I don’t have much experience with Tomatin. This distillery produces a wide range of single malts – including a large number of inexpensive expressions that I’ve been meaning to try (but haven’t gotten around to yet).
And then I spotted this 1989 limited edition of the Cu Bocan line on the cheap at Dr Jekyll’s bar in Oslo, Norway. This is one of the highest scoring Tomatin expressions in my Meta-Critic database (and one of the most expensive at >$350 a bottle, if you could find it). It was available in the bar for low price of 128 NOK for a standard 4 cl pour (1.35 oz), which works out to about $20 CAD. They have an interesting policy in the bar – when a bottle is nearly empty, they discount it up to half-off in order to clear it out (hence the low price above).
According to the distillery, the name “Cù Bòcan” comes a mythical hellhound that has supposedly stalked residents of the village of Tomatin for centuries. Only 1,080 bottles of this limited edition 1989 vintage were made. It was aged for 25 years in three ex-bourbon casks, and is apparently a “rare and unintentional production of peated whisky” for the distillery. It is bottled at a cask strength (53.2% ABV), and is as you would expect non-chill filtered.
Note there are a number of limited release vintage Cu Bocans (i.e., 1988, 1989 and 2005), in addition to the lower-priced, NAS, lightly-peated standard Cu Bocan bottling (which comes from a mix of cask types). There are also a few special editions of the standard Cu Bocan that emphasize a particular aspect of the barreling (i.e., Cu Bocan Sherry cask, Bourbon cask, and Virgin Oak editions).
There are not a lot of reviews these Cu Bocans, but here is how various Tomatin expressions compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.58 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.59 on 16 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 15yo: 8.33 ± 0.53 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.67 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.38 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan: 8.08 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Limited Edition: 8.95 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Sherry Edition: 8.36 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Virgin Oak Edition: 8.50 ± 0.50 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Decades: 8.96 ± 0.52 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.12 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$)
And now to some other peated single malts:
BenRiach 21yo Authenticus Peated: 8.88 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Devil’s Cask: 8.81 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Laimrig: 9.00 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Peated: 8.50 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.23 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Jura 16yo Diurach’s Own: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.11 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.18 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.20 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Tobermory 15yo: 8.54 ± 0.34 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
As you can see, this limited edition Tomatin is one of their highest scoring expressions, and in-line with other popular peated expressions from other makers.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Nose: Smokey sweetness hits you right off. Has a hickory-smoked barbecue quality to it (think glazed BBQ ribs). Fruity, with pear and apple as the main fruits, along with golden raisins and some citrus (orange). Touch of honey and vanilla. Seems like a mix of mainly aged bourbon casks. No real off notes.
Palate: Not as overtly smokey as the nose, moving more into earthy peat qualities now. Tart and astringent, with more of the citrus poking through. Still apple and pear, joined by plums. Honey and caramel. Some pepper. A bit grassy. Creamy mouthfeel, and surprisingly easy to sip neat. A fabulous sensory experience here.
Finish: Ashy with sweet peat and juicy fruits. Nice long lingering effect, in keeping with a good quality, aged, lightly peated single malt. A bit astringent on the way out.
Water doesn’t really bring up anything new on this one. Despite the high ABV, I recommend you try it neat first, and then add any water as you feel is necessary.
Probably the closest match to the level of peatiness in my experience is Springbank 18 yo (but without the sherry influence here). You get a similar level of maturity and complexity (and perhaps not surprisingly, a very similar average Meta-Critic score). If it weren’t for the high cost, I would be happy to have a bottle of this around. I think the average Meta-Critic score is quite fair for this 1989 limited edition.