Dram Initiative #018 – Tamdhu
January 22nd, 2015
(We’re a little behind on some of these past DI event write-ups, so let’s see if we can’t catch up a bit over the coming day. Between reviews, that is.)
Poor suckers. When they signed up as members of the Dram Initiative no one told ’em they’d occasionally have to listen to me blather on for hours at a stretch. I suppose that’s the price to pay for the opportunity to sample some of the fine ol’ drams we offer up.
A fine gent whom I love like a drunken old uncle (y’know…the kind who always wants to borrow money?), and who also happens to be the VP of the Dram Initiative, Maltmonster, once told me a secret to speaking out with confidence on subject matter for which you may be on shaky ground. That path to enlightenment consisted of two words: ‘Bleeding Heart’. I won’t get into the linguistic origins of this phrase and context but the theory behind the concept suggests that if you speak with enough assurance and without hesitation no one will doubt you. It’s rather ‘Miyagi-ish’, really. Sort of an ‘if do right, no can defense’ idiom. I took it as such anyway while preparing my presentation for this event.
‘Cause really, let’s face it, aside from the brand ambassadors and the distillery workers themselves, who the f*ck knows much about Tamdhu? Before this event? Not me either.
Let’s do a quick catch up then. Tamdhu is a Speyside distillery with a production capacity of about four and a half million litres per annum. The spirit tends to be rather innocuous, with malty and fruity characteristics. But that could be almost any Speyside whisky, couldn’t it? Nothing too exciting, to be honest, but when Tamdhu starts to make its way down the backside of the hill (into its 30s and 40s) it proves to be one of the sexiest old malts around. The most wonderful thing about that, however, is that the price remains shockingly low, since they tend to be independent bottlings and are from a distillery of little renown.
We got to dig into some nifty little historical whisky roots with this event. In fact a huge portion of the presentation was a throwback to the late 1800s and early 1900s. We spoke to the history of early Scottish distillery innovation and architecture; Prohibition and the linguistic origins of the phrase ‘The Real McCoy’; early whisky writing (via Alfred Barnard’s incomparable tome ‘The Whisky Distilleries Of The United Kingdom’); the evolution of technical maltings; etc. For whisky geeks like me (and a bunch of the members) this stuff is gold.
The name ‘Tamdhu’ comes from the Gaelic ‘Tom Dubh’ which means ‘Black Hill’ or ‘Little Dark Hill’. The distillery was founded in 1896 and first casked new make spirit in 1897. At one time Tamdhu was called ‘the most modern of distilleries … perhaps the best designed and most efficient distillery of its era’. It’s architect was none other than the highly distinguished Charles C. Doig. Doig, if you’ve done your homework was one of the most foreward thinking of distillery planners, having designed 56 of them in his day, and also responsible for the advent of the Doig Ventilator, or as we laymen know it: the pagoda.
Historically Tamdhu has always been recognized primarily as a blending whisky, and a rather non-descript one at that. We wondered if we’d be able to unshackle the malt from this less than flattering yoke. Much of the distillery’s output gets dumped into Cutty Sark, so that seemed like a logical jumping off point, and a turning point for making sense of the brand’s decision to forego much of the single malt market.
The evening’s line-up fell out as follows:
- Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky (40% abv)
- Tamdhu – 2013 NAS Distillery Bottling (40% abv)
- Tamdhu 16 y.o. First Editions Independent Bottling (56.2% abv) 1998-2014 253 Bottles
- Tamdhu 17 y.o. A.D. Rattray Independent Bottling (62.9% abv) June 20, 1990 – November 20, 2007 291 Bottles
- Tamdhu 1989 Carn Mor Independent Bottling from a Hogshead (54.0% abv) 29/09/89-04/02/13 150 Bottles
- Tamdhu 1971 Gordon & MacPhail Independent Bottling (43% abv) 1971 – 2011
- Tamdhu 1971 Gordon & MacPhail Independent Bottling (43% abv) 1971 – 2013
- Tamdhu 42 y.o. A.D. Rattray Independent Bottling Cask #6 Co-op Wine & Spirits Exclusive
(43.8% abv) January 2, 1967 – March 30, 2009 95 Bottles
There were some truly special malts on offer tonight. Namely those last three. And unquestionably the last one in particular was a showstopper of a dram. I have a serious history going back with this malt. One that involves some good friends and great memories. Or maybe great friends and good memories would be a more apt way to put it. Either way, a roomful of collective sighs validated initial opinions and served to affirm that the DI committee is steering this crew in the right direction. Nice to see a whisky universally adored. That shared experience becomes something that transcends the simplicity of a whisky tasting. I imagine many in the room look back on this one with fond memories now too.
All in all, another very memorable night. We got to pick on our Irish and ginger contingents a bit, have a few laughs and pull together a tasting that is probably one of the most unique I’ve ever been a part of. ‘Cause really…who other than the Dram would do a Tamdhu tasting?
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt, Steve and Scott (aka The Ginger Buddha)