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Distillery Feature: Tomatin

The Secret is Out

The humble wallflower of Scottish distilling has bloomed into a single malt sensation.

A quick glance at a map of Scottish distilleries shows an incredible concentration where the Highlands converge with Speyside. The door of hospitality is swung wide here and a welcoming hand extended, no doubt cupping a friendly dram to share. 

Now track west slightly and locate the solitary name of Tomatin to the south of Inverness. It seems almost intent on remaining off the beaten track. True, a bit more effort may be required to get there, but it’s none the less convivial. Consider that aloof character just part of its legacy and charm. 

People have made a point of coming here for hundreds of years, even before it was called Tomatin. Perched in the remote Highland countryside, it was known to house illegal stills going back to the 15th century — a convenient stop where cattle herders could replenish their supplies after market. 

Even the name suggests a cloak of secrecy. Tomatin translates to ‘hill of the juniper bush,’ which may seem innocuous, but juniper wood was renowned among illicit distillers; because it gives off no smoke, they could practice their craft undetected. 

By 1897 a few gentlemen decided to it was time to unveil the secret and open a distillery. It was close enough to Inverness and to a new rail line that product could be readily moved to markets. They even built housing on the grounds to ensure their workers had a place to live, a tradition that exists today.

Through the mid-20th century, Tomatin dramatically expanded their capacity and eventually became the largest malt distillery in Scotland by 1987. Much of the liquid they produced was shipped to bigger name blenders like Chivas, J&B and Johnnie Walker — names that had earned global appeal before the era of global brands. 

Though their fortunes fell as whisky’s appeal waned a little in the late 20th century, new ownership has zeroed in on producing a coveted range of Highland single malts that are characteristically soft and gently sweet. 

You’re invited to seek out whichever style suits your tastes this season and you don't need to travel far — just to your local LCBO. 

Read on to learn about Scottish distiller Glengoyne.


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