SMWS’s April outturn ‘Embrace the extraordinary’ offers 17 new single cask whiskies – over half of which have been matured in something other than standard ex-bourbon. From oloroso and PX sherry to the less commonly seen (and bafflingly popular) port and even an IPA cask – which might well be a Society first?! There’s a smorgasbord of finishes on offer, but as always, something for everyone regardless of your partialities.
This outturn features bottles from 8 of the Society’s colour-coded flavour profiles (Light and Delicate, Juicy Oak and Vanilla, Peated and Heavy Peated being given a pass this time around). The Dramble has reviewed 12 of the 17 new releases - Phil over at https://www.philipstorry.net/ will have the others for you – and will also no doubt be picking up the mid-month bottlings that’ll be coming your way throughout April.
My pick of the month this time around is a bit of a doozy. The port cask finished Glen Scotia (93.106 Red diesel) is going to sell like hotcakes whether The Dramble scores it highly or not – alas, the fact that it’s a memorably excellent Society bottling won’t help those of you (including me!) looking to score a bottle. Fastest fingers first I’m afraid. But, there's more, and those of you not looking for peat with port have other options. I'll highlight the lovely oloroso finished Aultmore (73.110 Warm as a welcoming hug) and the industrially tinged Tobermory (42.46 Seahorse to air missile) as both worthy of your consideration. Until next time...
15 year old Cragganmore that’s spent 15 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being re-racked into a 2nd fill charred red wine barrique. View on SMWS
Nose: Powerfully fruity – raspberry coulis and Haribo Sours backed up by a somewhat industrial edge – machine oils and bees waxed tables. Running throughout is a ‘greenhouse’ aroma of bell peppers and micro herbs alongside salted hazelnuts and rolled pastry. Reduction introduced pronounced wine gums (the red and black ones) with pancake batter, and malty biscuits.
Taste: The arrival has oily viscosity and immediately delivers a basket of spices – punchy pepper, graduating into cinnamon and aromatic woods (cedar-based). Mixed berries (strawberries and raspberries) sit alongside gummy sweets, steeped black tea and a developing truffled chocolatey note. Water softens things with an array of floral influences – sunflowers, peonies and wet grass.
Finish: Medium in length and offering peppery drying oak and tinges of cask char.
The wine integration on this Cragganmore is well-judged, offering an overlay of berries aromatic wood that sits well with the distillate’s fruity fresh tea profile. There’s plenty of forceful spicing here, but both the development, and the addition of water evens things out. All rather summery.
A particularly interesting Longmorn – 15 years in an ex-bourbon barrel and then a finishing period in a 1st fill IPA barrel.
Nose: An unusual composition, but certainly IPA influenced. Fermenting washback – malts and yeast with dry citra hoppiness. A surprisingly array of ‘green’ notes here – nettles (quite strongly), hemp, bracken, fern, gooseberries and lime margaritas. In the background, bitter maltiness and dusty vanilla. Dilution moves things more towards the ex-bourbon precursor cask with meringue, whipped double cream and split vanilla pods.
Taste: Opening on dry-hopped rich chocolate (now there’s a ‘thing’), this develops grassiness with lemon verbena, menthol, camphor and mint leaves. Tingle white pepper and oven-baked pastries arrive in support. The addition of water takes things off in a floral direction – still hoppy and beer-like, but with geraniums and grapefruit added alongside allspice and pepperiness.
Finish: Short to medium – all on citrus (both lemon and lime).
There’s only a handful of IPA cask whiskies that I’ve felt have truly worked (See Chichibu IPA cask) – to my palate, most feel underpowered and lacking in any discernible IPA character. That is far from the case with this Longmorn – the IPA influence is palpable and showy. Whether or not its characteristics sit well with Longmorn’s spirit character is another matter. Honestly, I’m not wholly convinced. But, if you want a beer influenced whisky that really does what it says on the tin, this is certainly an effective oddity.
The last Society Tormore was a venerable 25 year old – this one comes in at the other end of the maturity scale – 7 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: The sweet-toothed amongst you will enjoy the combination of fruit pastilles, ground sugars, meringue and iced gem biscuits. Milky Bars and Chantilly cream provide yet more 5th birthday party goody-bag niceties. Dilution doesn’t move things too far away – rich tea biscuits and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and dusting of cocoa powder.
Taste: Rather more ‘adult’ – digestive biscuits, crème patisserie and lemon curd, heartily pepped up with chilli peppers and a flavour almost to the point of smoked paprika. Cough syrup and menthol follow in support – still sweet, but all much more spicy than the candyshop nose. Reduction works well here – a better balance of sugars and spices with sponge cake, tart cases, pepper and cinnamon.
Finish: Medium in length with a pleasant progressive fade, biscuits, and mentholated oak.
This Tormore belies its youth – there’s plenty of depth and nuance here, and barring some intense spiciness, the wood is far from prevalent for a 1st fill. One of this month’s cheaper bottles and as such, worth looking at.
Bottle Name: 55.52 Sicilian citrus liqueur
ABV: 60.5% Distillery: Royal Brackla Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Spicy & dry Region: HighlandsAge: 12
Over to Speyside for a straight up refill ex-bourbon from Royal Brackla. View on SMWS
Nose: Freshly picked apples, curd and lemon drizzled pancakes is joined by dry dusty minerality – part citric, part quartz-like. Water moves things in to the garden with lemon verbena, honeysuckle, hay and cut grass.
Taste: The arrival is punchy with an intense dry spicy pepper kick. There’s an interplay between sweet and savoury here – chocolate cake and lemon zest alongside rock and slate, supported by barley corns and hay. Reduction takes the somewhat abrasive arrival down a notch (In my view, it’s needed). The profile is similar – all on sharp chiselled rocks and juicy lemons.
Finish: Medium with tart fruits (lemon, grapefruit and gooseberry) that fade into chalkiness.
Whilst fairly two-note, this Royal Brackla makes good work of the combination of citrus and minerality. It’s a shame that the delivery is so hot, but once reduced, there’s a workable amalgamation here. Simple, effective – pass the water jug.
12 year old Auchroisk – matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead since January 2006. View on SMWS
Nose: Rather floral – rose hips, Turkish Delight, dried grasses and reeds. Rather fruity – poached pears and raspberry syrup. The two sit together nicely. In the background, fresh cotton laundry, and crumbled biscuits. The addition of water adds some spice – Sichuan pepper (not hot – hints of lemon/lime) as well as forest aromas of bracken and leaf mulch.
Taste: A dry spirit with tart fruitiness – grapefruit, gooseberry and under ripe pears. Ex-bourbon pushes through with vanilla cream, wood chips, pencil shavings and sappy oak. Dilution adds desiccated coconut, vanilla, cookie dough and toasted cereals.
Finish: Medium, expressing fading ginger and overt ex-bourbon wood.
The fruits and florals combine well in this Auchroisk, but I found the mid palate through to finish explicitly woody – which is not really my ‘thing’. Nothing to complain about though – perfectly decent juice.
A Fata Morgana is an optical illusion caused by light being bent through layers of air with different temperatures. Often looking like castles or ships, some have suggested that the folklore tale of the Flying Dutchman might well have been a Fata Morgana. In terms of the whisky, it’s a 23 year old that’s been matured in a 1st fill toasted hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Packed full of exotic aromats – akin to Turkish spice bazaar – cardamom, cloves, cumin and allspice – with plenty of sandalwood along for the ride. Toasted hazelnuts and chocolate covered gingernut biscuits support alongside notes of coffee beans, shoe polish and dry vermouth. Reduction turns things leafy with olive oil, fresh tobacco and kale, whilst bringing out strong toast and rye bread aromas.
Taste: Intense spicing continues – pepper, cumin, allspice, mace, ginger and baking spices. These are joined by cocoa nibs, wholemeal bread and spent espresso grounds. The addition of water brings some fruit into the mix – apples and apple crumble, but it also emphasises the wood with some big cask flavours starting to take over.
Finish: Long, with a similar selection of exotic spices, but becoming increasingly tannic and dry.
A rather unusual Glen Moray that’ll appeal to the spice lovers out there. There’s a *lot* of wood here – on the nose it manifests itself as a fascinating and complicated spice base that would not be out of place in an Indian or Mediterranean kitchen. On the palate, things gets rather too oak-focussed for my liking resulting in moisture sucking dryness. Not my preferred style, but if you’re looking for spice, this is far from a Fata Morgana illusion.
Last month’s sherried Craigellachie (44.100) really did blow me away, so this one has some big shoes to fill. 13 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead with a 1st fill PX finish. View SMWS
Nose: Waffles coasted in burnt toffee sauce sit with plums reduced with pastry – tart tatin – and caramelised pan sugars. There’s a top layer of spiced hedgerow berries – cinnamon and allspice sprinkled over cranberries and redcurrants. In the background, a much more umami angle – leather sofas, hessian cloth and eggy bread. Dilution brings macerated cherries in to the mix, whilst also adding lime juice and additional fabrics – cotton and sack cloth.
Taste: Rich, sweet and mouth filling on arrival. Cherries and boozy redcurrants sit with potpourri, cinnamon and cloves. Chocolate pralines and toffee sauce is livened by vanilla pods and tart grapefruit, whilst tanned leather and wet soils add additional depths. Reduction particularly highlights the leather – soft but highly polished as well as bringing out some sharp sappy wood.
Finish: Long with cinnamon and cloves sitting with damp wood and moist earth.
A well-judged Pedro Ximenez finish has given this Craigellachie a sense of opulence – the sweetness and spices sit well over the top of the spirit’s rich caramel and chocolate character. Good stuff.
Sherried Aultmore is often a lovely thing indeed. This month’s example has spent 15 years in ex-bourbon before a decent finish in 1st fill oloroso. View on SMWS
Nose: Fresh from the oven apple crumble sits with a scattering of berries (raspberries, blackberries and blackcurrants). A jug of toffee sauce sits nearby ready for pouring. There’s a ton of patisserie here – Danish pastries, pain au chocolat and hot cross buns – all the raisins and sultanas you could possibly want. In the background some greenhouse chilli and bell peppers, whilst rolled pastry and brown sugars provide yet more sweet treats. Water brings out orange peels, brandy butter, marzipan and biscotti.
Taste: The arrival has real weight with mouth coating richness. Toffee sauce and chocolate liqueur are soaked into airy sponge cake whilst burnt honeycomb is joined by prunes and dates. The mid-palate reveals spice – again, as with the nose, its rather piquant – chilli pepper and garam masala. Dilution takes some solid foundations and gives them a big kiss. Gooey toffee, unctuous chocolate and plenty of chopped hazelnuts. All totally lovely.
Finish: Quite long with baked tart cases, brown sugars and fading nutty oloroso.
There’s several sherry influenced bottlings this month – this Aultmore is my pick of bunch. Rich, deep and opulent out of the bottle, bear-huggingly sociable once reduced. Recommended.
Bottle Name: 9.157 I drambled lonely as a cloud
ABV: 60.9% Distillery: Glen Grant Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Old & dignified Region: SpeysideAge: 22
An excellently named (we should start charging royalties) Glen Grant that’s spent 22 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. A huge ABV for over two decades of maturation – hmmm. View SMWS
Nose: Delicate stuff. Orchard fruits (apples and pears) alongside lime marmalade and gooseberries. Chopped almonds are joined by buttered sour dough loaf and some chalky minerality. Water takes things herbal with bay leaf, bouquet garni and pot pourri.
Taste: Dainty again, but rather classic at the same time. Baked apples, wine gums and lemon cough sweets combine with sour dough bread, almond oil and austere lemony polish. Development introduces menthol and camphor as well as a soft minerality – water-logged limestone – before heading back to the bake house with digestive biscuits and fluffy pancakes. Reduction is rather the joy, emphasising sweet tinned fruits – apples, pineapples – as well as cask char and baking soda.
Finish: Medium to long with pine sap, lemon oils and crushed tree bark.
On the one hand I’d expect and want more aroma and flavour impact from the Glen Grant – on the other, the subtleties are all rather delightful. Gentle, tantalizing fruits are well mingled with drowsy oak, resulting in something rather shy, but at the same time ascetic. Given the name I want to like this more than I do, but as it stands, there’s just a little much restraint here. Nevertheless, this is still rather delicious and quite tough to score so we’ll go….
Blue 42, so either Tobermory or Ledaig. Simple stuff – 10 years in a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Toasted bread and buttery biscuit (base) combine with spit-roasted pineapple, lemon balm and olive brine. There’s a slight industrialness here – not quite Swarfega (industrial cleaner), but certainly with a similar engineered oily citrus character. The addition of water adds real broadness to the aroma base – flintiness, samphire, salted caramel and sage seasoned sausage.
Taste: Much more coastal – brine, olives, chalk and limestone. But still with a beating heart of fruitiness – jelly babies and lemon peels alongside heather, hay and a good sprinkling of black pepper. There’s complexity here with a developing maltiness – oats, hay and fresh cereals. Dilution once again proves to be intriguing – barrel char, sage stuffing, bees honey and plastic bubble wrap/cellophane.
Finish: Medium in length and emphasising steeped fruit tea infusions and sooty minerality.
This is either an amped up Tobermory or a dialled back Ledaig – either way, it’s rather good offering depth and nuance both straight and reduced. The cask is in harmony with the spirit here, and there’s not much more I can ask for than that. Recommended.
I’ve enjoyed many of the recent Ardmore’s – this month’s is a 12 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: Sweet peat influence from ham hock, pan-fried maple bacon and smoked toffee. Supported by a meandering ashiness that feels akin to a long spent forest fire. Farmy yard aromas emphasis haylofts and pie sties – drifting close by to lacticness – milk and yeasty fermentation. In the background, perceptible and developing minerality – slate, chalk and bath salts.
Taste: Green label – green flavours – bracken, ferns, tobacco and leaf mulch. Hay lofts once more – getting close to silage now – certainly fish tanks. The mid-palate offers coal ash and sharp crisp minerality of pebble beaches, whilst bringing some sharp citrus in the form of lemon oils. The addition of water brings out the sweeter side detected on the nose – seafood – not lobster for me, more pan-fried scallop.
Finish: Long with ash, tobacco and plenty of herbal lemon verbena.
Quite typically Ardmore in style with plenty of discernible foresty and farmy details alongside mineral lemon influences. Very solid.
Hold onto your potatoes – this Glen Scotia has been subjected to a port hogshead finish after 12 years in ex-bourbon. The distillery’s 2008 ruby port finished OB was quite the lovely thing – let’s see how this older SMWS version stacks up. View on SMWS
Nose: Lively and intense berry juices (cranberry and redcurrant) are bundled up with medicinal rye spices – cinnamon, cumin and surface cleaners. There’s a palpable sense of oiliness here – burnt and sticky pan sugars, Xylitol and liquorice root extract. Smoke is ashy, part burnt wood, part straight up mineral iodine. Dilution takes the aromas and dials them up a notch – forest fire, Franks Hot Sauce (seriously), hospital bandages, beef cooking jus and limestone cliffs.
Taste: Like bacon? You’ll love this –thick cut, maple smoked, streaky. Add some burnt ends into the mix for good measure. Meaty stuff. The fruits are more reduced here – red and black berries turned into jams and preserves with the addition of sugar. The peat influence is industrial – axle grease, engine oils and coal dust. It sits with a well-judged, but sprightly combination of cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper. The development leads increasingly towards the coast with granite and rock pools joined by seaweed. The addition of water transposes things to a farm – burning wet hay, barns, leaf mulch and old leather bound books.
Finish: Medium to long playing berry juices off against wet soils and pepper spicing.
Make no mistake, this Glen Scotia is going to fly off the shelves – folks seem to go nuts for port casks. The fact that this is a top draw whisky that’s stunningly balanced and intricately composed won’t help its availability. An easy pick of the month. Quite excellent.