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Tales of Tullibardine

by Gavin D Smith, 09/13

Earlier this year the Perthshire distillery of Tullibardine announced a total re-launch of its single malt range, with a major makeover of both presentation and liquid, adopting the tagline - 'A drop of pure Highland gold.'

distillery According to Tulibardine's International Sales Manager James Robertson, "I felt that we needed to change some time ago, as our packaging lacked focus and was behind the times, to be honest. Also when asked, no one at Tullibardine could explain what Tullibardine meant to them. I had an idea, but this was different to other viewpoints."

Tullibardine distillery, in the village of Blackford, was established in 1949, on the site of a former brewery where King James IV of Scotland reputedly paused to buy beer on the way to his coronation at Scone, near Perth in 1488.

James Robertson says that "We looked at the various key elements of what Tullibardine was and brought these all together, hence the 'drop of pure Highland gold,' emphasis on the 1488 date and the King, getting out the message that Tullibardine is a vibrant, elegant whisky that people wanted to feel part of."

Having been restored to life late in 2003 by a consortium of businessmen after a decade of silence, Tullibardine distillery was sold to the third-generation family-owned French wines and spirits company Maison Michel Picard, based in Chassagne Montrachet, Burgundy, during 2011.

As part of the Picard portfolio there is no longer the same imperative to sell spirit to third parties in order to generate cash-flow as was previously the case, allowing for greater stability and an emphasis on a smaller and more focused range of premium single malt bottlings.

Until the re-launch, the principal Tullibardine bottlings were Tullibardine Aged Oak, with no age statement, and a 1993 vintage, along with a number of cask finishes. James Robertson notes that "The previous bottles that were available were good, but there seemed to be little continuity, consumers could not identify with the brand, and the vintage dates confused them as they never did the math to work out how old the whiskies actually were."

sovereign Aged Oak has now been replaced by Sovereign as the entry level expression, and Robertson explains that "Aged Oak was a good whisky with a name that did not have any real meaning, whereas we feel that Sovereign has a more powerful image and one with a meaning."

The previous vintage variants have been replaced by 20 and 25-year-old bottlings, and Robertson explains that "The finishes have been brought under control, so that we have three core finishes - '225 Sauternes,' finished in casks from Chateau Suduiraut, '228 Burgundy,' with casks from Chateau de Chassagne Montrachet, and '500 Sherry,' using mainly PX casks. The numbers relate to the size in liters of the casks that the whisky has been matured in for the final 12 months."

Inevitably, such a re-focusing of image and brand positioning impacts on retail pricing, and Robertson adds that "In the past we were guilty of selling our whiskies well below the market rate and so with the re-branding we are now able to place the new 20-year-old and 25-year-olds at a price level that fits their age. I feel that these six new whiskies at last provide Tullibardine with a core range that has an identity and something that the consumer can feel part of, whether they are new or old Tullibardine followers."


Tullibardine Sovereign
43.0%abv. Sovereign is matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks and offers a nose that is floral with new-mown hay, vanilla, and soft fudge. Fruity on the palate, with milk chocolate, malt, and subtle cinnamon. Cocoa, vanilla, and more spice in the finish. £42.00, specialist retailers.

Tullibardine 20 Year Old
43.0%abv. This 20 year old expression of Tullibardine has been aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. Caramel, honey, cocoa, and a hint of linseed oil on the nose. The palate is creamy, with strawberries, warm milk chocolate, and allspice. Long and soft in the finish, which is reminiscent of choc-ice. £90.00, specialist retailers.

Tullibardine 25 Year Old
43.0%abv. The oldest expression in the Tullibardine lineup provides malt, cedar, stewed apples, and wood shavings on the nose. Mouth-coating, with orange and cocoa powder. Dries quite steadily, with oak lurking behind ripe bananas in the lengthy finish. £177.00, specialist retailers.

Tullibardine 500 Sherry
43.0%abv. Tullibardine 500 Sherry has a fragrant nose, with new leather, beeswax, apple, and vanilla. The palate is smooth and sherried, with more leather, brittle toffee, orange peel, honey, and nutmeg. The fruity finish is notably spicy, with lingering wood polish notes. £45.00, specialist retailers.

Tullibardine 228 Burgundy
43.0%abv. The noseof Tullibardine 228 Burgundy features charred oak, vanilla, milk chocolate-covered Turkish Delight, and mild, sweet chili. Sweet and spicy on the nutty palate, with eating apples, cranberries, and a silky texture. Allspice and damsons in the lengthy finish. £45.00, specialist retailers.

Tullibardine 225 Sauternes
43.0%abv. Tullibardine 225 Sauternes offers a nose which majors in citrus fruits, vanilla, pepper, and a discreet herbal note. Citrus fruits carry through to the spicy palate, with Jaffa orange to the fore, plus malt. Spicy to the very end, with milk chocolate and a suggestion of passion fruit. £45.00, specialist retailers.


A version of this feature was previously published on the Whisky Advocate website

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