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Tomintoul distillery was established during 1964 amidst a boom in demand internationally for whisky and commenced production the following year. During the 1960’s a new generation of distilleries were built across Scotland as the industry sought to meet soaring needs as quickly as possible and support the continuing popularity of blends.
As was commonplace across the majority of these constructions, the distilleries were more modern approaches than indicative of what a traditional Scottish distillery should look like with the exception being the Disney-like design of Tormore. Allt-a-Bhainne, Braeval and Glenallachie to highlight a mere trio moved away from the traditional stone built assortment of buildings laid out around a courtyard setting. Instead a functional, stark and efficient design was initiated with many of these new arrivals lacking malting floors or warehousing for maturing casks. For many generations there were no new distilleries built in Scotland due to the fallout from the Pattison Crisis, followed both 2 World Wars and economic events such as the Great Depression and Prohibition. Whisky benefited immensely when things did pick up after the end of rationing and consumers with disposable incomes started to enjoy themselves.
Founded by the Tomintoul Distillery Limited, which was owned by a pair of blenders, Tomintoul has always been an independent producer of whisky. In 1973, it was purchased by a Scottish Investment Trust backed by the Fraser family, who in turn were making inroads into Scotch. Shortly after acquiring Tomintoul, they purchased Whyte & Mackay before turning their attentions to expanding the distillery. Initially conceived as a modest producer by its original owners, the existing pair of stills were doubled thereby increasing capacity. With whisky still on the increase more consolidation was on the cards when investment firm Lonhro moved into the market and purchased the parent company of Tomintoul. After weathering the hardship of the early 1980’s with demand plummeting and the issue of overproduction being addressed across the industry, Brent Walker purchased Whyte & Mackay that includes Tomintoul.
This marked a series of ownership changes, which never is a good thing for any distillery trying to establish itself as more than just a content producer for blends. Eventually in 2000, Tomintoul is severed from Whyte & Mackay by a bid from Angus Dundee. Seeing potential in the distillery and the prospect of a single malt identity, it’s a brave move but one that is now starting to pay dividends. Under their ownership the Tomintoul brand has risen in prominence and has a core range that is mainly dominated by affordable age statement releases.
For such a young distillery, Tomintoul enjoyed several single malt releases prior to the arrival of Angus Dundee. The most infamous of these is not because of its whisky but rather the bottle shape. Fondly described as a perfume bottle, the distinctive cannister style is a real talking point and oddity. Consider it folly or bravery, thankfully as is the case with most Tomintoul releases the whisky is very reasonable.
Today, Tomintoul produces just over 3 million litres annually and has grown into a sizeable presence in Banffshire. The site itself features numerous warehouses and a blending facility to cater for Angus Dundee’s requirements. The visual presentation of the Tomintoul malt is more traditional and indicative of what Scottish whiskies used to look like. A more wholesome and Scottish design dynamic has proved successful with its whiskies being exported to over 70 countries and profits on the increase even with a value approach. New elements are also being added to the Tomintoul range with a 40-year-old expression recently launched alongside the No Age Statement Tiath. In 2005, a peated version of Tomintoul arrived in the form of Old Ballantruan before this was revisited in 2008 with the Peaty Tang. Peated runs are still carried out annually at the distillery although this only counts for around 10% of its annual production.
Ultimately Tomintoul offers something different for whisky enthusiasts today. A consistent malt that is well priced and available. It’s not going to grab the headlines or – thankfully so far – venture down the route of marketing antics and stories we’ve seen from other distilleries. Instead it lets the whisky do the talking and it’s proving to be a successful approach.
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