Tomatin Cu Bocan: The Beast of the Highlands

Most of us are familiar with the hound of Baskervilles: the legend of a hellish hound that terrorised the fictional estate of Devonshire in Arthur Conan Doyle’s book. The story ends with Sherlock Holmes debunking the idea of a giant immortal dog: perhaps, an intentional diversion from the true supernatural entities that may roam among us. Because the giant dog from hell may not always be a trick of the eye.

Such a legend wafts over the peat moorlands surrounding the village of Tomatin. The legend of Cù Bòcan. One of the most famous stories describes the experience of a Tomatin distillery worker while on a late night walk in the woods. He suddenly caught a glimpse of a spectral being in the shape of majestic hound. Nostrils flared, teeth bared, and light emanating from its ethereal body. Despite his natural instincts told him to run, he felt compelled to touch the dense fur of the beast. As his hand drew closer, the spectral figure dissolved into a cloud of blue smoke leaving the witness with nothing but an eerie silence and the burden of what he had just experienced. This is the legend that inspired the Tomatin Cu Bocan.

Located just south of Inverness, production of whisky in the village of Tomatin, can be traced all the way back to the 1700s. The earliest of distillers used juniper wood for their distillation process. Legal whisky distillation would, however, only begin in 1897 when John MacDougall, John MacLeish, and Alexander Allan joined hands to form the Tomatin Spey District Distillery. Choosing this location was no accident. The location was isolated enough for a supply of untouched freshwater and yet not so far away that markets became inaccessible.

The Biggest Distillery in Scotland

Since its launch, the Tomatin Distillery saw a steady rise in whisky production. By 1956, two new stills were installed in addition to the two original stills. This raised the total production capacity of the distillery to a staggering 240,000 gallons of proof spirit. After a short span of only two years, another pair of stills were added. Time flew by and new stills kept coming up till in 1974, the total number of stills summed up to 23, with 12 wash stills and 11 spirit stills. At this time, Tomatin’s full capacity stood at 12 million litres of alcohol annually, making it the largest distillery in Scotland. But like all good things, the Tomatin golden age too was to come to an end…

Liquidation and Takeover

After nearly a century of glorious distillation, Tomatin’s bubble would burst in 1985. Ironically it was the production of whisky and the onset of the whisky loch of the 1980s that caused this and Tomatin was forced to liquidate. It was 1986 that they would join with their partner of 20 years, Takara Shuzo Ltd., to form the Tomatin Distillery Company — Scotland’s first distillery to be wholly owned by a Japanese brand. The change in ownership proved to be a beneficial one with the Tomatin brand growing in its own right. In 1997, Tomatin Distillery Co. acquired J&W Hardie, adding the legendary Antiquary blend to its offerings.

The Cu Bocan

The inspiration from the legend of Cu Bocan runs deep in its namesake whisky while keeping with the character expected of a Highlands spirit. The 1988 Limited Edition Cu Bocan is one of the best this distillery has to offer. At 51.5% ABV, the 1988 is a blend of refill hogshead and refill sherry matured whisky distilled on December 2, 1988. The whisky has a peaty nose reminiscent of campfire smoke and ash which slowly gives way to toasted coconut, freshly cut grass, and heather. In the mouth, the whisky opens up a little more, letting you get a peek into a world of candied tropical fruits, earthy peat, and blood orange. The finish of earthy smoke and oak spice transports you into the woods and evidence of the legend of the beast.

From its old cattle drovers to the new age Cu Bocan, Tomatin truly embodies the changing moods of scotch whisky.