Sunday, 28 February 2016

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

At Crown Royal they apparently go to amazing lengths to produce very ordinary whisky, if the following is true:

It's important to understand that the resulting smoothness and complexity of a typical Crown Royal whisky involves the distillation of various grains (including corn, rye, wheat and barley), the distillates of which are subsequently aged in an astounding variety of casks. The wood barrels utilized may include ex-Bourbon, ex-Canadian whisky, relatively 'fresh' oak and ex-wine casks. As each particular distillate, when matured in a particular type of oak, will yield a distinctive spirit, it's easy to begin to imagine just how important the role of the blender is.

Maybe that stuff isn’t in regular Crown Royal – I’ve only had the bog standard and now the Northern Harvest Rye. 

Of course the Rye won Jim Murray’s whisky bible award this year (which is why I’m tasting it at all, Bret scored a bottle and was kind enough to let me have a sample).  Jim Murray’s integrity is now so thoroughly discredited that even complaining about the Whisky Bible awards jumped the shark this year. I must say it is annoying how he can take whisky you’d like to drink out of your grasp. Fortunately that isn’t the case here!

Crown Royal, 40% B

crown-royal-canadian-whisky[1]Nose - Gentle sweetness, a little creme patissiere, some Sauternes, and a nice bubble mixture freshness? Quite hard oak though, and a touch of rum. Lots of toffee apple, masculine but gentle and soothing.

Body - Apple juice, Ribena, red wine and oak spice. Soft toffee and just a hint of cinnamon

Finish - Surprisingly long given how soft the palate is.

A mediocre but inoffensive whisky.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, 45% B+

brbon_cro56Nose - Sweet, classy and musky. Ripe green apple and its skin, crayons and buttercream icing. Not overly gentle or intense, not particularly interesting, but a good balance of musky cask and juicy fruit, and quite delicious.

Body - Initially quite thin, sour, overly sweet and too simplistic. But then that musk and cask starts to show itself. This whisky is quite unique in that the palate is so ordinary that it actually detracts from whatever it was I was enjoying on the nose.

Finish - Weirdly the finish is a bit more interesting, lots more sweet fruit, cut flower stalks and a touch of oil. Quite short though.

I expected this to be one dimensional, clumsily wooded and overly sweet. But it wasn't overly sweet, and I quite enjoy the nose.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

SMWS February Outturn Stragglers

A couple of late arrivals from the February outturn due to labelling issues, apparently - these were released on February 12th.  The Penderyn was one of the most interesting looking bottles on the outturn so I was sad to not see it before!  £80 for a 7 year old Welsh whisky is a bit sharp but ultimately the proof is in the drinking.

SMWS 77.41, Citric zing and spicy tingles, Glen Ord, 12 years old, 61.4% A+

17th April 2003, 264 bottles, refill bourbon

Nose - Meaty and minty. Cross channel ferry - petrol and rubber tyres. An eaten grapefruit squeezed into the bowl for its juice, and custard creams. Men's perfume (woody and herbal, but sweet and musky) and a little permanent marker. Very satisfying. More black fruit with water.

Body - Deep, oily, mint toffee, plum and then fresh tobacco (the taste and the numbing). Very juicy with water.

Finish - Blackcurrants. Drying tannins balancing the sweet fruit. Very long.

A deeply satisfying, balanced but intense refill bourbon drammer with lots of fruit and lots of structure.


SMWS 128.6, Rumbling, reverberating, resonances, Penderyn, 7 years old, 59.9% A⊕

19th July 2008, 270 bottles, first fill Madeira hogshead. I love Madeira and usually Madeira cask whiskies.

Nose - Dark but sharp and winey. Lots of window putty and marzipan, rich vanilla and butter. Baked raisins and lemon floor polish. The slightly weird combination of darkly sweet, citrus and almonds makes me think of Moroccan food. Definite leather and tobacco with water, riper but more masculine, with an austere vegetal note like green pepper.

Body - Although it tastes nothing like truffles, this is slightly dirty, even sexual, in that same sort of way truffles are. It's the juxtaposition again of the meaty, nutty, herbal notes with the fruit and red wine. Rather good. With water, the sulphur that was causing all this excitement finally comes above my detection threshold. I like it.

Finish - Winey and minty (a horrible combination that works here against the odds). Red wine that is, and mint toffee, and slightly burnt oak.

A fantastic nose on this quite challenging, strange whisky that pulls it all out of the bag. Highly recommended if you're a jaded whisky drinker who wants their fancy tickled and owns a time machine (sadly I think this is sold out).


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Springbank Society

SpringbankSocietyI became a member nearly two years ago as a means of obtaining the 2014 Local Barley bottling (reviewed here, and the star of the masterclass at TWE).  Membership of the society is £50 for life and gets you a few bits and pieces but most importantly gets you access to society bottlings, bottled about twice a year.  These are single cask exclusives that are usually just awesome.  I fully recommend signing up. 

On that note, head here next, and sign up.  Then, some whisky!

Hazelburn, 18 years old, Springbank Society Bottling late 2015, the "Leaky Hazelburn", 54.4% A⊕

Refill sherry butt, 18/7/97, Warehouse 15, Rotation No. 1013.

This cask was selected to be the next society bottling at a society tasting last year at the distillery during Campbeltown festival (a tasting I will be at this year!).   However, when they went to bottle it, they found the cask had leaked and there wasn’t enough to bottle for the whole society.  So they bottled the next one instead (an 18 year old Springbank).  The remains of the cask were bottled for the attendees of the tasting, one of whom was kind enough buy one on my behalf (thanks Jon!). 

20160223_090104Nose - Deep, but bright and pure. That's to say, delightfully sweet, balanced and fresh, but still a sherry bomb. But also some surgical spirit, strawberry laces, fresh flower petals (not just floral, but in a new bunch), and cherry pie. It's pretty on the nose.

Body - That light toffee, damp cardboard, and delicate cask delivery that's very Hazelburn. I'm definitely less of a fan on the whole of Hazelburn than Springbank, that third run through the stills knocks the meat out of the spirit a bit without providing so much of the toffee funk it does at Auchentoshan. Still this is delicious, with a slight funk, fizz and sulphur that complements the nose to make the nose to delivery promise hang together. It tastes like strawberry laces too.

Finish - Long and complete, sweet toffee funk right through to the end, ripe fruit and wood. They definitely get the casks right at Springbank too.

Recommended if you can score one, another dram I finished before I could try it with water. This is always an excellent sign.

Springbank, Springbank Society Bottling late 2015, 18 years old, recharred sherry butt, A⊕+

May 1997 to September 2015, 502 bottles. The replacement for the Hazelburn above.

20160223_090117Nose - Sherry and virgin oak, that's the idea, right? Sharp (like a lemon sherbets outer shell), with acrylic paint and honey. Buttery, yellow and fresh, with metallic ozone, a floral middle and a little cough medicine. This is a sherry bomb, but it's been transformed.

Body - Rich, ripe, massively Springbank. There's no denying this whisky's heritage (mind you I thought a Speyburn was a young Springbank at a tasting the other day, I'm becoming obsessed). Sweet but balanced, ripe toffee and burnt wood, quite a lot of peat, like one of those surprisingly peated single cask Highland Parks.

Finish - Long and delicious. Burnt caramel, burnt oak, ripe fruit and a touch of funk. Reasonably intense with more lemon and deep sherry fruits; Springbank usually starts to calm down in its late teens.

A fabulous whisky.

Longrow 1996 12 Year Old Springbank Society, Fino Sherry cask, 57.6% A+

Thanks to Sjoerd for the sample of this.

file_212_67[1]Nose - Big, complex and herbal. Dusty and austere, but big, sweet and young. Caraway seeds fried in beef fat (there's an idea for a sausage). Salty like the sea with gentle, clear sherry and classic Springbank engine block. There's something perfectly balanced, and slightly dirty about the Longrow peat and the Fino sherry here. Lovely stuff, fingers crossed…

Body - Quite a rollercoaster. Hammy, lots of sulphur, chewed matchsticks, lots of salt. Quite harsh. More rounded with water but still demanding like an oversalty brisket burnt end - charred and drying. With time though there's an intense sweetness that comes through and starts to work with that sulphur.

Finish - Bags of black pepper, lots of wood oil, lots of joss stick. Very long and very astringent.

This is so challenging (and complex) that I'm reminded of Balcones Brimstone (having just written about it the other day when tasting the Octomore 07.4). Woody, drying, tannic, dirty, complicated and a little bit indescribable, I'm not sure how to score it. Let's stick with "Very Good"

Springbank, Springbank Society Bottling 2013, fresh port cask, 12 years old, 50.5% A⊕+

20160223_090126Nose - Fresh and chalky, a gentle lick of port cask, but a really exciting apple and granite note backing it up and dripping with age. This funky, petrolic note is a happy clash of (relatively) young Springbank spirit and a fantastic first fill cask. It's so warm, fruity and waxy. Seriously lovely.

Body - Perfect in the initial delivery. Dark, ripe plum, raisins, wet oak and blackcurrant travel sweets. While the nose is slightly sweeter with water, the delivery isn't quite so wonderful, keep it neat.

Finish - A brief wander through "too bitter" and then back into the fruit and port. An old briefcase with its papers. Very long and intensely sweet, but never unwelcome. This can stand toe to toe with the biggest sherrybombs.

I have to say this is even better than I thought it would be, quite the port bomb but very sweet, and with the Springbank character and spirit played perfectly. Wonderful, wonderful whisky.


Glen Grant 30 Year Old, Douglas Laing Xtra Old Particular

An incredible whisky, whisky of the year for me so far (which doesn’t sound like much as it’s only February but I’ve tasted quite a few already).

Glen Grant Old Particular, 30 years old, 59.1% A⊕⊕

glen-grant-30-year-old-1985-cask-11009-xtra-old-particular-douglas-laing-whisky[1]Nose - Flipping heck, this doesn't mess about. Refill hogshead and just 36 bottles! It's absolutely perfect. Deep toffee , polished old furniture and apple wood. This reminds me more of a big old Hanyu than a Scotch; lacquered, an orchard, cherry pipe tobacco, sandalwood. Absolutely, mind-bendingly beautiful. With water… more orange juice, better integrated cask. Still fabulous.

Body – Big, spicy toffee, tart-tatin, chewed oak planks, lemonade, orange slices and tobacco. A touch of acrylic and overheated PCB (in a good way) with water.

Finish - Long, very oily and full of wood polish. Liquorice imps and caraway seeds. Orange juice right at the end too.

This is a gigantic, beautiful and important whisky that swims very well. Quite the masterpiece.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Two Old Particular Auchentoshans

Here’s a pair of very recent Auchentoshans from Douglas Laing’s Old Particular range.  I tried the 14 year old at the Whisky Show last year, and it was so refreshing and so Auchentoshan I bought a bottle.  Of course I can’t just go round opening bottles of whisky when there’s so much open already so I just sometimes gaze at it longingly, dreaming of the day when I get to try it again.  Meanwhile, another came out without fanfare. And so, this side by side tasting!  Thanks to Douglas Laing for make my dream a reality…

Old Particular Auchentoshan, 14 years old, 48.4% A⊕

auchentoshan-14-year-old-2000-cask-10716-old-particular-douglas-laing-whisky[1]Nose - As I remember it, so floral and delicate, with a deeply malty backbone. Women's perfume, milk chocolate and stainless steel, a touch of earth and truffle. It's more like big, bold white burgundy than a whisky in some ways (leaving aside the chocolate) - beautiful. And Auchentoshantastic.

Body - Light and elegant, floral and citric. Ruby grapefruit?

Finish - Medium but tasty, citrus tannins at the end, milk chocolate. A feeling of a blanco tequila in here too (don't let that put you off if you're a tequila hater)

This is an evening opener, a 5pm on a Friday in the early summer starter. As a lover of nearly all styles of Scotch, I love Auchentoshan for being this style, it's a million miles from most modern blockbuster whiskies but it has its place.

Old Particular Auchentoshan, 17 years old, 48.4% A⊕

auchentoshan-17-year-old-1997-cask-10555-old-particular-douglas-laing-whisky[1]Nose - Much more “big single malt Scotch”. A big, deep, cask wax, almost like BBQ sauce on the exhale (sweet, caramelised sugar, charred wood). This deep sweetness and almost candied malt is completely different to the 14. Big and balanced, it pulls its punches by being "pre-watered-down" to 48.4%, but it's so full compared to the 14. It's really beautiful but less Auchentoshan and with less truffle or funk.

Body - Ripe, fruity, a big numbing background to it with deep floral, petrol sweetness. This is Auchentoshan again now, but played through a euphonium rather than a trumpet. A touch more cardboard and tannins at the side of the tongue, more of an mid-evening dram. Maybe stood round a fire.

Finish - Medium, fruity, sour and heavily wooded. Orange travel sweets and the bitter, lemony, numbing woods of Szechuan peppercorns at the end.

This is an excellent whisky, but not austere and ultimately less challenging (not that that’s a bad thing).

Comparing the two: The 14 is boiled sweets and Asian fruits on the nose, compared to the deep, waxy, musky cask of the 17 (the nose on the 17 is particularly good). The 14 is austere and woody at the front of the delivery, but that floral chocolate is so addictive later. In comparison, the 17 is practically a port cask - big, spicy, sharp and zesty, with the floral funk retranslated into something like a wine cask with a tiny bit of sulphur and lots of tannins.  The 17 is much more of a blockbuster, and I think would be more universally popular, but I hold a special candle still for the 14’s ability to start a party.  Both highly recommended, anyway.

Cadenheads February 2016 outturn

Massive outturn at Cadenheads this month, just look at the stats; 22 (Islay), 23, 27, 23 (wine), 25 (closed, Lowlands), 28, 11 (interesting), 19 (wine), 35, 25 (Islay).  If the organisation wasn’t so fiercely independent and practically philanthropic I’d wonder if it was an aggressive marketing move.  However, I now know how and why they do it.  They have most of the Scotch in Scotland in their warehouses! 

Lots of this stuff is still available and some of the things that sold out are coming back on tomorrow (18th Feb).  Fill yer boots.

Bruichladdich 22 years old, 48.9% A⊕'

Bruichladdich%2022%2048.9-cr-200x300[1]Nose - A lovely sweet, light and fruity nose, with elegant candle wax - actually there's an element of linoleum polish too. Clean orange juice and oyster shells.

Body - Good balance of sweet, sharp and biscuity. Quite toppy, a touch with fizzing wine and just a hint of sulphur.

Finish - Medium, fruity and lightly spiced. Slightly bitter and herbal.

A fabulous nose, fruity, coastal and fresh. Slightly more challenging on the delivery but a beautiful whisky overall.

Auchentoshan 23 years old, 45.2% A+

Auchentoshan%2023%2045.2-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Dreamily clean; fruit and cream, vanilla and emulsion paints. That clay note from the paint is a lovely foil to the Auchentoshan fruit. A touch of Marlboro light tobacco, and a deep, unripe blackberry note.

Body - Thick and creamy; literally double cream, but with a musky Sauternes note. Perhaps red wine too?

Finish - Quite long but quite light. Now the vanilla has become the musky almond of raspberry pound cake.

A delicious, thick and creamy whisky, light with perfect fruit and balanced complexity. An elegant and highly typical Auchentoshan, very ethereal and highly recommended.

Auchroisk 27 years old, 48.6% A⊕

Authroisk%2027%2048.6-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Sweet with menthol oak and slightly metallic on the nose. Deodorant on inhale, mango juice on exhale, but the restrained intensity is quite wonderful.

Body - Ripe and intensely berried, a delicious very dark delivery (despite the light colour) with big wood wax, tannins and lots of fruit.

Finish - Intense with balance wood, sulphur and unripe pear. Long and bitter at the end.

An intense, deeply rewarding whisky. A little more challenging than the previous two but a cracking drinker.

Royal Brackla 23 years old, Claret cask, 52.9% A⊕'

Royal%20Brackla%2023%2052.9-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Ripe again; candied oranges and candle wax, somehow I'm reminded of waxed tiles and swimming pools. Buttered popcorn.

Body - Bright and intense, kia-ora and extremely rich, red wine cask pear and polenta cake. A little cherry and marzipan.

Finish - Long and fades out very slowly. Oh the fruit! It's like an orange, mango and banana smoothy.


Bladnoch 25 years old, 50.7% A⊕+’

IMHO this is the pick of this immense bunch, sold out right now but more in on Thursday I think.  If not, there’s plenty of others.

Bladnoch%2025%2050.7-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Foundation (the make-up stuff), ripe pears and window putty. Really tasty, slightly petrolic. Yet still, masculine (swarthy men's cologne, smoking fags) and very grown up.

Body - Old school; ripe and slightly dirty, intensely full flavoured but no harsh wood or spice. Deep, rich fruit.

Finish - Long and intense, beautifully ripe. Tropical right to the end with balancing wood structure.

This is eyebrow-raisingly good. Very, very highly recommended.

Mortlach 28 years old, 55.3% A⊕+

Amazingly the 26 year old from before Christmas (reviewed here) is still available.  Either of these is a no-brainer.

Mortlach%2028%2055.3-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Deep black fruit, tart-tatin, permanent markers and milk tart. Mind-bendingly rich, complete with sulphur, intense fruit and deep oak. Tobacco and magic balloons on exhale. Another perfect Mortlach nose.

Body - Deeply waxed and lightly wined. Soft fruit, a light touch of fizzing parmas and red wine tannins. A little licked copper coin.

Finish - Medium, wood and tannins, stewed cherries and slightly metallic again. Milk bottle sweets.

Deeply delicious.

Ord, 11 years old, 60.6% A⊕

Bourbon butt (perhaps hogsheads made into a butt)

ordNose - More intensity. Cherry ripe bars, emulsion paint again, toast with cherry compote and a buttery note with water. What a complex and interesting cask. A presentation way beyond its years.

Body - Big and oaked, really refill sherry despite this being a bourbon butt. Intensely sweet with ripe peach, balanced by grapefruit pith bitterness with a touch of spice and a little dirt.

Finish - Long, rich fruit, balancing tannins but buttery too. I'm reminded of hot buttered toast with honey. More fizzing with water.

Excellent stuff, complex with lots of fruit, structure and a touch of dirt to round it out. And a total bargain, more due in this week.

Glengoyne 19 years old, Chateau Lafitte Cask, 55% A⊕+

Glengoyne%2019%2055-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Ripe red wine, black pepper, a touch of the farmyard to it (a la Cahors) - mud, hay and manure. Very cask led though, digging gets you some wax, cut black cherry and some really beautiful Asian fruit.

Body - Toe curlingly intense fruit and red wine cask, full of chocolate brazil nuts and cut plums.

Finish - Long and very dry, like one of those big old Gorda casks. But the spirit does come through now; ripe black fruits and (through extreme access to long term memory) silly putty.

Perfectly judged and deeply wonderful.

Ledaig 23 years old, 55% A⊕

Ledaig%2023%2055-cr-200x300[1]Nose - A complete absence of peat, surely Tobermory. Toffee and roasted plum tart, clean biscuit malt, an elegant cask - lightly wined, gently herbal with previously roasted rosemary.

Body - A touch of spice and sulphur, pretzels and popcorn (although they are making popcorn next door).

Finish - Long and biscuit led, a little wine and balancing sulphur, slightly herbal.

A delicious and very balanced whisky, elegant and quite classy but not quite standing up to the excellence of its peers. Despite that I could and would happily settle into a bottle of this.

Glen Grant 20 years old, 57.5% A+

This is from the previous outturn.  This month has a 35 year old Glen Grant which wasn’t available for me to taste.  Because this was shoehorned in a bit late in the session, I haven’t been able to give it its full dues but it’s worth recording what notes I did make.

G-Grant-20-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Waxy and mineral, clean and complete with gooseberry fool and floor polish. Seriously classy.

Body - Big and clean, slightly numbing and astringent, that sharp fruit thing is in here but it's backed by tropical fruit - beautifully summery.

Finish - Long and mineral, lots of wood sour and creamy vanillas.

A fresh, bright and confident whisky, a big summer drammer. Delicious.

Caol Ila 25 years old, 50.2% A⊕+

The 29, 30 and 31 year old Cadenheads Caol Ilas were some of my favourites ever, I’m still eking out the last of my bottle of the 30 year old.  So I was definitely hoping for some of that here.  Next month’s outturn may have some more of that older Caol Ila.

Caol%20Ila%2025%2050.2%20-cr-200x300[1]Nose - Soft, fruit-led peat, a touch of overripe cereal, red berries and malted milk - almost Ovaltine. It's on the cusp of alien Islay; warm old pastry and refreshers but held back just a bit by that cereal.

Body - The delivery isn't though, pure extra-terrestrial. Juicy and fizzing, soft but robust, a ripe peach smashed by a blonde oak plank. Epic.

Finish - Lots of black pepper and hand soap, soft soft soft Islay but so confident.

Not quite the nose but the body of a big old Cades Caol Ila. Get it while you can.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Springbank Local Barley 2016

Malted at Springbank, the malt kilned using local coal and local peat, made using local water. Single farm, single barley variety (same as the 2011 society bottling in fact, same year, is this the same spirit?). There's more provenance here than you can shake a local stick at! I'm a big, big fan of terroir led whiskies and "local barley" - the laddie and Octomore ones have been awesome, the other Springbank local barley I've tried (the society 2014) is epic, and Arran's Bere Barley is awesome. Maybe concentrating on the barley really is massive in whisky? And so is the yeast (a la London Distillery). If so Waterford Distillery is onto something awesome.  Or maybe it’s just that taking the time to make something special really does make it special.

sprob.1966v9The release of this whisky at around £95 saw a flurry of activity.  The original local barley bottlings are the stuff of legend, and with the 2014 society local barley bottling rapidly becoming the same, it was understandably popular.  Cades had it in first, which is where the bottle for these notes came from (they’ve just announced February’s epic outturn).  They knew me well enough to put me on the list.  Other suppliers have come online and sold out since, with only a small amount of shameful price gouging from some you’d expect, and others who should know better.  TWE is still to show so there’s still chance to score one of these, and in the meantime, you can get a nice selection of the original bottlings there.

Anyway, this marks the first of five annual local barley bottlings, each exploring a different barley variety or farm. Each will have a different ratio of cask types. I am led to believe that this will be the eldest of the series.

Springbank Local Barley, 16 years old, 2016, Prisma, Machrimore Farm, 54.3% A⊕+

September 1999 to January 2016, 9000 bottles. 80% bourbon casks, 20% refill Oloroso sherry casks.

springbank-16-year-old-local-barley-whiskyNose - Everything about the whisky, before you taste it, shouts honey - the colour of the whisky, the label, the box. And like honey, the nose on this is instantly thick, slightly musky, sweet and ripe. Then it's pure Springbank - slightly mineral, toffee, apple, machine oil and oak. With time, applewood smoked rye whisky, red wine stew (there's almost a hint of horseradish sauce here) and pencil lead. But this is big - totally Springbank with real gravitas.

Body - Ripe but balanced, a big sweet petrol hit and fairly hot. Quite peated, really, quite spicy, you know you've had a sip. The front of the palate is pure, sweet Springbank, then toasted malt, then almost chocolate malt. There's the hard toffee from an Eclair. With water, the heat is gone and there's a perfect mix of sweet, sour malt, toffee, coffee and wood. And a blessed touch of Campbeltown funk.

Finish – Very long, nicely interwoven strands of sulphur. toffeed. Extraordinarily morish with water, that sweet/sour/funk thing runs, next to the Springbank engine oil, with berries and citrus pith right through to the end. It's actually quite hard to stop sipping it.

As Matt said, expectations were high for this one.  This doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Littlemill Private Cellar Reserve, 25 years old

I’ve not had too many Littlemills.  They are starting to pass into legend as the disillery’s closure date fades into the past.  Well, they didn’t just close it, they closed it, dismantled it, burned it to the ground, and then built a housing estate on top of it.  I’d say it’s probably not going to start producing whisky again any time soon.  Anyway, I’ve had a TBWC one (pretty good) and a Lady of the Glen one (excellent) and the Cadenheads one (also excellent).  They were all indies, so it’s nice to try something official, even if it is posthumously.  A million thanks to Joe for giving me the remains of his sample of this, I didn’t make it onto the Tweet Tasting.

Littlemill Private Cellar Edition, 25 years old, 50.4% A⊕

littlemill-25-year-old-private-cellar-edition-2015-whiskyNose - Fresh, important, waxy, fruity and elegantly polished. Big juicy fruit, fruit salad chews, window putty and cut grass. Toffee and apple wood with a little time. You know when, after all the old single cask indies you've been drinking you try an old official bottling (way out of your price range but probably not even as old as the single casks), and it just has more gravitas? That’s the case here. Maybe it's the marketing. Anyway, this smells important to me. Even better with water, with Pret Love Bars, roasted plums and even classier wood.

Body - Vibrant, wooded, toasty. Toffee apples, boiled sweets. Oily. Gentler with water, mouthcoating still and still with gravitas, but a lot toppier than before.

Finish - Very long, quite hot, big fruit tannins, herbal with an astringent note, like grapefruit speared with rosemary.

A very special whisky on the nose. Structured and important on the delivery, although a little more citrus and younger that I'd expected. This is a great whisky, unfortunately for a highly amusing price, only one per customer!

Friday, 5 February 2016

SMWS February 2016 Outturn

A new bourbon distillery!  Some sherry!  On paper this is quite an interesting, solid outturn. But the Glen Elgin is a repeat from December and the Penderyn isn’t out until mid-January (I assume a bottling problem again?) and some of the younger stuff isn’t wonderful.  So,  despite another stella Bowmore and (yet) another fabulous Laphroaig, and those sherry casks being really rather good, this is the first noticably weak outturn I’ve seen from SMWS.  That’s relative, obviously, to the usual greatness.  But still…

SMWS 70.13, Neat heat, turning mellow and sweet, Balblair, 9 years old, 57.8% B+

19th May 2006, 198 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_180835Nose - A lovely balance of coastal oak, sweet spirit and apple cores. Some lime marmalade, rhubarb crumble. A really compelling, young nose - the wood character is very classy and rather good. With water, sweeter, chocolate and cut flowers.

Body - Sharp, fiery and very sweet. Intensely sweet in fact; gobstoppers and bonbons. Very spirity up front. Better with water but still lots of chilli heat, cinnamon fireball gobstoppers, liquorice perhaps.

Finish - Medium length, very hot with parallel sweetness but no midrange. Tannic with water - cloying behind it.

Love the nose on this, elegance and lots of spirit, but it falls apart in the delivery.

SMWS 48.71, An amazing technicolour Dram, Balmenach, 13 years old, 63.9% A-

7th May 2002, 216 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160202_182344Nose - Sweet, classy and bourbony - very sweet in fact. Oily (perhaps mint) toffee, a lovely herbal edge to it (cut wood, a little earth), some melting chocolate (thanks John). This smells WAY older than 13 though. Big, important and delicious.

Body - Soft toffee, sweet and oily - but simultaneously sharp, tannic and very oaked. Hard pears, strawberry laces, sawdust. With water, a touch of funk, some pipe tobacco, more toffee.

Finish - Sharp, lots of wood sours, unbalanced but very exciting. We're chewing staves at the end though, ouch.

Again, loved the nose on this but the delivery is young and brutal.

SMWS 46.36, Old Fashioned Manhattan, Glenlossie, 23 years old, 54.9% B⊕

16th September 1992, 252 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_184213Nose - Herbal depth, restrained sweetness, a little orange sour - musky marmalade? A pollen top note in there. Obviously old but with lacking the class that the others had. Some petrol, new plastic, perhaps mouthwash. Much better fruit and integration with water.

Body - Sweet, dusty, plywood and refreshers. Fizzing but soft, saccharine sweetness, and quite ordinary. More wood, more flowers, and milk tart with water.

Finish - Quite long but knocking down to sour tannins at the end and a ton of oak.

A strange whisky, swinging between old and dignified, and young and unbalanced. It's certainly drinkable but it's badly judged in the delivery. Not a fan.

SMWS 50.74, Lazing on a summer afternoon, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 53.3% A+

26th January 1990, 108 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_185826Nose - Initially young and sour, but with an older wax beneath. Coconut ice, fresh sweat, malted barley, hot radiator, ruby grapefruit and a touch of red wine cask. It's good but I wouldn't have called it as an old Bladnoch. A touch of damp newspaper with water, bigger fruit though.

Body - Sweet and sharp again, toast and honey, toffee musk. Deep, winey, wood dust and lovely wax with a good, restrained sulphur backing. Rather delicious but quite sharp. Much more fruit with water, lots more cardboard.

Finish - Medium to long, Cherry Tunes, extremely "boiled sweets" but with great structure and lots of red wine.

What is it with low outturn society Bladnochs? Clumsy with the casks?

This is nowhere near as important as some of the recent society 50s, it's a good dram - good depth, lots of structure, lots of interesting bits and peices in there - but not worth the price being asked.

SMWS 71.41, Curious and intriguing, Glenburgie, 17 years old, 57.2% A⊕

26th May 1998, 720 bottles, refill Gorda

20160202_192402Nose - Dry and nutty, quite cereal, with a fried raisins, sherry vinegar and demerara sugar dressing. Very cooked, restrained sweetness, a touch of sulphur and smoke. Charred sweetness but doused in vinegar - the sweet and sour balance is rather good though. Sweeter and fruitier with water. Caramel and dried orange.

Body - Very salty, nutty, fried and dressed with vinegar again. Pure refill Gorda though, this is very similar to the Gorda Springbank (27.107, To the Manor Born) but that's just showing how powerful these casks are. Very drying, lots of nuts, quite a lot of sulphur but it works.

Finish - Massive tannins (might be my palate today I'm starting to suspect). Quite hot with sulphur but that works well with the enormous wine.

This is a big, superdry, Gorda bomb. This has very little to do with Glenburgie, but the dry sherry and sulphur works really well, and if you're missing that old Springbank you should jump on this.


SMWS 73.71, A scene from Madeira, Aultmore, 14 years old, 55.5% A⊕

24th September 2001, 522 bottles, refill sherry

20160202_194650Nose - Deeply sweet with Brazil nuts and permanent markers. Christmas cake (including marzipan and royal icing), baked plums, cherry tobacco, fresh peaches. Very spirity but also very rich. Cherry imps and a touch of parmas in the empty glass. Delicious.

Body - Fizzing and powerful. Madeira wine even? Burnt newspaper and black pepper, very oily and mouthfilling. Great balance of sweet sherry, rich cake and toasty raisin.

Finish - Fizzing tannins. Quite long, a touch of sulphur, liquorice imps.

Big and balanced, lots of sweet sherry and structure, delicious. Sweeter than the Glenburgie certainly, and the winner so far.


B4.1, Comforting coconut, bountiful banana, FEW, 3 years old, 62.6% B+

11th May 2012, 114 bottles, new charred barrel

20160202_202351Nose - Sugar, chalk, liquorice root, hard oak, and… bourbon. I can see this being knocked back at 3am with ice. A slightly musky backnote. Some good charred notes with rather a lot of water.

Body - Massive wood sours with icing sugar, lots of oak, bleh - quite nasty neat. With water, there's some tobacco and mango juice, that tropical element promised in the name comes through, the sourness now works a lot better, it is very sweet though.

Finish - Long and cloyingly sweet. Water tempers the wood.

I can’t recommend this.  It's simplistic but works ok with water (a hint of greatness in that tropical note) - terrible without.  You can read an interview with the distillery founder here.

SMWS 42.17, Beachcomber's dram, Ledaig, 9 years old, 60.9% A+

5th April 2006, 300 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_202321Nose - Sweet, coastal austerity. Hard shelled sweets and breadcrumbs, warm white wine and new vinyl sheets. Slightly overripe. Sweetness countered by the seaside.

Body - "Whisky from the old days, this takes me back 40 years" (John). Big, sweet coastal peat, big sour refreshers, lots of white wine. Challenging, not rough, John. Delicious though.

Finish - Medium, lemon peat, lots of dirty white grape.

This is fulfilling the role that the young peaty 10 usually does. Don't add water, it subtracts the point of this big, peaty bruiser.


SMWS 3.257, Jacobite trip to the kitchen, Bowmore, 14 years old, 56% A⊕

8th May 2001, 240 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_203902Nose - Dusty, window putty and pork crackling, candied lavender? Young, closed but complete.

Body - Grown up and exciting, like a night on the town with fags (tarry and intoxicating), girls (sweet, floral fizzers, and they're smoking fags), petrol (Ross will have driven us there), and music. There's burnt, damp newspaper and fried meats rounding off the evening.

Finish - Dusty and sweet, coal dust, a forerunner of the parma exotics that I love so much in Bowmore.

An evocative whisky. Sweet, entrancing and complete. This is what younger Bowmore should taste like. No water required.


SMWS 29.176, Splashing about in rockpools, Laphroaig, 16 years old, 58.5% A⊕

1st July 1999, 228 bottles, refill bourbon, previously a Danish release I believe.

20160202_205207Nose - Sweet bandages, roasted lemons and oysters. Very fresh and wet, refreshing almost. A touch of pickled chillis, softly sweet. Funky but lovely and clean.

Body - Quite intense; crackers and deep peat, really funky actually - pineapple and truffle honey. Beautiful, intense, sweet and fruity.

Finish - Long, beautifully balanced dusty Islay, complex and interesting.

Yet another smashing Laphroaig. Intense lemon peat, dusty oak and refreshers. Delicious.  I’m really going to have to stop buying these unfortunately, I’m running out of space.


SMWS 10.87, Sea breezes over the vernal machair, Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, 61.9% A+

25th May 2003, 192 bottles, refill bourbon

20160202_211314Nose - No peat… oops! Deodorant, oatmeal cookies, orange juice, slightly funky and rather lovely. There's a cured ham note in the nose too. Sorry 10, we should have had you earlier but I was distracted by the word "smoke" on the label, and by John, generally.

Body - Lemon drops, pastry, custard and big first fill bourbon tones (although it's refill). Big, sweet, meaty and satisfying.

Finish - Long and sweet. Tannic, lemon peat (now) and lots of oak. Good cask musk at the end.

A big, sweet, but lemon oriented dram, echoes of peat but more oaked than that.