Thursday, 29 January 2015

SMWS 39.105 (Linkwood) and 66.59 (Ardmore)

A couple from the January 2015 outturn that I wanted to try but was distracted by shiny secret extra bottles, and as Phil rated them highly I circled back for them before February landed.

While wildly different they’re a really good example of what’s good about SMWS.  They’re intense, challenging, interesting, a bit young and good value.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked whether joining SMWS is a good idea, and it’s access to bottles like these, and the big Port Charlottes, that easily demonstrate why (if you’re passionate about whisky) joining is a no brainer.

SMWS 39.105, Linkwood, Pirates puddings on the deck, 14 years old, 58.1% A+

DSC_0058Nose - Intense red fruit - like dried cranberry, with pine planks, and yoghurt coated raisins. Still, quite light and a nice sulphur edge, and a good shiny sweetness to it. With water, it takes the edge off the youth - more rounded and reasonable, and with time, an almost hoppy floral character, plus a dusty, almost peaty musk, which is lovely.

Body - Sweet sulphur, fizzing oak, crunchy cereal bar. With water, much more gentle, soft sulphur and orange squash.

Finish - Medium, boiled sweets and long wood sourness. With water, some spice comes through.

What's not good about it - A little uncompromising at first. Also there's an off kilter sourness in here.

What's good about it - But with time and water, a really structured and interesting young Linkwood comes through.

SMWS 66.59, Ardmore, Nieve de Leche Quemada, 12 years old, 57.4% A+

DSC_0065Nose - A lovely light, elegant peat smoke. Ripe and wooded, sweet and bright, almost vinegar sour, like salad dressing on cress, or fresh, salty chips, and oyster shells. Some swimming pool (haven't smelled that in a whisky for a while) and perhaps a hint of VWP sanitiser. With water, even brighter, even sweeter, and a bit more masculine (in a musky way).

Body - Insistent but balanced cereal peat. Then a big hit of bitterness right at the roof of the mouth. Very sweet with a counterbalance of chewed aspirin.

Finish - Long, spicy, very insistent with the bitterness and a lingering cough candy boiled sweetness. With water, refreshers and oats.

What's not good about it - Quite challenging actually - I might not turn to this too often.

What's good about it - But this is an excellent example of a proper SMWS dram. These younger bruisers are good fun. Intense, surprising and insistent, balanced, not too expensive and good drinking. And a perfect dram to take at the bar.

Thanks Phil for the bottle shots – I totally forgot again.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Glenmorangie Dornoch and Tùsail

A couple of new(ish) Glenmorangies.  The Dornoch is a travel retail job, combining ex-bourbon barrels and some lightly peated spirit.  The Tùsail is the most recent release in the Private Edition range, and uses a wash made with Maris Otter barley, described as rare and a dying breed.  Given the amount of MO I brew beer with, I’m not sure this is true, but it’s certainly rarely used in whisky production.  Previous releases in this range were Sonnalta (PX), Finealta (peated), Artein (Super Tuscan wine casks), Ealanta (American white oak casks) and Companta (Clos de Tart red wine casks).  Both whiskies are NAS.

Glenmorangie Dornoch, 43% A-

dornoch-544146b71fdceNose – Dark, perfumed, musky wood and aftershave.  Extremely sweet notes, wax, peach, mango juice and mild toffee peat.  Old school desk and marker pens.  This kind of nose wouldn’t be out of place on a Springbank.  Proper. 

Body – Quite winey, unexpectedly.  Bitter, spicy, a little harsh given the elegance on the nose.

Finish – Bitter and hollow, medium, but some lingering interest with the peat and a mouth watering sourness which also adds to the overall experience. Good tropical burps.

What’s not good about it – A disappointing delivery.  Actually I quite like the end result but overall my expectations were mismanaged by the nose. 

What’s good about it – But what a nose!  Exciting, complex and juicy, good balance too.  This has the nose and character of a very good blend, and as this is basically a blend of whiskies from a single distillery to give a certain result, I can see how that could arise.  It’s a pity that the palate didn’t pick up where the nose left off.

Glenmorangie Tùsail, 46% A-

Glenmorangie TùsailNose – Deeply, deeply sweet with a lifting sour edge.  Dark toffee, pencil case, raw carrot and a little bit of raw new make.  But mainly musky wood, toffee and malt. Rather masculine and oily.  Water brings out floral notes, brighter toffees, brighter barley tones and calms down the new make edge.

Body – Very deep.  Deeply malty – that bit certainly worked, you can really taste the barley.  Good balance and sour structure at the side of the tongue.  But this seam of new make spirit is slightly disconcerting, oily with fresh thyme, tomato stalks and sour plums.  Water tones the faults down again and accentuates the good balance and structure.

Finish – Medium to short, a bit watery near the end actually.  Otherwise lightly spiced with balancing sweetness and quite a lot of wood.

What’s not good about it – Sharp, young notes are a bit off at this price point, although a tiny bit of water does a really good job in bringing the whole thing together.

What’s good about it – Really interesting overall, quite bold malt flavours and good complexity.

Thanks to Glemorangie for the sample of the Tùsail.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Diageo Special Releases 2014 Tasting

Twice in two years makes my attendance at the annual Special Releases tasting with Colin Dunn at The Whisky Exchange a tradition!  Last year was definitely a stand out tasting for me and so I was really looking forward to this. 


Apart from the launch (I’m not cool enough to attend this) last year, this is (I think) the only SR tasting held, and involves the usual telephonic Olympics trying to get through to the whisky exchange to book tickets.  I’m averaging about 100 attempts and 30 minutes to get through to secure tickets these days… I might start camping outside Vinopolis. 


The whiskies were, as before, quite an eye opener.  We had eight – including the Caol Ila 15 and the Lagavulin, both of which I have open bottles of at home, so I took cursory notes last night to log what they were like in the context of the others – actually they stood up pretty well!  There was no Caol Ila 30, which I was very sorry to hear, although I’ve made up for it by buying one from Cadenheads!

Stand outs for me were, predictably, the Port Ellen and the Brora.  The PE is almost supernatural, and has the dusty sweets thing going on that very old Bowmore has.  But everything else is there and the whole thing is a wonderfully drinkable experience.  But the Brora, while not quite as flabbergasting in the context of the tasting last night, I think is the one I’d most like to live with an open bottle of.  Some malts seem to reach in through your sinuses and grab you by the cerebral cortex, and this is one. 

In terms of actually using money to become the owner of one of these, the Caol Ila 15 and Laga are worth the money.  Nothing else solves for me though – I would love a bottle of the Brora but can’t justify £1200 for any single bottle of whisky.  The Benrinnes is close, but not quite perfect enough for me to spend £230 on.

Clynelish Select Reserve, 54.9% A+

2964 bottles.  Causes a lot of controversy due to the fact that it’s a NAS whisky retailing for £500.

20150126_210923Nose - Intense, sweetshop nose at first, then a lovely, expressive waxed wood. Bannister, cherry, dusty rose a little cigar, a little balsa wood. A fabulous nose.

Body - Sweet, quite spicy, very fresh, fruity and bright. Almost peaty, quite sharp. Water evens it out.

Finish - Medium, quite weirdly lacking in mid-range.

What's not good about it - Sour, wine nose and peat spice is a bit upsetting. Definitely not worth £500 (I don't really care about the NAS thing).

What's good about it - Sweet shop nose is beautiful and takes water well on the nose. Fantastic nose.

Singleton of Glendullan, 38 year old, 59.8% A⊕+

3756 bottles.  The first appearance of Glendullan in the Special Releases and the oldest expression this year.

20150126_210938Nose - wow…. Intense dark fruit, wax and mineral notes, candy canes. Extraordinarily balanced and intense. Incredible nose - I could spend all day with this. With water, more musky and bright curry spice, white flowers and lots of oils. An amazing, balanced and intense nose full of wood and wood oils.

Body – Intense spice, hot wax and polished wood, and quite bitter actually. With water, more musky, woody and quite challenging. Lots of orange juice.

Finish - Very long, oily and balanced. Even longer with water, intense wood oils.

What's not good about it - The spice is challenging, and overpriced sadly.

What's good about it - Just an incredible nose. Intense and oily wood.

Rosebank 1992, 21 year old, 55.3% A⊕+

4530 bottles.

20150126_210926Nose - Sweet, gentle, elegant light toffee, gentle wood. Fresh rose petals, light orange zest. Very fresh overall. More gentle waxy wood with water.

Body - Sweet wood, leather and toffee, orange zest, orange oils.

Finish - Long and intense orange oil, spicy but balanced and even.

What's not good about it - A bit restrained at first. But with time it really opens up and makes sense.

What's good about it - Lovely, complex and elegant nose. With water, fantastic balance and integrity throughout.

Caol Ila Unpeated 1998, 15 year old, 60.39% A⊕

10668 bottles.

20150126_210945Nose - Bright apples and boiled sweets, leather shoes and light peat. A lovely floral edge - some air freshener.

Body - Massive spirit hit, good wood and liquorice torpedoes. With water, much juicier and more wood. Delicious.

Finish - Medium to long, juicy, loads of great wood.

What's not good about it - A bit sharp?  Or just in expensive company.

What's good about it - Good musky wood and citrus notes.

Benrinnes 1992, 21 year old, 56.9% A⊕+

20150126_210933Nose - Dark, dirty musk, lots of sulphur and banana. Filthy. Bright, red cherry. Actually, very exciting - intense fruit and oils.

Body - Exciting, sulphured but sultry, balanced.

Finish - Long, very red. Lovely, intense and elegant.

What's not good about it - Nothing except… perhaps a bit weak with water.

What's good about it - Epic nose, amazing sulphur and fruit. This almost solved the whisky/money equation for me past £200 but… not quite.

Port Ellen 14th Release, 1978, 35 year old, 56.5% A⊕⊕

20150126_210947Nose - Intensely elegant, dusty sweets. Medicinal - hospitals, literally. Light parmas, boiled sweets. Very special.

Body - Light, unreal, alien dusty sweets. Almost too weird, but totally right.

Finish - Very long - long and dirty spice. No hint of peat. Juicy, fresh, dusty orange zest and full of oils.

What's not good about it - nothing

What's good about it - Intense but ancient wood and wax, parmas. Such balance, spice and intensity.  Truly epic.

For a cut price impression of what this kind of whisky is like, I recommend checking out the recent old Society Bowmores, like this 26 year old.  It’ll  give you some of the same dusty sweets and epic structure that this Port Ellen has for a tenth of the price. 

Brora, 1978, 35 year old, 48.6% A⊕⊕

2964 bottles.

20150126_211008Nose - Deep but quite light. Juicy toffee and lumps of oak. Ripe orange, structured, very elegant with sweat and leather.

Body - Bright, juicy, dusty parmas. Sherbet and light sulphur.

Finish - Spicy. Then very balanced and very long. Very buttery, very oily. Seriously lovely.

What's not good about it - Nothing.

What's good about it - Incredibly moreish. Haunting.

Lagavulin 13th release, 12 year old, 54.4% A⊕

31428 bottles.

20150127_114622Nose - Sweet, sour, dirty but restrained. Vanilla and almonds and inner tubes.

Body - Sweet, dusty, ozone and wood.

Finish - Very long, blue cheese. A cracker!

Friday, 23 January 2015

SMWS 37.60, Cragganmore, Oranges, spices and London honey

Another whisky that appeared at bars and didn’t find a home in an outturn… yet.  No doubt it will turn up in whisky for a year or a members tasting.

SMWS 37.60, Oranges, spices and London honey, Cragganmore, 29 years old, 52.4%(?) A⊕+

Refill bourbon, 182 bottles.

20150102_160109Nose - Glorious. Deeply sweet, orange wax, waxed bannister, orange juice and granite. Depth, structure and grit. Balance and intensity. With water, a little more marker pen, retronasal cereal and chopped almonds.

Body - Spice, leather, tobacco. Satsumas and boiled sweets. Water brings down the spice and leather and brings more juice, musky honey and a little more wood.

Finish - Long, toffeed and thick. Still spicy and fresh with lingering, deep wood sour.

A spectacular dram. Lovely orange notes throughout and extremely well balanced without being oversweet.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

SMWS Port Charlotte, 127.40, Mango chicken vindaloo

This baby seems to have hit SMWS bars only and perhaps isn’t destined for an outturn at all.  If you picked up a bottle somehow you did well, and if you see it in an outturn, score one ASAP.  Those I split a bottle with should be enjoying their drams about now!

SMWS 127.40, Mango chicken vindaloo, Port Charlotte, 12 years old, 63% A⊕

159 bottles, refill bourbon, 21st June 2002.

20150102_173844Nose - Classic PC. Intense barley, very sweet, dusty, bright peat, lemon cereal. Intense but gentle for a society PC. Lovely musky toffee notes and yes, chicken curry with fried turmeric and cardamom. With water, surprise floral toffee and beautiful musky wood.

Body - Intense sherbet lemon, lemon zest, toffee and gunpowder.

Finish - Very long, spicy lemon zest, sherbet dib dabs and fruit toffees.

Very special.


Thursday, 8 January 2015

SMWS January Outturn

A really solid outturn this.  I was expecting something boring to ease us back in after the ridiculously large November outturn. And then the chaos and excitement of December - loads of amazing Japanese gear, the bourbon and the beautiful Macallan/Rosebank pair (which, having lived with them for a month have turned out to be two of my favourite whiskies of the year). 

But no, this is a great bunch, with some really solid fifty quidders, a big old Macallan, another old, graceful Bowmore, a Royal Brackla, an old grain from a new distillery (Dumbarton) and an awkward but fascinating Springbank.

I’ve not got as many notes here as I would usually have, mainly because I got waylaid by other interesting things including an absolutely beautiful 24 year old Jura old friends like this 23 year old Glenrothes, as well as some other things I’ll write up later on.  But I will try and return for the rest of the outturn before the month is up or they’re all sold out.  I’ve got your back, right now, for the Macallan and Bowmore though.

If you’re wondering why they nearly all say BUY underneath, it’s because they’re worth it.  More here.

And if you’re wondering what A⊕ means, I wrote up my scoring system here.

SMWS 35.115, Glen Moray, The Gentleman’s Private Club, 17 years old, 53.5% A⊕

First fill designer barrel, 179 bottles.

20150102_160132Nose - Sweet and simple. Juicy and spirity with emulsion paint, stollen, freshly varnished oak and orange fondant quality street. With time, the sweetness freshens up and becomes more balanced. Water releases more orange juice.

Body - Sweet, wooded, some spicy peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, a little clove. Water balances it out, and it becomes seriously delicious.

Finish - Long, very sweet and quite sharp. With water, some musky wood.

A sweet, delicious whisky. Good balance and intensity.


SMWS 55.26, Royal Brackla, Outdoor, masculine dram, 14 years old, 57.3% A⊕

Refill bourbon, 313 bottles.

20150102_163754Nose - Complex and a little bit challenging. Sweet with sour cereal, bitter almonds and fresh PCB. Earth and potatoes. Quite addictive in its own, weird way - I do like the juxtapositions.

Body - Intensely wooded and incredibly sweet. Cinnamon jawbreakers and icing sugar. Bracing and increasingly delicious.

Finish - Quite short, balanced, lingering wood sour.

A challenging and quite fascinating whisky, but not perfectly put together - lacking integration but very interesting.


SMWS G14.1, Dumbarton, ‘East meets West’, 28 years old, 47.8%, A+

Refill bourbon, 163 bottles.


Nose - Seriously oily, like massage oil with lots of corn, fried pork fat and something fresher - like marashino cherries? Quite odd but quite pleasant.

Body - Wow - seriously herbal - parsley and fresh cut flower stalk, fresh with ozone.

Finish - Short, clean and fresh. Refreshing and summery.

An interesting and very clean dram with a really oily, corn led nose.  BUY this and save it until summer.

SMWS 24.128, Macallan, Posh ladies on the prom!, 29 years old, 51.1%, A+

Refill bourbon, 209 bottles.


Nose - Light, sweet cereal, midget gems and a little garage forecourt (petrol, coffee). Water washes it away a bit, but deep wood sweetness remains.

Body - Very sweet, very spicy, deep musk and quite a lot of wood. Water brings the bitterness from the finish forward but tones down the delivery too much.

Finish - Long and bitter, but pleasantly so. Long wood sour and orange zest. A complex and interesting finish.

An elegant delicious and fresh dram, but not up to the cost or the billing.

SMWS 27.108, Springbank, A savoury experience!, 14 years old, 53.2% A+

Refill bourbon, 174 bottles.

20150102_171641Nose - Very strange. Pizza with tomato sauce made with cheap oregano, but some sweet wax and wood in the background. Very restrained but not wrong, apart from a slightly young note l don't really appreciate. Might be closed because the bottle was freshly opened too.  Highly irregular for a Springbank.

Body - Boom - no more restraint, and a return of the Springbank character. Intense citric acid and sweet wax. All is forgiven. More Springbank wood and oily with water.

Finish - Long, oily, sharp S&V crisps. Lingering intense acidic notes, and good musky wood.

An odd whisky and an odd development. Very interesting.  Still a BUY if that appeals.

SMWS 3.235, Bowmore, The happy camping holiday, 26 years old, 50.9%, A⊕+

Refill bourbon, 202 bottles.


Nose - Dark, balanced and ripe. Much more grown up than the November 26yo Bowmore, only the faintest hint of parmas and fizzers. Beautifully sweet (fairy liquid), floral, but with savoury complexity supplied by buttery mashed potato and fried rosemary.

Body - Wow - intense parmas and spicy toffee, with modelling clay and flat pack furniture and a back belt of tannic sulphur. Weirdly like mango squash in a new plastic cup (thanks for that one Sam). With water, more "ordinary" parma led old Bowmore but still backed up by that balancing, structural sulphur.

Finish - Quite long, spicy and woody. Quite intense actually. Water lessens the intensity of this overall and brings out an unbalanced bitterness - much preferred neat. As usual with these old Bowmores, the peat is haunting and totally integrated rather than it being “peated”.

An absolutely epic whisky.


SMWS 53.218, Caol Ila, Philadeplhia cigar 'perfection', 14 years old, 64.4%, A⊕+

Refill bourbon, 242 bottles.  Quite a young Caol Ila for an SMWS release, hence a good price.  And quite mild for a young Caol Ila also.  Fabulous, as usual, though.

20150102_172733Nose - Unexpectedly sweet and mild.  Marker pen, liquorice torpedoes, cigar tobacco and nut toffee. Quite lovely.

Body - Sweet, structured, good bitterness, beautiful musky wood and sulphur.

Finish - Long, dusty refreshers, floral and beautiful.

I love it.


Monday, 5 January 2015

A couple of SMWS Glen Morays

Here’s a couple from the kilolitres of Glen Moray SMWS output each year.  This says good things about Glen Moray!

SMWS 35.27, Floating turtles over Lynchburg, Glen Moray, 10 years old, 58.4% A+

First fill bourbon, 214 bottles.  A gift from Phil Storry, the end of his old (check the cask number compared to the next one) bottle of this opened for a tasting some time ago.  Released July 2009 according to the all seeing Google.

20150104_135550Nose – Intensely sweet even from quite far away, full maturation in first fill bourbon has been good to this whisky!  Sweet, sappy wood, vanilla cream, dirty wax, erasers and sweetened granite (I know there’s no such thing, but that’s what’s there!).  This isn’t cloying though – the fresh, metallic, ozone note brightens it right up.  Young, bright and dirty, my kind of dram.  With water, much softer on the nose – juicier and fruitier, but still has that quirky, malty, dirty note I love about some SMWS bottlings.

Body – Sweet, intensely wooded, chilli spice (aha – Phil’s not a fan), cassava and quite significant bitterness.  With water, more bitterness but lovely fruit again – juicy orange, raisins and bitter oak.

Finish – Long, quite spicy and bitter.  Intense but not unbalanced and not wrong, just young and well put together.

What’s not good about it – delivery isn’t as fun as the nose.

What’s good about it – Interesting and dirty throughout, serious fun on the nose.  Good musky, tropical burps.  Cracking stuff, thanks Phil!

SMWS 35.112, Perfect storm of flavours, Glen Moray, 17 years old, 51.8% A⊕

First fill designer barrel, 143 bottles.  17 December 1996.  This was part of Whisky for a Year (May 2014).  I reviewed this before and forgot, as part of the September outturn in which it appeared subsequently.  I liked it, had a lot of the same notes (and gratifyingly, the same score).  I only remembered this fact when I googled for an image, which you will see again, below.  Anyway, these notes were taken at home, at leisure, and with a fresh palate.

IMG_20140904_181356542[4]Nose – Remarkable.  A high heat wok of Chinese flavours – chilli, ginger, garlic.  Indian rice pudding is very strong here too.  Very floral (I’m not up to speed with flowers but it smells like an old lady’s house a bit), but with a lovely, fresh, juicy top note.  And yet balanced – not too much sweetness, although it verges on cloying – it’s balanced by musk, wood, wax, fruit and flowers.  Just wonderful.

Body – Intensely sweet with a back of the throat catching of waxy, tropical wood. Chilli spice at the front of the tongue and all round massage oils – floral, woody and perfumed.

Finish – Lots of “Mukhwas” (sweetened seeds eaten after an Indian meal).  Long, floral cereal, very sweet and lots of juicy wood.  Just a lingering hint of blue cheese.  Riotous.

What’s not good about it – Pretty silly.  Bourbon levels of sweet oak intensity.

What’s good about it – Great fun, juicy and fruity and complex.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

SMWS Whisky for a year, and 72.36, Miltonduff, Holy Moly

Might as well start 2015 on a high note! This was July’s whisky for a year bottle from SMWS.  Thanks to Tom we split a couple of subs to the SMWS Whisky for a Year last year and so I received 10cl of each (one a month).  It was very, very good and this was one of the highlights.  If you look at the line-up, it’s worth the money and a great set – I reckon the whole lot would have set you back a grand.  Here’s what happened in 2014 (thanks Tom), with either my guess at the price or the actual price for the bottle.

January - 9.80 A Rocking Chair Dram £ 73.20

February - 7.83 Fresh, Airy, Sherbety £ 69.10

March - 26.98 Lively as an Electric Acrobat £ 49.40

April - 39.94 An Exotic Privilege £ 87.20

May - 35.112 Perfect Storm of Flavours £ 53.90

June - 76.110 Summer Fruit Salad with Cream £ 126.00

July - 72.36 Holy Moly £ 169.00

August - G1.12 Mouth Puckering Sweetness £ 61.20

September 50.58 A Seesaw of Spring Cleaning and Scones £ 99.60

October - 59.50 Comfortable in the chesterfield £ 120.90

November - 9.82 Breathe in Long £ 98.00

December - 36.81 A Mad Hatters Tea Party £ 48.00

I’m in for 2015.  More of these previous ones reviewed in coming months.  Cheers!

SMWS 72.36, Miltonduff, Holy Moly, 31 years old, 44.6% A⊕+

November 3rd 1981, 51 bottles, refill bourbon hogshead.

20150103_194904Nose – Wears its age as you’d expect; a sweet, ripe, waxy fruit bomb!  Candied peel, polystyrene cement, cheap raspberry jam and wood glue.  Actually just a hint of superglue?  Quite outrageous on the nose. Water (despite the low ABV) increases the intensity - even more waxy fruit and long chain molecules.  Joyous.

Body – An old, elegant thing.  Ripe, slightly spicy, enormous amounts of wax and wood and tropicality.  Apple and a cheese board, blueberries and brie.  Water brings the delivery under whisky strength for me, but again the fruit and cheese come through even stronger.  I won’t make a habit of diluting this.

Finish – Long (given enough of a sip), oily, almost blue cheesey in the decay, with spicy ammonia and clarty lactic notes right up the nose.  Very special – a real rollercoaster but also very old, elegant and rich.  Up there with the Tomatin 35 Cadenheads for me.

What’s not good about it – High cost and low outturn (although this is available to buy right now, having only been released as a whisky for a year bottle to 31 punters, and the rest released on my prompting!). Needs proper care and attention to appreciate.

What’s good about it – Massive, sexy and ancient.  Juicy, waxy, complex and important.  Worth it.