Sunday, 31 January 2016

Garnheath XOP 41 Years Old

Another 41 year old Garnheath… maybe they were part of the same parcel?  Carn Mor had one recently, so I was very keen to try this one out.  Sadly I got to it just as it all sold out, it was only on Master of Malt so maybe it’ll show up elsewhere at some point?

Garnheath 41 Year Old 1974 (cask 11029) - Xtra Old Particular (Douglas Laing), 48.9% A⊕

garnheath-41-year-old-1974-cask-11029-xtra-old-particular-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - Deep and classy, cherry lip salve and a touch of petrol. A slightly ghostly grain edge, with marker pens and sawdust on the exhale. Sliced granary bread, some ozone. It's a very fresh, elegant nose with underlying sweetness and lots of restrained grain, tobacco, orange zest and oak. Lovely. The empty glass has deep, important cask wax, and a weird hit of recharred cask?

Body - Quite big and fruity - banana and buttercream icing, a backing of grain funk (that petrol again) and lots of wood tannins. With time a sourness starts to dominate.

Finish - Tannins dominate; fresh oak planks and stewed tea. Very long and drying.

The combination of a juicy, fruity nose, with fizzing top notes and tons of oak and big tannins in the end is very compelling, this is also a very restrained, elegant old grain, it must have been a very refill cask! That orange pith sourness in the delivery is a bit offputting though, this isn't a soft old whisky. And the wood influence is also odd; it's like it spent 41 years in a 5x refilled bourbon cask and then a day in a virgin oak cask. It is bloody delicious though.

Thanks to Douglas Laing for the sample.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Glenmorangie–Midwinters & Milsean

Had a few lined up for this post but no time like the present.  The theme was going to be… isn’t the 10 year old boring but aren’t these other ones rather good?  I really quite like the midwinters one, a proper drinker.

Glenmorangie A Midwinter Night's Dram, 43% A+

A Christmas special just gone; some bourbon, some sherry oak, NAS.

glenmorangie-a-midwinter-nights-dram-whiskyNose - Gentle but very sweet, intensely jewelled with lovely cask musk. Vanilla sponge, buttercream, orange icing and orange matchmakers. Cherry lipsalve. A lovely, cosy nose, really juicy.

Body - Fresh, orangey, some zippy citrus and quite a lot of spice. Juicy though, quite refreshing.

Finish - Complex orange oils and big oak, but it does fall apart a little in the finish - a simplicity and lack of body.

Bearing in mind the price point and audience for this, I can forgive the one dimensional finish and lack of midrange, I love the fat citrus oil on the nose. Delicious.

Glenmorangie Private Edition VII Milsean, 46% A+

Following on from Tùsail, this seventh private edition release is finished for 2.5 years in Portuguese red wine barriques.

glenmorangie-milsean-private-edition-whiskyNose - Sweet (boiled sweets, seaside rock), not winey at all, but with a sharpness like deodorant and refreshers. Something slightly herbal, almost medicinal in here too. Pretty delicious though.

Body - Soft, warm but also sharp, big citrus bitterness behind a deep winey sweetness (plenty of midrange this time). Quite compelling although a bit weird (that sharp bitterness, with the meaty edge isn't very Glenmorangie).

Finish - Long and slightly meaty - charred pork in there with red wine cask, refreshers and what strikes me as a touch of peat… very odd.

This is a bit more challenging than I'd expected, not as universally sweet as billed. I think the Midwinters dram is sweeter (and more drinkable). Reasonably compelling, I'd go for it.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Octomore 7.4 and friends

This is the first *.4 Octomore. It's .1 for bourbon cask, .2 for wine cask, .3 for local barley (always good) and .4 now for virgin oak casks (I assume). There's been casks of virgin oak Octomore knocking about at the distillery for a while which visitors have been given previews of (I tasted it here) but now it's made it to the mainstream. I thought the full term virgin oak was a bit odd (good but odd) and I guess Adam Hannett thought something similar as full term virgin oak only makes up 25% of the vatting for 7.4. The other 75% is made out 3 year old classic first fill ex-bourbon cask Octomore, which is then finished for 2 years in virgin oak, then a final 2 year finish in first fill bourbon, making this a 7 year old Octomore (they're usually 5 years old except for a single release of 10 year old a while back, see below). Also, two trips through two different first fill bourbon casks isn't something I've heard of before. That's a LOT of bourbon influence.

Anyway, these Octomore bottles are a packaging masterpiece. So authoritative… I reckon they ship cooling rods for nuclear power stations in this kind of packaging. 04.2 was my favourite.

Other Octomore reviews: Discovery, 06.3, 07.2, distillery only things here, 04.1, 04.2, 05.1, 06.1 here, Elements of Islay Oc1 here.  The first one has the review of the single cask virgin oak that 07.4 isn’t.

Octomore 07.1, 208ppm, 59.5% A⊕+

bruichladdich-octomore-07point1-5-year-old-whiskyNose - It's a beautiful thing. Blisteringly sweet and white winey, with sour top notes like raspberries have. Dusty Love Hearts, cheap vanilla ice cream and lemon sorbet. But this intensity is all knitted together by that restrained Octomore funk, which is so revolting in the new make but makes the matured whisky.  With water, that funk is bordering on public toilets but it works so well. It's a fine line though, it must be terrifying vatting Octomore for release…

Body - Sweet, winey fireworks, sherbet and ice pops. Meat and oak. Very yellow. Just delicious with water. The peat isn't that forward, and I would have called this as a wine cask finish (but I suck at blind tasting). Sweet, balanced by acidity and peat.

Finish - Long, burning, fizzing and ripe. Lemon drops. With water, just so gentle and delicious. Sweet, clean and winey.

This is a gentle, almost elegant, but simultaneously quite intense whisky. I wonder if the high peat levels numb the mouth, like Sechuan peppercorns do with Sechaunese food, allowing you to eat more chilli. It's bloody good either way, and totally still available.  Buy now!

Octomore 10 years old, 80.5ppm (bless!), 50% A⊕

Thanks Jon for opening his bottle of this and splitting it with the faithful!

bruichladdich-octomore-10-year-old-whiskyNose - Elegant, sweet and clean! So much cleaner than the 07.1 but also lacking some its power. What it gains though is milk chocolate, refreshers and ozone. More dirty with water, slightly charred, and with time, a real Biltong note to it.

Body - Sweet, rich and chocolatey, and more obviously peated - more raw peat - than the 07.1. Delicious though, with Marlboro lights and chocolate bonbons. More fetid with water.

Finish - Long, sweetly oaked, slightly lemony, a touch of deodorant.

Balanced and zesty throughout, but gently warm, rich and toffeed too. A real glugger. Water takes the edge off the elegance to be honest, turns it into some more simple and a bit broken.

Octomore 07.4, 167ppm, 61.2% A⊕

20160121_160751Nose - On the inhale, it's all sweet deodorant, Octomore funk, wine and a big cask wax that I've never had before in an Octomore (that could be the 7 years, perhaps it’s the trip through two different first fill casks for 75% of the whisky). On the exhale it's all Balcones Brimstone; burnt post oak and rabbit food pellets. It's not as obvious as Brimstone though, this is a much slower matured whisky and certainly not as brutal, and the sweet toffee backing is pure Scotch. I really like it… but the overall effect is very American. In some ways it's also like the Wasmunds single malt where you can really taste the influence of the cherry and oak chips the malt was dried under the influence of. But again, that Octomore funk really knits all sorts of crazy intensity together. Complex, BBQed, dirty, well integrated, very different. With water, a little gentler I suppose, ice lolly sticks and a touch of sugary meat in with the 'Q.

Body - Heavily oaked Chardonnay, burning oak chunks, burning bracken, dark toffee, blackcurrant travel sweets. Red wine cask with its dark fruits, intense oak tannins. It falls apart a bit with water, it knocks the midrange and some of the point out of this bruiser.

Finish - Long, palate destroying wood smoke, lots of dark black coffee, sweet and spicy.

This is a great whisky, perhaps even an important whisky. This has moved Scotch so far out of bounds that it makes me think more of craft American spirits than Islay, let alone Scotland. The virgin oak and "almost virgin" first fill bourbon has had such a profound effect that even the intense peating and Islay terroir are firmly pushed to one side… but still the talent and care taken at Bruichladdich are not lost. But is it Scotch? I don't know, it's bloody good though.

I do like Brimstone though.

I'm building up an Octomore blend which isn't ready yet. So far it has Discovery, 12 year old d'Yquem and 5yo virgin oak cask from the distillery, 04.2, 06.3 and 07.2 in it.  It has a sweet, pure refreshers and very dirty nose, almost modelling clay. It's pretty harsh on the delivery though, lots of neat tobacco and licked joss stick. I'll keep adding to it…

Aberfeldy 16 years old

A recently added addition to the core range, this is one of those obviously high quality malts that’s just a pleasure to drink.  In fact, quite a lot of the Last Great Malts range has been pretty awesome – the Craigellachie and Aultmores were all fantastic, Royal Brackla I need to get to but I know them well from SMWS bottlings. 

Aberfeldy 16 years old, 40% A+

aberfeldy-16-year-old-whisky[1]Nose - In a word; classy. Ah it’s refreshing to nose non-single-cask-cask-strength whisky occasionally! Delicately floral and fruity (ripe peach, cut sweet cherry), very fresh and juicy, and a lovely cask character - warm and woody, lightly waxed. Deliciously sweet and very attractive.

Body - Light and elegant, fresh and well rounded. Some white chocolate, a hint of cut rosemary, restrained blonde oak.

Finish - Gently wooded with fresh tannins and a kiss of grapefruit bitterness. Drying enough at the end to bring you back for another taste.

This is an elegant, gentle whisky that has a lovely balance of flavours. One for a large measure in a cut-glass tumbler over a long, interesting conversation. Recommended.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

More Springbank, their associates, and some news

When people ask me what my favourite whisky is, I honestly find it hard to answer.  I mean, the reason I love whisky so much (particularly Scotch) is the diversity (the infinite complexity!) of it all, so how could I say one style, one distillery above another?  But looking on my shelves, it’s clear that I favour this particular distillery and its many offshoots (including Longrow and Hazelburn but also Glengyle (Kilkerran) and all the many wonders that come out of Cadenheads).

So below are a bunch of Springbank related whiskies that have been building up (I keep drinking them rather than writing about them), including the new batch of what I usually settle on as my favourite whisky if pushed, SB15.  Here’s the news though, in February Springbank Local Barley will be back – the Local Barley 16 year old will become part of the core range.  The 14 year old Society local barley from 2 years ago is just spectacular (review here), and this bodes very well for the 16 year old. We’ll also get batch 12 of the Springbank Cask Strength 12 year old at the same time, and I may even publish my mega-vertical of CS12 batches then.  Or maybe I’ll hold onto it for another couple of years…

Springbank 15 years old, September 2015 release, 46% A⊕+

Who knew there were identifiable batches of Springbank 15 year old? I didn’t, until Stephen from Cadenheads pointed out the new batch was a cracker. This is mostly sold out, certainly is at Cadenheads. They had to bottle a new batch way ahead of schedule (in October 2015 rather than June 2016).

Spring 15-cr-200x300Nose - Dark, complex, winey, very cask led, extremely sweet and quintessentially Springbank. Engine blocks, crayons and carrots, lots of complex sherry, slightly sharp too. It's the full orchestra, well balanced. What a nose!

Body - Oily, spicy and dark. Plenty of peat here, chewed crayons and black plums. Soft tannins but more wax than oak. Absolutely delicious.

Finish - Some bitterness at the end… chewed aspirin takes the edge of the luxury but I'm reminded of my youth a little with some fag ash and boiled sweets. But this complex, challenging, fruity, sweet whisky deserves another sip…

I have the heel of a bottle of Springbank 15 year old from last year so let's see. The nose is a bit more grown up on the older batch (although that could just be more time in air), I definitely still get the kebab shop overtones I got last time. Those are entirely missing from this new batch. The older batch is arguably waxier on the nose but I don't recall it being that waxy on the delivery. On the delivery, the older one is softer, more wine, less fruit. The finish is less challenging and a little longer. Generally the older batch has more wine, less sherry. Both are wonderful whiskies though. Now I just need to source a sample of the October 2015 batch before I can finally put to rest my 2014 bottle…

And yes, really A⊕+ - everyone has their favourite Springbank.

Kilkerran, Calvados Cask, 9 years old, 57.3% A⊕+

This was first shown at the Campbeltown festival 2015 and its legend spread slowly from then, with good cause. When it appeared a month or so ago, it sold out almost instantly - that's word of mouth recommendation for you! There was another (to quote a certain currently fashionable film) at that tasting that I think we might see early next year, watch this space.

Meanwhile there has been other interesting experimentation at Glengyle.  They are starting to produce more heavily peaeted spirit so we will in due course start to see some Longrow style Kilkerran to go alongside the Springbank style currently being sold.  And while we shared the allocation of Calvados casks with Germany, they’ve also been filling other fun casks and sending them overseas – Gaja Barolo to Belgium and New Zealand, Marsala cask to China, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland, Madeira to France and Taiwan and Lafite to Denmark and Italy.  So far they have escaped my grasp but I’m working on it…

kilkerran-2006-bottled-2015-single-cask-whiskyNose - Complex, austere, very sweet and mineral. Apples, Calvados, and very old refill bourbon scotch. Don't take this the wrong way, but there's sweat, earth and unripe pear in here too. Refreshing, exciting, intense and balanced. And that's it neat… with water it's fresh, cold apple slices, more pastry and very juicy. Delicious.

Body - Very winey - unlike the nose this screams red wine cask. Then it's all big, dirty Springbank - oil, funk, toffee and refreshers. And apple chews.

Finish - Very sweet, with olive oil, licked joss stick and big tannic wood. Long and arresting, and delicious. With water, a surprising extra complexity develops - long, balanced and fruity against wood sour.

What a fabulous whisky, and it's unbelievable that this is only nine years old. I think there's a little more luck than judgement in this cask, but recent Kilkerran releases are becoming so bloody amazing that I think they're starting to generate their own luck. If you see one of these for sale, bite its hand off.

Springbank 18 years old, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, 50% A⊕+

Thanks Franck for a taste of this beauty!  I think this was bottled a long time ago, I can’t find much information about it at all.

image2Nose - Immediately I'm into toe curling territory. Intensely sweet with a green apple and chalk brightness matching the Springbank engine oil. There's something particularly ripe about this one though, with added fresh clay in the art room, wet cigar tobacco and a really farmy, earthy, dungy backnote to it that sounds (I suppose) bad but works in the same way that it does in South West France with their really dirty, black wines. Dusty too. Jeez. Very dirty, very good. Even better (riper) with water.

Body - Glorious. Gentle though… ripe fruit (almost overripe plum), soft waxes, big boiled sweets. Complex wood (joss stick, pine planks, chewed pencil), massive tannins balancing the sweetness - having trouble stopping drinking this.

Finish - Dirty, a little spicy. Lots of oils at the end and tannic oak, a touch of overstewed tea. Hmm… this bitterness is a touch overstated, maybe that's my palate today?

Either way this is a glorious whisky. What a smasher!

Springbank Rum Wood, 16 years old, 54.2% A

8 years in refill bourbon, 8 years in rum.  Distilled June 1991, bottled August 2007, 5100 bottles.  This is still knocking around, a few cases recently sold online for a reasonable price.

sbRumNose - Intensely winey and sweet, unmistakably rum backed with tart tatin and bright, ripe pear flesh. The spirit just fights through the sugar with a breezy minerality that reminds me of liquorice torpedos. Feels a bit young or unblended though, a bit single casky in its single mindedness. Much more integrated with water - ice cubes and strawberry laces, some springbank oil and funk, some orange curd.

Body - Lots of liquorice, intensely sweet and black. Topped by refreshers and cranberries. Slightly odd and astringent actually. Again, significantly better with water, and some of the engine oil from the spirit comes through.

Finish - Long and fizzing, very alcoholic. With water, woolly green apple - very fruity. Lovely cask musk and honey burps though, that I can stand behind.

A bit of a bruiser this - that rum cask even knocks Springbank's spirit sideways. This is pretty delicious but a big gap in midrange takes the edge off how much fun it is to drink.

Springbank Marsala Wood, 9 years old, 58% A⊕

Distilled in October 1996, matured in refill sherry for 7 years, then finished in first fill Marsala for 2 years, bottled in August 2006.  7740 bottles.

Thanks Cuan for a toot on this badboy.

sbMarsalaNose - Bright, appley and breezy. The Springbank funk is sharper and fruitier than normal - winier I suppose. Dusty with unlit joss sticks and more farmyard overtones. Dirty, funky, oily yet still refreshing. It's youth is not apparent on the nose either.

Body - Much warmer, waxier and sweeter than expected, lots of wine though. Black grapes, baked plums, almonds and pastry. Next, sour and fizzing. Then dusty and slightly alien. Much more "simply winey" with water. Something to play with there.

Finish - Long, astringent but backed with sweet fruit and wax. Fizzing at the end.

Absolutely delicious - like the Kilkerran, it's an appley, complex, confident young whisky that doesn't put a foot wrong. It's young Springbank like this that makes you realise that it's the combination of fantastic spirit and unconstrained cask excellence (perhaps due to the fact that Cadenheads appears to own a significant percentage of the stock of mature whisky in Scotland) that really makes Springbank rock.

Longrow 18 years old, 46% A+

Thanks to Mark for a big slice of his bottle of this - I've really enjoyed getting to know it!

longrow-18-year-old-whiskyNose - Big sherry influence here with the peat playing the teenage girls and smoking thing that really triggers the nostalgia. Window putty, caramelised apples, toast and honey, but the main themes are gentle peat with big fruity sweetness (strawberry laces I'd say). It is a little restrained compared to some in this set - I found the same with the Springbank 18. I need to get my hands on a Longrow 15.

Body - Like that teenage me I was mentioning earlier, this is complicated and not terribly well balanced. Biscuity peat, a touch of sulphur, fresh tobacco, big wax and tannins. Pretty tasty though.

Finish - A little dirt, a lot of liquorice, Marlboro lights and oak. Long and interesting.

This is very good, I don't seem to find Longrow quite as arresting as Springbank though, despite the extra peat. Springbank's like Highland Park in its peatedness, it doesn't really need any more.

Longrow Red 2015, Pinot Noir Cask, 52.9% A-

Fourth in the series of Longrow Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Port) this one is 12 year old Longrow just finished for a year (the Port cask was full term) in fresh Pinot Noir cask from New Zealand.

longrow-red-12-year-old-fresh-pinot-noir-cask-finish-whiskyNose - Intense, young and cereal led peat, this noses a bit like a complex Port Charlotte mixed with Longrow. Still getting the baby sick note here (echoes of Laddie I suppose) with orange sorbet and refreshers. There's (to continue a theme) a bit of a Rennies note to this too. Significantly younger smelling than most of the other whisky here, weirdly. With water, more toffee, more gunpowder, more competent. Overall it's good though - it has that open handed fruitiness I really enjoy from Campbeltown.

Body - Soft, gentle, winey then a massive belt of peat. Have they been stepping the peat up on these? Dirty and bitter. Much fruitier with water.

Finish - Long, gamey and highly oaked. The wine is rich and stewey here, stewed fruits and meats. With water, very long and an almost Sauternes sweetness runs through it.

An awkward whisky; there's fruit, peat, bitterness, sweetness but it lacks integration. Water helps, a lot, but it can't compete with the others.

Longrow, Gaja Barolo cask, 7 years old, 53.8% A⊕

5.5 years in bourbon followed by 1.5 years in Gaja Barolo casks. These young wood series bottlings from a while ago are pretty good eh.

longrow-7-year-old-barolo-cask-finish-whiskyNose - Red wine and then baklava and slightly burnt toffee. Perfectly balanced peat, you almost don't notice it because of its integration but it's significant. Great ozone and coastal balance too. Deeply delicious really.

Body - Softly sherried, cereal and toffee, clean but rich. Fruits are mango and peach, with a touch of refreshers.

Finish - Cigarettes and toffee. Spikey, astringent but deep, winey and soft too. At the end it's like the aftertaste from cigarette tobacco in your mouth.

This is a glorious whisky where the cask totally balances out the young peated spirit. It's like a parody of "smooth".

Awesome stuff… there’s some society bottlings and a handful of 21s to come soon, can’t wait for the Local Barley.  Cheers!

Monday, 11 January 2016

More Balcones Fun

More Balcones tasted as part of another super Tweet Tasting.  I was on the last one too, which was the Distiller’s Selection Private Barrel Tour – just incredible and included the Brimstone Resurrection, WWA winner and something I have been dreaming about ever since. 

Since then I’ve been preoccupied and hadn’t been paying attention to new things coming out.  The staff selection casks came and went quickly in the UK while I was looking at Scotland.  We picked up some of their Texas rum in our bottle share group – but I ended up tasting that for the first time as part of this TT, and by that point stocks of that had disappeared.  You know what happens next…

Balcones Staff Selection 2014, Limited edition, cask 3549, 62.5% A⊕+

Hand selected by the entire team to celebrate the year's work for 2014, aged in Hungarian oak casks. There will be a limited edition Staff Selection release each year. 172 bottles.

Under 5 years old, started in American oak barrels, and finished in a European oak barrel (for under 4 months).  100% golden promise barley.

balcones-single-barrel-staff-selection-cask-3549-whiskyNose - Deep toffee, black fruit, but structured like a heavily sherried Scotch. Tic tacs and granite. Oak cubes. Dark sugar sweetness and blue cheese, Pritt Stick and chocolate covered raisins. With time, vanilla sponge cake and icing, and great musky fruit. Even fruitier with water - a big, complex bruiser of a whisky.

Body - Massive. Spiced figs and lots of wood, but not overly done - lovely demerara notes and very rich and ripe. Then a massive blast of retronasal new charred oak, sour, tannic and like gunpowder on the palate. More fruit but more bitter with water.

Finish - Very long, coffee and big oak, with sweet red fruit and boiled sweets balancing the massive tannins.

Balcones True Blue 100% proof, 50% A⊕

100 proof roasted blue corn whisky, matured in small American oak barrels before being married in large premium American casks.  These were 5 and 60 gallon American oak, filled previously with other Balcones spirits

balcones-true-blue-whiskyNose - Delicious, immediately. Vanilla cream, pastry, cherry lip gloss, chocolate brazil nuts and wooden rulers.

Body - Soft and sweet, brown sugar, privet hedge and water biscuits. Sweet popcorn from a packet (slightly crispy), and Marlboro light tobacco.

Finish - Long and soft, ripe with glacé cherries. New leather belt at the end and a bit of whiteboard marker. What a gentle, delicious whisky. Great balance too.

Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon, 64.5% A+

Made with the same blue corn spirit, aged in charred new 225 litre american oak casks.  For this first batch they used 5 American and 1 French oak casks

balcones-texas-blue-corn-bourbon-whiskyNose - Deep, rich and astringent. More sherry bomb Scotch and burnt Christmas cake. Fried raisins and onions. With water, more obviously bourbon, but lovely balance.

Body - Absolutely enormous, eye-wateringly strong. The intense sherry bomb notes combined with the ABV make it colossal. Tobacco, toast, oak and paprika. Very Texan. Water calms it down a lot - red fruit and wax, buttered popcorn.

Finish - Stagg-like - waffles, oak, honey, wood, sugar, barrels. Lots of wood, lots of oil. With water, a really calm, delicious, confectionary finish with sweet crispy popcorn again.

Balcones Texas Rum, 69.3% A⊕

Finest molasses, a range of oak species (3 American, 2 Hungarian, and 1 French refill cask). 25% evaporation in just over 3 years.  I really regret not bagging a bottle of this for the archive.

balcones-texas-rumNose - Dark and heavily oaked. Acrylic varnish on fresh oak planks, liquorice imps, if I'm getting sweetness its wrapped in a dark cloak. More fruit cake than icing, with permanent markers and dried cherries. With water, some marzipan. These notes are starting to read like a great SMWS Scotch…

Body - There's the rum, this was more Scotch than rum up until now. But it's quite fleeting (front of mouth and top of nose), the lasting impression is yet more sherry bomb, weirdly. Some cut grass too. Meatily sweet, bloody delicious too.

Finish - Big, spicy and very long. Winey too - red wine cask rather than sherry.

Very, very good.

We also tasted the Brimstone.  I’ve written notes for that before so I just enjoyed it really.  It’s lovely stuff, sweeter here than I remember it but really tricky.  I recommend it, but I’m not sure when I’d drink it (which is why I’ve never bought a bottle).  A fascinating oddity though.

Whatever you think about the old Balcones troubles, they’re still making fantastic whisky.  I’m sure they will continue to do so in the new premises although no doubt it will change in some ways, but I’m well impressed with this lot.  Cheers!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

SMWS January Outturn

January could be a slow news month at SMWS but never really turns out that way (see last year), my intial thoughts on seeing the list were that it was solid with some interesting looking things (21 year old Bowmore, old Jura and Mortlach, an Auchentoshan).  On tasting the list, it’s quite a strange outturn; loads of very young stuff, much more first fill bourbon than usual, and you really miss the Caol Ila in the smokey end.  That said, the Laphraoigs and Highland Parks keep coming, obviously the distilleries are consistent performers but the casks coming out of SMWS since the takeover have been just wonderful.  And the Mortlach here is a smasher.

Sorry this is late, I was stricken with the terrible cold that’s taken out most of the UK over the Christmas holidays and my nose wasn’t working right, but it’s sorted now (I double checked my notes with Darren throughout this session to verify).  Better late than never!

SMWS 58.18, Strathisla, Toffee and sunny, runny honey, 10 years old, 60.4% A-

21st April 2005, 198 bottles, refill bourbon

20160108_182339Nose - Sweet, acrylic paint, cherry, bakewell tart with icing - very rich though with modelling clay and something like E45 cream? A little odd but nicely sweet with a warm, rich, clay character. With water, warmer, fruitier and more perfumed (rose petals).

Body - Boom! Very boozey; sharp and appley, quite bitter. More medical retronasally, more clay (Milliput), a touch of chewed pencil with water, with the rubber on the end.

Finish - Quite long, quite brutal though - clumsy but interesting. Bitter with chalky bonbons.

An interesting young whisky with a rather good nose, but awkward on the delivery.

SMWS 85.33, Glen Elgin, Poolside posing in Beverly Hills, 9 years old, 60.1% A

22nd June 2006, 216 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160108_183546Nose - Immediately very sweet and fruity - raspberry jam and strawberry laces. Then, a lovely clean, sweet oak character, balancing earth and ozone. Pastry - lots of vanilla on the nose after tasting. For a young whisky this is quite complex and balanced. Lovely.

Body - Big, young and confident; dusty sweets and fizzy cola bottles. Sweeter with water.

Finish - Quite astringent; flower stalks and aspirin, with a massively sweet undercurrent of blackcurrant cough sweets.

This is a big, complex, young whisky that laughs at "smooth" and styles it out. The astringency is verging on medicinal so this is probably good for you. Recommended, but strictly for your own good! Not a Saturday night drammer.

BUY (but beware)

SMWS 39.119, Linkwood, Strictly whisky, 8 years old, 59.9% A

17th February 2007, 204 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160108_184731Nose - Beautiful - tropical fruit (mango), lemon meringue pie, ripe peach, plus that young, first fill brutality again - chewed aspirin and marker pens, perhaps fried ginger? With water, a touch gentler with a little melon.

Body - Ripe and juicy, and typically exotic - kiwi fruit and mint leaves. Green apple, quite spicy too. A little unseated with water though, the bitterness coming through a bit much.

Finish - Long, chill spice and sweet with mint like mojito. Deeper toffee with water, but still highly astringent - mint chocolate with water at the end.

Quite a delicious, young, tropical Linkwood, a lot more drinkable than the Glen Elgin and typical of the distillery.


SMWS 48.69, Folly from France, Balmenach, 13 years old, 62.1% A-

7th March 2002, 186 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160108_185959Nose - Ripe and deeply bourbony; wood char, tart tatin (baked apple and caramelised sugar) and cherry lip salve. Lemon curd and rosemary, praline. With quite a lot of water, fruit and earth come out more strongly, it's almost like a good Auchentoshan. It really smells like a distillery with water!

Body - Incredibly sweet with orange syrup, angelica and licked oak. Cough syrup, almost Arabian levels of sugar. With water, it's even sweeter but with a lot more sour oak.

Finish - Medium long with echoes of cough sweets and liquorice. Cloying with water.

A lovely Balmenach with real character and loads of interest on the nose, but overly sweet in the delivery.

SMWS 36.94, Young and spirited, Benrinnes, 16 years old, 57.8% A-

14th September 1999, 222 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160108_192102Nose - Light and biscuity, pink wafers and flying saucers. Very light; restrained sugars, some cheap (and frost blown) chocolate ice cream. Too restrained for my nose right now. After tasting, the nose opens up a fair bit, more toffee, more fake vanilla. Water brings it together a bit more, with new magazine sweetness.

Body - Wow, incredibly sweet with loads of cough candy - acetone and oak. Much better with water

Finish - Sharply sweet, buckets of cloying cough candy. With water even sweeter but somehow it works a bit better.

Another bruising first fill bourbon cask, this is too sweet but water helps a little.

SMWS 5.48, Stave New World, Auchentoshan, 14 years old, 59.6% A+

11th October 2000, 246 bottles, refill bourbon, then finished in a second fill sherry for less than a year.  I am a big fan of good society Auchentoshans and on top of that, this is the best name of the set.  Hopes are high.

20160108_195357Nose - Ripe, warm toffee, toast, matches and a little bit of wax. Some orange zest, warm marmalade, some toasted cashews. Warm, zesty and fruity. With water, reminds me slightly of Sudocrem!

Body - Aha! Lovely Auchentoshan. No funk, but lots of big, floral sweetness, peaches and Sauternes. Very typical again of the distillery and very drinkable, but a touch too astringent to get a ⊕

Finish - Long, astringent and fruity; grapefruit and orange flesh, a touch of refreshers.

This is another good society Auchentoshan with big body, sweetness and floral complexity, and extremely drinkable


SMWS 77.40, New carpet in a sweetie shop, Glen Ord, 12 years old, 61.9% A

17th April 2003, 276 bottles, refill bourbon

20160108_195417Nose - Much more grown up than the previous drams. Restrained strength (thanks Darren). Dunnage and earth, malted barley, cola, Pepto bismol (chalky and sweet) but lots of balance and very well integrated. A bit of ozone with water, but a seriously elegant, delicious nose - way beyong its years.

Body - Cola; sweet and herby, competent but quite bland? More astringent with water.

Finish - Liquorice torpedoes. Medium. Balanced though.

A seriously lovely nose - complex, elegant and balanced - but doesn't live up to expectations on the delivery.  It’s not bad, it’s just not as interesting as I wanted it to be.  Unlike the next one – mind you look at the ages in this flight; 10, 9, 8, 13, 16, 14, 12…. 28!

SMWS 76.124, A symphony of oak, Mortlach, 28 years old, 55.9% A⊕+

22nd September 1987, 210 bottles, refill bourbon

20160108_201236Nose - Kia-ora. Gentle tropical cordial, old Chesterfield, school assembly hall (polished parquet floor) and a lovely restrained, glazed fruit complexity. Definitely wearing its age appropriately; oak and fruit have come to terms with their differences and have learned to live in harmony. With water, a touch of Islay refreshers.

Body - Complex, intense but elegantly wooded, lots of intense orange zest and wax, highly tannic but very complete. Not very Mortlach but highly mature and not over the hill at all - picked at just before its prime and interestingly so, retaining some youth (not blustering, some sulphur, lots of structure).

Finish - Orange zest, lots of oak, very long and delicious.

This is a big, important whisky, properly matured but not over the hill. Balanced, structured, complex and delicious, and highly recommended.


SMWS 4.217, Nordic nosh, Highland Park, 19 years old, 53.9% A⊕

30th November 1995, 234 bottles, refill bourbon

20160108_202929Nose - Malty and complex, lots of salt, liquorice imps and lovely fruit; light durian, nori, Victoria plum, marzipan.

Body - Sweet, fruity and complex, lots of marzipan and pastry, Islay refreshers, light sulphur, another totally complete whisky. Delicious. Water breaks it apart, it loses some integrity and descends a bit into malty bitterness, but the smoke comes through nicely.

Finish - Long and dusty, pastry and fruit, chewed pencils at the end.

This is another beautiful Highland Park - don't forget the context of the session though, we're always desperate for the balance of HP after all the sugar. Even so this is pretty awesome.


SMWS 31.32, Piri-Piri and Teriyaki chicken, Jura, 26 years old, 52.7% A+

19th April 1989, 186 bottles, refill bourbon.  There’s another Jura on the bar too, 31.28 but Mari Ella wouldn’t let us try it!

20160108_204807Nose - Meaty and malty, sweet and salty, more torpedoes (maybe just the sugar shell), some coffee, some wine, some earth. It's a classic, old, society Jura - balanced, restrained but important.

Body - Sweet and well wooded, stewed tea, tobacco and fag ash. White wine and waxed cask. Extremely delicious, quite complex and well balanced.

Finish - Quite long, with marzipan and icing. Tannic with water, black berries Marlboro lights.

Complex and delicious, balanced and interesting but quite stern. I'd still recommend this.


SMWS 3.255, Genie in a bottle, Bowmore, 21 years old, 56.6% A+

19th April 1994, 510 bottles, refill sherry

20160108_211239Nose - Meaty and full of life. Gunpowder, seashells and the beginnings of the old Islay sweetness. Unripe pear but not the massive peat that accompanies it with young Ardbeg. Dusty but perhaps lacking a little intensity?

Body - Salty, earthy and zesty - fizzers and icing sugar, lots of citrus astringency. Initially my toes were curling with excitement at this but it didn't last that long - there's not enough mid-range here.

Finish - Long - sherbet and tannins. But very spirit led - this could almost have been in a stainless steel tank for 21 years but there is a herbal muskiness (and sulphur) that belies a little cask influence.

I'm conflicted on this one - it's a fantastic Bowmore, well on the way to 26 year old wonder, but the cask is so weak that it pulls its punches. I can't recommend it.

SMWS 29.177, Mind-wandering, Laphroaig, 16 years old, 57.8% A⊕

1st July 1999, 180 bottles, refill bourbon

20160108_211247Nose - Light and sweet with porchetta. Initially "too light" this really leads you around and lands you in childhood bandages territory (so, great name). Ozone and Sauvignon Blanc, candle wax, lots of mezcal. Lovely stuff. With water, some sweet refreshers.

Body - Complex, complete (again), lots of malt and bamboo, some hot dog and a touch of vinegar.

Finish - Medium but as delicious as ever. Balanced, integrated and quite sweet.

Another beautiful Laphroaig, getting a bit bored of saying it but it’s a classic.


SMWS 10.88, An old tar, Bunnahabhain, 9 years old, 58.6% A+

20th December 2005, 174 bottles, refill bourbon.  It’s always tough to place the young peated bunna in the flight – you can’t have it before the old Bowmore because it’ll smash your palate to pieces.  But if you have it at the end, it’s got to follow old Laphraoigs or Caol Ilas and that’s not really fair.  Still an unanswered concern, fortunately this one can stand up for itself.

20160108_211259Nose - Zesty! Ozone, cereal, lemon zest, petrol, lemon curd. Pastry too. The peat is very cross channel ferry; diesel and rubber, fish and chips. Lovely stuff - exciting, complex and well integrated.

Body - Surprisingly complex with great peat character - lemon sherbet and shecuan peppercorns.

Finish - Very long, well balanced. More lemon boiled sweets, a touch of pastry.

This is an excellent young peated bunna, way exceeding expectations.