Just landed at Master of Malt, a lightly-peated single malt whisky from Tomatin that has been finished in Andean oak casks from Colombia. It’s called Cù Bòcan Creation #5 and you’d be bananas to miss out.
As a seasoned whisky fan, we’re sure you know all about two types of wood: quercus alba from America, the stuff that bourbon and some sherry casks are made from; and quercus robur from Europe, which is used to make wine and Cognac barrels. If you’re very fancy you may have come across quercus crispula, better known as mizunara, which is used in Japanese whisky production. But have you ever had whisky aged in quercus humboldtii?
What is Andean oak?
That’s exactly what we have today. It’s from the Cù Bòcan range of lightly-peated single malts from Tomatin and it was finished in Andean oak casks from Colombia. The Andean oak is a distinct species whose technical name is quercus humboldtii after Alexander von Humboldt the great German scientist and explorer. It’s been used to age rum but it’s extremely rare in the whisky world. There’s some used in Black Bottle blended whisky, and Circumstance in Bristol has some Andean oak in its warehouse.
According to Tomatin, the flavour profile of quercus humboldtii is somewhere between American and European oak in: less sweet than American and less tannic than European. What Andean oak majors on are two compounds, guaiacol and iso-eugenol, which are responsible for notes of “clove, allspice, smoke and tobacco.” Cù Bòcan Creation #5 spent just under 10 years (December 2011 to June 2021) in refill American oak and over a year in 25 Andean oak casks before bottling at 46% ABV with no chill-filtering or colour added. Despite this short finishing period, the effect of the unusual oak is pronounced. But before we get into tasting it, here’s a quick recap of the Tomatin story.
The history of Tomatin
Tomatin distillery has had a chequered history. It was founded in 1897 about 15 miles south of Inverness. It’s in the Highland region though just on the edge of Speyside. Tomatin means in Gaelic: ‘hill of the juniper bushes’, so it seems like a missed marketing opportunity that the distillery doesn’t market its own gin.
Originally it had just two stills but its owners added to it over the years so by 1974 it was the largest malt whisky distillery in Scotland with 23 stills and a capacity of 13 million litres of pure alcohol per year. It was terrible timing to get so big with the whisky loch filling up. The resulting bust when it came was terrible for the industry, DCL closed such famous names as Brora and Port Ellen while Tomatin went into liquidation in 1985. It was rescued by one of its Japanese customers, drinks group Takara Shuzo Co who still own it to this day. Tomatin was the first Scotch whisky distillery to be bought by a company from Japan.
The distillery is known for its sweet, fruity whisky. In the past around 80% of its production went into blends including the Antiquary range of premium whiskies (which are named after a novel by Walter Scott) which Tomatin bought in 1996. Nowadays, however, Tomatin the focus in on the single malts included some peated whisky produced under the Cù Bòcan brand like today’s New Arrival.
The brand’s press bumf refers to ‘campfire banana splits’, and heavens you can really smell the banana. With a strong note of vanilla, it smelt like a banana milkshake, with a gentle waft of smoke in the background. You’ve never had a single malt like this before. It’s a similar story when you take a sip, spicy banana bread would be the nearest comparison. There’s a little wood smoke here, but it’s very much in the background. Cù Bòcan Creation #5 is quite simply bananas.
This is a really fun, off-beat single malt. Definitely one that you should experiment with. Something like an Old Fashioned with chocolate or banana bitters. Or with its sweet profile, you could swap it for aged rum in cocktails.
So are we likely to see a blizzard of Andean oak finishes? Well, if Tomatin’s experience is anything to go by, probably not. Apparently it took over three years for the casks to arrive in Scotland thanks to a combination of “bureaucratic delays in Colombian forestry, severe weather conditions in the Andes, a global pandemic, more bureaucracy and a worldwide shortage of shipping containers.” So this is likely to remain a highly unusual whisky.
Cù Bòcan Creation #5 70cl is available from Master of Malt. Click on the link for prices and to buy.