Thursday, 31 March 2016

SMWS April 2016 Outturn

20160319_131412A week or so ago I flew to Edinburgh for a day and night of whisky appreciation in the Vaults and Queen Street (dinner in the latter, seriously excellent again).  I visited 27.1 and the other priceless .1s and wondered at the buying decisions that our society ancestors made when they thought about whether or not to pick up 27.1, or 26.1 or 61.1 for that matter.  This is why I can’t stop buying bottles of whisky – if you don’t take the opportunity now, it’s gone forever!

20160319_130848I had a good go at the #VaultsExtras set, a small outturn only available in the Vaults.  One of the standout whiskies was an Ardmore, a distillery I’m wary of due to sulphur in the sherry casks.  There have been some truly awful society Ardmores in my experience but some pretty good ones too.  But 66.84, Rich and slightly naughty (white wine hogshead finished in a second fill sherry butt) is superb.  Like a big, dark, juicy, oily sherried Laphroaig (not as harshly peated as that TWE one though).  Have a go on it if you can get to the Vaults, and if it ever appears online, jump on it. Sadly I couldn’t take one home with me, but luckily the April outturn has a very similar, and just as good refill Gorda Ardmore (66.82, reviewed below) which I definitely recommend.

20160319_131843

20160319_134007One of the other whiskies I tried in the #VaultsExtras is 7.127, Nectar of the Gods, a 30 year old refill bourbon Linkwood of enormous gravitas.  Rich, intense, glazed and important, this is a massive whisky of huge quality, and a ferocious price.  Even more ferocious than last month’s 41.70, C’est Magnifique! (reviewed here) and this month’s 30 year old Linkwood, 7.129 (reviewed below).  All of these whiskies, expensive as they are, are superb. 

20160319_133840These three whiskies seem to come hot on the heels of new ownership of SMWS, and a feeling of a general uptick in the cost of society bottlings.  Coincidence or not, this has caused general upset.

Now these casks (rather than the more normally priced drams) are clearly mature cask buys by the society, and show the great difference in price when you have your own warehouse full of slowly maturing stock or you’re buying mature casks directly from the distillery (or someone else).  The Irish and Japanese bottles from last year were similar deals.  The question is whether the society should have bought and bottled these whiskies.  I don’t know if they are making outlandish profits on these casks or a standard percentage.  I do know that they are accompanied by more normally priced whisky which, as this month’s outturn shows, is also excellent.  And should they have bought these expensive mature casks and bottled the whiskies, selling them for a profit? 

Well, why wouldn’t you want them to?

As I’ve said a number of times before, whatever SMWS is about (and I have to admit, I am currently slightly confused) it never was, and never should be about being a way of getting cheap whisky.  Membership isn’t a ticket that grants you the right to buy cheaply.  The strapline remains “curious” and I think the whisky in this outturn certainly fits with that.  I think “quality” is guaranteed by the tasting panel, although February was a bit duff and of course not all whiskies are to everyone’s taste (as some of those previous Ardmores prove).  Membership brings me access to the SMWS bar in Greville street but not everyone can get to a venue.  But what will SMWS be about in a climate where quality whisky, across the market, is slowly being priced above what some people can pay?  I do think a slight resetting of positioning, a mission statement if you like, on the society’s plans for the future, what whiskies its laying down now to meet customer demand in 5-10 year time, what the releases are going to be like, where are we going with these finishes… would set minds at ease. 

Finally I’d like to remind you of SMWS 7.55, Liquid Heaven, a 40 year old heavily sherried Longmorn releasd in 2010 that I understand was the first society bottle over £100 (£186).  It caused upset and hung around for ages, required heavy marketing to shift.  One of the most amazing whiskies I’ve ever tried and sells for 3x that price today

I’m excited to see where SMWS goes over the next couple of years and against a backdrop of increasing whisky prices across the market, how it will position itself to the drinkers and obsessive collectors in the UK and beyond.  But mainly if it can keep producing casks like the Cragganmore, Benrinnes, Glenlossie, Bladnoch, Glen Moray and Ardmore below, I’ll mainly be excited to buy, taste and drink the whisky.

By the way there are a lot of BUYs in here.  I make no apologies.  There are no bell curves in my blog, I really like whisky, and these are worth buying.

SMWS 10.91, A well-mannered dram, Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, 62.1% A+

25th May 2005, 210 bottles, refill bourbon

20160329_164538Nose - Very sweet for a refill youngster, with a robust (but lovely) herbal flintiness. A touch of modelling clay, and a slightly musky floral quality, a bit like lily. Chilled white wine and coastal - this is well timed for the season, it'll make a nice bracing but sunny dram at the end of a long week. Sweeter still with water, classy malt character and a touch of tobacco.

Body - Extremely hot and very strong! Sugar bonbons, flower stalks. Better with water - still incredibly sweet, but with a woody tannin behind that (lolly stick or fence panel, something like that).

Finish - Short and clean, there's something rum-like about this experience. With water liquorice torpedoes … astringent.

A lovely, clean and classy nose, and really robust in the delivery - well-mannered for such a bruiser I suppose! I like this…

BUY

SMWS 37.74, Fresh and fluffy, Cragganmore, 18 years old, 54.3% A⊕'

5th August 1997, 204 bottles, ex-bourbon cask, finished in 2nd fill Sauternes

20160329_172348Nose - Rich, warm, chocolate covered toffee, a really lovely cask character with overripe banana and something sharply muddy, like a wet hedge… perhaps fresh cut spinach? Roasted plums on puff pastry, so honeyed. Complex and interesting. Even better with water.

Body - Ripe and wooded, with more roasted plum and almond, but so, so rich, fruity and creamy. More ozone with water, a touch of caraway.

Finish - Long, warm and fruity. A lovely gentle balance right to the end. Lemon sherbets with water.

A cracking whisky with a lovely character, really warm, sweet and golden, a great cask finishing.  And Cragganmore can do no wrong at the moment for me!

BUY

SMWS 36.98, Gaelic coffee, Benrinnes, 18 years old, 58.5% A⊕

15th August 1997, 210 bottles, refill bourbon

20160329_173705Nose - Another flinty springtime nose, vanilla sponge with window putty and fired clay - like eating a Victoria sponge in a Victorian greenhouse. Something masculine with the cake though, cologne and leather.. but light. Another very satisfying nose. More chocolate with water, a different character which brings out the swimming pool a little.

Body - Enormously sweet, then blonde oak and lots of cream, but then dries out rather quickly, through savoiardi biscuits and more tobacco. Much more rounded with water.

Finish - Tobacco and brazil nuts, quite a lot of bitterness and wood in the finish.

Another cracking whisky, a lot more structure than the Cragganmore (which is soft and gentle) this has bite right to the end, a proper job. I still prefer (just) the other one, but John likes this best.

BUY

SMWS 46.38, Fresh as a winter waterfall, Glenlossie, 23 years old, 53.5% A⊕

16th November 1992, 264 bottles, refill bourbon

20160329_175022Nose - Sweet and roasted (roast chestnuts?), I can't stop thinking of Christmas now. Roast turkey, a fresh log on the fire, rain and chocolates. Polished brass - brasso I suppose? What an evocative nose! Slightly funkier with water, I'd have guessed a chardonnay cask here? Lovely though.

Body - Fresh and herbal, and quite a nutty sherry character. Water unbalances it a touch, there's a chewed twig/parsley stalk thing in here.

Finish - Small shards of sour, sweet liquorice poke through the long, gentle exit. Calming and quite moreish, with bitterness passing in and out.

A fascinating, complex and evocative whisky, very challenging and really works. Highly recommended.

BUY

SMWS 7.129, Heavenly fragrance, Longmorn, 30 years old, 57.4% A⊕+

24th September 1985, 72 bottles, refill bourbon.  This was distilled the day after 7.127, Nectar of the Gods, the whisky that caused significant concern due to its price (£423.40).  This one is cheaper at £319.  Both whiskies are extraordinarily good, both big, old, beautiful Longmorns with excellent cask character and lots of structure. Whether you think this is worth the money is up to you (you’d pay that for a 30 year old Hanyu wouldn’t you?), I’ve never spent that much on a bottle of whisky. 

I didn’t make notes on 7.127.  I was too busy enjoying myself and eating haggis.

20160329_181058Nose - Up there with its friend in the Vaults, this is another important old Longmorn. There's obvious big, old cask here - furniture wax and strawberry laces, royal icing and Crunchy bars. There's also a drier, more elegant note to this - it's not just an old whisky, it has structure. With some time (we left this in glass for a few to let it open up as we’d just opened the bottle), there's a real red wine cask element to this, beautiful woody spice. An intense, ripe and rewarding nose. Even better with water, an additional touch of buttered toast.

Body - Intense, deep toffee and golden biscuit, burnt parsnips, incredibly honeyed and gently sulphured. Like a tropical fruit cordial, neat, glazed over roast pork. Gloriously fruity. More balance with water, more sulphur, a little cherry lip salve.

Finish - Intensely tannic, bitter chocolate, mouth coating oils, very long - almost soapy, very nutty at the end too. Finally, charred wood.

An epic whisky. Meaty but golden casked, toffee and tropical notes, incredibly complex. Expensive but probably worth it… I wonder if in 5 years time I’ll look back at this and think “I’d bite your arm off for £300 for a 30 year old Longmorn!”.

BUY

SMWS 50.77, Good old days, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 57% A⊕

26th January 1990, 114 bottles, refill bourbon

20160329_181607Nose - Fresh and lemony, a real laundry character with lots of hard linen and a touch of spearmint… but also a slightly dirty, earthy character to it too. Like a dusty painter's sheet (cheers John). Quite a lot like a diluted limoncello… stewed tea behind this and more stewed plums, warm underneath the summery top notes. Lovely stuff. White wine and privet hedge, very twiggy.

Body - Sweet and rocky (Edinburgh rock) and almost sherbet dib-dabs. Intense but summery. Acrylic paint tester pots with water.

Finish - Big with tobacco, splints and more icing sugar. Spicier with water with rawer tannins.

Grown-up, confident and challenging, yet classy, as is usually the case for society Bladnoch. This is an important whisky and if you don’t already have a society Bladnoch you should get this one. Personally, I'd go for the 37 or 46 before this (I have a few 50s on the shelf).

Quite pricey again, but BUY

SMWS 35.141, A Christmas wreath, Glen Moray, 53% A+

24th November 1994, 234 bottles, 1st fill toasted oak hogshead

20160329_182643Nose - Sharp and sour, but ripe - like gooseberry, poster paints and chutney. Colgate toothpaste, absolutely right John! Mulled wine… perhaps, more like Sangria. These oddly casked Glen Morays always flirt with the "posh" bourbon thing, which I quite like… scratches the bourbon itch without actually having to slum it by drinking real bourbon (joke!).

Body - Soft with big, burnt wood and loads of vanilla, perhaps even bakewell tart fingers. Sauternes cask here too, amongst the burnt wood. Very soft in its character, this'd be good poured over ice cream.

Finish - Medium, soft and very wooded. That burnt wood stays throughout, like an unsmoked Brimstone. Drying in that same way too.

A fascinating experiment, a cherry coke of a whisky, and really interesting. Damn I really like this too, is the whole outturn a BUY? This is dangerously drinkable too. Don't mind the "only an A+", buy the whisky.

SMWS 73.74, A nippy sweetie, Aultmore, 14 years old, 56.7% A⊕

24th September 2001, 414 bottles, 2nd fill sherry.  Forgot to take the photo!

Nose - Fresh, fresh, fresh. Granite and fino, light plasticine and just the gentlest nutty sherry. Again there's a "wine cocktail" thing in here, a little sangria, a light fresh sherry wood behind it, a touch of red wine vinegar. With time, that plasticine is rather musky. Summer!

Body - Intensely sweet spirit, lots of milk chocolate, chocolate milkshake. A little more wood with water, never unbalanced.

Finish - BBQed chorizo (that bun with rocket and peppers at Borough market). Long and intensely sweet too.

John says this is more like a sherry that's been whiskied, rather than the other way around. For me this is a big, beautiful, young summer slammer and a real sorbet during this flight. Awesome.

BUY

SMWS 55.35, Warming and delightful, Royal Brackla, 18 years old, 55.3% A+

26th September 1997, 228 bottles, ex-bourbon finished in 2nd fill Sauternes

20160329_190740Nose - Gentle, herbal, woody and weirdly reminiscent of a Quiche Lorraine. More plasticine, more ozone, a little fresh tobacco smoke. Very good but doesn't stand up to the similar Bladnoch this month. I love the woody, tobacco thing so much though, and with water, there's a jewelled fruit juice balancing out the tobacco.

Body - Loads of tobacco (Marlborough light), astringent and toasted. Red apple. Lots of oak. Creamy though.

Finish - A citrus bitterness in the finish with orange pith and grapefruit zest, intensely tannic.

An astringent, leathery, citrussy whisky, confident and fun to drink. I've got to draw the line somewhere though.

SMWS 30.89, Deep, dark and pleasantly attractive, Glenrothes, 58.3% A⊕+

25th March 1991, 150 bottles, refill bourbon.

20160329_191618Nose - Deep and important. Red wine - reduced into a sauce but red wine cask too, musky and fruity. John says vinyl though. Stewed tea, pain au raisin, but what really works here is the deep, fruity, hard bourbon cask against the warm meaty spice and a touch of gunpowder. Most irregular… surprisingly funky with water.

Body - Ripe, lots of toffee pennies, very floral. A massive whisky. The effect of a very good cask for a long time in an excellent warehouse, I'd guess - that or luck.

Finish - Very astringent, bitter, hard, hard oak. And perfect for it. Like licking a stainless steel pole (John). Liquorice allsorts at the end.

This was the one I was most excited about, the old Glenrothes.

BUY

SMWS B4.2, Intense woody spice and perfumed sweetness, FEW Spirits, 3 years old, 61.3%, A⊕

24th July 2012, 114 bottles, New charred oak barrel

20160329_192523Nose - Musky, waxy, smoking apple wood and glace cherry. Sweet and cherried and significantly more interesting than B4.1. Ozone and oak. Definitely not “just a bourbon”… sweet and delicious yes but real character on the nose. Let's see…

Body - Like mother's milk…. Pancakes and maple syrup, but there's this beautiful top note of toffee and fruit… Just beautiful.

Finish - Medium to long, oak and vanilla but so oily and balanced. At the end, fresh malted barley - at the start of the mash.


Significantly better than B4.1, an excellent bourbon, an excellent whisky full stop.  Highly recommended. 

BUY

SMWS 66.82, Gritty-turned-pretty, Ardmore, 17 years old, 57.5% A⊕+

18th March 1998, 606 bottles, refill Gorda.

As I said at the start, I had the 66.84 at the Vaults recently, and it is just awesome, a real sherried Laphroaig of a dram. Beautifully balanced, lots of nutty sweetness. I'll be keeping a sharp eye out for that on the website. This is in the same vein as that one, an absolute smasher.

20160329_193238Nose - Beautiful sherry; nutty and winey and balanced peat. Lightly tropical, BBQ and bandages, and just delicious. Even better with water. This makes me feel like a teenager, you can't put a price on that.

Body - Typical Gorda cask, dry and nutty but this one is more brightly fruity, like skittles and kia ora. Carrot garnish in a Thai meal, dipped in honey and fish sauce. Very Asian… BBQ, funk, fruit and musky sugar.

Finish - Long, incredibly fruity, an immense whisky.

 

BUY BUY BUY

SMWS 42.21, Ploughman's on the beach, Ledaig, 9 years old, 59.4% A+

5th October 2006, 216 bottles, refill bourbon.

20160329_194103Nose - Ah, the hard orchard fruit of young peated whisky. Here's another distillery that can do no wrong. Musky and clean, and lemony tobacco, we're back where we were last month with Purple Relaxation. Clean, hard fruit, fresh with candles. Lovely. Swarthier with water.

Body - More wax, some swimming pool, more royal icing, intensely sweet with almonds and UHU glue with water.

Finish - Licked joss sticks. Orange zest. Incredibly sweet but balanced by the intense peat.

Another nine year old masterclass.

BUY

SMWS 3.261, Record shop at the races, Bowmore, 14 years old, 55.7% A+

8th May 2001, 234 bottles, refill bourbon.

20160329_195253Nose - Lightly smoky, a little lavender, quite agave, I'm immediately reminded of mescal, although there is a malty sweetness in there too. Gentle, and a touch of bandage.

Body - Very classy, gentle again. The previous two definitely had more peat in. Prawn cocktail (thanks John) and grapefruit segments, light petrol and more joss sticks. Lots of roast, charred beef and toast with water.

Finish - Astringent and very "white spirit" but quite gentle. Tannic to the end and lots of grapefruit.


I'm confused about this Bowmore… it's very good but it's not what I'm looking for in a 3 (that old conversation).

SMWS 53.234, Smoke without fire, Caol Ila, 16 years old, 64.15 A(+)

18th November 1999, 270 bottles, refill bourbon

20160329_195112Nose - The light, coastal, fish and chips, salt and vinegar joy of a late teens society Caol Ila. We're painting by numbers here. Fresh, classical, slightly dusty with white wine and window putty. Germolene. Devilled whitebait?

Body - A lot more medical than I'd expect, if this was a Laphroaig I'd be really excited. Sweet and toasty, quite spicy and obviously robust.

Finish - Intensely drying.  The night is over though.

A classic Caol Ila, a little more medicinal than normal but you can't go wrong with these really.

BUY

Exile Casks

A new venture by the Caskstrength guys, casks that were exiled, lost and found in the back of warehouses.  I was expecting a big backstory about the casks we tasted at their recent tweet tasting but I think they were too busy drinking in Soho whisky club to type it all out on their phones!  Luckily the whisky we tried was excellent.  The first bottle, Trojan, is out this afternoon at 1pm at http://www.exilecasks.com/.  The second is a sample from a cask that hasn’t been bottled or named yet. 

The Trojan, 1990, cask #3110, 57.1% A+

Refill hogshead, 25yo from Speyside.

TheTrojanNose - Sweet, dark, lacquered. Cherry whistles, school library (plastic book covered, fountain pen ink). Slight petrolic? Quite enticing. Red apple skin, crayons and refreshing like chilled white wine. A fantastic, high class nose. Juicier but with more grown up notes - wood and structure. What an amazing cask!

Body - Rich, cakey, lots of raisin and sherry notes. Very hot, a touch of black pepper and lots of wood. Better with water, although it loses some of the rich raisin.

Finish - Long and tannic with lots of varnish and wood oils. Ripe and fruity but bitter and numbing. Less of a bruiser with water and ultimately better balanced.

A seriously intense cask on this one, amazing for a refill bourbon, lots of gravitas. I guess it must have been heavily charred, recharred or something? Either way the nose on this whisky is just wonderful. The delivery is less amazing but still very good, I love the intensity of fruit, wax and wood. Recommended… but don’t hang about if you want one of these.

Exile, 1992, Cask 1602, 55.5% A⊕+

Distilled 9th April 1992, 200 litre refill American Sherry Butt

Nose - Cleaner cask, slightly toastier, with very ripe fruit (peach maybe) and lots of balanced sweetness. Foam bananas. Deliciously ripe with water.

Body - Burnt wick, burning candle wax, intensely sweet. Wood bitterness but complex and ripe with a touch of sulphur and a lovely balanced spice. Burnt splint with water… damn it's so sweet but it works so well!

Finish - Very long, intense and very sweet right to the end. Boiled sweets and stewed tea.

My guess would be Auchentoshan for this one.  I’m terrible at guessing distilleries though.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Ardbeg Dark Cove, Committee Release

As I enjoy drinking whisky, I was excited to hear news of Ardbeg Dark Cove and very happy to buy a bottle to split with my friends and drink! 

However, I thought I’d put it up against something challenging.

Ardbeg 1974, Cask 2751, 51.8% A⊕⊕

Bottled 20.09.2005, 141 bottles, 31 years old. Thanks - a LOT - to Andy Purslow for this monster!

abgob.1974v4Nose - Alien, sweet, sweet Islay. Beautifully elegant with green apple, birthday candles and buttercream icing. Refreshers and Branston pickle. Charred wood, varnished, pencil cases and the library in a stately home. This is the oldest Ardbeg I've ever nosed…. old Islay is so intense, weird but perfectly balanced.

Body - Light, dreamily sweet and dusty, with perfect Sauternes and soft fruit. Leather and cut black cherries. Hot dust and spice and blackcurrants as you hold it in the mouth, but the most epic development through that Islay funk after swallowing. Like smoking a cigar in the afterlife.

Finish - Incredibly long, delicate and beautifully poised. Minutes long. Wonderful oils right to the end.

At first I thought this was "just" old Islay but it's so perfectly balanced, complex, with an enormous finish and exceedingly nice to drink that it transcends that. Awesome (literally!).

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist, 1990, 46% A⊕+

Bottled 02/2007 for USA. I think this was from Andy too… not sure but thanks anyway!

abgob.1990v1Nose - More sweet refreshers, I would have called this for a stately Caol Ila. More refreshing than the 74 and less "weird", certainly more coastal, great funk to this one. With time, bandages, but very sweetshop. Rather awesome.

Body - Soft, creamy vanilla and more sweetshop. There's an element of funk here too, and some tannins. Stewed tea and fence panel. Structurally sound.

Finish - Zesty and dusty, tannins and fruit. Delicious.

Hard to argue with something this good. Like early 90s thrash metal, they don't make them like this anymore… or do they?

Ardbeg Dark Cove, Committee release, 55% A+

20160322_140520Nose - Unmistakably younger. Lots of sweet wine cask, fruit, coastal peat and cakey vanilla. Ozone and sherry, buttercream icing, a touch of sherbet dibdabs about it. Sweet, young and fruity. White wine and more sherbet with water, with (and this is a new one for me) pea pods.

Body - Sweet lollypops, nutty sherry and massive retronasal peat. Fresh green apple and gunpowder, popcorn and neat mango squash. Maybe comparing it to a 31 year old was slightly unfair, this is obviously a different beast, a lot younger… while it's not quite so orgasmic as that it is delicious to drink. Older, now you come to mention it, with water. More cereal though.

Finish - Very long, tobacco and mango funk. Oil based varnish, almost greasy. Cashew nuts at the end. And then polos with water - WTAF?

So - not particularly dark, but rather good I think. Very good even. Good drinking, lots of complexity and confidence with its youth, I perhaps have done it a slight disservice tonight but I will try it again to compare it to the lower strength Ardbeg day release (assuming that's what's going to happen again) when this will also have had a bit of air.

I’m yet to try a bad OB Ardbeg.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Laphroaig Lore and some big Friends

“Over the years, each has passed on their skills and traditions to the next generation to continue this legacy. To honour this passing of knowledge, our Distillery Manager John Campbell has created Laphroaig Lore, the richest ever Laphroaig. Lore, meaning the passing of a skill or tradition through word of mouth, is the story of how we make Laphroaig, encapsulating the craft passed down from generation to generation over two centuries.”

That’s clear then.  Says here that it’s drawing from vintage 1993 going forward to consist of a mix of Scotch ranging from 7 to 21 years old

“the peaty power of Laphroaig in the same vein as Quarter Cask but with the smoothness of double matured stock finished in European oak hogsheads. To add even further depth and complexity we used our most heavily peated whisky matured in ex-Laphroaig barrels along with some fully sherry matured casks”

Who knows.  Just like Laphroaig Select was anything but select, Laphroaig Lore seems to be anything but classical Laphroaig as passed on through the generations.  To be honest I don’t really care but I know what I really crave/look for in a Laphroaig and last year’s 200th anniversary 15 year old had it in spades compared to this.

Laphroaig Lore, 48% A+

20160315_151753Nose - Dry, biscuity, coastal (salt and vinegar), lots of BBQ tones; charred wood, sandalwood, roasted pork fat and crackling. A slightly jarring sweetness behind this although it does save it from being uncharacteristically dry.  With time this does come together more (more fruit) and starts to become the point of the nose.  It’s very strange though, I would have called this as Ardmore rather than Islay, it’s a different peat character somehow.  Actually on tasting, it’s more like an Octomore 07.4 lite on the nose than a Laphroaig, weirdly.  Virgin oak in here?  But then, pure mezcal with water (a touch of Uisge source Islay no less, thanks Douglas Laing!).

20160315_183855Body - More charred oak, dry and dusty, quite tannic. Ripe pear (soft and fibrous). Chapulines and lime.  Actually very mezcal overall… perfumed and very white, white flowers and talcum powder.  Acrylic paint with water.

Finish - Medium, black pepper crisps, so dry.  Floral, yes, but dry and very un-Laphroaig.

What's not good about it - Oddly dry, and takes a little getting used to - if you thought this was going to be another Laphroaig Lite you were wrong The black pepper tone and dryness throughout is very strange and not very Laphroaig.

What's good about it - Complex and quite challenging, like a Belgian beer, it might take a little getting used to. Love the bottle design.

I reserve the right to come back to this when it's opened up a little. This bottle is hot off the press.  I do like it…. it’s a bit odd though.  Young, complete, drinkable, definitely.  Laphroaig, no.

Laphroaig 15 years old, 200th anniversary edition, 43% A⊕

I gave this a somewhat summary treatment when I blind tasted it before, so let’s have it again.  It’s a cracker.

laphroaig-15-year-old-200th-anniversary-edition-whiskyNose - The cask on here really is beautiful. Fresh, juicy, orange wax, robust and exciting. This time I also get fresh blood, cut grass and honeydew melon. After sipping, the nose has tones of old Islay in it (refreshers, etc.), this is accentuated with water.

Body - Big and tobaccoey with lamb and mint, lots of ozone (yet rich with vanilla custard). Ripe peach with time. Easy drinking and robust peat, it's a Laphroaig that really is richly flavoured, pretty old school.

Finish - Long, black pepper and lots of wood - splints and fence panel. With water, it's riper and more "alien", very nice.

What's not good about it - well… this is not a luxury whisky

What's good about it - but it's a proper drammer. Delicious and structured and hints of great old things to come with digging.

This was a truly delicious whisky, I hope you got your stash of it.  I was trying to be good and didn’t, what an idiot.  We did split a bottle though.

Laphroaig 1999 Warehouse Cask #5175, 60.9% A⊕

Stumbler shared this with me, thanks mate. I tried the other one here and it was one of my favourite whiskies of all time.

souvenirNose - Deep and dark, wet cask and light cereal. Kind of curried, like raisins fried in curry powder - sweet, dusty and bright. Musky too. Good stuff.

Body - Harmonious and peat-cereal led - but I would have called this for an Ardbeg. Not sure why. Front of the tongue is like licking chalk.

Finish - A great sour/tannic/peat finish, good and long and quite grapefruity. Great fun.

What's not good about it - another one from Stumblers mega tour of the distillery, so completely unavailable.

What's good about it - a great, big, balanced and intense Laphroaig. Fruity and fierce on the palate and long and rewarding in the finish. Lush.

Laphroaig 21 years old, for Friends of Laphroaig, 48.4% A⊕+

Caused some upset when this landed at a half bottle for £100 but turns out that’s the same as a full bottle for £200 but you can drink some and keep some.  Wiser people than me did that.

Dec15-Laphroaig21YONose - Ahhh… that's what I want from a Laph. The fresh bandage and fruit combination is so perfect. Peach and mango, parquet floor and an old library. It's like going back to school - coloured inks too. Almost perfect.

Body - The younger side of dusty alien Islay… lots of bitterness too, but that is a component. Refreshers, pear, flat lager, chilli and wood. Quite thin in the mouth, but so bitter and tannic that it really works. It's exactly the kind of divisively amazing Islay that haunts me, and I suspect there is some significantly older Laphroaig in here than 21.

Finish - Very long, a little ashen, lots of old cereal and epic pear. Bitter, bitter cereal at the end, but… after that even more deep, dark toffee and massive oils. Tannic and fabulous.

I'm convinced there's a lot of older whisky in here - but the younger stuff really gives it an edge.

What's not good about it - expensive for sure.  But cheaper than cars.

What's good about it - This is definitely for the friends of Laphroaig. Big, complex, challenging, very Laphroaig and absolutely wonderful. Old Islay rocks, and old Laphroaig rarely disappoints, especially when the distillery blends it.

Laphroaig 32 years old, for friends with lots of money and lots of sense, 46.6% A⊕+

MoM say that this is "exclusively first-fill Oloroso Sherry cask matured" but John Campbell told us at the whisky show that it was "40% 32yo refill oloroso, 10% 35yo first fill oloroso, 50% 34yo bourbon hogsheads. All European oak.". Which is why it's so deeply epic.

laphroaig-32-year-old-whiskyNose - Fresh, tropical (pineapple, mango), very important and slightly sexual (musky and weird, like truffles are, but fruity). A slightly austere sweetshop with bakewell tart (all of it - glacé cherry, soft icing and vanilla pastry) and fireplace ash. Cherry tobacco with water, beautiful.

Body - Warm, ripe, spicy, enormous tobacco, cigars mainly. Like being 20 and king of the world (yet skint) and smoking a cigar. Charred cardboard and burnt wood make this less luxurious and alien than the nose promised but this is still a triumph.

Finish - Long, spicy and ashen, raisin and burnt sugar, liquorice imp and lamp oil right at the end, with refreshers haunting the top of the palate throughout. Fruitier and sexier with water, although much more tannic right at the end.

What's not good about it - Much more robust that you might guess for 32. And you can buy a better whisky at this age, in this region, for less, with the Indies.

What's good about it - But that's in the eye of the beholder and I love that about it. The filthy nose and robust (but confident, delicious and moreish) delivery are a real dramming combo.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A couple of Bunnas

I said at the end of last year that this year I’d finally pay some proper attention to Bunnahabhain.  Well, Springbank got in the way.

Here’s a couple, there’s a backlog coming though

Bunnahabhain 1978, Douglas Lang Directors Cut, 35 yo, 45.2% A⊕⊕

Refill hogshead, cask 10348, 129 bottles.  Some of these Directors Cut bottles are simply sublime.

bunnahabhain-35-year-old-1978-cask-10348-directors-cut-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - Everything you know you want from an old Bunnahabhain, and the reason why I find them some entrancing…deeply sweet and waxy, fresh orange juice with bits in, and old, old wood. Not overwooded at all though, just ripe and perfect - pineapple cubes, mango, crayons and orange blossom. It's beautiful.

Body - Gaah… deeply wonderful. Challenging but luxurious. Orange zest and oak, white flowers and gooseberry. I'm a bit speechless...

Finish - Medium but so oily, mouthfilling wax and fruit. Big tannins at the end… and almost throat blockingly waxed - epic stuff.

What's not good about it - you probably couldn't drink an awful lot of this in one sitting.

What's good about it - Extraordinarily sexy. A beautiful old nose, tropical fruit and wax throughout, intense oils and perfect balance.

Not sure you can follow that, but here goes.

Bunnahabhain, Feis Ile 2015 - Rubha A’ Mhail, 11 years old, 57.4%, A⊕

1200 bottles.

From http://www.abbeywhisky.com/bunnahabhain-rubha-a-mhail-feis-ile-2015-aw01224

Bunnahabhain Rubha a' Mhail was distilled in 2004 and aged in Spanish Manzanilla sherry butts, #550 & #554. Aged for 11 years and bottled for the Feis Ile 2015, Rubha a' Mhail (pronounced rooaval) is named after a modern day Helmsman's tale.

bunnahabhain-11-year-old-rubha-a-mhail-feis-ile-2015-whisky-webNose - Sharp peat and cereal, and some big young notes - dank, almost. But absolutely balanced and correct. Deeper, burnt cereal with time, and a lovely winey note backing it. Good stuff.

Body - Rich, sweet and very full bodied, balanced and intense. Red berries, red wine and tannins all the way.

Finish - Spicy and very sweet, lots of wine - sherry and red wine casks I would have guessed, but Manzanilla it is. A long, intense finish.

What's not good about it - Spikes of immaturity throughout - tasted blind I might have said this is the kind of unbalanced delivery you might get from a single cask.

What's good about it - But that's mitigated by a lot of enjoyment at the many things it does get right - intense and delicious throughout, with great, balanced peat character, lots of red fruit and tannic like a good red wine.

There’s more coming.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Elements of Islay–Peat

The first non-single malt in the Elements range, this is a vatted malt and will be an core part of the range (although I wish they’d put a batch number on it, but I like that kind of thing).  Making good Islay blends appears to be pretty easy, they’re all so good, and this is no exception.  Young Caol Ila is a wonderful thing.

Elements of Islay, Peat, 59.3% A⊕

elem_pea1Nose - Big, bright, mineral peat, sweet and fruity, very blonde with waxed lemon. This is very Big Peat at Christmas, I've read that with other people's reviews but it's undeniable. Coastal, exciting and balanced. Sweeter with water, it's very good.

Body - Fresh, salty and very sweet. Salt and vinegar chipsticks all the way, candied cranberries and chewed orange peel. Chocolate dipped in young, peated Bunnahabhain with water. That rich chocolate note is very good…

Finish - Right into licked deodorant and lipsalve. We're definitely not in Big Peat territory now. Waxy, oily and numbing and slightly tropical. Cigars at the end.

There's something funky in here that turns me on. I think it's a dirty Kilchoman cask. A superb vatted malt, highly recommended.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

SMWS March 2016 Outturn

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. 

20160229_181443Nose - 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

20160229_184410Nose - Intense. Fruitily sweet, definitely jelly! Raw, strawberry jelly cubes, mango juice, breezy, sweet bourbon cask and a touch of gunpowder (dusty, metallic).

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

20160229_185523Nose - 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.

BUY

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

20160229_191013Nose - 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. 

20160229_194150Nose - 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.

BUY

SMWS 48.70, Divas Do Disco!, Balmenach, 13 years old, 62.5% A+

7th March 2002, 198 bottles, first fill bourbon

20160229_194158Nose - 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!

BUY

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

20160229_195511Nose - 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.

BUY

SMWS 50.76, Booze up in a bakery, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 59.1% A⊕

26th January 1990, 150 bottles, refill bourbon

20160229_202024Nose - Gentle, floral toffee and a touch of calvados, slightly musky and very classy. Darren thinks it's typically Craigellachie. Old, polished leather and wood, tomato leaves.

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…

BUY

SMWS 9.104, Lychee Martini, Glen Grant, 27 years old, 55.5% A+

18th April 1988, 504 bottles, refill sherry.  Expectations are sky-high. 

20160229_203414Nose - Sweet but nutty and dry, metallic and herbal with a touch of cocktail onions and cucumber. An absolutely delightful combination of sweet, dry, nutty, grassy flavours. Beautiful.

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

20160229_204718Nose - Darkly sweet with petrol, silly putty and malt vinegar. Ripe mangosteens, bacon crisps, acrylic paint and foam bananas. Seriously odd but quite compelling. Struck match with water.

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).

BUY

SMWS 42.18, Purple relaxation, Ledaig, 9 years old, 59.3% A⊕

5th October 2006, 234 bottles, refill bourbon

20160229_210333Nose - 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.

BUY

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!

20160229_210341Nose - 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!

BUY

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Cadenheads Small Batch Sleeper Hits

As Serge said this morning, these small vattings of two or so casks are often pretty perfect.  The intensity and excitement of single cask but less of the holes or defects.  Here’s a couple that may have slipped under your radar, and one that (thanks to Serge) probably didn’t.

Cadenheads Small Batch, Strathmill 1992, 22 years old, 50.4% A⊕

Bourbon cask. A Diageo malt factory you don't see an awful lot of.

Strathmill 22 SB-cr-400x600Nose - Big, sweet, waxy honey, white flowers with hard oak and granite. There's something about the intensity of the honey sweetness balanced against that structure that makes it really satisfying. Even more floral with water. As is typical for a Cadenheads cask, it's mature but not flabby - vitality and confidence but still with the wood and fruit of age. I wonder if it's the shared warehouse that gives them a common theme…

Body - Fruit, cardboard, toast and honey, tannic but ripe. Like a heavily oaked Sauternes it's the balanced intensity that works. Water detracts though, knocks out the midrange.

Finish - Suddenly this is old beyond its years, soft and wooded, very long and big tannins.

This is a beautiful whisky, exciting and vital but with real maturity.

Cadenheads Small Batch, Glen Elgin 1995, 20 years old, 55.6% A⊕

2 bourbon casks, 474 bottles

Glen Elgin 20 SB 2016-cr-200x300Nose - Bright berries, lacquered with sugar syrup. Red wine cask, candied orange and orange juice. A fantastically sweet, fruity, zesty nose. Behind that, fresh cigar tobacco, magic balloons and Milliput (sets underwater!).

Body - Intensely toffeed, with big warm spice, warm wax and cask, a touch of sulphur and quite winey. So warm… absolutely delicious. Blackberries and honey.

Finish - Medium\long and like eating a crunchy bar. Very dry at the end but with boiled sweets on the tip of the tongue.

Complex, balanced, absolutely delicious and highly recommended. We bought and split a bottle just because it sounded good, and it is.

Cadenheads Small Batch, Tullibardine, 22 years old, 47.3% A+

2 bourbon casks, 528 bottles. This was a sleeper hit until Serge did what he does.

20160301_124401Nose - Sour but classy, it smells expensive but a bit old school. Blueberries in cream, washed down with beer? Actually, that doesn't sound very expensive does it. I want to (and this is starting to become a real badge of honour) drink this out of a cut glass tumbler rather than a Glencairn.

Body - Lemon pith, orange flesh, old cask wax. A touch of cardboard and new magazine. Meatier with water, with very lovely citrus oils.

Finish - A lovely, meaty, waxy feeling to the end on this one. Ripe red apple and cleaning products.

This is austere but very interesting, but also quite delicious.