own Scotch.

Robin Scherbatsky (from How I Met Your Mother)

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