Malt of the Moment
The mere mention of Tamnavulin won’t prompt much excitement from whisky enthusiasts due to its current masters primarily using the distillery to produce content for blends. Since its foundation in...
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The mere mention of Tamnavulin won’t prompt much excitement from whisky enthusiasts due to its current masters primarily using the distillery to produce content for blends. Since its foundation in 1966, very little of its whisky has been seen as a single malt. In fact, it actually took 50 years for a determined effort to arrive with a Double Cask bottling that utilised a sherry finish being exclusively released in the UK in 2016. Prior to this there was a short lived 12 year old in the early 1990’s that did little to stimulate any reaction.
The Double Cask release was aimed at the lower end of the marketplace with a retail price of around £30 and was more an oddity with a lower strength and a no age statement. For a 50th anniversary it was a drinkable if fairly average whisky that failed to do much other than document the date. Officially that’s it for Tamnavulin although it is highly likely if you have bought unspecified Speyside single malt from a UK supermarket in recent times then it’s been Tamnavulin. The current owners of Emperador Inc. acquired the distillery when they purchased Whyte & Mackay in 2014. The actual legacy of the distillery goes back to Invergordon Distillers who during the 1960’s and beyond built a reputation on quantity rather than quality. This approach was a legacy for future owners during the 1980’s and 1990’s, having to contend with less than satisfactory whiskies maturing in poor casks.
Set in the picturesque village of Tomnavoulin, which has a population well below 100 people. This is a classic Speyside setting, with the River Livet flowing nearby meaning it’s not too far from Scotland’s famous Glenlivet. The name of the distillery itself is Gaelic for Mill on the hill and an old carding mill still exists within the distillery site that was once used to produce wool from sheep fleeces. So, in many respects Tamnavulin ticks several boxes for a distillery but it is rather unsightly and typical of the distilleries constructed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. A modern build with a functional purpose it harnesses 3 pairs of large stills to produce around 4 million litres annually based around a premise of short fermentation times and a light, inoffensive and therefore easily blended whisky. The site is not open to visitors and it’s a shame given its location and current boom around whisky tourism.
The most interesting aspect regarding Tamnavulin’s history is its closure in 1995 that was not reversed until 2007 on the back of the boom for whisky that continues. It’s a scenario that we’ve seen with other distilleries such as Ardbeg that then have a gap within their inventory. Apparently very little of Tamnavulin was left within the warehouses so most of its existing inventory now is a decade old at best. This limits what you can do as a master blender and in retrospect the Double Cask release was drinkable and inoffensive. Perhaps with a period of sustained production we will begin to see more of Tamnavulin with its own identity, but this seems a remote prospect given its support of many blends including Whyte & Mackay and historically Crawford’s and Mackinlays. Emperador’s focus within the single malt market is chiefly around its successful Dalmore and Jura brands although Tamnavulin has experimented in recent years with a heavily peated spirit. Support from the independent sector is also relatively rare with aged examples being snapped up quickly upon release. This is simply because very little Tamnavulin is seen and for many malt enthusiasts it’s exciting to try such a rarity and sometimes they are surprisingly good whiskies.
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