Christmas and Burns night is finally over! This is a really weird outturn, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. No young refill bourbon (that’s not “peated”) at all, no Highland Park, Bowmore, etc., a Tullibardine, loads of finishes (sherry, port, red wine). The list I had only had a Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig on it for peaters but the Laphroaig didn’t make it into the outturn so the 10 is the only smoky one here [EDIT: looks like another 29, that bar only Laphroaig, 29.199 (reviewed here) made it into the outturn in the end].
What’s strange for me personally here is that the best ones on here are the youngest and simplest, there’s some really great young first fill bourbon casks here, my personal picks are the Dailuaine and the Glen Scotia but there’s some others in here which are well worth it. Of the finishes, the Cragganmore is the most fun and honourable metnion goes to the Strathisla for surviving the virgin oak rinse the best. There’s also a fair bit of double finishing in here I suspect, although that’s not mentioned on the label and I have no evidence for it, it just smells and tastes like it to me.
Have you noticed the new logo on some of the bottles here? There’s new SMWS branding – from these new bottles it seems much more modern and clean to me, I really like it. Only half of the bottles here are using the new branding (I think they ran out of “old bottles” and had to use the new bottle design for some of them early). Next month should give us new labels too, so I think this month has a unique run of old labels and new bottles.
SMWS 36.126, Benrinnes, Manly, masculine and medicinal, 10 years old, 60.4% A+
8th November 2006, 216 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Cake at first (this bottle is just opened), then bright cereal, cheap cherry jam and strawberry chews in their paper (there's a slightly odd fruit | cardboard thing going on here). With digging, some interesting earthy notes, chalky bon bons, burnt candle wax and a little pritt stick. Even more waxed fruit with water and a little freshly cut red chilli.
Body - Intense strawberry chews, perhaps red liquorice, lots of wood sugars and fruit (grapefruit zest and freshly squeezed orange juice) and a great waxy heat. Spicier with water, but still delicious.
Finish - Medium, more grapefruit zest, a little Sichuan pepper… sour oils. Longer and hotter with water.
Despite the name, this is as fruity and delicious as I had expected it to be from the distillery number. A bright, fruit driven whisky with lots of interest. A strong start! Recommended.
SMWS 35.157, Glen Moray, Reward for a brass band, 14 years old, 58.2% A
11th December 2001, 228 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Lighter, greener, fresh cut cucumber and flower stalks, with a very enticing sweetness underneath (buttercream icing, a little cough candy and melted vanilla ice cream). That greenness is really lovely. More ordinary with water.
Body - Balanced, dusty sweetness, chalky again and fizzing, with oaked white wine behind it. Sweeter and more one-dimensional with water, but more fruit.
Finish - Quite long and hot, mint imperials towards the end of the finish with a little more Sechuan peppercorns and slightly lactic.
After that fresh and vegetal nose the delivery is a little ordinary. Nevertheless this is a delicious whisky.
SMWS 64.88, Mannochmore, 'Put Through One's Paces', 13 years old, 62.4% A+'
11th June 2003, 210 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Very different… Lowland white fruit but slightly medicinal and chalky, Sudocrem perhaps? Very light and floral with meringue pie and just a little swirl of raspberry sauce. Very "society" with water - intense, fruity and balanced.
Body - Sweet and creamy, more sweetshop fruit notes and building cinnamon. Extremely delicious on repeated sips due to that, with the fruit and cinnamon piling on top of each other. Sweeter and fruitier with water, absolutely delicious.
Finish - Long with lots of warming spice. Wood tannins dominate towards the end.
This is secretly a highly structured whisky with spice, wood and menthol balancing out the young first fill bourbon, and it works really well. A lovely fruit and wax drammer. It's hard to stop drinking this and pace for the rest of the flight!
SMWS 41.92, Dailuaine, A hedonistic experience, 13 years old, 61% A⊕
14th August 2003, 180 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Sweet of course, but sharply sour/acrylic with wood glue, cherry boiled sweets and a little gastrique. That doesn't quite do the warm cask musk justice, which underpins the whole experience. It's sweet but complex. Fruitier with water, freshly cut Seville orange.
Body - Even better than I'd hoped on the delivery, one of those first sips that stops you writing. Warm, sweetly waxed, then buttercream then a complicated, slightly spicy wood and fruit development. Musky fruit (old orange, tobacco) and then orange juice. Slightly spicy with water.
Finish - Long and tannic, burnt candle wicks at the back of the throat and lots of oils on the tongue. Twisted, flamed orange peel with water at the end.
Another fantastic society Dailuaine, quite complex with meaty notes and lots of orange, highly recommended.
SMWS 48.86, Balmenach, Floralicious!, 13 years old, 59.2% A
25th November 2002, 222 bottles, first fill bourbon
Body - Arrestingly malty with more of that sour cask maturity, rich and oily in the same way that werthers originals are. Rich and rolling with flecks of cigar tobacco. Chewy. Unbalanced with water.
Finish - I've been hunting for flowers and the end has dandelion stalks? Pacers and aniseed at the end. A surprise hint of marzipan with water.
A delicious whisky that's outshone by its peers.
SMWS 46.50, Glenlossie, A sweet thrill in the sawmill, 23 years old, 54.2% A+
16th November 1992, 288 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Light compared to the first fillers, so strange to wait so long for refill bourbon! Need to readjust before the virgin oak lands… recently dried paint on hot radiator, ripe peaches on a hot afternoon, rhubarb and custard boiled sweets and orange jelly with cream. Custard powder.
Body - Intense and fruity, with a lovely clean, hot cereal delivery and a vague feeling of red wine cask behind gentle pastry. Water makes it slightly muskier with banana Nesquik in the nose.
Finish - Very long with mouthcoating oils, lemon waxes, banana milkshake and honey. Roasted lemons shells near the end.
Took its time but the gentle intensity, balance and weird fruit choices really work here. Reminds me of a tasting in a dunnage warehouse.
SMWS 7.143, Longmorn, Boiled sweets and brandy butter, 23 years old, 53.7% A+'
4th May 1993, 258 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Approach this carefully and you definitely get boiled sweets and butter, there's complex malt cask there too with white chocolate and summer time drinks (cold, bits of apple and orange in them) and now I've suggested it, a hint of suntan cream as well. More white chocolate with water, restrained but very tasty
Body - Interestingly mineral, with melon, citrus zest, candy cigarettes and cooled wort. Quite young feeling, but lovely with it, like a very expensive white tequila. Water brings cigar smoke and toast.
Finish - Long and floral, with fizzers and white flower petals but this strangely compelling light, peppery malt that really works. More echoes of smoke with water.
One of those very refill casks that is unexpectedly rewarding and just goes to show the quality of the distillery. Delicious, but very restrained. One for the bar and take your time.
SMWS 73.81, Aultmore, Dark chocolate destiny, 14 years old, 59.8% A-
23rd September 2002, 606 bottles, refill sherry butt
Nose - Immediately it's a school hall. That dusty parquet with a full millimetre of chipped floor wax polished into it. There's a big hit of virgin oak in here too, a failed VO experiment moved through sherry to compensate? Brown sugar, roast beef and cherry wood chunks, thick skinned lemons and cherry chocolate brownies. And coffee. It's a lot sweeter after sipping, more boiled sweets.
Body - Hard oak, red wine, fresh bay leaves and more of that thick lemon zest. Thick and oily with water, like a society bourbon (like the virgin oak), and very sweet.
Finish - Medium, cold and sweet, lemon ice lollies perhaps. Coffee and cream in the finish with water.
Well, I do like this but it is not remotely refill sherry and it’s very virgin oak. Leaving that to one side, the intense sweetness and cherry works well with the lemon and it's very well integrated. Definitely one for the bar, but leave it until the end.
SMWS 5.53, Auchentoshan, Exotic fruits and Eastern spice, 16 years old, 60.1% B+
11th October 2000, 228 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes (previously ex-bourbon)
Nose - The immediate perfume and floral notes, with intense musk, vanilla funk and white fruit that I adore in society Auchentoshan. Step back and there's gunpowder, melon flavoured perfume and cold earth. Orange squash with water.
Body - Yikes… incredibly effervescent, almost medicinally, electrically so, this needs water. Still very acidic with water, really hiding that fruit and funk in the delivery which I can tell is there but my tongue is being burnt! Adding lots of water helps more though, but there is a charred character to this that doesn't work with the spirit.
Finish - White, floral funk, spicy wood, chewed Sichuan peppercorns and coffee beans. In the end the lowland character starts to reassert but the tannins and acid are giving it a hard time. Even cloves at the very end.
A lovely nose on this but the delivery is too crushing. Brutal oak and spices, and too much acid.
SMWS 9.116, Glen Grant, Boozy fruit trifle, 20 years old, 61% A-
23rd April 1996, 234 bottles, first fill port barrique (previously ex-bourbon). A beautiful burnt rose colour on this one.
Nose - Sweet, ripe and fudgy on the nose, with almond filled dates, marzipan and royal icing, and fresh rose petals. Caramelised blood orange slices. Petrichor. Red wine with water, like a glass from last night, and last night's cigarettes too.
Body - Sharp and hot, but a really ripe, fudgy nuttiness underneath. Almost meaty, with struck match, crunchy roast potatoes and duck with red wine sauce (a note that Yves tells me I will be experiencing in the 37 in two bottles' time).
Finish - Red apple, fruit toffees, sherbet dibdabs. Spicy and numbing with water. Sweet toffee and fruit lingers long after the wine has subsided.
Quite a hard feel to this port finished Glen Grant (and it's not a young one either). The wine works well, love the nuttiness, red wine and meatiness with water, but I wish it was more luxurious.
SMWS 39.139, Linkwood, A most luscious remedy, 20 years old, 58.2% B+
1st July 1996, 588 bottles, first fill PX butt (previously oloroso sherry butt)
Nose - This one's meaty too, with pan fried steaks deglazed with red wine and sugar puffs (separately, I don't think you should deglaze a pan with sugar puffs). Rosemary, hot chocolate and burnt toast with nutella, the chocolate particularly with water.
Body - Another zesty one with that youthful cereal spice on top, the sherry influence is very faint here - its more white wine than sherry and has sherbet lemons, kumquats and shower gel (some radox herbal thing, I'm no expert here). Better sherry with water, less zest.
Finish - Surprisingly perfumed in the finish, more of the cask with water and a light petrolic funk at the end.
Tasty but doesn't hang together (lacks integration, clashing bright spirit and not assertive enough sherry).
SMWS 37.87, Cragganmore, Puff Pastry Plum Tarts, 13 years old, 58.8% A
5th November 2003, 264 bottles, first fill red wine hogshead (previously ex-bourbon)
Nose - Puff pastry yes, but I'd say pear and chocolate, with espresso and a cigarette on the side. Chocolate covered toffee wafers, red wine, fried caraway and poster paints. Very deep and rich. Less interesting with water, more cereal than red wine driven.
Body - Deep, rich and hot, with liquorice, bidis and old flaked paint. Slight chocolate and clove, red wine reduction and coffee. Orchard fruits and dried mango. I felt a hint of virgin oak at first here too but I must be imagining it. Delicious though, and better with water - spice and a touch of funk.
Finish - Long and fiery, fruit and nut bar with soapy red wine. Weirdly Highland Park-y with water. I think my palate is confused.
This is undeniably delicious to drink, fruit and tannic red wine cask working well together. This would be popular at a party.
SMWS 28.32, Tullibardine, Solar Eclipse, 8 years old, 60.3% B+
20th May 2008, 564 bottles, first fill Oloroso butt (no finish mentioned)
Body - Again balanced, between light lemon and orchard fruit, and deep chocolate and raisin. There's a belt of sulphur in there to wake you up (particularly retronasally) - it's only just into cabbages, tolerably so for me, but as you know that depends on your DNA, so YMMV. This feels more red wine cask than the 37 for me.
Finish - Medium with icing sugar, ice pops and apple.
Ripe, dirty, tarry. Not particularly complex but drammable, one for the bar (but late on due to the sulphur).
SMWS 93.71, Glen Scotia, Nautical but nice, 9 years old, 59% A+'
15th December 2006, 228 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Perfumed, glazed, bright. Why am I tasting young refill bourbon now! The spirit is good though, real depth of sweetness and that cold, coastal quality, mixed with the intensely sweet spirit of Campbeltown. Waxy and chalky too, with potatoes and Indian pastries, but some real quality in that cask. A lovely nose. Better with water, the terroir shines though. I cannot detect any peat.
Body - A considered arrival, although not pulling punches with the spirit. Incredible wax and fruit for 9, oils on the tip of the tongue with mango and banana milkshake behind that. Absolutely delicious with water, milk chocolate and mini milks.
Finish - Quite long with the floral, fruit funk I wanted in the Auchentoshan! Rich toffee, mango squash at the end and a compelling hint of perfume and radiator.
A properly delicious, unpeated Glen Scotia.
SMWS 10.107, Bunnahabhain, Summer-time at the beach, 10 years old, 61.2% A+
6th October 2006, 168 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Gentle for the 10 year old peater (and this is the only peat today!). Slightly musky, very faintly waxy and lightly minty, with sponge cake and buttercream. Imagine a green iced cake that hasn't had enough mint essence in it to properly taste of mint.
Body - Forgetting (as I am bound to by the numbering code of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and by John McCheyne) that this is a peated Bunnahabhain, this is a properly lovely arrival - soft, warm and well-oiled with oranges in the juicer and a touch of liquorice.
Finish - Black pepper and Seville orange zest, cheap orange juice and fags. Of course the peat is raging somewhere underneath this but that's filtered out/structural.
A toothsome, young and honest whisky that's well worth it, bar and bottle. The peat is pretty forceful with intense scrutiny - it sneaks up on you - but before that it's all very gentle.
SMWS G1.15, North British, Could pacify a mob, 25 years old, 63.9% B
12th September 1991, 486 bottles, virgin oak butt HTMC, "previously in an oloroso butt" and presumably before then in refill bourbon, although it doesn't say. Should be fun! Great name.
Nose - Distinct styles in here, with the virgin oak and grain standing out and taking time to come together. Unexpected but welcome waxes, Sauternes, apples and slightly herbal with it. Tobacco with water. The nose is disorganised but good.
Body - Again, that cocktail of grain and virgin oak, it clashes more on the palate than the nose. Tobacco and hard wood, black pepper and caster sugar. The virgin oak makes the grain feel younger I think. With repeated sips it all becomes a bit menthol. Virgin oak is palate destroying stuff though.
Finish - Medium to short, with muscovado sugar and espresso. That bitter wood from the grain hangs around at the end, green apple skins finishes the finish.
This is interesting, and quite tasty but all over the shop as a whisky. This is the kind of thing I am expecting BrewDog to come up with.
SMWS 58.19, Strathisla, Fruity, sticky, yummy, 10 years old, 57.7% A+
30th March 2006, 270 bottles, virgin oak HTMC. No finish mentioned, presumably it is previously refill bourbon.
Body - Mercifully gentle, great sweetness (perhaps this is previously first fill bourbon?) with chocolate spread on toast, panna cotta and strawberry compote. Even better with water, a properly delicious whisky - the virgin oak is a passenger here to the bourbon cask.
Finish - Medium, with white wine and Vimto. Toast and black pepper.
I feared the virgin oak cask with this one but needn't have. We're all finding our way! A delicious, sweet, balanced whisky, and shouldn't have been the last.