January’s outturn doesn’t usually include laurel resting or slowing down ever, apparently things don’t get quiet until February at the bar – it seems that whisky enthusiasts aren’t done until Burn’s night!
This is really a very good outturn, a masterclass in young first fill bourbon for quite a lot of it. Selection of really good casks is what the tasting panel is for after all. There’s some mucking about with crazy casks in here as is now to be expected and in the main they work really well too. There’s also a fair few interesting or firsts here including the first Tomatin in 6 years (according to Chris), the first gin cask (finish I think), the first VO finish Arran that I’ve heard of and the first refill Oloroso finished in PX that I’ve heard of. And there is a truly remarkable Glen Grant that I’ll be under starters orders to buy on Friday morning. Other than that my main recommendations are the Dailuaine, the snogfest Glen Moray, the Ardmore and the VO Aultmore.
SMWS G7.12, Girvan, Thumbs up all round, 23 years old, 58.6% A⊕
22nd September 1992, 192 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes hogshead. "After spending 22 years in a refill hogshead it was transferred to a 2nd fill Sauternes hogshead for the remainder of its maturation."
Nose - An extremely promising start to January's whisky schedule, for some reason this reminds me very heavily of being in The Vaults in Leith. It's bright, slightly clarty, and plasticky (like wood glue is), with a really wonderfully balanced, sweet grain backing. And topped out by floral notes - Turkish Delight, strawberry laces. Very woodwork class though, or perhaps it's like having the woodwork done on your windows - sanded wood and gloss paint. With water, slightly more floral, some custard and a better integrated grain and sweetness. After tasting, lots of milk chocolate. Just beautiful.
Body - Intensely, unexpectedly sweet, and quite hot, with refreshers, more strawberry laces and fence panel. Late in the delivery, Hershey's "chocolate" (not quite sweet, slightly fake and woody) and licked perfume. There is a lack of integration between the grain and sweet chocolate malted notes neat but that's fixed with water, which brings stronger tannins and more structure too.
Finish - Long with sweet coffee and chocolate hundreds and thousands (is that what they're called? I'm recalling them round a French bakery cake which is a ball of cream filled meringue covered in them). Spicier with water, and longer too.
A really delicious, interesting drinker, and a good balance between grain (floral, yellow wood) and sweeter notes from the cask and presumably its previous inhabitant. Better with water. The year of the grain continues.
SMWS 85.45, Glen Elgin, The lemon rocket ship, 8 years old, 61.8% A+
25th October 2007, 210 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Lemon fluff, cloudy lemonade, chalky bonbons (that hit me first), smelling a pot of tic tacs but… not all sweetshop. Balanced by a typical earthy sweetness, like melon, like grapefruit juice, or fresh new potatoes. Fresher and waxier with water, more like polos than tic tacs. Young whisky with a nose this confident is so fantastic, fingers crossed.
Body - Sweet, then minty and chalky again, with unlit menthol tobacco and liquorice, charred red chilli and finally grapefruit zest. With water, there's more wax in the profile, which brings together the burnt chilli, sweetshop and fruit.
Finish - The charring continues, unexpectedly, with more fried chillies, burnt candle wax and blackened red pepper skin. Menthol verging on toothpaste at the end.
Quite hard to stop sipping this, particularly with water. Young but confident, vibrant and a little challenging, this is a must have on the bar and an interesting one for home too, if you’re not already overloaded with great, young single cask whisky.
SMWS 11.32, Tomatin, Cirque de Saveur, 8 years old, 61.6% A+
6th June 2008, 252 bottles, first fill bourbon.
Nose - Sweet cereal, chocolate covered marshmallow, dried apricot and very clearly then, magic balloons. Prunes in chocolate? Warming spices (ground ginger, cinnamon, very light clove) in the chocolate. It's another lovely young confident one on the nose, more obviously fruit forward than the Glen Elgin but not quite so interesting or complex. Cleaner and more floral with water, mint and waxy again.
Body - Spicy - hot peppermint - and almost meatily rich and intensely sweet, like Moroccan hot chocolate with clove in it. More balanced and less challenging with water, hard candy shell and Werther’s originals, extremely chewy.
Finish - Deep, very sweet and long and hot, with toast and honey and liquorice root. Long and astringently sweet with water, with mukhwas and refreshers.
Maybe I'm just in the mood for whisky today but hard to stop sipping on this one too. I like the balanced clove notes in here, quite a Moroccan feel to it, but really, really sweet too. As for it being the first Tomatin in a while, this is good and worth having for the novelty of that alone, but this isn’t remarkable otherwise.
SMWS 7.158, Longmorn, All fired up, 11 years old, 61.3% A+'
7th September 2004, 186 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Squeezed orange juice and coffee, brioche toast, fresh flowers and more minty young malt. Quite arboreal though, fresh mossy bark, humus and clean air. Behind this there's the more obvious sweetness, like foam bananas, but it's held in check by that earthy tone - window putty, coffee. I like it.
Body - Rich, complex and enticing. Werther’s originals again, rolling into peppermint creams and dandelion stalks, but that richness is like a café latte and a slice of chocolate cake. More floral, more perfume with water. Retronasal grapefruit pith.
Finish - Long, quite dry and mouth filling, but sweet and chalky - in the same way that extra strong mints chewed are. Lasting, numbing astringency like a mouth full of rolling tobacco.
Really tasty this one, and solid choice for a rich, rolling and interesting young Longmorn for your shelf. Coffee and sweetly rich on the nose, full and balanced on the delivery. Delicious. I'm definitely in the mood for whisky today.
SMWS 41.84, Dailuaine, Laundry lady lets hair down, 11 years old, 60.6% A⊕
4th March 2005, 210 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Rich and classical, blackboards and passionfruit, milk bottle sweets and piña colada. Chalk dust rather than chalky, acrylic rather than gloss paint, neat Vimto. This would appear to be another little cracker.
Body - Fizzing and sharp in the initial arrival, then rich and milky, with gooey chocolate puddings, pain au raisin, orange and mango juice and pineapple sponge pudding. Slightly more sharp and structured with water.
Finish - Long and sweet/sour, with chewed orange peel and pips and caramelised sugar (so, marmalade then).
That sour tone after the initial fizzing/sharp arrival is extremely compelling and it is very hard to stop sipping this indeed.
Highly recommended, another great society Dailuaine.
SMWS 36.113, Benrinnes, Sawmill in a summer meadow, 13 years old, 57.9% A+
23rd April 2003, 234 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Lighter and a lot less exciting than the Dailuaine (the perils of big flights), this is back into chalky bonbon territory with lemon tart, mint Pacers and the ghost of a curly wurly. Actually with time there's more interest - lots of chocolate but also blackcurrant jam, poached pear and something herbal, like old dried oregano. More Mexican chocolate with water, really ripe.
Body - Big chocolate, then strikingly astringent with cigar tobacco, black pepper crisps and dark roasted coffee beans. Much more complete and fruity with water.
Finish - Medium, slightly spicy, fruity and sweet with Haribo, Amarula, black pepper and sawdust. Really gets you in the side of the mouth with sweet, fruity tannins with water.
I think the initial restraint was just a newly opened bottle. This turned into quite a big, fruity dram.
SMWS 35.156, Glen Moray, A sweet and cereal snogfest, 14 years old, 60.2% A+'
2nd November 2001, 186 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Now things are starting to get interesting. This is darker, more toffeed with birthday candles, candied orange slices, New World hop pellets and very old Calvados. I can see why it has snogfest in the title, it smells like teenage girls and cherry lip gloss. And I am remembering that from being a teenager myself, before you think badly of me!
Body - Yikes, another fruit bomb - neat kia-ora but with an odd virgin oak twang. There's quite an insistent seam of that behind the lemon and orange curd - sour and fizzing wood, cigar tobacco and tar, coffee grounds, soft liquorice. Sweet, sour and wood - intense, quite strange but rather good. With water, things crash a little - the sugar is a bit runaway and the integration falls apart. The extra strong mints are back though, as are the hop pellets.
Finish - Sweet but quite intense soft liquorice, lots of wood (not convinced this hasn't had a brief trip through one of the weapons grade VO casks at SMWS). The wax is back at the end, this was either a very strong cask or an interesting combination of casks, you're left with lots of tannins and oils.
I do love society Glen Morays and this is another one that challenges and interests, I might need to get one. A complicated whisky in the same way that young children are sometimes a bit complicated. One for the bar, but you might fall in love with it.
SMWS 35.178, Glen Moray, The dunnage bakehouse, 13 years old, 58.3% A+
13th December 2002, 294 bottles, first fill gin hogshead. That's a first! I can't find any evidence of this being a finish in the notes or literature but I would assume so.
Nose - Initial impression is that this is much younger and hollower than the 156 with hints of virgin oak. Given time though and the expected intense sweetness starts to poke through, and then this has perfume, dried rose petals, sandalwood, kendal mint cake, furniture polish and dried orange and lemon peel. I might be imagining it but those peel notes are a little gin-y. Interesting…
Body - Balanced, floral and intense with more grapefruit peel, stewed tea, sweet pastry and this quite sharp astringency poking me in the back of the throat. I suspect what I'm getting is first fill bourbon Glen Moray with retronasal gin cask. It's more chocolatey with water, more FF bourbon.
Finish - But in the finish that spikiness starts to integrate better - quite a long, interesting finished with chewed flower stalks and lime. More coffee and pastry at the end. Very drying with water.
A confusing whisky, intense and uncompromising whisky and (what I believe is) the gin finish works quite well with the herbal and citrus peel notes balancing that intense sweetness. Definitely have a go on it at the bar, it's not as obvious as you might hope but it does add a certain something.
SMWS 7.160, Longmorn, Ending a perfect day, 23 years old, 55.5% B+
20th April 1993, 204 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Gentle pastry, granite, hints of petrol, Sauternes and sealing wax. Carrot cake with buttercream icing, sweetly ozoned. Good to be back in the land of the subtle - dried earth round a potato, petrichor, snapping green beans and subtle, mature toffee cask.
Body - Sweet but herbal, an odd lack of midrange but with more bloody coffee and fruit tart. There's chocolate now and toast but it is a little… ordinary, like an over-watered whisky or an over-attenuated beer. Slightly better with water, more astringent and confident.
Finish - Very long, with icing sugar, fizzers and vodka. A very refill bourbon barrel.
Poor expectation management perhaps but this is a lacklustre cask.
SMWS 9.114, Glen Grant, Manzana Verde Daiquiri, 23 years old, 50.6% A⊕+
16th November 1992, 138 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Balance in the universe is restored. Classy, complex and fruity on the nose, but waxy and gentle. Toffee apple, candied peel, smouldering apple wood (without the smoke), Cheerios and triple sec.
Body - Wow… apple wax, Mexican hot chocolate, cloves again and licked joss sticks. Strangely alien but absolutely delightful, it's alien in the same way I think of 26yo Bowmore as alien - very sweet but oddly dry and tannic, fizzingly white but deep and weird. Most whisky doesn’t taste like this. More tobacco with water, orange pith and less chocolate.
Finish - Kind of short in the "main" finish, but quite long with repeated sipping and clean yet oily. A little cross channel ferry with neat orange squash. Very zesty at the end.
A remarkable whisky. I don't usually go in for Glen Grant (although I recognise the quality and respect the majority opinion that it's generally awesome) but this I will definitely be picking up.
SMWS 55.43, Royal Brackla, In the share of the fruit tree, 15 years old, 57.6% A⊖
26th September 2000, 192 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes hogshead. No mention of finishes in the notes but again I would assume this was briefly finished in Sauternes after refill bourbon.
Nose - Should have had this before the 23 year olds but I feared a sulphured cask. No hint of that here, but this is a bit of a climb down from the 9. Hot wort, freshly baked sponge cake, then metal rulers, new plastic figures (I've got a he-man in mind for some reason) and just set UHU glue.
Body - Much more interesting in the delivery, a really good intense sweetness, but balanced by sour wood and cigarettes. With time the sweetness becomes a little artificial, striking an unhappy note with the tobacco - an effect that's amplified by water.
Finish - Medium and with more of that lingering sweet but slightly fetid wood - last night's ashtray and whisky and port glasses, butter just turning sour. It really does remind me of diet coke after a while - at times it's vibrant and fruity but sometimes you just really feel the artificial sweetener and that effect is most apparent in the finish.
Hopes were raised briefly on the delivery here but this doesn't stand up to an outturn this good.
SMWS 46.47, Glenlossie, Mexican Breakfast, 14 years old, 59.8% A+
31st May 2002, 600 bottles, 1st fill PX Butt. "After 13 years in an Oloroso sherry butt, we transferred this whisky directly into a 1st fill Pedro Ximenez butt for the remainder of its maturation." - so Oloroso then FF PX, another first (AFAIK?)
Nose - Bright and sweet, not the nutty Oloroso fest I was expecting, although there's definitely an interestingly savoury edge to this, I might venture corn tortillas/masa harina given the name. And now we're auto-suggesting I'd give in to some fresh coriander leaf, avocado and squeezed lime. Forget that for a second - there is sherry cask here, classy society stuff, but it's fleeting and hard to separate the sherries. And I can smell the PX too but how odd for them to combine in such an evocative, savoury way? More tobacco with water, wet charred wood and blackcurrants.
Body - Retronasally arresting, there's the Oloroso but it's having its punches pulled by the PX again. Nutty but fruity, with sherbet dibdab stick, midget gems, wood varnish and bong water.
Finish - Very long and nutty, more avocado and corn tortillas, Mexican rice and cough sweets.
A very strange but exciting whisky. I'm tempted to deploy the A? score again but this isn't as weird as 7.154 in December.
Ordinarily we would be working up to the Laphroaig at the end (perhaps saving room for a young peated bunna at the very end) but this is 21 and I'm not risking my palate on a flight this size with a 66 sulphur risk and two virgin oaks.
SMWS 29.197, Laphroaig, Stairway to your imagination, 21 years old, 58.2% A⊕’
4th April 1995, 186 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Room filling peat. Sweet, medicinal, crushed shells on inhale, fetid and slightly rotten on exhale (you know I mean that kindly). This is pretty old school Laphroaig, a little like you remember (TCP) but more like it really (probably) was (old bandages and fizzing sweets). There's also lemon sherbets, apple sauce, natural firelighters and capers. Waxier and fruitier with water.
Body - Wow.
Really intense and fetid, just need to try that again.
Very sweet, fizzing lemon and refreshers, alien Islay and smoked joss sticks, apple chews and black pepper. Retronasal burning hair and plastic, but it blends well into the sweet old Islay and fruit. The late delivery is all about stewed builder's and raspberry tea. The whole thing is even better with water, it takes the edge off the char and leaves more of the medicinal Laphroaig.
Finish - Very, very long, massively tannic with burnt toast, charred lemon, joss sticks and then orchard fruit and hops. A study in black. Practically Bretted, horsey, funky and charred wood, numbing waxes.
The first sip of this took me about 3 minutes to recover from. The second was a revelation - I'd forgotten what the delivery was like after 3 minutes of that finish. I just love the nose and initial delivery on this, but the finish is enormous, and extremely challenging. The fly in the ointment is the amount of charred wood in here, it detracts from the sweet alien Islay and medicinal qualities that I love. But make no mistake, this is a big, important Laphroaig with some fascinating, waxy, fruity cask tempering big, brutal, medicinal spirit.
SMWS 66.94, Ardmore, Fire-roasted Sweet Potato, 11 years old, 60.2% A⊕
21st June 2005, 150 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - A bright, young peater. Cut lemon, cut pineapple, buttercream icing and ozone, against sweet coastal peat. Blackcurrant glaze perhaps? Hard to follow that Laphroaig but this obviously has balance and a lovely peat character. Warmer with water, musky Chardonnay.
Body - Amazingly this has managed to follow the Laph! A big, sweet, lemony peat hit, with white wine, aspirin, hair gel and fried prawns with lemon zest. Even better with water, funkier and fruitier, refreshers and cheap apple juice.
Finish - Long but slightly bitter and hollow compared to the technicolour delivery, but lime juice and coriander leaf pick things up, I don't want to head back into the Mexican breakfast auto-suggestion-cycle though.
Unexpectedly, deliciously complete as a whisky, and that's as whisky 14 after that colossal Laph. Highly recommended.
I really don't know where to put these Virgin Oak casks. Put them before the peaters and it cuts the flight short (in November and December I kept having to split the flight), but is it fair to have them after the likes of Laphroaig, Caol Ila and Bowmore? Can a 14 year old Aultmore that briefly met a VO cask stand up to a 29 and then a 66? I will do my best.
SMWS 73.80, Aultmore, Trip the light fantastic, 14 years old, 59.3% A+'
4th September 2002, 210 bottles, VO, MT HC. "After spending 13 years in an ex-Bourbon hogshead it spent the remainder of its maturation in a Virgin oak hogshead."
Nose - Sweet, I would have called it refill sherry before the encroaching VO cask. Herbal and waxy, this has handwash, lavender, dried cherries, orange peel and big yellow wood on it. Actually this might be quite interesting…
Body - Unexpected and quite exciting, with massive orange zest, cut oranges, custard and lemon curd. A touch of tobacco with water and… biscuits.
Finish - Very clearly something to do with oranges that I can't quite put my finger on.
It's when you add "zest and juice of one orange" to the Christmas pudding I think. It's that, right to the end.
When these VO finishes work they really do work. An unexpected hit, highly recommended bar and bottle.
Last one. An Arran in VO with a name like that? Good luck kid…
SMWS 121.96, Arran, Afternoon cream tea, 16 years old, 53% A
20th April 2000, 168 bottles, VO, HT MC. "Following 15 years in an ex-Bourbon hogshead this was transferred to a virgin oak hogshead for the remainder of its maturation."
Body - Weird and wonderful. A car crash on the palate at first (jarring wood, fruit and a light funk), that separates into bright orchard fruits, cookie dough, then fly spray, then fresh tobacco, then posh apple juice.
Finish - Surprisingly short, but quite compelling with more of that VO orange and cherry, and stewed tea. There's a burnt pastry note here at the end which is rather attractive.
A transatlantic experience, Arran is struggling to keep its head above water and so it's a bit of a clash but it's worth it. It's more Arran than the Aultmore is Aultmore. One for the bar, again you might fall for it but I would struggle with a bottle.
I think I’ll keep putting the VO finishes at the end, that worked quite well, but it makes for an intense flight! Happy New Year all…