Thursday, 27 February 2014

SWMS 7.95–Longmorn–Instant Relaxation and Comforting Warmth

This was bought for a tasting I ran for my colleagues (full civilians) at the Whisky Exchange, most of whom were completely baffled.  Only a Russian computer programmer was anything but totally appalled by the (very mild) peat in BenRiach Solstice. It was good fun though.

SWMS 7.95, Longmorn, Instant Relaxation and Comforting Warmth, 55.8% A⊕+

7.9527 years old, 24th September 1985, refill bourbon hogshead, 174 bottles

Nose – Complex, waxed, antique woods, sweet rushes, waxed leather, gently sweet toffee and a little sage.  It’s complicated, and very balanced, yet dark, thick, rich and satisfying.  And bright – some floral notes of lily and rose.  And ridiculously sweet – some cola cubes and barley sugar.  Some water brings the wood out a little further, smooths out that sweetness and makes the whisky much more gentle and rounded.

Body – Honeyed malt, extremely sweet but balanced by extremely floral wood and some satsuma.  There is an underlying wood sourness in here though.

Finish – Long, sappy, gets sweeter if anything – finally straying into candy and cola cubes again.  It never loses balance though, the finish is deeply satisfying and very high quality – what a beautiful whisky.

What's not good about it: The sourness, if anything.  But I think this is necessary to balance the whisky.  I’m not complaining.

What’s good about it:  Glorious complexity, faultless in many ways, and tropical burps.  Wonderful stuff.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A recent pair of SMWS Highland Parks (4.181, 4.182)

My journey from questioning the point of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to bordering on obsessive has been short.  Tom Thomson is the architect of this – but the whisky speaks for itself. 

SMWS 4.181, A muscle man from Orkney, 54.6% A+


16 years old, 17th April 1997, refill sherry butt, 650 bottles.

Nose – Raisin and wine oak cask.  A wash of oak smoke and a real edge of dusty, dry raisins.  Dark Seville orange and rich sherry.  As you dig deeper, more dried fruit and mixed peel, some fresher darker wood and some really beautiful oak.  Eventually, some candied, bright edges and lemon boiled sweets.  Really enchanting nose.

Body – Spicy, hot but with unexpectedly high cereal levels and oaky sweetness.  Some cedar planks, some chilli and then that oaty raisin.  It’s unexpectedly dry and oaty – disappointingly so.

Finish – Cereal, barley, long with more sherbet lemon.  Washes down to spicy structure.  Well integrated.

What's not good about it: Cereal and oat is a little too prevalent.  Lacks richness, and its ultimately a disappointing palate given what was promised on the nose.

What’s good about it:  Highly addictive nose with loads of complexity.  Faultless sherry cask, lovely sweetness and a great finish.


SMWS 4.182, Slippery shape-shifter, 57.1% A⊕

4.18213 years old, 15th October 1999, first fill bourbon barrel, 230 bottles.

Nose – Malted barley and sweet, light malt tones.  A little apple flesh, some orange pity, then moss and damp humus. Quite a rich, tropical nose develops, with cocoa backing. 

Body – Chocolate and more milk chocolate, a little pineapple, some banana – quite spicy.  Sharp and sour in the same way that pineapple is.

Finish – More banana, some spice, rich, tropical sweetness.  Getting sweeter as we progress.  Lovely finish – very long and ends on numbing cloves.

What's not good about it: Sharpness is a little arresting.

What’s good about it:  Wonderful rich, tropical body.  Very long and wonderfully balanced finish.  Fabulous stuff..

Thursday, 20 February 2014

MacNaMara Rum Cask Finish Blended Scotch Whisky

A good, cheap blend with a satisfying nose and refreshing to drink.  Love them when they do it like this.  Thanks to Q for the sample!

MacNaMara Rum Cask Finish, 40% A

blend_mac10Nose – Fresh, sour, a little wax.  Great barley, quite a lot of cereal but nicely integrated with wood and a fresh malt sweetness.  Quite elegant, classical, well rounded but on the light side.

Body – Sweet and light, fresh chocolate, cereal body, very refreshing.  A honeyed, cereal backing, some pepper, all very nicely integrated and put together.  Quite addictive and very enjoyable.

Finish – Wet, short, refreshing, but no finish to speak of. 

What's not good about it: Very light.  Delivery is very wet and weak.

What’s good about it:  Great, balanced nose with plenty of whisky cereal.  A very drinkable session whisky with a nice, subtle sweetness.  And a bargain.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Cambus 21 Year Old 1991 (Signatory)

Cambus grain distillery closed in 1993 and is mainly used for blends.  I’ve heard great things about Cambus and had to try this 21 year old Signatory & Vintage bottling.

My first thought was that it it’s very closed up.  Water didn’t improve things massively, despite the high cask strength, but then I’m not a massive fan of adding water to whisky.  I’ll come back to this in a few months and revisit but wanted to get the notes out there in case someone wanted to actually buy this – it’ll be extinct soon.

Cambus 21 Year Old 1991 (cask 55886), 22 years old - Cask Strength Collection (Signatory), 52.8% A⊖


Nose – Unripe pear and barley sugar sweets.  With water, less intense but more waxed, dried apricots.  A little oak post, some damp bark, some raisin, some wood polish.  Some banana, and maybe a bit of brazil nut. but I’m digging a lot to find it.  Very restrained.

Body – Without water, initial banana hit then wood bitterness, and one dimensional.  With water, it has an elegant, sweet arrival, with well balanced wood, but it’s not very intense.  It’s also not enormously grainy.  A touch of spicy raisin, smooth but light.  It’s richer without water, with more banana, but bitterer and the elegance and wax can’t make it out.

Finish – Mainly bitterness with some numbing from the alcohol.  With water, just tastes like old whisky that had ice in it.  Not an enormous success.

I think on balance, this does need a drop of water – if it wasn’t in the cask strength collection, this would have been diluted a bit before bottling, no doubt.  The wax and complexity can’t come through at cask strength.  The whisky is still sulking though, a few months with a bit of air in the neck and we’ll see how we go.  In the meantime, I can’t recommend this.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

SWMS 5.36 - Rubbing White Tiger Balm on your forehead

Thanks to Tom (as ever) for this sample, this is an Auchentoshan (so triple distilled) and then matured (fully) in a refill Sauternes cask.  Quite a weird setup then, and its a weird whisky.  It’s a bit of a divider of opinions.  I want one, just because it’s so interesting, but I’m not sure how often I’d return to it if I did own it.

SWMS 5.36 - Rubbing White Tiger Balm on your forehead, 59.8% A+


Nose – Floral, but firm.  A sour malt hidden behind an air freshener.  Wet pine and a little treatment.  Behind all this lurks deep, toffee sweetness and chocolate.  But in front, young malt, cut parsley and cut grass, and hand soap.  Lots of raw cereal but handled (balanced) very well.  Smelling the empty glass, the wood is apparent and very good. 

Body – Intense maltesers, immediately.  Ferocious heat, some cereal, lots of malt.  Actually really sweet.  I’d forgotten about the Sauternes!

Finish – Very long, cereals, fiery, deep toffee reveals itself later. Washes down to numbing sweetness.  Strong like an overproof rum.

What’s not good about it – Raw cereal isn’t ideal, although handled well.  A bit challenging.  I wonder what this would have been like with another decade in wood?

What’s good about it – Challenging, unexpected, ferocious, actually very balanced.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

TWE Glenfarclas Masterclass with George S. Grant

photo 1 - CopyAnother fantastic evening at The Whisky Exchange, led by George Grant of Glenfarclas. Whenever I listen to men like George speaking I’m always reminded how fabulous a job some people have – tasting whisky, inventing bottlings, touring the world and telling people about them. George has a remarkable repertoire of stories. And I would too if this was my job!

This was a great tasting and what a fabulous range of whiskies; Glenfarclas is a very consistent, solid distillery with a continuous stock of vintages stretching back 61 years in warehouse. Next year they’ll release a 60 year old; Six decades, 6 sided bottle, 360 bottles, 60 bottles for each market. £10,000 each bottle. Eek!

We had whisky with a collective age of 185 years this evening, older than Glenfarclas itself and older than the arches in which the Whisky Exchange currently lives. I didn’t know I liked Glenfarclas so much. The 40 I’ve had with the advent calendar (presumably batch 3) and loved it. The 15 I had at TWE whisky of the year tasting (and voted it first place, and still impressed tonight). All of these I loved in one way or another. There’s a load of sweet, dark sherry in here, but it all works beautifully due to the balance with old wood or leather – not a foot wrong in the whole set really.

photo 2 - Copy

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Compassbox Horizontal

I’ve long been a fan of Compassbox whiskies.  My admiration for whisky blenders grows daily and an organisation that only blends, and does it so interestingly, is high up my list of cool places to work.

To explain the nature of blended whiskies; your average age-statemented whisky is a mix of whiskies from many, many casks.  The 10 year old Laphroaig is a vatting (in a big stainless steel vat) of hundreds of casks of 10 year old (or older) Laphroaigs, where the master distiller is aiming for a specific smell and flavour.  His specific goal is to make this batch smell and taste exactly like the last. The reason for blending whiskies (even those of a consistent age destined to be a single malt) are consistency, volume and reliability.

Monday, 3 February 2014

SMWS–A Japanese Duo Tweet Tasting

As part of Tom Thomson’s plan to make the SMWS take over the world (rightly), he arranged a bottleshare of their recent release, “A Japanese Duo”, containing the following:

132.2 (Karuizawa) – Stunning Panorama of Exotic Fruits.  22yo refill sherry, 335 bottles, 62.4% (!)

131.2 (Hanyu) – Magic Carpet in a Sweetie Shop.  13yo first fill sherry, 646 bottles, 55.1%

131.2 is still available for £159.30, 132.2 was only available in the pair for £300.  They’re both blockbusters, with the 131 being a real glugger, the 132 more complex and challenging.  132 is my favourite due to that complexity and an unstoppable nose.  £300 for the pair is something of a bargain, and 10cl of each isn’t enough!  Big thanks to Tom for setting this up.

SMWS 132.2 (Karuizawa) – Stunning Panorama of Exotic Fruits, 62.4% A⊕+ 

photo 1

Nose – Dark, red fruit and old lacquer, a bit of wham bar, cracked nuts, new leather handbag and furniture polish.  Darkly sweet nose, some sherried savour, lots of complexity and confidence, elegance and authority.  A deeply addictive nose.

Body – Spicy, smooth and rich malt, great wood presentation, some chocolate.  Rich, balanced sweetness and spicy wood structure.  Really lovely.  Very bold, very strong.

Finish – Long, lovely wood integration, no bitterness.  A fine old lady.

What's not good about it: Nothing.

What’s good about it:  Complex, authoritative, really great wood and fruit in the  nose, lovely sugar.  Balanced and bold.

131.2 (Hanyu) – Magic Carpet in a Sweetie Shop, 55.1% A⊕+

photo 2

Nose – Rich but fresh cereal sweetness, but not nutty.  Dark, dusty raisins and a savoury note (like cooked porridge?).  Some chocolate.  Flawless sherry intensity, some boiled sweets.  More chocolate.  The longer this goes on, the more interesting and chocolatey this becomes.  Very good.

Body – Sweet, light, spicy, malty cereal.  Rich and well balanced, with a big backing of juicy malt.  As it opens up you get deep but bright orangey wood.  Lovely, lovely palate.

Finish – Quite short unfortunately – no problems but a bit a letdown.  All is forgiven for this complex, juicy whisky.

What's not good about it: Finish a bit short, takes a while to open up.

What’s good about it:  Rich, juicy, totally approachable – a fabulous whisky.  Loads of structure and complexity.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Bunnahabain Abbey Whisky Rare Drams

Big fan of Bunnas – very pleased to get a drop of this Abbey Whisky exclusive, although not totally blown away by it.  Thanks to Q for the sample.

Bunnahabain 23 years old, Abbey Whisky Rare Drams, 44% A


Nose – Sweet, waxy, a little musky.  Fruit, but a little non-specific.  Ripe pear maybe, a little orange juice.  Very pleasant.

Body – Spicy, wooded – pine.  Well balanced, very structured, quite drying.

Finish – Long, spicy, very good wood integration.  The fruit returns at the end.

What's not good about it:  Relatively uneventful – a bit of an ordinary* one given the hype.

What’s good about it:  Good nose, great balance, robust.

* Please note Steve Prentice that this does not mean I think it is bad! Smile