A good outturnn this month, with loads of these new (to the society) cask finishes, four in total. It’d be nice if we knew how long the finish was. In fact it would be genuinely cool if we knew the cask lineage: which society whisky did the cask previously contain, how long was it in there, what were the tasting notes for it, whose warehouse was it stored in (they would predate the central SMWS warehouse)? At the moment we know less - the whisky is just stated as “ex-bourbon” plus the finish so it could be first fill or refill. So my conclusion is that it’s just a way of stopping the outturn being wall to wall refill bourbon rather than making “curious” whisky.
Anyway, some are more effective than others – the Dailuaine below is particularly good (but then it should be for that price). The rest of the outturn has some notable highlights - another dirty, dry Gorda Glenburgie, and an outstanding Caol Ila, one of the best for a long time. Surprise hit is the 9 year old Ledaig (not that Ledaig can do any wrong at the moment), it’s just amazing for the age.
SMWS 41.70, C'est magnifique!, Dailuaine, 34 years old, 48.6% A⊕+
13th December 1980, 102 bottles, ex-bourbon, finished 2nd fill sauternes hogshead. It was dictated (and I agree) that this should be first.
Nose - Quite complicated; herbal, juicy fruit, fence panel wood, a punch pulled short of "very sweet", and a little hot-radiator musk. Hot orange juice and the wax from a baby-bel (perhaps it's crayons), it's quite kid-oriented anyway. With time ripe wood, glacé cherry and Sauternes knit together Complicated to produce Complex. The wine finish here is nicely done, that juicy fruit and musky wine note plays perfectly against the mature cask wax and fruit. Even better with water; more boiled sweets, a touch of tobacco.
Body - A real rollercoaster but it's beautiful and elegant… give me a second. Arrestingly sweet but complex, like raw honey. That original ex-bourbon cask is very identifiable behind the Sauternes. Lacquered fruit, more glace cherries, a touch of caraway and big wood. There's a subtly sexy fruit, rose water and malt air to this that sits on top of the foundation of refill bourbon whisky. Again, even better with water; a touch dirtier with an overripe fruit funk.
Finish - Long, slightly astringent but exciting with that deep, wooded sweetness. Pink wafers and toffee at the end.
This is a fascinating whisky. Complex, but elegant, a subtle finish to season a mature whisky. A very successful transformation.
BUY (but you won’t, it’s too expensive)
SMWS 36.95, The joy of jelly, Benrinnes, 15 years old, 57% A⊖
31st May 2000, 264 bottles, ex-bourbon finished in 2nd fill sherry butt
Body - Intense, hot plastic, a little petrol and window putty. Fried rosemary on toast and honey. It's a lot younger on the palate than the nose promised. Tannic and astringent with water.
Finish - Medium, sweet and oily, almost buttery at the end. Pure tannins at the end with water.
An interesting and typically tropical Benrinnes, a bit disappointing on the delivery and totally unbalanced with water.
SMWS 39.121, Pink peppercorn, Linkwood, 19 years old, 56% A⊕
13th May 1996, 114 bottles, 2nd fill bourbon
Nose - Ozone and rainwater, jelly babies and clean fruit juice, orange squash and cheesecake. It's a really fresh, fruity, mature cask with plenty of wax, refreshers and vanilla. Warm and comforting. With water, a little more tobacco. Pretty lovely.
Body - Soft and spicy, a little banana and thick vanilla milkshake and lovely gentle fruit, with good wood structure underpinning it. Spicier with water, muskier fruit, but oilier and juicier.
Finish - Medium/long and balanced, quite peppery with chewed malted barley, numbing tobacco with water but tropical to the end.
A lovely fruity, mature and balanced whisky, confident and delicious, highly recommended.
SMWS 95.20, Glazed cocktail sausages, Auchroisk, 18 years old, 53.2% A-
13th August 1992, 252 bottles, ex-bourbon finished in 2nd fill sherry butt
Nose - Interesting and enticing. More tobacco, apples, wet charred oak, new soft leather and raisins. Reminds Darren of his Nan's wooden draining board. Crispy green apple and new trainers. What an interesting nose!
Body - Zesty, lemon sherbets and bright, floral refill bourbon society whisky. Juicier than that, mature (refreshers, wood tannins, tea), yet fresh (floral, citrus and sour). Another oddly bitter delivery with water, more of those lemon sherbets though. No hint of sulphur.
Finish - Like a muted trumpet. But behind that there's some bright, waxy cask trying to get out.
A conflicted whisky. An interesting nose but odd notes of youth not quite gelling with the overall mature delivery, and that’s accentuated with water. I don't think the sherry finish saved this one.
SMWS 44.72, Slightly wicked sweet treats, Craigellachie, 12 years old, 61.9% A+
27th June 2003, 252 bottles, refill bourbon. Everyone agrees we’re into Craigellachie at the minute.
Nose - Aluminium pans, candles, white wine and travel sweets. Young and confident, herbal and sweet/sour, royal icing and petrichor. After all these cask finishes, this is no-nonsense and honest. With water, warmer and more cask wax.
Body - Green apples, cut grass, pink wafers, toast and honey. A touch of liquorice torpedoes and pipe tobacco this time. More tobacco with water.
Finish - Freshly crushed Maris Otter, chewed. Oily and mouthfilling with enough tannins to keep you coming back. A touch of coconut with water…
An honest, compelling, no nonsense refill bourbon drammer and very compelling with it. Robust.
SMWS 48.70, Divas Do Disco!, Balmenach, 13 years old, 62.5% A+
7th March 2002, 198 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Another intense first fill bourbon Balmenach! Intensely sweet, coconut, men's deodorant, mango and orange juice. Extremely fruity - not too young though and just shy of too sweet; pear tart tatin, coconut ice cream, sandalwood box. Classier fruit toffees with water.
Body - Fruity, sweet white wine, spicy orange juice (lots of orange juice tonight!), strawberry laces. With water, more tobacco (this is getting ridiculous) but more tannic.
Finish - Long and fruity, fruit salad chews. At the side of the tongue there's oily, musky wood and coconut.
At first blush this is young and overly sweet but it really comes together with a little time and digging. I really like it!
SMWS 5.49, Lady of the night, Auchentoshan, 16 years old, 57.7% A+
8th March 1999, 204 bottles, ex-bourbon finished in second fill Sauternes
Nose - Sweet, dark, deep and floral, custard creams. The Auchentoshan floral, fruit toffee pokes out from under the finish, otherwise it's perfumed with blonde wood and sweet flowers. Creamy and woody with water.
Body - Dirty, sweet and creamy with raspberry pound cake and buttercups. Really creamy. Sexy with water, the sharpness is reduced and that floral, vanilla cream comes through even more.
Finish - Long but fizzing and numbing. Bitter grapefruit. Pure boiled sweets with water.
A good one. The distillery character isn't lost under the finish and the dirty Asian fruit works well. I'm not sure it's up there with some of the recent ones (Peachy and Perky comes to mind) but definitely better than 5.47 (Floral perfumes in a Chinese restaurant),
Lady of the night, Stave new world - you get the best names for 5s.
SMWS 50.76, Booze up in a bakery, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 59.1% A⊕
26th January 1990, 150 bottles, refill bourbon
Body - Very classy indeed. Soft oak, charred paper, glazed berries, more pink wafers! A touch of red wine cask. Extremely moreish. Zippier with water, too much cereal.
Finish - Malty, oily but dry. Very long and great fruits. Slight lack of luxury (this is a serious issue for Darren) but I like the structure. Robust but elegant.
I'm developing a bit of a thing for mid-twenties Bladnoch, which is good as there seems to be tons of it about. This is another triumph. I could settle into this bottle for a little while…
SMWS 9.104, Lychee Martini, Glen Grant, 27 years old, 55.5% A+
18th April 1988, 504 bottles, refill sherry. Expectations are sky-high.
Body - Delicate, fresh, amontillado sherry and orange skin. Nutty but fresh, sweet and complete but with a worryingly young top note (cereal, overwooded). This is improved slightly with water.
Finish - Long, ripe and gentle sherry. This isn't as integrated as the finished casks, weirdly.
The nose on this is absolutely lovely, classy and beautifully presented. But the delivery is slightly disappointing for the age and price.
I really love the nose though.
SMWS 71.42, Sinbad preparing for a journey, Glenburgie, 17 years old, 57.5% A⊕
26th March 1998, 705 bottles (!), refill gorda
Body - Fruity first, big dirty Gorda second, the soft acrylic, wax and wood is offset by significant sulphur and thick vanilla ice cream. Spicier with water.
Finish - Pure vanilla ice cream on the finish - really thick, homemade stuff, almost clotted cream. Blimey. Very long with water, fruity and very dirty.
What a weird and wonderful whisky. I was expecting dirty Gorda but not clotted cream and bacon crisps. Awesome (but don't buy this if you're sulphur-phobic).
SMWS 42.18, Purple relaxation, Ledaig, 9 years old, 59.3% A⊕
5th October 2006, 234 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Redolent of coastal peat before you put your nose near the glass. Gentle, sweet, strawberry peat close up, the beginning of parma violets (unusual so young) and fields of lavender. Soft, herbal and calming, a touch of warming spirit sulphur.
Body - Soft and beautiful, intense peat and tiny little parma violets. Peat, blood and peaches. Almost red-wine finished with water, the stone fruit is perfect. Entrancing.
Finish - Long, drying oak, dustily sweet, almost Laphroaig like.
A great balance of dusty sweetness, beautiful peat character and wood. Comforting and delicious, this can stand toe to toe with the big Islays, you'd never believe this was 9 years old. And yes, it is extremely relaxing. Highly recommended.
SMWS 53.233, Fireman's gloves on a mermaid, Caol Ila, 19 years old, 60.5% A⊕+
3rd September 1996, 258 bottles, refill bourbon. C'est magnifique aussi!
Nose - Sharp and vinous, restrained but intense with sawdust and swimming pool (maybe it's bleach - in a good way though!). Baby's breath and salt and vinegar crisps (apologies). Rubber gloves! Whitebait and white wine. It's an odd one, oddly compelling too. Slightly dirty with water.
Body - Intensely Caol Ila, and perfect with it. Deep, sweet and salty, perfect citrus cereal, gunpowder and metal fillings.
Finish - White wine, love hearts and fino sherry. Intensely tannic, everything about this whisky is intense but it hangs together perfectly. Wine gums at the end.
So there had to be something to put the 9 year old Ledaig to bed, and this knocks it out of the park (he said mixing his metaphors slightly confusingly). What a blockbuster!