Hooray! For Christmas whisky season has fully started and while it is a time of extreme business for everyone, some fantastic things come out of hiding after summer.
It was a great honour and privilege to be at the launch of the Special Releases again this year in London. I went to the TWE tasting of the SR in 2013, 2014 and finally got to go to the launch for the first time in 2015. This year was a different venue with better lighting but the evening seemed to get away from me and they were packing up by the time I got to the Lagavulin!
Highlights for me were the Brora, then the Linkwood. The unpronounceable Auchroisk is the best of the sub-£300 set. The Cambus has the most fantastic nose on any grain I’ve ever smelled.
Cambus 40 years old, 52.7% A⊕
1975, refill American oak hogsheads, 1,812 bottles.
Nose - Gentle but insistently deep, lots of fruit, almost UHU depth. Reminds me in some ways of very old Glenrothes in the fruit and musk, but with an absolutely superb grain edge. Grassy, lacquered, old cask, with a touch of burnt rosemary and leather. Fantastic.
Body - Slightly hot, slightly musty with fruit polos and licked leather belt. Fruitier and more glue with water.
Finish - Unmistakably grain now, a little short perhaps. Definitely getting the promised spangles.
An absolutely stunning nose on this, beautifully structured. Slightly too musky and hot on the delivery. Love that fruit though. And the bottle design.
Glenkinchie 24 years old, 57.2% A+
Refill European oak butts filled in 1991, 5,928 bottles.
Body - Acrylic, pear drops, new pine planks, and quite a bit of red chilli and fennel.
Finish - Long, slighty dank, more spice at the end of the delivery. Spicier with water but reduced chilli.
Again, a world class nose, slightly unhinged in the delivery.
Auchroisk 25 years old, 51.2% A⊕+
A mix of refill American oak hogsheads and refill European Oak butts filled in 1990, 3,954 bottles.
Nose - Predominantly light, wet, sun bleach wood at first, on top of cold, tropical fruit. With time, lightly floral and finally seriously elegant and balanced with boiled sweets, candy necklace, lavender and figs. Wow.
Body - Perfectly judged (after spending all that time with the nose), cut flowers, refreshers, a touch of ozone and lots of numbing candle wax. Even better with water.
Finish - Medium and zesty, back notes of cask musk, tropical burps and a little spice developing at the end. Tropical funk with water.
A fantastically complex and elegant whisky, and just delicious to drink. Love it. Just take your time.
Cragganmore, NAS, 55.7% A⊕
From three cask types chosen for “flavour alone” – refill and rejuvenated American oak hogsheads, and ex-bodega European oak butts. Apparently, ex-bodega casks are those which were actually used to mature sherry, not casks that have been seasoned with sherry specifically to make sherried whisky.
So we’ve got NAS, refill bourbon, very winey sherry butts and heavily recharred bourbon. Should be interesting…
Nose - Lighter than last year's flavour led whisky (the Clynelish) at first, but rapidly gathers weight as you get into it. Sweetshop levels of sweet oak, liquorice root, black tea and glacé cherries - cherry pipe tobacco perhaps? A touch of Ribena (neat, slightly tannic). The heavily re-charred casks in here give that robust fruit and almost purple colour.
Body - Big and hot. More black tea and blackcurrant, thick and almost cloying. Numbing waxes and fruit.
Finish - Very, very long, with dark fruit, dried apricots and cigarette tobacco.
A slightly clumsy whisky but a blockbuster nonetheless.
Mannochmore 25 years old, 53.4% A⊕'
Distilled 1990, first fill bourbon and new ex-bodega European oak butts, 3,954 bottles.
Nose - Arresting lacquer and beautifully structured sherry. Black cherry and fresh raspberries with vanilla - pound cake? It's really rich but smells extremely expensive. Beautiful. A touch of petrol and touch of refreshers.
Body - Hard oak, blackberries. Balanced but intense sweetness. Blackcurrant boiled sweets.
Finish - Granulated sugar, chilli and more fennel. Numbing at the end.
A lovely, structured sherry bomb in the nose and early delivery. Slightly angular at the end but finishes with cakey, tropical burps. Fantastic stuff.
Linkwood 37 years old, 50.3% A⊕+'
1978, the second Special Release bottling, refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts, 6,114 amazing bottles. It’s pretty impressive that the distillery can produce that many casks from 1978 to be honest.
Body - Clean, intense fruit, then slightly dirty - cask musk and jelly sweets. That dirty, sweet old cask note is extremely compelling, like a very old Tomatin.
Finish - Long with bags of fruit, hints of refreshers and sponge backed Haribo. Well balanced wood throughout.
A phenomenal whisky, wearing its age with real class. Beautiful to drink, fantastic to explore, with wood, fruit and musk balancing each other perfectly.
Brora 38 years old, 48.6% A⊕⊕
Refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts from 1977, 2,984 bottles.
Body - Perfect wood and ancient, fiizzing peat, charred paper and tannins. And that alien, Asian, purple Brora magic. Amazing.
Finish - Very long, intense but sweetly dusted oak, vanilla and such beautifully balanced fruit, minutes after the end.
As usual a magical experience. Such intensity, balance, otherworldly fruit and everything that's wonderful about very old, peated whisky.
Port Ellen, 37 years old, 55.2% A⊕
The oldest PE ever released, from refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts filled in 1978, 2,940 bottles.
Nose - More extra-terrestrial fruits, more ashen than the Brora though. Honeydew melon, gentle old wood, clear ozone, fresh orange pith and white wine. The peat is just slightly medicinal - like fisherman's friends. Really, really classy.
Body - Intense but funky old peat and incredibly sweet - poised… but it's got this awkward sour/bitter/ash one-dimensionality that takes the edge off for me.
Finish - Very, very long, that sweetness carries through, with it coming together better in the late delivery. Green apple, chalky bonbons, whistle pops and fried whitebait.
A classy, intense and very sweet PE, but something doesn't quite hang together. Or maybe it just can't stand up to the magical Brora. If I seem a bit down on it it’s because it’s a 37 year old PE! It needs to be perfection.
Lagavulin, 12 years old, 57.7% A+
14th release of Lagavulin 12 year old in this range, refill American oak hogsheads.
Body - Spicy but fruity, more TCP than your average Laphroaig. Great balance of peat dust and spice.
Finish - Long and medicinal. And they took my glass away! They're clearing up!
I need to find another glass for the…
Caol Ila, unpeated, 15 years old, 61.5% A
The 11th release of unpeated Caol Ila, for blending in the “Highland style”, distilled 2000 (the first of the series from the new millennium), refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts, undisclosed outturn.
Body - Menthol cask, black pepper. Bracingly mineral but certainly drinkable.
Finish - Long, quite hot with fence panel and…
Thank you for the great whisky!
Bring it on, Christmas whisky rush.