Considering how good they are at throwing memorable parties and giving people an amazing time, it does not really come as a surprise that the team of Christiansen’s in Hamburg hauled out the big guns to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their amazing whisky and cocktail bar. To kick the week-long festivities off in style, they invited Distell’s brand ambassador Chantalle Seidler over to host a premium tasting of six baffling bottlings by Tobermory Distillery – one of three Scotch whisky production sites owned by the South-African company (the other two are Deanston and Bunnahabhain). For the bargain price of 25 Euro per person, me and the other attendees were treated to the first four expressions of Tobermory’s precious Rarity Series plus two equally exclusive drams from the distillery’s peated whisky brand Ledaig. On top, we also received a very generous encore after the tasting had ended and were given a miniature of the 10-year-old by either Tobermory or Ledaig as a souvenir. Saying we got value for money that evening would probably be the understatement of the year!
Prior to the tasting itself, the bar’s owner Uwe told us that instead of receiving presents for his venue’s birthday he would rather like to make a gift. Thus, he invited his guests to donate to Hamburger Tafel, a charity giving food to people in need. A beautiful idea that the drammers in attendance were happy to support. Uwe then handed over to Chantalle, who began by filling us in on Tobermory’s moved history. Due to its remote location on the scarcely populated Isle of Mull, the small distillery was closed and reopened many times since its founding in 1789. In fact, it is currently on hiatus again to undergo extensive renovation. But there is no need to worry: As this was planned a long time in advance, there will be no shortage of Tobermory whisky during or after the time of their inactivity. And since the existing gear will purposely be whipped into shape rather than replaced, the unique character of their distillate will not be affected by this much needed make-over.
Speaking of which: If you would like to experience the very essence of Tobermory without any distractions, the 18-year-old we savored first would be your dram of choice. Fully matured in American oak, it bursts with that immense freshness the seaside distillery is world-famous for. According to Chantalle, who described sipping this whisky as having “spring on your tongue”, Tobermory manages to give their maritime malts such a light and fizzy flavor profile because they do not fully dry their barley during the malting process. Second in line was the youngest pour of the evening, namely a 12-year-old Tobermory finished in Manzanilla wood. Although the cask left an impressive mark on the liquid, the well-defined finish did not overshadow the second signature quality of Tobermory’s whiskies, which is a distinct ginger spiciness that comes through towards the end. In this particular case, it harmonized wonderfully with the added sherry notes. In comparison, glass number three seemed almost a little reserved. While this 20yo had a lot of bite and also a bit of sweetness, the sherry note remained far in the back. Personally, I still found this to be a top-quality malt, but I can understand what Chantalle meant when she said that an additional two years in the barrel would not have hurt this delicate drop. The last Tobermory expression we tried was a 22-year-old whisky with a Port finish. The contact with the wine-soaked wood brought forth mouth-watering notes of chocolate, berries and other red fruits. Wow… just wow!
Towards the end of the tasting, things got smoky ‘n sooty with two “wonderfully peated” whiskies from Ledaig, both of which brought an impressive 36ppm to the table. While the sherry-finished 18yo turned out to be very elegant, complex and playful, the vintage 1996 from an Oloroso cask came across more wild and intense. In the latter, Ledaig’s weather-beaten island character was particularly present with pronounced notes of seaweed, licorice and pepper enshrouded in a thick puff of cold cigar smoke. For a dedicated peathead like me, this was pretty much a perfect finale to a thoroughly sublime whisky experience!
Tobermory 18yo Bourbon Cask (Single Malt / Scotland / 18yo / 46.3% / ~130.00 Euro)
Tobermory 12yo Manzanilla Finish (Single Malt / Scotland / 12yo / 46.3% / ~95.00 Euro)
Tobermory 20yo Sherry Finish (Single Malt / Scotland / 20yo / 46.3% / ~156.00 Euro)
Tobermory 22yo Port Finish (Single Malt / Scotland / 22yo / 46.3% / ~198.00 Euro)
Ledaig 18yo Sherry Finish (Single Malt / Scotland / 18yo / 46.3% / ~118.00Euro)
Ledaig 1996 Oloroso Cask (Single Malt / Scotland / 20yo / 46,3% / ~165.00 Euro)