It has been sometime - six whole months in fact. A lot has happened since our last SMWS outturn review – much of it covered in other quarters of The Dramble. But in terms of Society goings-on we’ve seen closed venues, continued website woes and plenty of unsightly FyOMO (Fury of Missing Out) over this year’s Feis Bottlings. But it’s important to note that we’ve also witnessed a raft of new digital offerings, forward-thinking membership surveys and, what I hope is a new approach from SMWS that recognises that every member should be valued and treated equally. The future should be brighter.
The last six months have seen much of the whisky world change tact out of necessity – and to my mind, locked-down dramming has had a particularly warping effect on the Society. From a member’s club that sells bottles to a bottler who owns venues - the balance has felt increasingly uneasy over the past five or so years. There are just too many eager beavers looking to purchase a limited number of bottles. Shuttered venues have exacerbated this dichotomy further, pushing SMWS into essentially being an independent bottler alone for much of the past half year. And yet as I stepped through the doors of Greville Street this week with excitement to once again recommence outturn reviewing, it was immediately obvious that the social aspect of SMWS’s offering is something which most indy bottlers alone rarely tap into. As we take our first tentative steps out of lockdown, I hope that members will continue to recognise this and support the Society through continuing to visit the member’s rooms when they are able. Bottlers are many - fellowships are few. Your Society’s venues need you!
This month’s outturn ‘Flavour Invasion’ offers up 20 new single cask whiskies, 1 single cask rum and the new small batch offering ‘Black Oak’. Lightly Peated and Heavily Peated have been given marching orders this month – but the remaining 10 colour-coded profiles offer up a diverse and high-quality selection of single malts to suit all budgets. We’ve reviewed 10 of the new single casks and Phil, who is also back in action (he’s ironed his white t-shirt specially) will be covering the remaining releases over at: https://www.philipstorry.net/
My pick of the month goes to the powerfully industrial and fairly aquatic Bunnahabhain (10.196 Smoky harbour fish supper), but there are several other gems worthy of your attention. For those looking for a treat, the Auchentoshan (6.72 Scaramango) comes so packed full of weight and texture you’ll be second-guessing that it is in fact triple distilled. And then we have something of a sleeper hit to shout about – this month’s Miltonduff (72.90 Umami Salami) delivers a highly compelling composition despite being one of the cheaper bottlings in this outturn. Don’t overlook it despite it hailing from a distillery that is generally considered to be under the radar.
Back into action with an Inchmurrin produced on the unusually configured (rectifying heads) pots stills located at Loch Lomond distillery. This bottling has spent 19 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Peach melba and quince jelly are joined by pink water biscuits and freshly baked shortbread. Aromats follow – rosewater, nutmeg, cardamom and cinnamon – a sprinkle of nuts away from reminiscing about Baklava. The addition of water results in pineapple chunks and cola cubes together with a sprinkling of potpourri.
Taste: Pineapple upside down cake and sugar dusted pink grapefruit sits with malt loaf, dusty gingerbread men and golden syrup. The development takes a somewhat more herbal trajectory – dried parsley and mint leaves alongside hessian cloth and black pepper seasoning. Reduction brings out a juicier character – tinned mango, lychee alongside fresh peaches and mandarin segments – these sour in the mid-palate and sit alongside yet more patisserie – freshly baked bread rolls and a handful of oatcakes.
Finish: Medium to long in length with unexpected meatiness from roasted ham alongside fading ginger spicing and a touch of mentholated oakiness.
An eclectic Inchmurrin that delivers a selection of unexpected aromas and flavours alongside its fruit-driven core. Dilution feels notably beneficial here – it retains the overall structure but emphasises the fruity distillate whilst keeping the ex-bourbon cask well in check.
Nose: Lemon balm, sage and cayenne pepper sit with dry earthiness, reeds, flax and white jelly babies. Field barley and Shredded Wheats are joined by lemon sherbet, Andrew’s Liver Salts and a scattering of white grapes and gooseberries. Dilution offers a tequila-esque note alongside freshly picked apples, waffles and pancake battle.
Taste: The arrival is fulsome and with a palpable weight. White grapes and fruit pastilles and joined by oleaginous pan fats, split chilli peppers, curry leaves and green bell peppers. The development becomes earthy and malty with dried soils, oatcakes and part-fermented beer. In the background – additional fruity asides of apples, peaches and limes together with more savoury notes of herb-infused pastry and beef dripping. Reduction offers a brighter, more fruit-forward experience – melon and kiwi livened by orange liqueurs and lemon zest.
Finish: Medium with lingering cask influence – pepperiness, charred staves and a residue earthiness.
A shape shifting Miltonduff that has a wonderful weight and presence. Whilst initially everything feels wild and off the rails, you quickly come to the conclusion that this is akin to a finely-honed adventure story – exciting and unexpected – but still with a defined beginning, middle and end. This month’s sleeper hit. Recommended.
Nose: An afternoon in a coffee shop. A cappuccino with grated chocolate, a mug of freshly made mocha, steamed milk and a pile of freshly ground coffee beans sit with oven-baked croissants and a plate of rich tea biscuits. Deeper, this whisky has earthy qualities of water-logged soils, chopped herbs, wet ferns and bracken. Reduction presents a rather different complexion with rosehips, poached pears and well-ripened Galia melon alongside golden caster sugar, rock cakes and polished brass tubing.
Taste: Surprisingly textural for a normally triple distilled spirit – chocolate sauce and old orange liqueurs are joined by well-worn leather furniture and a scattering of baking spice. Sunflower and olive oils reinforce the textural and somewhat umami element, whilst syrupy peaches and baking soda sit with tangy, metal-led minerality – iron filings and bauxite. Water is once again highly transformative – mango and melon fruit cordials together with sack cloth and bourbon biscuits.
Finish: Medium and quite mineral – coal dust and reinforced steel girders alongside fading baking spices.
An Auchentoshan that even the most hardened of Auchentoshan fans will struggle to correctly identify. There’s a lot going on here and much of it doesn’t feel akin to the usual triple distilled spirit profile – hefty textural and oily notes are far from typical for this distillery – particularly when drawn from a common or garden refill ex-bourbon barrel. Honestly, I’m rather flummoxed by this one. However, regardless of the left-field presentation it’s quite lovely all the same. A bottling which will challenge your perceptions and give you a warm hug at the same time.
Far from cheap and far from an impulse buy for most. But on quality alone - recommended.
Nose: Highly expressive with honeysuckle and honeycomb joined by heavily reduced peaches, white bread, high quality custard and sunflowers. Running throughout – sack cloth, a bowl of cornflakes and a scattering of orange peels. The addition of water reveals a slightly more herbal complexion – cut grass, pressed flowers and orange marmalade spread on toast.
Taste: A solid weight with malty cereals and oatcakes joined by lemon verbena, pain aux chocolate and high-quality vanilla pods. Earthiness is expressed in the mid and back palates with wet soils, clays and alluvialness alongside gentle pepperiness, charred cask heads and woollen jumpers. Reduction offers highly typical Speyside-eque notes of honey and ripe bramley apples, yeasty buns and ginger snaps.
Finish: Medium with nicely balanced oakiness, pepper and residue cask char.
A communicative and well-defined Craigellachie that delivers exactly what one would expect from both the distillate and the region. Totally solid, nothing more, nothing less. Expect the expected.
Bottle Name: 46.97 In the shadow of a cocoa eclipse
Nose: Intense and rich with dark chocolate covered cherries, plump raisins and cinnamon swirls sitting alongside crystalline ginger and touches of sherry rancio. Running throughout – sticky toffee pudding, treacle tart and maple syrup together with a slice of coffee and walnut cake. Diluted, the ex-bourbon hogshead moves more to the fore with lacquered wood panelling, chopped almonds and a grating of nutmeg.
Taste: The arrival speaks of active, concentrated PX maturation with chocolate sauce, stewed plums, sultanas and wisps of tobacco and charred old oak casks. The mid-palate again picks up on the coffee note with spent espresso grounds, before additional sweetness emerges from Jamaican ginger cake. Reduction results in perkier spicing with cinnamon and nutmeg joining the party alongside apple compote, baked pears and freshly brewed black coffee.
Finish: Quite long with persistent chocolate, lingering char and progressive dryness.
Whilst I usually prefer my middle-aged Lossies drawn from refill ex-bourbon, here the imposing PX finish has resulted in something rather unctuous and decadent. Arguably there’s a lot of active sherry influence here and as a result, the spirit has been somewhat subsumed – but the result is still largely focussed and above all else simply quite tasty.
Bottle Name: 85.61 Lemon angel pie
ABV: 58.2% Distillery: Glen Elgin Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Juicy, oak & vanilla Region: SpeysideAge: 13
It’s been a little while since we’ve been offered a Society Glen Elgin – this one had come from a refill ex-bourbon barrel after 13 years of maturation.
Nose: No messing about – all the lemons. Lemon curd, peels and jelly - all very fresh, crisp and lively. Balled melon and white grapes support alongside white jelly babies, Chantilly cream and a scattering of crumbled lady finger biscuits. The addition of water adds a welcome fizz of sherbet and rolled pastry together with a selection of lychee and kiwi fruit.
Taste: Great development here. Opening on tangy lemons and apple peels the journey heads spice-wards with white pepper and charred cask heads sitting alongside crackerbread and freshly baked biscuits. Water transposes the whisky into a more creamy composition – piped buns, single cream and crumbled digestives, together with a palpable tang of salinity.
Finish: Medium to long and well-seasoned by both salt and pepper with mentholated oak and lemon gel fading pleasantly.
A honed and rather chiselled Glen Elgin that is most certainly lemon-focussed. Bright, lively and fresh throughout and very welcoming to dilution. Lots to like here.
Bottle Name: 113.33 Tropical popping candy
ABV: 60.2% Distillery: Braeval Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Juicy, oak & vanilla Region: SpeysideAge: 7
Braeval time with a 7 year old drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Fruity and floral. Clean cotton sheets and freshly pressed laundry sit with a mango Solera ice lolly, whilst grape juice and desiccated coconut are joined by Greek yoghurt and a strange addition of baby powder. Water results in everything becoming a bit vague – far from unpleasant, but just an ambiguous combination of all-purpose white and yellow fruits.
Taste: Much bolder on the palate with tart apples and grapefruit slices leading into a building pepperiness. Burnt toffee and perceptible cask char are joined by an aromatic cardamom-spiced pear together with white bread and a pang of citric acid. Reduction works similarly to the nose – in that it doesn’t. Pineapple sweetness with banana peels, but a general sense of feeling a little washed out, despite the high ABV.
Finish: Short to medium with burnt toffee and drying oakiness.
A rather hydrophobic Braeval that offers more focus in its original state than when it is reduced. ‘As-is’ there’s a likeable fruity quality from the distillate that is welcomingly juicy – but diluted you just get the impression that this could have done with a few more years in the cask.
An intriguingly categorised and intriguingly matured Longmorn. 14 years in an ex-bourbon barrel followed by an additional maturation in a refill Nicaraguan rum barrel for a year has resulted in this being slotted into the Oily & Coastal category. Colour me interested.
Nose: Overt rum influence with molasses and overripe fruit – guava and banana. This fades a touch with time in the glass revealing melon and lychee set against a mineralistic aspect that evokes shale and beach shingles. Running throughout – marshmallows, green beans, hothouse vines and spearmint chewing gum. An absorbing combination. Dilution presents mint tea alongside lemon thyme and fresh cotton sheets.
Taste: A well defined texture helps with the delivery of salted pineapple chunks, golden caster sugar and a plate of Danish pastries. The mid-palate again offers up coastalness with hewn granite and sandy beaches played off against spent coffee grounds, gentle pepper and medicinal vapour rub. Reduced, there are cough sweets and lemon peels together with a malty backbone of cereals and oat cakes.
Finish: Medium with pepper and peppermint. Intriguing still.
A highly thought-provoking Longmorn which eschews easy categorisation, but certainly feels at home in the Society’s Oily & Coastal category. One wonders how active the original ex-bourbon barrel was given the still high bottling ABV, but regardless - the rum influence here has brought forward both sweetness and natural underlying minerality to good effect. Highly unusual in composition, but very drinkable nonetheless. If you’re looking for something ‘out there’ this month, here's your pick.
Nose: Sunday roast. A full roasted beef served with dripping and rosemary and balsamic gravy. Langoustines and bouillabaisse speak of the sea, whilst brine and pine needles provide a freshening background for powerful chimney smoke. The addition of water expresses oily rags and boiled veg together with wire wool and pan fats.
Taste: Rich, fat and industrially focussed. Buttered prawns meet smoked lemons whilst axle grease and bacon lardons sit with tarred ropes and antiseptic cream. Wood smoke develops together with icing sugar and tart grapefruit segments. Reduction softens things up quickly with breakfast kippers, kelp and samphire together with creamed rice.
Finish: Medium and expressing felted roofing, burnt logs and industrial lubricants.
Bold, intense and as industrially-tuned as I like my peated Bunnahabhains to be. The quality and sweetness of the underlying spirit anchors the whole experience with just the right amount of pliability to offset the noticeably dirty peat smoke. Tautly balanced and bottled at just the right time to showcase the inherent power of the distillate. Right up my alley – and my pick of this month.
Bottle Name: 53.339 Hebridean ceviche
ABV: 58.9% Distillery: Caol Ila Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Peated Region: IslayAge: 11
Familiarity can be reassuring. I’ve not been able to review an outturn for five months and yet here I am greeted by the habitual sighting of Caol Ila. This month’s – an 11 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Smoked lemon tea and briny water sits with green peppers, swirling wood smoke and tangible chalkiness – a combination of Andrew’s liver salts and crushed aspirin. In the background, vague cooked crustaceans and copper coins. Dilution exposes more expected ashiness and fireplace cues together with quince jelly and battered cod served in newspaper.
Taste: Oily, full and rich and walking the well-trodden path of sweet into peat. Apple, greengage and lime juice sits with greenhouse vines, white chocolate and steadily building mentholated smoke oakiness. Lemon cubes and barley water come in the mid-palate which also offers salty sea water, polystyrene cement and spent campfire. Water retains the power of the spirit whilst introducing citric sharpness and tartness alongside a seafood bisque.
Finish: Medium with lemon infused tea alongside candy canes, coal dust and granite.
The nose of this Caol Ila feels a little restrained – especially compared to the palate which offers a punchy, full-flavoured experience. Solid stuff, but then #53 usually is.