Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Highland Park Valkyrie and friends

So relaxing to taste a blended single malt, an OB aimed at a profile!  Of course I love the single caskers but… nice to be on the receiving end of Max McFarlane’s lifetime of blending skills for a change.

Then a couple of oddities to balance it back out, both Cadenhead’s HPs that you can’t buy.  The first from the warehouse tour at the festival, the second from the Cadenhead’s cage in the Edinburgh shop.

Highland Park Valkyrie, 45.9% A+

highland-park-valkyrie-whiskyNose - Rich, quite dark, quite red-wine cask, good waxes. It's been so long since I had an official HP I couldn't remember the profile. I get the window putty I'm used to in mature refill bourbon indies, but there's some good wine and sherry casking in here spicing things up too. It's all balanced quite nicely with cakey, wood vanilla.

Body - Bitter cigarette tar, sweet cigar tobacco, fizzing sweetness, more sherry and a bright, young bourbon cask. Chewy and mouthfilling, lemon sherbets and earth.

Finish - Medium short but reasonably flawless, ends in young, bitter peat but none the worse for it.

A tasty HP in the classic style, young NAS stuff but I wouldn't judge it any differently if it had 3 years old written on the label.

Highland Park 1988, 29 years old, Cadenhead's Warehouse Tour, 51.5% A⊕

IMG_2603Nose - Deep but gentle, fruit and putty. Freshly squeezed orange juice, ozone and hand soap, freshly laundered towels. Very clean with just a hint of peat. It's the putty and wax that makes HP so special though, seasoned with peat and full of fruit.

Body - Pritt stick, big old Scotch, then a spike of pepper and peat and then fence panels. And bunsen burners.

Finish - Oranges, Sichuan peppercorns, iron filings and toffee pennies. Very tannic at the end, bitter peat.

The usual rollercoaster of flavours from an old Highland Park, and another fantastic cask here. This is a fascinating whisky, one to take time over. It's a little too heavily peated in the finish but the nose is joyful.

Highland Park 22 years old, Cadenhead's Manager's Cask (Edinburgh cage sample), sherry butt, 59.6% A+

Thanks to whisky rover for splitting his bottle of this.

HPCageNose - Ha… this is so orangey I'm thinking it's virgin oak! Maybe it's a recharred sherry butt. It's really fresh and zesty, but very spirity and toppy, makes me think of wasabi on sushi rice. Much better with water, some of that wax I was expecting, more fruit. Could go either way.

Body - What a strange HP, it's hot and woody and quite American. Fried panko, toast and honey. Again, better with water, there's a little petrol and a slightly otherworldly sweetness and fruit to it.

Finish - Long, hot and back with the orange zest, very drying and a lick of sulphur. The finish really makes you come back for more.

A weird nose, a weak delivery and a very compelling finish. Strange stuff, not that it matters, who knows what happened to the rest of this cask! I probably ended up loving it after it took a trip through a red wine cask. A good, fun oddity for 20cl.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

SMWS August 2017 outturn 2/2

The balance of the drams I can get my hands on from August.  I’m missing a few from this very large outturn – 3.302, 64.82, C3.2 and R8.3.  There’s a R9.2 somewhere too, not sure about that.  Anyway there’s so much here I’m not complaining about missing a few. 

Thanks to Chris for taking all these bottle shots!

SMWS 54.50, Aberlour, Expensive perfume on a fruity tart, 10 years old, 60.4% A+

21st April 2001, 197 bottles, refill bourbon

image001Nose - Light, fresh and clean. Nothing overdone, more mineral and wax than fruit, although there is a sweetened, chalky sweetshop note to this. Chewy meringues, a little acrylic paint, and a slightly sour berry feel. More floral with water, there's the perfume, and there's a more pronounced, creamy, almost lowland musky fruit.

Body - Really creamy in the delivery, rich and full of vanilla, and so much oil. Slightly floral, a little milk tart, a little spirity. Much improved with quite a lot of water, there's a zesty fruit - orange zest and cooking apple flesh.

Finish - Slightly hot and biscuity in the end, perhaps a French baked tart. Quite short though, with clean woods at the end.

A tired cask has, over a short period of time, had just a small, steadying hand on some excellent spirit here. This is a fresh and delicious drammer, bar and bottle.


SMWS 48.91, Balmenach, Sweet, juicy and perfumed, 10 years old, 60% A

28th February 2007, 145 bottles, refill bourbon

image002Nose - Slightly plainer, more one dimensional than the Aberlour, this has less wax and more fruit, but a very full sweetness, a much fresher cask. Marker pen, artificial strawberry and cut cherries.

Body - Very ripe and mouth filling, with fruit salad chews and twists of lemon peel. More bitter with water, balsa wood and I'm sure there's a lick of smoke in there.

Finish - Long and fruity, good structure from the cask and lots of sweetshop. Bitter at the end. Tannic with water.

In contrast, another excellent young spirit in a much fresher cask, this drinks like a first fill. Tasty stuff for the bar, but these young fresh casks are tiring for a bottle.

SMWS 36.133, Benrinnes, An irresistible experience, 19 years old, 55.2% A-

15th August 1997, 171 bottles, refill bourbon

image003Nose - Very gentle. Slightly stale milk chocolate (an old chocolate digestive) and a deep, understated sweetness, like smelling a cold wham bar. There's some mint in here too, and a little sauna wood. Fruitier and more complex with water, a touch of old cigarette tobacco.

Body - Biscuity, perfumed, very gentle, a very refill cask here again. Crunchy green apple and biscuity malt, and then a very fresh and vibrant squeeze of ripe orange, quite lip smacking.

Finish - Quite new makey - that malty twang - although that's not a flaw here. Short and citrussy, slightly spicy (chilli heat) and perhaps a little too sweet at the end.

An interesting experience, there's something really special in the nose but in the round this doesn't have the vitality of the Aberlour or the intensity of the Balmenach.

SMWS 64.93, Mannochmore, Tutti frutti spiced cream, 12 years old, 57% B+

26th May 2004, 227 bottles, first fill bourbon

image004Nose - Clean and white again, creamy but barely there. Vanilla cream, a little peach perhaps, roasted plums? More interesting with time, there's a slightly deeper sourness in here, some paint.

Body - As suspected, this has ice cream plus a gentle but jarring bitterness. Some lip gloss, even some pork crackling… it's growing on me. Richer with water, but still very white.

Finish - Short and biscuity, apple pips and pear skin. Unfermented wort.

Too pale, too ordinary. Not flawed, just not that exciting.

SMWS 96.11, Glendronach, Frisky fun, 10 years old, 57.6% A

8th June 2006, 210 bottles, refill bourbon

image005Nose - A confident citrus nose here, freshly squeezed orange juice, orange zest and a lovely clean spirit. Behind this, well balanced sweetness and lots of waxed wood, almost beeswax. Reminds me a little of apricot jam.

Body - Rich but fizzing in the sinuses. Clean, ripe orange again. Rich and delicious with water, with a slightly hot edge that detracts a little.

Finish - Young and zesty, quite long for it though with chewed orange peel and caraway seeds. Wood glue with water.

This is delicious and compelling, if a little simple.

SMWS 9.125, Glen Grant, Strolling in paradise, 13 years old, 60.9% A+

17th June 2003, 220 bottles, first fill bourbon

image006Nose - Peach and baked plums with raisins. A little petrol, some warm candle wax and fruity cask. Very professional. Slightly medicinal with water, a little younger feeling.

Body - Harder than I was expecting, big fruit and toffee but fizzing hardwoods and white grapes. Unchanged by water, you might as well add some as you get more whisky.

Finish - Quite long with intense, sweet woods. A balancing hand with grapefruit zest and icing sugar.

This is a sociable whisky. Delicious, robust, balanced but a real drammer.


SMWS 4.233, Highland Park, Asian-style barbecue, 11 years old, 64.2% A-

31st January 2006, 234 bottles, refill bourbon

image007Nose - Initial feeling is that this is a little young, a little hollow. The smoke here is uncharacteristically charred, but there's more depth in time. Cherry lip salve (quite faint), Pritt Stick and Marlboro.

Body - There's an incredible sense of Asian-style BBQ here! Very distinct sesame and hoisin sauced pork ribs. Bitterly peated, rich, malty tannins. A brown, rich, malty delivery, extremely umami and satisfying to sip.

Finish - Medium, a little bandage. Tannic and drying, like chewing a paper towel. Sichuan peppercorns at the end. Actually, then some berries.

Well… this is actually really compelling but it does so much so wrong I wouldn't want to have to work through a bottle. Definitely worth a dram at the bar though, probably an evening ender. Mind you, I haven't got to the paint stripper yet.

SMWS 41.94, Dailuaine, A small glass of happiness, 12 years old, 57.3% A⊕

25th August 2004, 216 bottles, virgin oak hogshead HTMC

image008Nose - I misrepresented, it's not paint stripper. Sweet as anything though, and as expected, hard oak and berries. Quite fresh orange zest (Christmassy here) with glacé cherries and Pimms.

Body - It's the full Christmas pudding actually, the raw batter as you set it aside for its overnight tempering before steaming. Full of oranges, and very warm and rounded - lots of VO character but no harshness. Absolutely delicious.

Finish - Medium and citrussy, like the finish from chewing on a sliver of orange zest. Rich cereal. Even more integrated with water.

Really delicious, but these casks just do my head in. VO is the great leveller, reducing all distilleries to the same "thing", even if that thing is unpredictable. I'm beginning to see why SMWS release so many of them.


SMWS 44.84, Craigellachie, Smooth edges, 13 years old, 56.6% A+'

27th June 2003, 221 bottles, virgin oak hogshead HTMC

image009Nose - Some sulphur in here immediately, this presumably spent some time in a sherry cask before the VO. Works well too, this is dried fruit - raisins and fig rolls - plus coffee and toast with marmalade. There's a really compelling richness here. Even better with water, more fruit. More damn oranges, and recently oiled, sanded oak.

Body - Hot, rich cereal, burnt fruit and chilli chocolate. Sherry or VO? This is on a knife edge. Thick cut marmalade, toothsome slices of peel. Rich fruit, toast and sulphur with water, and some clay.

Finish - Medium to short but that red chilli, black pepper and deeply sweet fruit is pretty exciting.

This is also really good. Damnit. Dirty though.


Friday, 4 August 2017

SMWS August 2017 outturn 1/2

IMG_2632This month sees the launch of SMWS’s “other” spirits range, including a gin (why!  Actually this first one has spent half a year in a cask), plus cognac and rum.  Of course they had released cognac and rum before (the rum output certainly predates my time in the society), and bourbon and rye whisky, and Japanese and grain whisky for that matter, but the new branding and focus shows intent to focus on these non-whisky spirits a little bit more. 

Some old timers/reactionaries are probably already so dismayed by the multitude of short finishes and crazy casking that this split focus will be seen as final proof that the society has completely lost its way.  Personally I was ambivalent until I tasted them – now I’m quite excited.  The cognacs and rums in this outturn have haunted me ever since trying them, I can’t wait to have more.


It is slightly ironic that I no longer expect unadulterated Scotch whisky from SMWS but I do now expect great, pure cognacs and rums. And that I will finally be forced to learn something about these spirits by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society


IMG_2631Fortunately they were good enough to provide us with a crib sheet for what the hell cognac actually is, which I will summarise for you here:

  • Distilled wine, primarily made with Ugni Blanc grapes, matured in oak casks
  • All cognac is brandy (distilled fermented fruit juice), but only brandy from the Cognac region of France is called cognac, and brandy from the Armagnac region of Gascony is called armagnac.
  • XO on bottle means at least 10 years old but you can’t say exactly how old (C3.1 was over 30).  There is a lot of funny business with the ages.
  • The appellations are given as regions within Cognac, France, with the central region called “Grande Champagne” which is where all the cognacs in this outturn are from

Finally, this is 1 of 2 for the August outturn because the majority of the whisky wasn’t available when I went to try these, but they have come into the bars now.  Some of the missing ones from July (G15.1 and 66.104) never made it to the bar at all! 

Unfortunately two of the best spirits in this outturn aren’t freely available – R6.1 is only available at the bar and R7.2 as part of a trio (with the gin and C4.1, which to be fair is quite a compelling proposition).  R8.3 wasn’t available to try and is advertised with a three week wait if you buy it now, more labelling difficulties no doubt.


SMWS GN1.1, The Glasgow Distillery, Glasgow, Gee-Whiz, 50.1%

2nd fill bourbon barrel (6 months)

IMG_2615Nose - Sweet, very zesty and quite mineral, but with some depth - like a cross between limoncello and a hot toddy. Very definitely lemon sherbets. There's a noticeable wood influence in here, maybe it's in the macerated herbs and barks and stuff, maybe it's from the cask. Lip salve with water, maybe a little clove (and juniper, of course).

Body - Quite dry and oily, still with that deep seam of lemon sherbets (for all I know they actually put lemon sherbets in the neutral grain spirit before rectifying it). A little spicy near the end of the arrival. More obviously juniper with water, and over sweetened. Are they allowed to actually put a load of sugar in gin?

Finish - Long with dusty lemons and lots of sugar, fizzing with lemon at the end.

I actually quite like this. A lot better neat though so I wonder how it'd perform in the (already very sugary) tonic.

I'm not going to recommend gin to anyone but that doesn't mean you shouldn't BUY it.

SMWS 11.34, Tomatin, Magical mystery, 16 years old, 53.9% A⊖

9th October 2000, 179 bottles, 1st fill Spanish PX hogshead (previously in an Oloroso butt).

IMG_2616Nose - Warming but restrained, faint fruit and nut bar in a lacquered wooden box, some ghostly but quite rich PX in here - lovely integration, like a 20 year old PX Glendronach. Which is impressive if, as I assume, this is just a brief finish after a short spell in the Oloroso butt. There is a definite butyric note here but it turns into refreshers and cigarettes with time. Slightly herbal (cut hedges) and zestier with water (maybe I'm just still tasting the gin though).

Body - Rich and sweet, coffee and oranges. Quite hot and one dimensional but not the worse for it. A lick of sulphur adds seasoning. Simpler with water, but slightly more floral and waxy.

Finish - Quite short with good orange oils and toffee pennies. Quite hot at the end, with faint waxes. Red chilli with water, eventually cinnamon hot.

Good sherry bomb nose on this (good and restrained sherry, but intense character), but the chilli heat, sulphur and butyric notes ultimately don't add up here.

SMWS 73.86, Aultmore, Work of art, 14 years old, 59.2% C+

23rd September 2002, 580 bottles, refill sherry butt

IMG_2617Nose - Now we're talking; fresh and floral, but also old furniture and tropical fruit (tinned pineapple and peach). There's a light cheese note that makes me think of older society bottlings, but also a more recent bright, sour virgin oak note. Even better with water (a touch more mineral), although the virgin oak comes through a little more.

Body - Oh dear, hard and yellow, tannic oak and licked joss sticks, mouth tarring wood oils. It burns the side of the tongue with lemon oils and oak planks. Much improved with rather a lot of water, some toffee and fruit salad chews. My mouth is on fire though.

Finish - Long and bitter, lots of wood.

A bitter, harsh virgin oak experiment hiding in a sherry cask. But with a lovely nose. A little bit alarming.

SMWS 93.77, Glen Scotia, A classic rally, 9 years old, 58.8% A+

29th February 2008, 225 bottles, first fill bourbon

IMG_2618Nose - Heavenly, please let this work on the delivery! That Campbeltown light, coastal peat, with well balanced sweetness and that slightly fetid but enticing character that Campbelltown's doppelganger distillery can have (when it's getting it right). This is hot and dusty, with refreshers, old bandages and very old bibles. Ground cloves and asafoetida, and a tasting on the distillery tour.

Body - Perfect (I should try not to gush too much, it's perhaps to do with what came before) - the sweets, coastal funk and clear plastic book covers are perfect. There's something here I'm struggling to put my finger on, it might be goldfish flakes/food?

Finish - Dirty water. But I like it. Liquorice and chilli chocolate. Lots of cloves with water. Chlorine at the end.

Big fan of this, although it is pretty challenging in the round. A big, dirty slug of first fill bourbon Campbeltown.



SMWS 10.118, Bunnahabhain, Enthralling pink and peat intensity, 10 years old, 60.6% A⊕

IMG_26241st December 2006, 257 bottles, 1st fill port barrique (previously ex-bourbon). A beautiful rose colour to this.

Nose - Rich, bright, floral and intensely peated, the port cask has done to this Bunna what those bruising sherry cask Laphroaigs had (on the nose at least). IMG_2622Fizzing, slightly nutty, medicinal and alluring. Fingers crossed.

Body - Very sweet, slightly dirty, a definitive port presence with waves of fruit and peat, and drying, nutty wine cask. Peppercorns (let's say they're pink just to go with the flow) and TCP.

Finish - Long and elegantly fruited against the bandages and Germolene. Fizzers and nuts at the end…and then more TCP.

An inspired finish, very well executed. Highly recommended.


SMWS 29.223, Laphroaig, Relax, refresh, rejuvenate, 17 years old, 58.3% A+

1st July 1999, 228 bottles, refill bourbon

IMG_2623Nose - Very gentle after the 10, restrained sweetness, light wax and wood glue, with ripe peach, grilled pineapple and cut mango. Obviously more mature than the Bunnahabhain. Dirtier with water, more cigars, more wood glue.

Body - Dusty with a robust bitterness and a very deep sweetness (like neat orange barley squash). Moist cigar tobacco and Seville oranges. Oilier with water.

Finish - Long and intense, waves of medicinal peat, cut oak staves and orange zest, very juicy, very first fill.

A classy nose and a crushing delivery.



Here’s the cognacs. These are all XO which means over 10 years old but some of these are clearly a lot older.

SMWS C5.1, A tapestry of flavours, XO, 44.9% A⊕+

Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 483 bottles, Cognac Barrel

IMG_2627Nose - Elegant, balanced sweetness but this is a really lovely sweet old cask. Apple chews and acrylic varnish, strawberry laces and liquorice allsorts. I’m struggling to place the wax; emergency power cut candles I think (perhaps crayons, but it might be the old drawer with its fuse wire I'm really thinking of).

Body - Again great restraint with the sugar, off dry I'd say. It really does have a tapestry of flavours (although I would have gone with "mosaic"), this has balanced sugar, wax, mineral, tannins, wood and herbal notes.

Finish - Short with spiky courgette off the plant, and its flowers (yes, really). That herbal, green against the rich wood and fruit is really compelling, I can't stop sipping this.

Highly recommended.


SMWS C5.2, Herby goes bananas, XO, 47.1% A+'

Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 478 bottles, Cognac Barrel

IMG_2628Nose - Much more herbal, not quite so perfectly poised as the .1. Cut dandelion stalks, cut hedge, then banana cake with walnuts and a milky instant coffee, and some American chocolate. But there's that bright, alien sweetness that you get in French spirit.

Body - Much more obviously a Cognac, this is again showing some of that elegant restraint the .1 had. Toffee, vanilla sponge cake and a watery rum drizzle. Apple wood chunks and cheap apple juice.

Finish - Short and herbal again, with UHU glue and a touch of rich funk, apple pips.

Another excellent spirit but eclipsed by the sheer elegance of the C5.1


SMWS C3.2, Strolling through bliss, XO, 60.9% A+

Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 554 bottles, Cognac Barrel

IMG_2629Nose - It smells younger, but looks a lot darker. Light fruit, acrylic paint, dried hibiscus flowers and crushed rocks. This is like one of those honest, light whiskies, with a really clean fresh wood character that are really rewarding to drink (I hope). Richer and fruity wood, but dustier with water. It has the dusty smell of a freshly opened packet of dried chillies with time.

Body - Very different to the C5s (I'm assuming Cognac distilleries have a distinctive character, or maybe it all comes from the soil and elevation, into the grapes). Sweet, rich and oily with a dusty, zesty toppy citric delivery. I think it needs water. Water does bring out more fruit and more "Cognac" but also tomato leaves and green olives.

Finish - Hot and short neat. More wood glue with water, still very hot. A developing fruitiness with lots more water.

This is the first time I've tried two different Cognac distilleries side by side and I definitely prefer the character of C5, whatever it is. But this is a rather lovely drinker in its own right, and a particularly good nose.


SMWS C4.1, A tantalising tightrope, XO, 57.5% A-

Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 478 bottles, Cognac Barrel

IMG_2630Nose - Sweeter, a little more wine led with Asian notes (ginger, fried rice), pear drops, lemon sherbets and Sudocrem. It took me ages to dig this one out because it's been more than a decade since I've thought of it, let alone tasted it I think but: Bhel Puri. Waxier and fruitier with water, almost malty (? Go figure).

Body - A lot more glue led than the others, brighter (almost overripe) apples too. Vanilla and wax, then lots of red chilli - a flaw here. There's more of that tamarind and popped rice with water.

Finish - Hot, tannic, burning but intensely sweet. Much more balanced with water and time

A great nose but a really delicious delivery under a flaw. That Asian feel, the slight funk and sourness, is really compelling. I'm torn in the scoring but I have to acknowledge the flaw.


Now the rums.  I’d been warned to leave these until last and I was thinking about the old R5.2 or whatever it was, 80% ABV.  These are a lot gentler than that was (I still have the heel of a bottle of that somewhere).


SMWS R6.1, Barbados, Spice at the races, 14 years old, 57.3% A⊕

31st October 2002, 210 bottles, refill barrel.  BAR ONLY.

IMG_2636Nose - Clean, ripe fruit first off, well casked and balanced, this could easily be a whisky. Then the rum, there's something deeply wrong about rum in a whisky context. Overripe fruit, flowers on the turn, love hearts, I don't have the muscle memory for these smells…. It reminds me of being a mucky child with a bag of sweets and squeezable bubble gum in a tube (yikes). But it is very, very Scotchy. More medicinal, waxy cask with water. I'm really hopeful…

Body - Plastic, leatherette and very definitely that squeezable tube of filthy bubble gum. It's really rich, fruity and plasticky. Like the Star Trek replicator's first attempt at generating a glass of Scotch whisky.

Finish – Oily, with worn leather and horse blanket. Dirty fruit, cheap sweets and I've only just noticed how spicy and tannic it is.

So much fruit in the nose, so much mucky fun in the delivery. A big hit.


SMWS R7.2, Jamaica, Jamaica me crazy, 16 years old, 52.8% A⊕+

30th September 2000, 199 bottles, refill barrel

IMG_2635Nose - Slightly hysterical (not funny, panicked). Bright, fruity, slightly sour, a very obviously excellent cask and lots of funky, rotten fruit, gloss paint, BBQ sauce and blackberries. And a big roast shoulder of pork with apple sauce.

Body - Unexpectedly amazing. Rich, mouthfilling fruit and cane, on point sweetness with rum babas and banana fritters in custard (I used to love those at the Pepper Tree in Clapham). Spicy, sweet and complete and really weird.

Finish - Very long, full of coffee, custard cream biscuits, and mouth coating oils.

I'd've given extra points for the excellent punning in the name but this didn't need them. It's making me crazy too.


SMWS R10.1, Trinidad, Carnival concerto, 25 years old, 63.4% A+

31st December 1991, 228 bottles, refill barrel

IMG_2634Nose - Almost washed out brightness compared to the previous rums, lemon zest and lemon meringue, peppermint chewing gum and menthol fags. Softmints.

Body - A completely different experience, I knew I should have done this first. Much more like a first fill, big and delicious Balmenach than a rum. Rich mint toffee, buttercream icing and cough candy.

Finish - Medium, numbing cloves and more cough candy.

A rich and interesting spirit but none of the fireworks from the others. Back into the whisky end of the spectrum. Scotch does that better.

I should be able to get the notes for the majority of the actual whisky in this outturn over the next week or so.  Plenty to go for in this lot though!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Cadenhead’s July 2017 outturn

I know this is turning into the Cadenhead’s, Springbank and SMWS blog but what can I do?  Selection bias.

This is the outturn with the Littlemill 40 in it (which I haven’t tried) and the vatted Islay (which I have).  Plenty of good choices in this outturn, and mostly still available.  The Glen Spey is a proper drammer, the Glenlossie a big old Scotch and the Speyside best in class.  Except that vatted Islay.

Glen Spey 2001, 15 years old, 46% A+

According to Mark Watt, if they decide to release something as young as this it'd better be a good one.

IMG_2653Nose - Sweet, wax and mineral, a touch of tobacco. It's warm, scented candle wax and fresh cut mandarin (that's an in-joke because Cameron at Cadenhead's says if you have to write orange down for multiple different notes then mix it up and pick different types of orange. But I mean it!). A really lovely balance.

Body - Clean but full bodied, again it's in the balance with this one; wax, fruit and minerality. Lightly spiced with bright citrus freshness.

Finish - A firm transition off the fruit into robust malt and wood tannins.

A great "ordinary" drammer, it has it all - balance, structure and drinkability, and a fantastic waxy nose. Well recommended, and a bargain to boot.

Balmenach 2005, 12 years old, 55.4% A+'

IMG_2645Nose - Fat and creamy, more oranges! Much more obvious here, although I have a sinking feeling that this is now going to be an orangey outturn. It's more tropical actually, like neat tropical squash, and it has a really oily, almost dank edge to it (very much like a tropical DIPA). Waxier and fruitier with water, and the fruit is more exotic. It's really lovely.

Body - Ripe and lightly peated, big numbing orange oils and slightly charred, like the crispy bits off a piece of roast pork (with an orange glaze?). Another way of thinking about it is: big first fill bourbon, loads of fruit, a touch of petrol and chewed playbark.

Finish - Fat, lingering citrus oils. Finally, spicy.

This is one of those really compelling first fill bourbon casks, because it has restraint and herbal notes that balance out the fat fruit and vanilla. Delicious.

If you want fireworks, get this. If you want it a little calmer, get the Glen Spey. Both would be perfect cork chuckers.

Glenrothes 1996, 20 years old, 51.3% A+

IMG_2648Nose - Gentle, a light dusting of sawdust over Honeydew melon. There's a deeper fruit here though, it's like felt in an old drawer, matches and travel sweets. The old drawer is waxy and fruity with dry hardwood and constant varnishing, and travel sweets are oddly over the top and a bit petrolly.

Body - Fizzier and more bandagey than I was expecting, woody citrus and more of that felt. There is an underlying luxury I was hoping for and missed on first sip, it rounds out that fizzing and makes it more complete. Love hearts with water.

Finish - Long and fizzing, and quite bitter at first, a bit like dry lemsip. That bitterness becomes tannic with time though and that's the great balancer.

This is a really interesting and delicious whisky, it didn't quite do what I wanted it to (as a Glenrothes) but I could drink it all night long.

Ord 2005, 12 years old, 55.8% A+

IMG_2651Nose - Red berries, fizzers, cracked rocks and chilled red wine. There is a theme developing in this flight and it's not the oranges, it's the balance of minerality and wax. This is the earthiest so far though.

Body - Rich, biscuity and just a touch of sulphur at the front. Big fruit toffee underneath this. Jammy dodgers with water.

Finish - Long and very tannic. Robust bitterness  then red chilli.

The nose and delivery on this are fantastic, although very similar to the previous whiskies (must be the Campbeltown factor). The red chilli at the end is a fly in the ointment.

Aultmore 1997, 20 years old, 53.1% A+'

IMG_2654Nose - Drier, more elegant than those that came before it. Blueberries (the most intensely coloured and lightly flavoured of the berries), dry bamboo and baklava. And some kind of "stick in a bottle of oil" air freshener. So - weirdly fruited, light wood, perfumed.

Body - There's that dryness - refreshers first, then foxes glacier fruits. Then a big blast of structure - cut oak and liquorice root.

Finish - Very long with wood, wax, leather and sweetshop together. Hop bitterness (if you've had an excessively bittered beer, a high IBU American beer, this is what I mean).

Great distillery, this was unlikely to not be good I'm afraid. Complex and grown up Scotch.

Glenlossie 1993, 23 years old, 56.8% A⊕

IMG_2646Nose - Dark and glossily sweet, with candied, dark orange slices (ahem), grapefruit juice and raisins. But also old (blackened) varnished wood and citronella. A little swimming pool. It's proper old school.

Body - Oily and full of mid-range, spicy but not red chilli, old pipe tobacco (maybe even Beedis). Drier than the Aultmore but with that ancient cask note. Sweeter, even riper with water, but gentler.

Finish - Very long and a complex progression of wood tannins, cereal and spices. CK one.

An easy A⊕ this, it has that special something. They don't make them like this anymore (for £85 at least).

Speyside 1991, 25 years old, 51% A⊕+

IMG_2650Nose - A little meaty. Pritt stick, dry mango slices and envelope glue (sorry). As with the Glenlossie, this is proper gear, only Scotland can deliver anything close to this kind of whisky. Green apple wax.

Body - It's the perfect balance that does it. That envelope glue is fence panel in the delivery, this is dry, elegant and very, very old.

Finish - Green chillies (not hot), cracking cinnamon sticks in your hand, green papaya. Really long, restrained but confident.

Just a superb whisky. This has the confident, elegant drinkability of the Glen Spey at the top, with all the bells, whistles and fireworks of a top flight Scotch. Get this one.

Glen Moray 1992, 24 years old, 50.9% A⊕

IMG_2649Nose - Slightly more cereal and winey, this feels a decade younger than the Speyside with more obvious cereal and fruit - tough act to follow though (and you need to bear this in mind when you read notes from big flights!). Actually, with time (and recovery) there is a really lovely biscuity fruit here (if that makes any sense at all), like the flesh scraped out of a melon skin with your teeth. And great wax (although I've had so much of that so far I'm starting to mentally delete it).

Body - There's something epic in here, gentle old toffee and wood, espresso coffee, but it's got to step round an astringent wood (splints)… damn this is just on the edge.

Finish - Toffee, astringent wood, a touch of iron. It's very long though, and lots of esters. More melon at the end.

I should have had this before the Speyside. It is good though.

Creations, Robust Smoky Embers (the vatted Islay), 46% A⊕+'

Sold out

This is Ardbeg, Bowmore and Caol Ila, which were (according to Mark) mixed together to go into a live cask in the Campbeltown shop in 2004 and ended up languishing in the warehouse until 2013, when they were put into a sherry hogshead.  And something about most of this being released before, and some left for later?

IMG_2655Nose – Uh-oh. This smells like very old Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Joss sticks, roast pork, matches but first there's that special old Islay thing… not the parmas of Bowmore, but a deeply sweet, dusty fecundity. It really reminds me of something expensive in the kitchen… Iberico ham and Turkish Delight? I can't quite get it.

Body - Faded peat, sweet Islay and wood, icing sugar wood… wet and very refill.

Finish - Medium to long with Banyuls and here's what was in the kitchen - vanilla pods and crushed, black cardamom seeds.  I would like another.

Weird and very wonderful, a multi-grand whisky. Particularly on the nose, goodness me. Reminds me of that 32 year old Laphroaig, or some ancient oddity of an Ardbeg at the whisky show.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Happy Birthday Cadenhead’s!

2017-1842=175, and therefore this year is the one hundred and seventy fifth anniversary of Cadenhead’s, much loved bottler of whisky, rum and other stuff… and today, August 1st, is the actual birthday!  Imagine having 175 years of history in anything, and then imagine applying that to the kind of world that Scotch whisky inhabits – slow accretion of stock, gentleman’s agreements and trading arrangements that stretch back through decades, and the kind of long term thinking that allows you to dish out multiple casks that you’ve looked after for over 30 years monthly for a whole anniversary year.  Imagine being Mark Watt, whose job it is to sell something that everybody really, really wants to buy.  Lucky bastards.

This year has had an outturn every month, which have been duly documented here and have delivered some truly epic whiskies.  I knew about plans to make a big release for August for a while – a cask selected for each shop - and ended up being part of the tasting session for the London cask.  We shortlisted 10 samples from 17 (I could have easily written notes for all 17 in one hit of course), then made brief notes for those 10, then got down to 5 and voted for 1.  The whole thing was tasted blind (distillery, age, cask) although I confidently made a lot of incorrect predictions.  The cask we picked in the end wasn’t my top choice (suspect I picked something a bit weirder) but it was at least my second or third choice. 

Each of the shops also went through a selection exercise and none of the shops picked the same cask from the 17.  One of the casks that was in a lot of the top 5s but didn’t make it as any shop’s top choice, appeared in last month’s outturn (although I didn’t know that when I made my notes) - the Glentauchers 27 year old.  This shows you the kind of level we were working with.  Here’s the final list of selected casks:

  • Campbeltown - Cooley 25yo (1992) 54.8%
  • Edinburgh - Bruichladdich 25yo (1992) 53.8%
  • London - Glenburgie-Glenlivet 25yo (1992) 53.7%
  • Odense - Teaninich 23yo (1993) 52.3%
  • Cologne - Tullibardine 23yo (1993) 48.6%
  • Berlin - Arran 21yo (1995) 49.5%
  • Salzburg - Laphroaig 18yo (1998) 57.4%
  • Baden - Bowmore 16yo (2001) 54.8%
  • Milan - Pulteney 26yo (1990) 52.6%
  • Aberdeen - Springbank 13yo (2003) 57.0%

I still have my blind notes from the session, so once I find out what the mapping is between the casks and my notes, I’ll be able to publish them (plus my incorrect predictions!).  Also I think I’m in on a split of the whole set, so I will make proper notes for the whole lot once I have them.

In the meantime, I visited the London shop to try the Glenburgie for the release event with Mark Watt.  We had a few interesting other drams – a 23 year old Ardbeg bottled in 2000, a customer had brought along his own blend of a couple of ancient Springbanks which was superb, and a bottle which was the dregs of all the cask samples plus a very old grain (also surprisingly excellent).  Plus I was able to try a sample of this old Arran originally for the Taiwanese market…

Cadenhead's Small Batch, Arran 1996, 20 years old, 53.3% A⊕

Single cask. This was originally intended for Taiwan and took a last minute swerve back to the UK. The friend of a 28 year old sherry Mortlach at 54.5% which I haven't tried, yet (but will as I'm in on a bottle split of one).

IMG_1744-350x467Nose - Quite dark and meaty at first. The expected fruit and toffee is here too, and an interesting splash of sulphur, but then it's Arran all the way, with birthday candles, cut parsley stalks, and pancakes with apple sauce. What really works here though, is the soft Arran fruit with the perfectly judged sulphur, absolutely superb. Even better with water - more vanilla, more cream, more fruit.

Body - Gentle but a little spiky, typical mature Arran again - lots of structure, lots of fruit and a generally soft arrival. Herbal behind the soft toffee, and really creamy. Fruitier with water, quite tropical with good tannins.

Finish - Long and quite bitter to balance the soft fruits and general mouthfeel.

It's been a while since I've had an Arran at this ripe (and practically terminal) age, and I am a huge fan of mature Arran. Also, I can't recall a non-excellent Cadenhead's Arran, and they seem to have quite a few from the formative days of the distillery (and seem to be quite close knit with them). This doesn't disappoint.

Cadenhead's Glenburgie, 25 years old, 175th anniversary picture label, London cask, 53.7% A⊕+

Glenburgie 25 53.7 Vol-750x1000Nose - Ripe, fresh, a robust but mature cask with lots of grapefruit, deodorant, greengage and boiled sweets. This clearly stood out in the tasting as a really classical whisky, and now I know what it is, it comes across as a superb, warm and gentle cask.

Body - Rich, dusty and so much wax, orange oils and linseed. Slightly fizzing.

Finish - Very long, deep coconut oil with orange peel and grapefruit pith at the end.

A really grown up, waxy, complicated but fresh and easy drinking whisky. For it to stand out against that set it would have to have been something really special and so I'm confident this would work well as the climax of any tasting.

It’s only August, more is coming.