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
Nose - 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
Nose - 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
Nose - 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
Nose - 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
Nose - 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.
Nose - 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
Nose - 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
Nose - 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
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!
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
Nose - 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
Nose - 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.
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.