The SMWS August outturn ‘Whisky Chasers’ delivers 23 new single cask whiskies whilst suggesting that as well as cask strength spirits, we all should be spending more time with beer. Timely. And potentially dangerous. During this recent bout of particularly (oh god, my brain is falling out of my head) warm weather, I’ve certainly found myself reaching more for a dank and hazy double IPA than I have a whisky. Seasonality in the form of weather and temperature plays a big part in how we assess, enjoy and even desire particularly beverages. But, for those of you who can’t make up your mind, there’s always the option of half and half. Just make sure you’re looking particular studious - going in double-handed can make it look like you’ve got some unresolved issues.
This outturn features bottlings from 8 of the Society’s colour-coded flavour profiles (Old & Dignified, Light and Delicate, Oily and Coastal and Heavily Peated are all given a pass this month). August is always a funny month, and this is no exception - there’s a inexplicable overabundance of pink and purple flavour profiles with 15 of the new bottlings falling into Young & Spritely, Sweet, Fruity and Mellow, and particularly Sweet & Spicy. Hopefully my reviews will help you hone in a bit – it’s all too easy to get lost in the sea of pinky-purple and if I’m totally honest, reviewing them all in a single session felt rather the slog.
Also worth noting is the total focus on ex-bourbon maturation this month. Looking for wine casks or port casks?, move along please, nothing to see here.
This said, it’s nice to once again see the outturn listed sensibly by colour code (thank you SMWS) and similarly to also be presented with an entire list of ‘normal’ non-black label bottles. Affordability is relatively high this month.
We’ve reviewed 12 of the new releases for you this month. Phil, who you’ll find over at https://www.philipstorry.net/ will be examining the other 11. Let’s see whether the concentration of pinky-purple bottlings was too much for him also?
So, to our picks of the month - August’s top dog goes to Blair Athol (68.26 Do androids dream of eclectic sheep?) which presents as a well-textured, big flavoured delight of a whisky. Very closely behind - a well-aged Glenlossie (46.79 Chocolate, cream and malted Bali), which delivers all the tropical goodness one would expect from two decades of maturation – and a stunningly composed Inchmurrin (112.42 A highland BBQ) which possesses a truly memorable nose and the body to back this up. Stay cool and see you in September.
Bottle Name: 1.211 Ironing a lemon
ABV: 60.5% Distillery: Glenfarclas Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Young & spritely Region: Speyside
This month’s outturn starts at the beginning with distillery no.1. The cask was laid down in April 2011 in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel before being bottled 8 years later.
Nose: Fresh, crisp and floral with an array of honeysuckle, cut grass, mossiness and clean cotton laundry. Confectioner’s sugar and strawberry loot laces sit with vanilla cream, whilst dusty but peppy chilli is joined by cooling mint for quite the juxtaposition of aromas. Reduction introduces doughy bread and cotton candy sweetness whilst hints of lemon peels are enhanced by further floral cues of sunflowers and chopped stems.
Taste: The arrival is bold and punchy – it’s still fresh and crisp, but there’s much more grunt than the nose suggested. Viscous and clingy in texture - preserved lemon and limes are joined by a slice of Battenberg and a side of lemon fondant fancies. Chopped almonds and sunflower oils provide further body and curiosity whilst in the back palate, oven-baked pastries and charred cask ends are tempered with elderflower and gorse flowers. The addition of water softens the attack considerably, adding further sweetness with honey, citrus balms and zesty preserves.
Finish: Medium, combining zingy lemons with cooling mint and a sprinkle of pepper.
This Glenfarclas is certainly young, but is it spritely?! The nose gives the impression of daintiness, but once in the mouth, this is bold, intense and somewhat hulking. There’s a ton of character here, but to my palate, dilution feels rather essential.. Don’t be thinking that the light pink Society colour code means meek or placid – this certainly isn’t.
Bottle Name: 55.54 Gingerbread in the flowerbed
ABV: 58.9% Distillery: Royal Brackla Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Young & spritely Region: Highlands
Over to Nairn in the Highlands for a 12 year old Royal Brackla that’s been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Garden fresh with jasmine, lemon balm, rose hips and lilies. These sit atop of a base of sweetened pear juice, toasted bread, clean cotton and flan bases. In the background, something rather ‘greenhouse’ - warmed vines and green bell peppers. Dilution presents pink wafer biscuits, under ripe raspberries, and crystalline ginger.
Taste: A soft and welcoming entrance that’s patisserie-forward – red berry tarts, pear flans, cream-filled pastries and French crepes. The mid-palate offers building pepperiness which is somewhat offset by golden syrup and buttery bread. Reduction introduced pears tinned in their own juices, hints of crumbled chocolate, berry coulis and dry, singed oak.
Finish: Medium in length and offering orchard and red fruits alongside toasted wood and dry pepperiness.
A well-composed Brackla that delivers an agreeable combination of fresh fruits and florals alongside a animated cask influence which never quite outstays its welcome. Solid.
Bottle Name: 46.79 Chocolate, cream and malted Bali
Nose: A vivacious and bright selection of tropicals – mango slices, dried pineapple rings and coconut milk - joined by polished tables, fresh golden tobacco and cashew nuts. A strong banoffee pie aroma develops which sits with rich chocolate sauce, golden syrup and a cup of warmed mocha. The addition of water adds redcurrants and potpourri florals alongside a rather interesting mineral tang of limestone cliffs.
Taste: Surprisingly soft for the ABV, but nevertheless full-bodied and creamy in texture. Pulped bananas, peach yoghurt, wiki and lychee atop of malted milk and chocolate dipped nougat. Polished wood is joined by planed oak for a combination which straddles the boundary of fresh and austere. Dilution adds syrupy peaches and apricots alongside soft cream and meringue.
Finish: Medium to long with white pepper and cooling mint together with steeped tea tannins.
Well-aged Glenlossie rarely fails to impress, and once again, this month’s delivers – pronounced tropical and richness on the nose – supple creamy lushness on the palate. Recommended.
Bottle Name: 9.165 Mulled wine and gentian root liqueur
ABV: 58.5% Distillery: Glen Grant Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Spicy & sweet Region: Speyside
13 year old Glen Grant matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Delicate, but entirely pleasant. All on bakery with yeasty bread, oven-backed biscuits and buttery flan bases. Malt loaf and cocoa nibs sit with water crackers, whilst waxed jackets and olive oil provide a hint of come textural elements. The addition of water expresses fresh cotton laundry, cinnamon spicing and a punnet of red berries.
Taste: A spicy arrival – cinnamon, pepper and chilli – potent, but tempered by natural sweetness from shortbread and chocolate. The mid-palate reveals malty bread, toast and bun, before the back-palate delivers further sweetness with berries (raspberry, cranberry) and spiced plums alongside a handful of mint leaves. The addition of water adds soft cookie dough as well as further spicing from cinnamon and anise.
Finish: Medium, with a fading doughiness, and steeped tea-like wood tannins.
A potently spiced, and generally commendable Glen Grant. A bit overly wooded in the finish, but the rest of the experience is well-balanced, nuanced and altogether rather tasty. Spicy & Sweet – does what it says on the tin.
Nose: Balsa wood, park benches, planed 2x4, PVA glue and a bundle of pencil shavings <sigh>. Orange peels and steeped fruit tea infusions sit with toasted bread and pecan pie. Water here transforms the dram considerably – lessening the woodworking lesson and introducing whipped cream, vanilla pods and chopped cashews.
Taste: Steeped black tea with orange slices, peels and juice are joined by sunflower oil and malty bread whilst shaved wood sits with buttercups and daisies. Water against renovates – apricot and peach yoghurt with a creamy body alongside a tang of coal dust.
Finish: Medium with fruit teas, wood chips and plenty of moisture sucking tannins.
I’m afraid I needed plenty of positive energy to wade through this woodfest Craigellachie – the addition of water greatly improved things, but au naturale this is exactly the woodworking hobby shed the outturn booklet describes. Pass.
Nose: Somewhat shy and restrained. Buttery biscuit (base), French crepes and waffles are joined by caster sugar, fridge-cooled double cream and gooey meringue. Cookie dough and milk bottle sweets sit with dried cranberries and sultanas, whilst further patisserie aromas of buns and flans add additional sweetness. Dilution reveals apricot jam and digestive biscuits alongside dusty nutmeg.
Taste: Malt loaf and gingerbread men are joined by gooseberries and vanilla cream whilst chopped almonds and a scattering of icing sugar are added. An interesting mineral smack from salt water and coal dust sits with charred cask ends and pepperiness. Reduction delivers bright tinned apricots – juicy, vibrant and fresh.
Finish: Medium, with soft stone fruits and baked bread sticks.
A straight-forward but shape-shifting Balblair that responds to both time and the addition of water. Well-judged and certainly worth a look.
Nose: Pronounced baby powder with lavender and cut flower stems. Scrumpy cider apples and honeydew melon sit with old oranges, ginger and cumin. A peculiar combination. The addition of water sadly tips things over the edge into soapiness – Daz washing powder and fir cones alongside some unlocked ex-bourbon in the form of vanilla, and sappy planed oak.
Taste: Opening on banana bread, tart grapefruit and citrus peels before moving into fresh floral – gorse flower, buttercup and lavender. Biscuit crumb and vanilla pods are joined by crumbled chocolate, white pepper and cloves. Reduction adds additional sweetness with nougat and melon alongside some residue nuttiness – chopped cashews.
Finish: Medium with chocolate, potpourri and dry nuttiness.
This Aultmore is far too close to soapiness for comfort and doesn’t respond consistently to dilution – improving the palate, but diminishing the nose. The characteristics I’d expect from this spirit at this age are not present in this particular cask. It begs the question whether another year or two of maturation might have improved things? I’m going to suggest not. Sadly this cask just seems to be second-rate. Shame.
Bottle Name: 113.20 A choc ice melting on rhubarb crumble
Over to Braes of Glenlivet – otherwise known as Braeval. One of Speysider’s newer distilleries having been constructed in the early 70s. This Society bottling comes from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel at 9 years of age.
Nose: Grassy with reeds, flax and ferns joined by spearmint chewing gum and orange segments. There’s an interesting chalkiness – akin to crushed paracetamol – this sits with toasted cereals and biscuit crumb whilst whipped cream and vanilla were joined by cocoa nibs and nutmeg spicing. Reduction introduced an assortment of biscuits – gingernuts, custard creams and bourbons. Now all that’s missing is a nice afternoon cuppa.
Taste: Much sweeter than on the nose. Tart apples and strawberry foam sweets alongside zesty nectarines. The development heads into baked cream and spongey chocolate cakes before offering chocolate malt drink and dusty biscuit offcuts. Pepperiness builds throughout, sitting with nutmeg. The addition of water further amplifies the pepperiness and adds stem ginger.
Finish: Medium in length with zest oranges, tangerines and nectarines alongside dry dusty oakiness.
A solid Braeval that delivers pronounced fruitiness and biscuit elements with a few thought-provoking additions along for the ride. Well-integrated and well-balanced – assuming you’re OK with the spicier side of things.
Bottle Name: 68.26 Do androids dream of eclectic sheep
Nose: Lemon peels, lemon balm and Lockets are joined by sunflower and olive oils on a bed of waxed jackets and candles. Tangerines and nectarines provide bright zesty fruitiness whilst buttercups and sage take us into the garden. Running throughout, bung cloth and moist soils – somewhat vegetal and dank. Dilution further enhances the mustiness – wine cellars and dunnage with pangs of lime and wood oils.
Taste: The arrival delivers a wonderfully textured, weight mouthfeel with plenty of cling. Lemon oils and furniture lacquer sit with alluvial soils, moss, fern and bracken. White chocolate and lychee provide sweetness, whilst minerality in the form of shingle lurks near the back. Water retains the textural mouthfeel, but transposes it into a more silky plain – melon, gooseberry and lime with plenty of salinity and granite outcroppings.
Finish: Medium with machine oils, lime juices and coal dust.
This Blair Athol delivers big on aroma and flavour and big on texture. Well-composed, well-balanced and above all tasty. The fact that this comes from the cheaper end of the outturn makes it a doozy. The Dramble’s pick of the month.
Nose: Immense pronounced toffee and creamy fudge are joined by burnt pan sugars and wild honey. Waxiness and resinousness are derived from beehives and tree sap, whilst log fire ashes and cold kitchen hearths add a smoked mineral edge. A stunning nose – I could sit with this for hours. The addition of water adds creamy apricot yoghurt and gooseberries – but it diminishes the wonderful combination of burnt toffee and spent fireplace.
Taste: Viscous, oily and full-bodied. The arrival delivers sweetness vs. savouriness – orange preserves, lemon oils and pan sugars alongside buttered toast, triple-cooked chips. Then, medicinalness from antiseptic cream, coal dust and deep fat fryer oils come to the fore, before heading back towards saccharinity with golden syrup and hard candy sweets. All highly effective. Reduction softens thing up, losing the more industrious flavours and offering grapes, gooseberries and jelly sweets as well as some more cask-forward wood and char.
Finish: Medium, lime-forward with sooty minerality.
Let’s be clear, the undiluted nose on this Inchmurrin is fantastic. But, similarly to the impressive palate, neither responds positively to dilution. Go at this at its original strength of 65.1% and I guarantee a wild joy ride of an experience – take the edge off, and things just seem to lose precision and the specific aroma and flavour qualities which make this expression really stand out. Nevertheless certainly recommended – just keep your high strength skates on.
Nose: Standing in a cake factory – sponge, golden syrup, rum-soaked raisins and a host of jam and preserve fillings. Dough and cinnamon laced-sugars conjure an image of churros doughnuts, whilst butterscotch sauce and ground nutmeg are drizzled heartily over dried fruit cake. At 67% ABV no one in their right mind would be chiding you for reaching for some dilution – it delivers notes from the toasted butt finish – charred and singed wood, burnt toffee and overly-reduced pan sugars.
Taste: Sweet and packed full of spices – chocolate sauce, brioche and burnt toast with pokey pepper, cinnamon and chilli. Butterscotch again (burnt) sits with charred cask ends, parchment paper and singed leather. Reduction sharpens things up – piquant with spice and less unctuous – again, it unlocks fired flavours – this time including charcoal, spent matches and firelighters.
Finish: Medium to long, chocolatey, peppery and with drying sugary oak.
This Glenallachie belies its 7 years age statement with some action-packed intense flavours that suit the particularly hefty ABV. It’s rare to see a finish employed after just 5 years of age, but here it works – penetrating, concentrated, sweet and incinerated.
Bottle Name: 53.294 Drampaigne extra brut
ABV: 59.1% Distillery: Caol Ila Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Peated Region: Islay
The monthly #53 - 9 years in refill ex-bourbon. Simples.
Nose: Dirty. Engine oils, thick lard and pan fats sitting with smoked fish soup, pork sausage and a side of green vegetables. Running throughout – brine and seawater with rosemary seasoning and some perceptible yeastiness. The addition of water adds maple bacon and pickled onion crisps alongside more expected aromas of lemon juice and oysters.
Taste: A big medicinal arrival of bandages, hospital floor cleaner, surface polish iodine and brine. Fishiness again – bouillabaisse – cockles, mussels, cod and crab in a thick coastal stock. Reduction adds white chocolate and lemon drop sweetness before things head towards tarriness and chilli spices.
Finish: London packed full of salty water, pepper and fading antiseptic cream.
Listen, Coal Ila is to my mind virtually always nothing less than very solid – and this Society bottling certainly doesn’t break that generalisation. It’s concentrated, medicinal and industrial. But, at the same time, it lacks either brightness, or diversity to make it clearly stand out in the sea of 53s which we’ve been presented with over the past year. Certainly a solid choice, but not a sure-fire choice.