Next time you’re up in Speyside, don’t go looking for the Cù Bòcan Distillery! Set the sat nav for Tomatin and you’ll get to where you need to be! That’s because Cu Bocan / Cù Bòcan (“coo-bock-can”) is a seasonal release made by the team at Tomatin. For just one week a year, within the wintertime, the distillery uses peated barley to make its spirit, and this solely goes to making Cù Bòcan. The name itself is derived from local folklore about a spirit – not the whisky kind – in the form of a ghost-like dog that wanders the hills nearby. According to the tale, once touched it disappears in a cloud of smoke – just like this whisky once it goes into a glass! In 2019, the team at Tomatin rebranded the Cù Bòcan stylings with the launch of a revised set of three expressions: Signature, Creation #1 and Creation #2 with the moniker “Unlocking The Unusual”. The Signature follows in the footsteps of its core expression predecessor and has been matured in a combination of Bourbon casks, American Virgin White Oak casks and Olorosso Sherry casks. The whisky has been housed in a new eye-catching and gnarly bottle at 46% ABV without colouring or chill-filtration.
For a 46%er peated expression there is not much of an attack on the senses here – it is quite subdued actually. The first sensations are warm smells of dry hay and malt with a gentle peat balanced into the mix. It is quite the sweet peat treat in fact with tropical fruit flavours: think pineapple and mango – presumably charred on a barbecue. The peat is very gentle too with flowery/heathery smells and some rich red berry sweetness.
Initially sugary sweet with a vanilla flavour and coating of the tongue with some deliciously malty/biscuity flavours and then whoosh… the oak spice and alcohol really take hold and tingle the tongue, teeth and tonsils!
A delicate fizzle of sugary and citrusy sweetness, grape-like fruitiness and gentle peat smokiness. It leaves a sort of salted caramel / milk chocolate flavour behind too.
I will start by confessing that I didn’t look into this whisky before drinking it. Instead, going into a tweet tasting, I wanted to go blind, so I only knew about half of the info at the start of this article about what I was going to drink. Considering it is a seasonal peated expression, I did therefore expect this to be full of the phenolic smoky experiences that the word “peat” tends to muster up in your/my imagination. Instead, this peat is a gentle one – this is about subtlety and balance rather than blowing your head off. This is far from Octomore territory, and more like a Johnnie Walker blend’s background peat. The recent rebrand talks about using multiple casks to unlock unusual flavours, but that seems to be targeted at the “Creations” releases, rather than this Signature release as we are in familiar lightly peated malt territory here. That said, whether it is this Signature or Creations 1 and 2 it seems that the cask is front and centre in the profiling and not the peat. For the Signature, though it is not exactly challenging, this is a very well balanced whisky. Also, for something made in winter, there is much more of a summer feel to this. Overall, for the tastes, the price (~£35) and the eye-catching shape of the bottle itself, the next time that there’s room on the old unplugged whisky shelf, I think I might be putting one of these into the available space.
Sample disclosure: This sample was received as part of a promotional Tweet Tasting event organised by Steve Rush @TheWhiskyWire. This post is not intended as a promotion however, but an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky itself. Please drink responsibly.