As whisky tasting experiences go, there aren’t many where you find yourself climbing a 20ft wall of sheer ice, followed by quaffing a delicious dram from a glass fashioned out of ice, within a room entirely constructed from ice. A lot of ice in there I know however this was exactly what I done last month with Tomatin whisky, exploring the final two elements of their incredible Five Virtues collection, Metal and Water.
I must admit when I first received note of this incredible evening I was nervous and extremely excited for both trying the final instalment of Tomatin’s Five Virtues whisky collection and also to go ice climbing. The venue for this thrilling event was Intu Braehead, a fantastic purpose built indoor ski slope which houses a whole host of winter activities to try along with some well equipped bars and places to eat.
The Tomatin distillery itself is Based up in Inverness-shire, in a small village with its namesake, in which it has been crafting some of the finest single malt scotch whisky since 1897. Throughout the years they have also produced many fine limited editions, the latest of which has been the Five Virtues series, a collection which is a nod to processes and materials used in the distillery itself. “Water feeds wood; wood sustains fire; fire gives life to earth; earth yields metal; metal gathers water” as the website states. For the limited series Tomatin also involved renowned artist Eva Ullrich to capture and interpret each one through some striking pieces of art which I was very lucky to see at the first Five Virtues event I attended for The Gentleman Select. Fast forward a good few months and it was time to try out a delicious dram of the Metal and Water creations however first, there was some exertion to engage in.
Now given I haven’t ever skied before, though I will make a point of learning, I had to opt out of trying this. There was however another on the list which I was certain would get my bloody pumping. Ice climbing.
Once I was suitably kitted out and ready to go, my co-climber and I made our way down to the ice climbing wall. We engaged in a safety talk and a few practise runs of both walking in the crampon boot attachments like John Wayne, and belaying which we would be doing for each other. I must admit at this point, a dram of Tomatin before hand may have helped steady the nerves however none the less, I took an axe in each hand, hacked into the ice, buried my crampon spiked boot in as deep as possible and began to climb. Ascending the wall the part I found hardest was actually trusting that both your boots and axe’s were going to hold you were as on the decent, it was a case of leaning back into the abyss and trusting your partner to belay you safely to the ground. Thankfully there were no wobbly moments, just rather cold hands as I stupidly forgot to bring gloves.
Following my adrenaline filled climb it was time to visit the quite literally, very cool, ice bar. This was an incredible little place completely fashioned out of solid ice blocks. What made this extra special was that the guests and I were served a fantastic dram of Tomatin in a carved ice glass which made for a very chilled and experimental way of drinking whisky. Indeed it was actually very complimentary of the whole Five Virtues series as their creation was also an experiment and I must say, a rather good one at that. The first sip was delicious, warming and smooth, a perfect accompaniment for talking about the incredible Five Virtues and also the thrilling experiences we just had. As much as we all could have stayed much longer in the ice bar and chatted away, it was time to head upstairs and get a little bit of a heat, some food and a more in depth presentation about the final two of the Five Virtues.
First up was the Metal edition. Sitting in one of two glasses on the table in front of us along with some ice and a detailed little information book, our host, distillery general manager Graham Euson began to talk us through what was truly sumptuous malt. The Metal creation is a representation of the fourth phase of distilling process whereby all the whisky created flows through Tomatin’s twelve copper stills. To break it down, on the nose this malt has sweet aromas in abundance. Notes of chocolate and vanilla, with a hint of macadamia nuts released as I swirled it around in the glass. Taking a sip, I got a taste of lovely citrus flavours and sweet spices which had an all-round light and very soft finish.
After drinking a little water to neutralise my pallet, it was time to try the Water expression. Darker and stronger in colour, this represents the distillery’s private water source, the Alt-Na-Firth burn which flows through the grounds and to where Tomatin draws upon for all of its masterful creations. The Water edition blending process sees reduced contact with the copper stills, adding to that bold final flavour that was presented before us. On the nose it has a much more fruity, mature aroma with elements of chocolate honeycomb coming through. To taste I got an amazing flavour of toffee, blood orange and sweet marzipan, certainly much stronger than the afore mentioned Metal. As with all whiskies it is a personal preference how you drink them, however I did enjoy this malt a little more with the smallest dash of water added to it.
To taste the Metal and Water expressions of Tomatin’s Five Virtues as a whisky fan was an absolute treat and a fantastic way to cap of an extraordinary and exhilarating evening. I would happily say I’ve caught the ice wall climbing bug and would love to give it a bash again and as for the Tomatin Five Virtues, I thought they were tremendous. Easily two of the best malts I have ever tasted and the collection itself is a wonderful series which any whisky connoisseur or collector should have in their collection. My advice would be to do a little reading over on the Tomatin site here, see what flavours you regularly enjoy and select accordingly.