A mixed bag this month, not too much young stuff (and that which there is is good), some much older stuff (not all of which is up to the billing), and some weird and wonderful stuff. Quite a few bar-only drams in here too, some of which I tasted last month but didn’t know if it was just early (should be in the next outturn) or simply bar only. I’m assuming the latter now, no-one seems to know which it is!* Islay continues to show well this month, and Ledaig continues its unbroken string of excellent young drammers. Picks for me are the Cameronbridge and the Auchentoshan, both of which were on preview and both of which are specifically to my tastes (for a grain, and for utter filth). If I was at the bar I’d be ordering the Ledaig, Bunnahbhain, Royal Brackla, Mannochmore and if I was feeling particularly excitable, the Glen Elgin. But not the Feis Ile Port Charlotte, which is flawed and expensive.
In short, lots of interest, fun and diversity, not everything to everyone’s tastes but all worthy of attention. And this is just one month from one IB! The wonderful world of whisky just gets better and better.
* [EDIT: I am informed that they are actually very early for a future outturn. So I’ve let the cat out of the bag. I did say last month’s outturn tasting was chaotic!]
SMWS 7.132, Longmorn, Nougat and chocolate semifreddo, 11 years old, 63.5% B+
11th February 2004, 168 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Gentle, slightly grainy (like a good vodka), rather interesting volatiles (screen cleaner?) and pure still-house. I know that makes it sound like new make but it's not at all, behind the massive alcohol is sweet toffee (finger of fudge) and herbal cask. It needs water - then it's much more herbal and casky, the toffee actually takes a back note to the hard sawdust, and the sweetness is more floral. Art room clay.
Body - Pure chocolate, then neat vodka. It's a little like one of those society rums at 85%. More ordinary with water.
Finish - Long and burningly sweet, like magic balloons and swallowed mouthwash. Bitter and woody with water at the end, (liquorice imps and lolly sticks).
I really enjoyed the nose on this, it's classic young society stuff - robust and interesting, pure still-house and dunnage. I struggle with the delivery.
SMWS 55.36, Royal Brackla, Popping candy in flower meadows, 17 years old, 56.1% A⊕
15th September 1998, 294 bottles, refill bourbon
I couldn't resist something a bit out of turn here, it's a bit tiring doing all the young firewater first.
Nose - Deep fruit chews at first, floral and slightly sexy (pure sweet shop), but it's far from unbalanced or cloying. White wine, tropical fruit, "good" cask (hard and bright, slightly tannic with deep herbal vanilla notes) and lemon meringue pie. Very good. Even more balance and gravitas with water.
Body - Soft, but big and fruity, with warm chardonnay and numbing lemon Sichuan peppercorns. There's something very right in the development here into warm wax and fizzing lemon. Refreshers with water.
Finish - Long, hot, developing into fizzy cola bottles and sherbet. I guess that's the popping candy. A touch of sulphur with water but it's fizzing my mouth off! I wonder what the pH of this whisky is?
This is a cracking whisky for summer sipping, and I would imagine this warmed by the evening sun with a cigar would be pretty special.
SMWS 85.27, Glen Elgin, Discover the secret side!, 8 years old, 60.9% A+
25th October 2007, 234 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - A bit naughty. Cologne, strawberry bubble bath, hair gel and surfboard wax (Mr. Zog's). Dusty, effervescent, hot summer drinking. Almost beery with water, almonds and bandages. And with time, a big bucket of cheap vanilla ice cream.
Body - Bright, sweet, sweetshoppy Cognac. As artificial as a blue ice-lolly but with more Sichuan peppercorns. Intensely sweet and chewy with water, like wham bars washed down with white wine.
Finish - Long, sweet and lewd. Tannic with water.
This won't win any awards for complexity or elegance, but it's a compelling summer drammer that will appeal to fans of cocktails and jaded whisky drinkers alike.
Three very old grains next. The first is in this outturn (it was actually on preview), the next two have been in the London bar for over a month.
SMWS G4.8, Cameronbridge, Spinning honey, 36 years old, 50.7% A⊕+
28th May 1979, 198 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - As elegant on the nose as the Glen Elgin wasn't. A complex balancing act between sweet fruit, varnished wood, women's perfume, chardonnay and magic balloons. A touch of hot radiator, lavender and oil paints rounds off the complexity. Even better with water; more wax, more clay.
Body - Perfect.
I was going to leave the review there but I'll continue… ripe green apple, coconut oil, mango and beeswax. Slightly rummy with water (might be my palate today then).
Finish - Very long, balanced hard grain with musky honey and wine. Elegant tannins bring you back for another sip. Green apples, orange squash and lots of freshly varnished furniture.
A superb whisky, everything I want in a grain. Highly recommended.
G6.3, Port Dundas, All sweetness and sunshine, 35 years old, 50.1% A+
3rd December 1980, 204 bottles, refill bourbon. Bar only.
Nose - Washing up liquid and Swarfega, everything you need to wash engine oil off your hands! Clean and pure though, with a gentle wood complexity underneath. Lovely fruits; peach, cut cherry, lightly tropical with a touch of oil. Just delightful. Fruitier with water,
Body - Big and oily, some toast… this could be mistaken for a malt whisky but there's that hard oak that gives it away a little. Plasticine with water, some almond shell, almost a toffee and bandage quality, very malt like.
Finish - Medium to short, a touch of lemon grass back notes are of swimming pool. Hard oak at the end, back to the grain.
This would be beautifully austere for a single malt, it's pretty special for a grain… I've no idea what it costs though.
BUY if you like the idea of this curio
G10.9, Strathclyde, 'Come to the caberet', 38 years old, 59% A
23rd November 1977, 150 bottles, refill bourbon. Bar only.
Body - Fruit juice, hard oak, big tannins, cheap strawberry jam, kinda. More drinkable with water, there's that plasticine with water, elastic bands.
Finish - Long, grapefruit zest, very drying. Lemon sherbets at the end.
There's nothing wrong with this per se, it just isn't very interesting. I guess people want different things from grains and I want a bit more complexity.
SMWS 5.50, Auchentoshan, Golden Delicious, 15 years old, 53.2% B⊕
11th October 2000, 60 bottles, ex-bourbon (finished in 2nd fill sauternes). I'm really looking forward to this.
Nose - Really dirty. Crotchy. Reminds me a bit of toe-jam actually, or durian. Big, ripe, fruity Auchentoshan is underneath, and that utter filth is dissipating with time (or I'm just getting desensitised to it). Apple crumble and boiled sweets. Complex wax and more Asian fruit with water.
Body - Very fruity, very dirty, floral and massive vanilla cream. Orange squash again, with a bright grapefruit astringency and a touch of pineapple. Wine cask sulphur. Much more complete with water
Finish - Medium, mangos, oak. Longer with water, with the sulphur working much better with the fruit, wood and Auchentoshan funk.
This is a weird but wonderful whisky. I would recommend trying this before you buy it, but if it turns you on you'll love it. I bought one.
BUY (with caveats)
SMWS 36.100, Benrinnes, Aristocratic pretensions, 18 years old, 58.3% A+
15th August 1997, 198 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Playing with an obviously much straighter bat than the Auchentoshan, this is classic Society Benrinnes. Sweet and floral, with pineapple and midget gems. Musky wood and slightly caught toffee stand in front of very clear refreshers.
Body - Boiled sweets, wax and tobacco. A beautifully gentle delivery through fruit and light funk, wax and wine. More ordinary with water, although still very balanced.
Finish - Very long and quite numbing, very waxy and oily. Delicious. Overly tannic with water.
Another lovely, sweet, fruity summery 36. Well poised and very accessible. No water though.
SMWS 64.70, Mannochmore, The spicy cake cabinet, 25 years old, 55% A+
5th February 1990, 210 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Red wine, baked plums, but clean and ozoney and strangely bright. Refill sherry cask I'd've said. Granite and new pencils, lots of varnish, lots of wine. Dusty and floral with water, a bit like a museum.
Body - Ripe, fruity and balanced, a touch of Auchentoshan funk? Maybe it's disturbing my palate still. It's really delicious though… rich and biscuity, glazed.
Finish - Medium, slightly tannic, competent but a bit ordinary compared to the palate. Better with water.
A good whisky, but not quite living up to the cost/age.
SMWS 39.124, Linkwood, A toast to Tim Peake's return, 29 years old, 42.9% A+
18th December 1986, 96 bottles, doesn't say what the cask was (presumably refill bourbon) but it was finished in 2nd fill Sauternes
Nose - Big, fresh and fruity, pure Victoria sponge (loads of cream, raspberry jam, birthday candles), and a little Marlboro light tobacco. But it's also really grown up - notes of leather, marker pens and apricots. Not the big, leather armchair blockbuster of the older Linkwoods but classy and compelling. Jelly babies with time.
Body - So soft and gentle at 43%... Light funk from the wine cask picks it up at the edges, but otherwise it's clean, pure whisky balanced and gentle, with peaches, dunnage and cask.
Finish - Medium and clean, more jelly babies and long tannins.
This is a very delicious, highly drammable, well matured whisky. I think the Sauternes was used quite recently to make it more interesting, and it lacks integration as a result.
SMWS 35.146, Glen Moray, Mellow Yellow, 21 years old, 55.4% A
11th November 1994, 270 bottles, first fill toasted oak hogshead
Nose - Zingy lemon wax and bright bourbon oak, bamboo and bong water. Candied ginger, whipped cream and meringues. Musky cask and limoncello. I'm such a sucker for these casks. Darren says it smells like Mizunara casks, but I've actually never tried one on its own. A touch of tobacco with water, really lovely.
Body - Big, hot and lemony, loads of vanilla, quite hard, a little brutal. Much more mellow with water, that tobacco and bong water is back though.
Finish - Medium and cakey, biscuits and sherry. Cheesecake at the end. Tannic with water.
This is a really interesting whisky, I just love these bourbony Scotches. The nose is beautiful but it doesn't quite work on the delivery for me. If you hadn't bought the last years' worth of charred/virgin/chardonnay/designer hogshead Society Glen Morays you should pick this up, but if you have, this isn't quite as good.
SMWS 30.90, Glenrothes, Juicy fruit and perfumed sweetness, 35 years old, 43.8% A⊕+
3rd July 1980, 156 bottles, refill bourbon. Bar only.
Body - Soft and old, oil paints and old leather. Really gentle but lovely and mature.
Finish - Very long, total poise - gentle wood, oil, fruit, preserved lemon and a hint of liquorice imp.
So gentle, so weak! But so elegant. What a beautiful whisky. No idea what it costs though…
SMWS 10.94, Bunnahabhain, Party on a paddle steamer, 10 years old, 58.3% A+
20th December 2005, 156 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Sweet and hard. Crushed seashells, roasted lemon shells and charred cardboard. There's dirty diesel engine on inhale (presumably that’s the paddle steamer) and a hint of Laphroaig, sweeter fruits and cereal on exhale. Slightly dirty, rather good actually.
Body - Big, fruity and well integrated cereal and toffee, a bit like a breakfast bar. That slightly dirty oil and seaside note is very satisfying. Laphroaig on the nose, Ledaig on the delivery.
Finish - Long with grapefruit and soft wax. Lemon cleaning spray. A bit more astringent with water.
Really rather good. A great choice for a dram at the bar, I could settle into a bottle of this. The Ledaig (next) is better though.
SMWS 42.24, Ledaig, The bee's knees…, 9 years old, 59.5% A⊕
5th October 2006, 204 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Softer and riper than the bunna, richer and warmer. There's still that coastal seashell element though, warm cereal and baked apples with raisins (and custard). Fresh sweat, a lovely winey peat character. It's lovely.
Body - Very sweet, rich and dark apple cider, clean, hot earth. Balsa wood. More wax with water.
Finish - Deep; plums and candles. The peat character here is subtle, rich and quite lovely. At the end, really intense damp charred wood peat, very compelling.
As ever, a beautiful young Ledaig. Fantastic stuff.
SMWS 29.183, Laphroaig, A cold cure, 16 years old, 57.9% A+
1st July 1999, 210 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Classy. Light raspberry sorbet and panna cotta, summery girls perfume (melon on exhale), slightly dirty (old cigar smoke on a leather jacket) but quite young cereal. What brings this one together though are the cleaning products; window spray, industrial table wipe, lemon and pine toilet cleaner.
Body - Sweet and tannic, lots of lemon peat and tobacco but a bit young really. Good fruit though, grapefruit and more lemon shells. Good toffee with water, opens it up a bit.
Finish - Medium and a little bit fetid (which I like) and lemony. Tobacco at the end.
A bit workaday for a Society Laphroaig but I like the summery girls and fetid lemon.
SMWS 127.44, Port Charlotte, Cantina Mexicana, 12 years old, 65.9%! C⊕
20th August 2003, 588 bottles, 2nd fill Oloroso butt. Feis Ile 2016 bottling.
Nose - Fruity and dirty with charred raisins, red wine cask, tart tatin, Hawaiian pizza (grilled, tinned pineapple and ham). Quite sour too, which is great, but a ghost of cabbage on exhale, which isn't. More wine and better cask with water (as you'd expect at 66%), big Islay refill sherry fun, it has the DNA of OB Port Charlotte on the nose if you dig.
Body - Hot (spicy), sherried with big Asian fruit, orange barley squash… but damn I can't get past that cabbage.
Finish - Loads of cabbage. This is now a flaw I'm afraid. Very tannic and oily.
I really enjoyed (after a fashion) the nose on this but it's a broken whisky otherwise. Sorry about that…
SMWS 3.263, Bowmore, Pretty but gritty, 19 years old, 55% A⊕
27th March 1996, 180 bottles, refill bourbon. Bar only, brief impressions here.
Body - Dark beer, chapulines and black cherry. Nearly parmas.
Finish - Clean and delicious, fizzers.
SMWS 3.262, Bowmore, Medicine for the soul, 19 years old, 58% A⊕
27th March 1996, 270 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Restrained. Lavender, toffee apples, gorse, gunpowder. Quite like last month's, it has that salt and vinegar chipsticks thing, a touch of fried seafood, very “white”, very fresh with the cereal… it's a good "ordinary" mature Bowmore. But there's something more with time - grilled lemon, rosemary, wine, dried apple slices… quite intriguing but it takes a lot of digging.
Body - Sesame crisps, dried banana, water chestnut. There's the beginnings of the alien Islay dust in here too. What's remarkable about this one is how fresh it is (particularly at 58%) - cold fresh mango slices and iced tea. Slightly less compelling with water, a touch more grapefruit though.
Finish - Long with orange zest and grapefruit at the end. Wet newspaper with water.
I'm considering breaking my ban on buying even more Society Bowmore for this one. It's a classy one.