While there may not be very many OB Tobermorys, independent bottlers have created far more options. This particular one comes from one of the Laings' many different labels. For whatever reason, The First Editions happens to be particularly expensive in the States compared to Europe, which means that many of them have sat on shelves for years. This particular one was around for roughly five in Oregon until it and a large number of other releases from The First Editions were put on closeout. As a fan of Tobermory, I decided to give it a try.
This whisky was distilled in 1995, filled into what was likely a refill hogshead, then bottled in 2012 at 54.1% without coloring or chill filtration.
The First Editions Tobermory 16 Year 1995/2012 Cask ES014/01
Nose: vanilla with a plastic edge, malty, herbal/vegetal, cedar-y oak, cold smoke/wet concrete in the background, cardboard funk and cabbage that blow off with time in the glass. After adding a few drops of water it becomes fairly simple and strongly malty with an herbal edge and some overripe fruit.
Taste: cask strength malty sweetness beginning up front then fading towards the back, a touch of baking spices, gentle berries and herbal funk from the middle back, moderately tannic oak near the back. After dilution the sweetness becomes stronger, but the middle turns into a malty muddle with more tannic oak and berries.
Finish: creamy malt, funk, crisp oak tannins, berry residue
This is why people don't like Tobermory. Especially when I opened the bottle the funk was somewhat overpowering and made it a less than totally pleasurable experience. Since it has been open for a while and probably evaporated a bit the funk has come more in balance, but it takes time to become an engaging whisky. The OB 10 Year, which can also be difficult going for a while, is ultimately far more approachable because the first-fill casks help to grind off some of the more rough edges.
Diluted to 50%
Nose: fairly closed - balanced malt and dry oak with a little funk
Taste: malt sweetness throughout, balanced creamy berries and funk in the middle, gentle bittersweet oak fade out
Finish: clean malt, a little background funk, mint, light oak
While not especially exciting, this strength is extremely drinkable. The Tobermory funk keeps it from being too boring without being overly assertive. This would have done just fine as an Old Malt Cask bottling.
Diluted to 45%
Nose: a fair amount of new make character, plastic funk, wet flour, must, oak in the background, overripe fruit, herbal,
Taste: malt sweetness throughout, musty-y/plastic-y funk behind it, gentle oak from the middle back, muddled berry overtones
Finish: creamy malt, gently funky oak
This is... not good. While some of this character was detectable at full strength, dilution overwhelms whatever merits the malt had before. The finish is the only half-way acceptable part and that is absolutely damning with faint praise. I do not recommend adding too much water.