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Maltstock 2013: Tasting the Tamdhu 10

My final masterclass of Maltstock was the one I put at the top of my list – Tamdhu with Antony McCallum-Caron. Ever since I tried the recently released Tamdhu 10 I’ve been rather interested in what else the distillery might produce, and as such was rather keen to know what Antony might have brought along with him.

Tamdhu has recently entered the Ian Macleod portfolio. An independent bottler and blender, they picked up Glengoyne in 2003 and brought Tamdhu into the fold in 2011. Tamdhu was previously part of the Edrington group (the folks behind Highland Park, Macallan, Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse, amongst others) and other than a rather neglected 10 year old bottling the distillery’s output went primarily into blends. A few independent bottlings popped up from time to time, but it was in the main a relatively unknown producer.

The distillery was founded in 1887 by a businessman from Speyside called William Grant (not that William Grant) and a group of other similarly minded folks involved with the whisky industry, with the aim of being the most modern distillery of the time. They had their own watermill to produce electricity, malted onsite and survived pretty much unchanged until the 1960s, in part thanks to being closed between 1928 and 1948, when the distillery was updated with a lot of automation and a variety of ‘beautiful’ concrete buildings.

Skipping forward to the present day, there’s not been a lot done since the 1960s update, and Ian Macleod are now putting in a chunk of money and effort into bringing it up to date. First on the list seems to be fuel, as the site currently runs on expensive fuel oil – there are plans in place to bring in a gas line, and they are in negotiation with other nearby distilleries to share the cost. They also don’t have a visitors centre, something much mentioned during the masterclass…

The distillery was closed for 6 months before Ian Macleod took over and many of the former distillery staff still live in the cottages next to the distillery, although most now work elsewhere. However, running the distillery is Sandy Coutts, a former distillery manager who retired and was lured back when they reopened. While Edrington were in charge they ran the distillery at about half capacity, a ‘mere’ 2 million litres of alcohol per year. The new owners have now kicked up production to 3 million litres with an eye to going up to the current capacity of 4 million litres.

The setup at the distillery is quite traditional, 60s computer systems aside, with nine oregon pine washbacks that are in the process of being replaced – three have been done already with the rest on the list of improvements needed. They have six stills in operation and have a number of traditional, three cask high dunnage warehouses on site to mature their spirit. They are also in the process of building another six warehouses to store the rest of the Ian Macleod stock – only a year and a bit in and they’re already very much part of the family.

Tamdhu 1

First we had a try of their new make, lightly peated to their traditional recipe of ‘one tonne of malt, one bucket of peat’. Also known as about 5ppm. On the nose there was mulchy grain, slightly high butter, stewed Granny Smith apples and apple skin. To taste it was sweet and fruity, with sharp apple and pungent apple, warming spice and tannic edges. It finished with more apple and some sweet orange peel.

We moved on to the first component of the Tamdhu 10 – a cask sample of 2001 distilled whisky matured in an American oak sherry butt. On the nose it had vanilla toffee, caramel, gummi fruit and some sour fruit juice – unsweetened orange Capri Sun maybe. Along with that was lots of woody spice, almost rye whiskey-like, and a touch of sweet butter icing. On the palate it kicked off with burnt caramel, big woody spice, stewed raisins, nutmeg, clove, brown sugar, liquorice, green herby hints, and both cinnamon and alcohol heat – the latter expected at 63.5%.

Next we tried the other half of the Tamdhu 10 story – a cask sample of 2001 distilled whisky from a European oak oloroso sherry butt, presented at 58%. On the nose it led with Crunchie bars and raisins, cinnamon, clove, touches of leather and little bit of rubbery sulphur. To taste it had brown sugar and rich, syrupy raisins backed up by black liquorice, Eccles cakes, rich red fruit and hot woody spice. It finished with dark chocolate, cinnamon, dark fruit, menthol, anis and liquorice.

Tamdhu 2

We then moved on to the final pair of whiskies – the Tamdhu 10 in its UK and European variants. In the UK it has been bottled at 40% for what we were informed were tax-related reasons. Kicking it up to 43%, the bottling strength for the rest of Europe, would cost the company too much in extra payments to HMRC: an extra 60p per bottle of duty plus 12p of VAT, an increase of 2% based on RRP – up from £35 to almost £36. They settled on the European strength after some experimentation at 46%, but decided that it was too intense and dropped it back to 43%.

We started off with the 40% UK edition. On the nose it had a lot of the notes of the European cask sample, but with much less intensity, as the lower strength would suggest: Crunchie bars, raisins, treacle tart, red jelly, citrus touches, ferns and a bit of green herbiness. To taste it was noticeably light after the previous whiskies, with custard tinged cream, dark fruit, orange oil, liquorice, dark chocolate and sticky cherries. It finished quite short, with some minerality, mint chocolate and wizened raisins.

Last on the mat was the 43% European edition of the Tamdhu 10. On the nose it kicked off with chocolate, nuts and cinnamon, caramel, crumbled chocolate biscuits, fruity jelly, touches of herbs and a very light hint of charcoal smoke. The palate was rich, with caramel, tingly spice, red fruit and raisins, golden syrup, chocolate milk and lightly charred edges. It finished with sweet spice and plump raisins, liquorice and sweet cream.

I was quite impressed with the regular 40% Tamdhu 10 when I first tried it, but it definitely doesn’t stand up to the 43% – the extra concentration of flavour brings out more of everything, including the ‘wisp of smoke’ promised on the bottles tasting notes. Unfortunately Antony confirmed that we won’t be seeing the 43% edition in the UK. All for the sake of 72p…

Tamdu 10 Years Old (UK Edition)
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£35

Tamdu 10 Years Old (Export Edition)
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 43%. £TBA

I also wrote about the Tamdhu 10 at work when it came out

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