November always was going to be a military operation for me, with five outturns on the trot (four in November then December), plus Cadenheads, plus everything else that’s going in the world right now. Through the kind of planning rarely seen in the world of whisky, and the bemused cooperation of the long-suffering staff at Greville street I thought I was going to nail it. But then there was that business trip at the end of October that made me miss the first outturn, and apparently I had to get my yearly cold right in the middle of November, so I’ve been on the back foot all month. That means I’ve missed Nov 1 and 3 writeups before the outturn. My apologies. 1 & 3 are on the way.
November 4 continues the theme of wacky finishes. Sometimes these are intentionally brief, as the effect is subtle and well judged. There’s been quite a few missteps over November though, and your mileage may vary considerably as there are some interesting, very different whiskies that will polarise opinions.
Ian, inspecting more weapons grade virgin oak cask
I’m now firmly of the belief that the best way to appreciate Society whisky is to frequently use the bars to discover new stuff and buy bottles of whisky that you fall in love with. Even though the obviously good stuff might sell out immediately on the website, it often hangs around at the bar for a lot longer, and anyway that weird 11 year old Glen Elgin can be “the one” just as much as the 16 year old sherried Bowmore that lasts 30 seconds.
But you have to try them all to find out which, and so…
SMWS G4.9, A blast from the past, Cameronbridge, 36 years old, 47.6% A⊕+
28th May 1979, 126 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Perfect. Drying emulsion paint (thick white glossed shelves), gentle but waxy fruit, lip gloss and freshly planed wood on exhale. Really waxy though, birthday candles and royal icing, fresh orange zest and almond wood polish and citrus sweet with a little time. Event better - more fruit, more ozone with water.
Body - Beautifully gentle and fresh, with cream, vanilla pods and slightly caught pastry. So drinkable. Waxier with water, even more balance.
Finish - Clean - green apples and citrus bitterness. Gentle oils. Quite long after a few sips, with building wood bitterness.
What a beautifully presented whisky. A balanced, elegant nose and a totally refreshing with sweet citrus on the delivery, and even better with water. Fantastic.
SMWS 13.48, Dalmore, Crepe Suzette, 9 years old, 61.5% B-
21st September 2006, 222 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Thick and malty when compared to the grain. Chalky mint bonbons, crystal malt and fried pastry (cornish pasties on exhale). At first it's mainly malt, practically new make, but with time a touch of limoncello, swede and icing sugar… and candy floss.
Body - Spicy, very young - Nice biscuits, sour green apples, strawberry laces. Much better with water - sweeter and richer.
Finish - A surprisingly juicy finish, like fruit salad chews, but with that sour, one dimensional sourness that new make has.
An interesting curio, some digging gives fruit and hard sugar shell, but this reminds me of that Adnams whisky. Infanticide.
SMWS 125.73, Glenmorangie, Cream horns, 11 years old, 59.3% A+
2nd July 2004, 192 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Significantly better on the nose than the Dalmore, with women's perfume, thick vanilla cream, a freshly opened pot of white emulsion (new shelving wood) and white lilies. Sweet, balanced and very feminine. Fruitier with water
Body - Sweet and creamy again, meringue with passion fruit and thick whipped cream. A spike of bitter fruit (like an apple pip) through this. Unsettled with water, that overly wooded finish comes through more.
Finish - Really thick at the side of the mouth, it would be clarty but there's a fizzing sherbet freshness that lingers to the end that lifts it, like Sichuan peppercorns and metal. Long, sweet with sliced ripe banana, but almost bourbon levels of hard wood behind this.
Really good this one, big sweet, creamy fruit and interesting balance from the cask. Interesting but a bit simple, I probably wouldn't maintain interest over a whole bottle, so one for the bar I think.
SMWS 44.73, Craigellachie, Long live the difference, 25 years old, 52% A⊕+
13th August 1990, 312 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Deep, slightly charred waxy wood. Baked plum tart, plasticine, burnt wax like when you burn a candle down to the bottom and stick matches in it as secondary wicks. Actually this reminds me of tasting a dram out of a cask on a distillery tour (actually this really reminds me of very old Springbank, in a roundabout way). Really, really compelling - evocative. Fingers crossed…
Body - Water and wax, slightly peated, really odd. A little bit rotten (which is always fascinating), more burnt wax, deliciously complex.
Finish - Very long with endless ancient cask and mouth filling (and numbing waxes).
What a fascinating and very odd whisky, quite challenging but it's so gentle and balanced that it really works. Feels way beyond its senior years - 40+. I'll be picking this one up.
SMWS 35.151, Glen Moray, Curiosity dram, 8 years old, 61.6% A+
6th April 2007, 258 bottles, 1st fill French oak hogshead
Body - Intense and sour and very definitely apple pips up the nose, certainly could be calvados. Roast pork and crackling, marzipan, cheap apple juice… cold pork fat retronasally. Better with water - brighter flavours, more refreshing.
Finish - Medium and mouth coating, lots of fats and herbal tones. Quite astringently wooded too, goes well with the young spirit.
Maybe French oak has more of an effect on the flavour of the Calvados than the juice does? This is another very interesting whisky, and works well with water. My collection of weird 35s is large so I won't be buying this but you might like to. Certainly try it at the bar.
SMWS 73.76, Aultmore, Spiced apple tea, 13 years old, 60.4% A-
4th September 2002, 274 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes. "After 12 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead, we transferred this whisky directly into a Sauternes cask for the remainder of its maturation."
Nose - A slightly otherworldly balance between sweet berries, wax, paint and buttercream icing. No apples that I can detect, although I'd give you a little new teabag. Slightly dusty - maybe a recently painted radiator. Fruity stuff though, cherry compote, strawberry jam and ripe, cut pear. Young FF bourbon with water.
Body - A rollercoaster, a bit - at first big fruit and paint, then intensely bitter, then big, pure marzipan with more acrylic, then rice crispy cakes. Almost meaty with water, with gunpowder and poster paints.
Finish - Quite long- cranberry sauce, sherbet dibdabs, finally the green apple. Water brings on too much astringency in the finish.
Full of flavours I can't quite place this one, lacking integration but lots of twists.
SMWS 55.38, Royal Brackla, Flaming red wine punch, 15 years old, 58.1% A+
26th September 2000, 288 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes. “After 14 years in an ex-bourbon refill hogshead, we transferred this whisky directly into a Sauternes cask for the remainder of its maturation.”
Nose – Gentler but with more paint than the Aultmore, although kind of similar at first blush. With time, much deeper, more mature notes of deep toffee and refreshers. Red wine and a little leather… it’s very different as you progress… wet felt and more marzipan. Fruitier with water, more mature too.
Body - Interestingly funky; Asian fruit and complex sulphur (no cabbage), pipe tobacco and gunpowder. More cask with water, and very sweet - it flirts with cabbage.
Finish - Long, zesty and fruity, good but hot sulphur and very drying. Meatier with water.
Much more interesting than the Aultmore but playing with the sulphur (and winning, for me, but you know everyone is different here). Tropical funk, but balanced.
SMWS 123.17, Glengoyne, Complex duality, 14 years old, 55.7% A
17th December 2001, 252 bottles, 2nd fill port barrique. "Twelve years in bourbon, then finished in a second fill port barrique."
Nose - More restrained, not giving too much up - slightly cakey, old wood panelling. A slight touch of Sudocrem, banoffee pie, but minty and herbal too, like port Springbank tends to be. Pineapple cubes with time, mango squash with water.
Body - Suddenly interesting on the palate, with fizzers and a hint of parmas, astringent with grapefruit zest but meaty with Chardonnay and toffee. Really compelling though, very drinkable. A touch of funk with water.
Finish - Medium, hard pear and limoncello. Hobnobs and tinned pineapple.
Really interesting and very drinkable with that lovely balance of tropical fruit and drying tannnins that brings you back for more and more sips. I don't want to make you think this tastes more luxurious than it is, but it's a great drinker.
SMWS C1.2, Deep as the fountains of sleep, XO, 48.2%
Fine Island Cognac, 444 bottles, French oak barrel. Obviously I’m no expert in Cognac and very rarely drink it (not that I’m claiming particular “expertise” in whisky but I do taste a lot of it) , so I'll just tell you what I find rather than give one of my “cryptic” scores.
Is it better than last year’s? I can’t really answer that without having them side by side, except to say that I didn’t buy that but I will buy this – maybe I’m just more open to Cognac this year.
Body - Big, bright wood, new, blonde oak panelled library (I went to a University that had just had one fitted), and quite rich and zesty, like an orange vanilla cream.
Finish - Medium and rich, very creamy. Really, really drinkable. I could settle into one of these… tannins and apples, wood and fruit in great balance.
SMWS 36.112, Benrinnes, 'Easy like a Sunday morning', 16 years old, 56.3% A⊕
31st May 2000, 258 bottles, 2nd fill port barrique. "This was fourteen years in a bourbon hogshead, then transferred to a second-fill port barrique."
Nose - Deeper, winier, more purple than the Glengoyne. Blackcurrant jam on croissants with butter, with a combination of acrylic and oil paints. Sweet pastry and light curd filling rounds it out. It is indeed easy on the nose, with lots of vanilla, beautiful old cask and just a seasoning of warm wine cask.
Body - A fantastic balance of cherry and pastry, paints and wood, with big, rich almond and curd. Really chewy and delicious, but bright enough to hold your interest, just the kind of delivery I love.
Finish - Medium, numbing, with cigarette tar and lemon peel.
The combination of brilliant, complex Benrinnes with robust port cask is a real winner here. Really rich and very drinkable, and just really delicious (I can't stop sipping this one). Highly recommended.
SMWS 46.43, Glenlossie, If I were a carpenter…, 14 years old, 58.5% B
31st May 2002, 384 bottles, 2nd fill Oloroso butt.
Body - Gentle, unripe fruit, slightly sour and fizzingly tannic at the back of the throat (sour sweets). A little cardboard.
Finish - Quite long, gooseberry and celery with black jacks and star fruit. A touch of bong water with water, in a good way. Cigarette tobacco maybe.
An unexpectedly austere, quite ordinary whisky that should have been tried a lot sooner in this flight!
SMWS 37.83, Cragganmore, An odyssey of flavour, 12 years old, 57.1% B⊖
5th November 2003, 234 bottles, virgin oak hogshead, heavy toast, medium char. “After 12 years it was transferred to a virgin oak hogshead for the remainder of its maturation.”
Nose - Bright and blonde, with hard oak strawberries and a touch of stewed tea. Slightly soapy, cold green grapes maybe. Very closed. With time, some lemon sweets and cherry wood chunks. Cakier, much better, more open with water, maybe even a touch of something tropical (tinned pineapple perhaps).
Body - Yellow, sharp, then sour wood. Fizzing and numbing Sichuan peppercorns and lemon juice. Pure acrylic paints (not so much a note of it, more the taste of licking it off a brush). Disintegrates with water - rainwater in an ashtray, a little salt.
Finish - Medium long, with big toffee behind the new charred oak. Heavily over-oaked.
A brief finish that didn’t do much to help a probably not very interesting young whisky.
SMWS 1.202, Glenfarclas, Delightfully delectable, 22 years old, 53.8% B-
23rd September 1993, 198 bottles, virgin oak hogshead, heavy toast, medium char. "After 22 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead, this whisky was transferred into a virgin oak hogshead for the remainder of its maturation.". 22 years of refill bourbon and then smashed into a virgin oak cask for less than a year! Ouch.
Nose - Much more interesting. Warm white wine, splints/joss sticks, sweet grapes this time and overall a good, complex sweetness. Slightly dank, almondy funk behind that. Still some austerity to battle here. Much better with water, more classical maturity but the sweetness makes it feel younger than 22.
Body - Spicy, highly wooded, hot like Sangria. A lack of midrange and an unbalanced spikiness, like licking a splintery fence panel. There is complex maturity in here somewhere, but it's obliterated by a not-that-intense virgin oaking. Again, water doesn't do the delivery any favours.
Finish - Hot and sour, highly numbing with candlewax and strawberry laces.
A very slight virgin oak finish that hasn't quite destroyed this delicate Glenfarclas.
SMWS 3.281, Bowmore, Finely balanced, 18 years old, 54.9% A
25th September 1997, 558 bottles, refill butt
Nose - Painting by numbers "teenage refill sherry Bowmore" - a finely balanced play on sweetshop, cereal, sour peat, coastal minerality and confident, gentle cask. Old Bowmore approaches - in the 18s/19s Bowmore has a leg in each camp (coastal muck and alien Islay refreshers, which I adore). Carrot cake, poached pears and gunpowder. The more time in glass, the better it gets. Even finer with water, that balance is accelerated, with more white icing and ozone.
Body - Robust, plenty of gunpowder and liquorice root. Quite intense wood next to the peat (almost bonfire-y), quite lemony for Bowmore and a slightly overdone sour varnish note. The fine balance falters with water, too much tobacco not enough fruit.
Finish - Medium-short, sharp and sour, roasted lemon peel and charred bay leaf. Quite arresting given the complex, softer nose.
A beautiful nose that promises so much, but that isn't lived up to on the delivery - too much fizzing solvent varnish, not enough complex fruit. Perhaps it would have been better left in cask for the extra 8 years to make it a legendary 26.
SMWS 29.190, Laphroaig, Divine dark temptation, 17 years old, 58.1% A⊕+
25th March 1999, 582 bottles, refill butt. Go out on a high note…
Nose - Restrained but deeply sweet, almost meaty (again, those roasted plums and marzipan). Blackberry crumble, faintly medicinal (germolene, freshly opened pack of bandages), bounty bar and puff pastry.
Body - Like kissing a (female) smoker, whisky that reminds me of my youth always gets extra points. Black cherry lip balm, port, perfume, leather jackets and vanilla. Chalky, fruity, tannic and exciting. Slightly more bandage with water, but not improved.
Finish - Really very long, black fruits throughout with cigars, PX and Autumn night air. Very drying tannins bring you back for another sip. Cigar tobacco numbs the tip of the tongue at the end.
An exciting and absolutely delicious whisky that does everything right and remarkably even smells and tastes (at least a bit) of Laphroaig. Highly recommended.