Whisky is not a simple drink, at least for many people. For many of us whisky amateurs, this is a social drink. Sure we drink whisky alone more or less often, by ourselves, in our home, be it because we’re a whisky blogger or just someone who enjoys a good dram. But we crave for drinking whisky with friends, having the same passion, or at least the same interest. Drinking with friends, sharing a dram, that’s what makes whisky alive. And that’s what makes us alive too. In these strange times of pandemic, confinement and isolation, pubs are closed, clubs cannot organize their usual whisky tasting sessions (and the whisky club I’ve founded with a couple friends had to cancel its… second tasting, we had just started with difficulty and already we have to stop, at least for now!), and so the social side of whisky must be on hold as we need to stay home to stay safe. But whisky fans are obstinate. We can’t drink in the same room? Pff, hold my glass: we’ll do it online. And for that, we can count on Steve Rush to organize even more Tweet Tastings. And so, on Wednesday the 25th of March, we were two dozen people to join Steve and the Cù Bòcan team to taste their range for this Cù Bòcan Tweet Tasting.
Cù Bocan is a range of whiskies from the Tomatin distillery, located in the Highlands on the South-East of Inverness. In 2005, Tomatin, on the very last week of production of that year, decided to try something new for them. That week, they distilled a batch of lightly peated (15ppm) Optic barley, and filled the 60 000 litres in a variety of casks. Eight years later, this completely new range of whiskies was born, as a stand-alone range, with three bottlings: Signature as the core bottling, and Creations #1 and Creations #2 to complement Signature with unusual maturations. It’s now distilled every winter is “small” batch, no idea how many small means here.
Cù Bòcan Tweet Tasting
As part of this Tweet Tasting, we received a miniature of each of those whiskies for tasting. As always, though we received miniatures of Signature, Creations #1 and Creations #2 for free, full editorial control has been retained in the tasting process.
Cù Bòcan Signature
Cù Bòcan Signature is bottled at 46%, it is uncoloured and un-chill filtered. It is a vatting of a trio of casks types: bourbon casks, Oloroso sherry casks and North American virgin oak casks. At the time of writing, you can find it for £41.95 on The Whisky Exchange, £42.95 on HTFW or in France, at 56€ at Dugas.
The nose starts on light smoke, varnish and dates. It also has some dirty meaty notes (but in a good way), slight shy citrus, an aperitif snacks side with almonds and olives, and a grassy side with moss.
The arrival is sweet with just a pinch of pepper at first. The creamy mouthfeel becomes a bit fizzy, like fizzy sugar. There is a bitter side with a very woody taste, that gives me the feeling of licking a stave (probably the virgin oak). Then the ex-bourbon casks step forward with honey, citrus, ginger and chili pepper, then the oloroso casks provide some red berries and one piece of dark chocolate. Keeping it in the mouth, it becomes very chocolate-y.
Quite long, with salty caramel, wood, dark chocolate and a pinch of pepper
Tomatin clearly didn’t lie on the casks used, you can really feel what each of them provides to the nose and the palate and discover the layers provided by each. However, the balance is a bit off with a bit too much wood for my taste.
Cù Bòcan Creations #1
This Cù Bòcan Creations #1 has been matured in Black Isle Brewery Imperial Stout and Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal Wine Casks, so a mix of ex-beer and ex-sweet white wine casks. Bottled at 46%, it is uncoloured and un-chill filtered. At the time of writing, you can find it for £57.95 on Master of Malt, £58.95 on The Whisky Exchange or in France, at 85.80€ on Amazon including 20€ of shipping as it’s sent by HTFW.
Between Sercial Madeira and Amontillado with a slight pink hue.
The nose starts on orange marmalade, tobacco leaves and yeast (almost Marmite, call @BoutiqueyDave!) There are also some notes of smoked meat on the BBQ with dried herbs, a bit of citrus and winey notes.
The arrival is sweet with a slight touch of bitterness, then a pinch of pepper. The yeast from the nose is present on the palate too, and wine notes, but red wine notes (more Bordeaux than the Burgundy). There is some dark chocolate again after some time, espresso, and the mouthfeel becomes quite creamy over time.
Cracked pepper, dried espresso crema foam, ginger, citrus, a feasty medium long finish.
This one really has originality with a vatting of casks that we don’t see together very often. Can’t find this association anywhere on top of my head, but it’s not like I did an extensive search either to be honest. The nose really has personality, but the palate is slightly inferior. I was surprised to find red wine notes instead of the sweet white wine that is Moscatel, but it was a pleasant dram I’d happily go back to.
Cù Bòcan Creations #2
This Cù Bòcan Creations #1 has been matured in Japanese Shochu casks and European Virgin Oak casks. Shochu is a Japanese distilled beverage usually made by distilling rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, or brown sugar. Bottled at 46%, it is uncoloured and un-chill filtered. At the time of writing, you can find it for £57.95 on Master of Malt, £58.95 on The Whisky Exchange or in France, for 77€ at Dugas.
The nose begins with smoke, peardrops, plum and something very floral like a potpourri. Follow almond oil, tea (don’t ask me which one) and a winey note again. Finally, there’s almost miso soup, and Chinese rice alcohol, Baiju.
Very sweet arrival, but the mouthfeel is a bit thinner than the two previous drams. It’s however fizzy, spicy with nutmeg and clove (probably the virgin oak), sandalwood, dark chocolate once again, which is getting stronger with time in the mouth. A bit of smoke but quite discreet. The spices are always here, with some pepper too all palate long.
Charred stave, plum, icing sugar, liquorice and aniseed. Medium length again.
The nose is quite original once again, and the shochu casks bring something new to the table, though I must admit I’m not convinced. On the nose, it made me think of miso soup and Baiju and unfortunately these are not smells I’m fond of, but every nose and palate is different and it may please other people. On the palate, it was quite spicy due to the European virgin oak, and they were a bit too present and with a mouthfeel a bit thin. Sometimes originality is not enough.
In these strange times, this Cù Bòcan Tweet Tasting was a valuable pause in our confined daily life. I had a single experience with Tomatin in December that didn’t end well, and discovering their slightly peated range was clearly an up!Creations #2 didn’t convince me as the shochu casks brought notes I didn’t like, but the Signature was a solid dram, and Creations #1 was for me clearly above the rest. Originality doesn’t always pay off: it didn’t for Creations #2, but it did for me for Creations #1. Once again, many thanks to Steve Rush and Cù Bòcan / Tomatin for this great evening of tasting whisky with “internet” friends.
As usual, these are my thoughts and mine only, so please also read what my friends Brian @MaltMusings (here) and Wim @Dram_Gazette (here, here and here) thought about these drams. The excellent website Malt also reviewed Creations #1 and #2 back in January.