SMWS’s December outturn ‘Christmas Parcels' delivers 32 new single cask whiskies alongside a new Armagnac and two bottles of rum. It seems in the run up to Christmas the Society has entirely abandoned the ‘first Friday of the month’ for release – though in return, each week we’ve had a selection of tasty new tempting treats. And 15% offers immediately before a new big list hits. It seems December will be no different – this is the main monthly outturn, but whilst conducting our tasting we also sampled a variety of unreleased bottlings (including some distillery numbers not seen several years) that are no doubt heading your way over the coming weeks. Keep your eyes peeled – there’s some exciting liquid incoming.
This outturn is broad and features bottlings from all 12 of the Society’s colour-coded flavour profiles. We’ve reviewed 15 of these new released for you. Phil’s picked up the other half and was already waxing lyrical about several bottlings. You can check out his thoughts over at https://www.philipstorry.net/.
I found that the outturn this month varied in quality – a few to many wood-heavy/virgin oak finishes for my personal liking – but enough serious quality elsewhere to make up for this. The pick of the month was surprisingly easy this time around – A stupendous well-aged sauternes finished Glen Moray (35.223 A theta state of mind) that whilst expensive (unsurprisingly at 31 years old), proved to be the best SMWS bottling I’ve tasted all year. In second place, I positioned the juicy fruits of Caperdonich (38.23 Kissing a pear) and the raw power of a memorably good moine from Bunnahabhain (10.163 Treacle on a bonfire). A special mention really should go to Teaninich (59.55 Highland Riesling) – at £46.50 it is the joint cheapest bottle of the outturn – but don’t think that price always equates to quality – this is a little Christmas cracker.
Another month, another welcome release for Caperdonich. 26 years in refill ex-bourbon. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Highly floral with cotton sheets, crisp laundry, heather and lavender. There’s a slight tropicalness of mango and guava supporting butter biscuit (base), peaches and creamy meringue. Running throughout – lovely polished wood, that reinforces the length of maturation – it’s perfectly integrated too. A few drops of water adds honey sweetness and golden syrupy – but most of all, it explodes the fruity floral aromas into a wonderful menagerie of ripe peaches and fleshly cut garden flowers.
Taste: Juicy, succulent and packed full of fruit. Mango, dragonfruit, lychee and peaches combine with tart ripe berries for an exceptionally fruity arrival and development. Polish and well-aged wood is never far away and provides a backbone on which the lighter sugary elements dance. The back palate presents garden mint and tingling white pepper both of which cut through the sweeter flavours. Reduction turns a good whisky into an excellent one here – bright, fresh and highly pronounced with clean cotton, ginger snap biscuits and apple syrup.
Finish: Long with garden herbs, dusty wood, biscuits crumbs and brandy-steeped fruit cake.
Exceptionally delicious Capernonich from what was clearly a cracking cask – a wonderful harmony of fresh, defined fruit with well-aged, well-integrated oak. Few if any tannins – this is juicy fruits from start to finish. Recommended.
We’ve seen a raft of SMWS Speyburns recently – here’s another for you. A 9 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: This certainly has the aromas of dessert - chocolate sauce, toffee tart, apricots in custard and raspberry Eton mess – all very creamy, and moreish, but with the sugars well in check. Dilution changes the aspect somewhat, focussing on salinity, steeliness and green fruits – gooseberry and greengade.
Taste: A viscous arrival that’s still very fruit-forward – pear tart tatin and zingy lime-packed margaritas. The mid palate offers deep flavours of bakery – crumbled biscuits, flan bases and caramel drizzle. These fade into a gentle background earthiness – soils and mulched leaves. Water emphasises the cask influence, adding in vanilla and heightening custard. At the same time, it adds a syrupy texture to the fruit elements – nicely tinned in their own juices.
Finish: Medium with a sprinkle of pepper and earthy soils.
This Speyburn is indeed very dessert-like and has developed both a surprising richness and structure for its mere 9 years of age. It’s currently cold and damp outside – this would have anyone dreaming of summer.
This Linkwood has spent 11 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being re-racked into what is slowly becoming a Society favourite – virgin oak with a heavy toast and medium char. Spicy & Sweet profile.
Nose: Biscuits with burnt edges, pancake batter, reduced pan sugars and demerara all reinforce a sense of over-reduced/over-cooked bakery. There’s a fair whack of wood here mind – freshly sawn planks, broken green twigs and autumn leaves. Water again shows how well named this expression is – biscuity cheesecake base, crumble topping and outright McVitie’s Digestives.
Taste: A powerful arrival that rather necessitates dilution to cut through the alcohol. Dusty but still sappy wood, intense pepper and vanilla put the cask front and centre. Behind this some pleasant tropical – spit-roasted pineapple and foam bananas. Once reduced, there’s much more balance here – biscuits are back (in chocolate form), along with waffles and freshly baked brioche buns.
Finish: Medium to long with pepper and a fair whack of sticky drying tannins.
Whilst there is an abundance of biscuity aromas and flavours here, behind that, the cask is going most of the talking here. That doesn’t make this unpleasant (far from it), but it does result in a dry and oaky whisky that feels like it’s taken on too much of its Virgin oak finish – rarely my style – your mileage may vary.
Bottle Name: 84.28 Sumptuously simple but far from dull
Only the second outing for Glendullan this year (84.27 is still available). Matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead since 2009. Sweet & Spicy profile.
Nose: A combination of ripe and underipe fruits – primarily orchard (apple and pear). These are joined by coppery youth – not quite feinty, but certainly metallic like two pence pieces. In the background, buttered scones and sugared pancakes with a lemon juice topping. Rather light an unassuming in style. The addition of water improves the expressiveness of the nose greatly – maple syrup, toast and marmalade. Richer, deeper and altogether more pronounced.
Taste: There’s much more impact on the palate with a bold arrival delivering malt loaf, gingerbread and cream crackers. Again, metallic copper/brass is suggestive of youth – perhaps even moreso than the nine year old age statement. The development is extremely brief, but offers both salt and pepper seasoning alongside background charred oak.
Finish: Medium with white pepper, dusty minerals and aluminium cans.
A straight-forward Glendullan that makes up for its youthfulness and lack of development with some solid simple refreshing flavours. Nothing to shout about, but perfectly tasty enough as an opener to an evening.
1st fill ex-oloroso sherry has been utilised in this 11 year old Benrinnes. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: Plenty of creamy crème brûlée here – burnt custard and reduced brown sugars. This is supported by fudge and toffee alongside mocha and vanilla pods. This nicely treads the line between lightness and sweetness. The addition of water rings out some reduced and dried fruits – hedgerow berries, raisins and figs.
Taste: The arrival is creamy and surprisingly quaffable for 58.9% ABV. It delivers more of the creamy toffee and caramel detected on the nose, but builds in the mid palate with more intensity of flavours and some hints of peppery cask spice. The development continues into the back palate with reduced fruits – apple and pear crumble and burnt pan sugars. Water adds weight and texture (that’s weird right?!) with biscuits, cake mix and brown sugars.
Finish: Medium and with more less cream and more ‘zing’ – peppy cinnamon, a sprinkle of pepper alongside coffee beans and chocolate.
This Benrinness *really* loves water. Whilst it is approachable straight out of the bottle, the additional concentration of both fruit and sugar aromas and flavours is at its greatest when reduced with touch of H20. All rather pleasant.
Straight forward and simple – Mannochmore from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: Rather shy. Baked buns, toasted bread, chopped macadamia nuts and coconut macaroons. Resting adds additional expressiveness, but this is still softly spoken – coconut biscuits, peanut brittle and holly leaves. Water doesn’t massively alter the aromas profiles here –a touch more peanut and hints of rolled pastry.
Taste: A radical improvement - tropical fruits (pineapple and mango) sit with gingerbread, chocolate sponge, vanilla and popcorn. The mid to back palates offer more overt oakiness – slightly astringent with building pepperiness. Dilution adds a pleasant syrupy texture to the fruit elements and heightens the cask spice – both pepper and ginger and loud and upfront.
Finish: Medium with macadamia and walnut biscuits and some rather drying wood.
Tough to find the right balance with this Mannochmore. Straight-up the nose is extremely discreet, whereas the palate is packed full of flavour. Water improves the overall expressiveness, but then things start to feel a little too oaky and drying. Nuts certainly, but rather the mixed bag.
13 years in ex-bourbon and then 2 more years in 1st fill PX for this Cragganmore. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Nose: Sweet and perfumed with rose water, potpourri and toffee. Spiced (cinnamon and ginger) plum tart is joined by wheaty multi-grain bread and a slight sense of mustiness attics. Dilution emphasises sugars and spice with cocoa nibs, gingerbread and muscavado sugar.
Taste: A bold and syrupy with maple syrup, high cocoa solids chocolate, molasses and reduced red berry fruits. There’s a combination of intense sugared fruitiness and dryness here – it doesn’t come across as overtly woody, but the tannins can be felt around the teeth and gums. Water softens things up with tinned stone fruits, sponge cake and cracked pepper.
Finish: Medium to long, drying with chocolate and coffee beans.
Solid well-sherried Cragganmore. A bit on the dry side, but with plenty of unctuousness and deep spiced fruit.
This 9 year old Blair Athol has spent some time in a recharred hogshead. It’s exclusive to this month’s package deals. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Nose: Nuts – check. Packed full of hazel and walnut. Alongside, gingerbread, orange peels and liqueur and light nutmeg spicing. The background some dry earthiness – sun-licked soils, baked and crumbly. The addition of water brings out a savoury side with cream crackers, balsamic and a healthy sprinkle of salt.
Taste: Oily on the arrival which mixes raisins and figs with forest greens (bracken and moss). Chocolate and a freshly brewed cafetiere add some rich earthy sweetness. The mid to back palates favour woodiness – quite intense, tannic and peppery. Dilutions adds another dimension, meat pan juices, sharp balsamic and the return of the nuts in the form of chopped hazels.
Finish: Medium, quite dry and tannic with pepperiness and dried fruits (berried and stone).
One part richly sweet (and certainly nutty), equal parts cask-led - with both peppery spice and some perceptible oak tannins. I much preferred this with water – loosening the grip of cask and adding in some interesting umami aromas and flavours.
A very well-aged Glen Moray that’s been matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead for 29 years before being finished in a 1st fill sauternes barrique. Old & Dignified profile.
Nose: A rather mesmeric combination of sweet roasted meats (ham hock, crusted beef, pork crackling), garden flowers (lilac and violets), well-aged wood (lacquered wood panelling and dusty polish) and perfectly composed sweet fruits – orange peels, cardamom steeped pears and fresh lychee. In the background – sugars – chocolate, creamy latte, sticky brown sugar and some malt loaf. Water serves to heighten the already excellent combination of aromas – orange liqueur, sultanas, salted caramel and resinous varnish.
Taste: More of the same, in that this is just excellent. Toffee popcorn (the best you’ve ever had), fresh coffee beans, chocolate sponge, butterscotch and rum-soaked raisins. Leather coaches, old paperback books and mirror-polished teak furniture emphasis the pitch-perfect maturation this Glen Moray has been exposed to. In the background, notes of burnt sugars – over-caramelised toffee and honeycomb along with generously boozed Christmas cake. Diluted, this becomes incredibly juicy with a syrupy mouthfeel and an abundance of intense rich caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finish: Very long, with dusty cigar box tobacco, old dry polished wood and a tingle of white pepper.
I don’t often give out the really big scores for SMWS bottlings – but this Glen Moray has easily earned one. A flawless marriage of spirit and wood that’s utterly delicious and compellingly well-composed. Finishing done properly. Expensive, but easily my pick of the month.
The often robust Teaninich gets a run out at young age. 9 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Light & Delicate profile.
Nose: Crisp and fresh with cotton sheets, gooseberries, greengade and cut garden herbs (reeds, flax and grass). There’s a chiselled precision here – indeed rather like a young fruity Riesling (sans the petrol). Reduction adds in stone fruit elements (apricot and peach), as well as whipped cream and underipe grapes.
Taste: Juicy fruits, but still with impeccable fresh precision – grapefruit, lemon peels, and fruit tea infusions are greeted by sherbet sugars, gingercake and a touch of spearmint. Water brings out the cask qualities – vanilla and sappy oak being added to the mix.
Finish: Medium with zingy citrus, wet limestone and fine-grade ceramics.
This Teaninich is precise, sharp and entirely on-point. It’s wonderfully refined at a mere nine years of age – entirely happy with its rock-hewn icy exactness. Recommended.
A no messing 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel maturation for this 11 year old Tullibardine. Juicy, Oak & Vanilla profile.
Nose: Big on the fruits with orange peels, orange marmalade and raspberry jam. Rose water (Turkish delight) adds floral sweetness and sits with toffee and creamy strawberry sorbet. Water brings out more of the underlying floral notes of the spirit – fresh cotton and water lilies.
Taste: Quite unctuous and oily with both ripe and reduced strawberry and cranberry. Pastry and tart cases join Eton mess and framboise for more dessert-like goodness. In the back palate, strawberry cordial and developing creamy texture. Reduction adds some cherries (clearly this was not fruity enough before) as well as ground ginger.
Finish: Medium with a scattering of berry fruits and ginger spicing.
A seriously summery Tullibardine packed full of delicious fresh bight fruits. The ABV is quite pokey – but this takes water well, offering up delicate florals on the nose and sensitive spicing on the palate. Solid.
42 covers two distinct styles – this one definetely seems like it’s Tobermory rather than Ledaig (boo!). It’s been matured since 2005 in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. Oily & Coastal profile.
Nose: Fresh and coastal but somewhat neutral – cracker bread, hay, rainwater and a coastal breeze. Water adds more touch more depth with seafood and a light bisque, but overall this remains rather impersonal.
Taste: Still far too restrained for my liking – apples, with grapefruit and lime peels for a bit of zing. In the background, bread, cask char and a touch of olive brine. Reduction offers improvement with a more oily arrival, meatiness from roast ham and some coal dust minerals.
Finish: Medium, fairly mineral with a slightly salinity.
Taken at its natural 62.2% ABV, there’s little here for me to recommend I’m afraid – both the nose and the palate are so quiet as to be largely mute. Dilution improves things with some meatiness and mineral/coastal intricacies, but there’s still not a wealth of aroma and flavour here. Sadly rather tedious.
Bottle Name: 4.250 Celebrity yurt indulgence
ABV: 60% Distillery: Highland Park Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Region: Islands
Highland Park laid down in 2001 for 16 years. The cask is listed as refill ex-oloroso, but whether this is full term of a finish is unclear – I am suspecting of the latter. Lightly peated style.
Nose: A Sunday lunch of a nose – beef joint, reduced stock and a scattering of leafy greens and spring onions. Sweetness comes wild honey and golden syrup (almost treacle, but not quite). Reduction unleashes some earthiness and trademark HP smoke – it’s ever slight, but plays nicely with an array of hillside florals.
Taste: Much more potent and also much sweeter. Ash and chalk dust are joined by a light pervading floral smoke – wispy and delicate and somewhat hiding behind most coal-led flavours. The development introduces growing sweetness – spun sugar, dusted berries and heavily reduced pan sugars. The introduction of water reduces some of the more openly saccharine flavours, focussing on underlying malt barley.
Finish: Medium to long, with tangy sugared sweetness and flecks of burnt paper.
The sweetness of sherry has rather nuked the underlying Highland Park spirit here. It’s still a tasty drop, but I’d rather my sugars were a little more integrated. God knows where celebrities and yurts come in to it.
Bottle Name: 53.267 Island harbour car garage
ABV: 60.8% Distillery: Caol Ila Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Region: Islay
The near obligatory 53 this month comes from September of 2008. It has spent 9 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Peated profile.
Nose: Smoke first – lemon influenced, semi-sweet, but tinged with a real industrialness about it – old machinery, lubricant and steel. Running throughout, sweet prawns, lemon meringue pie and a fresh coastal air. Reduction brings out some overt medicinal notes – seaweed, pungent phenolic peat, ozone and salinity.
Taste: A bolder palate with plenty of impact – the arrival is oily with seafood and citrus – zest covered oysters, brined fish and limoncello. Smoke is not far behind – part medicinal, part log fire – floor cleaner, bandages and burning fireplace logs. The addition of water brings out more dusty smoke – coal dust and fireplace ash.
Finish: Long, quite dusty with plenty of acrid ash, tarry ropes and final squeeze of lemon.
Solid, but not earth-shattering Caol Ila with plenty of lemony distillery character and a robust palate. Not a home run, but then I honestly feel you can never go too far wrong with any of the Society’s 53s.
10 year old Bunnahabhain moine drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Heavily Peated profile.
Nose: Remarkably nutty with pecan pie and dry roasted salted peanuts in ab(bunna)dance. Behind this, some coastal nuances – creamy scallops, granite beach groynes and lime drivelled oysters. Reduced, this expresses a much meatier character with BBQ’d ribs, burnt ends and a good helping of brisket.
Taste: A massive wall of smoked goodness. This is seriously big. Salty seafood (lobster and smoked kippers), brine, seaweed and beach bonfires (still roaring into the night). Again, there’s meatiness here – a full roast Sunday beef joint, Cumberland sausage and pork steaks braised until the sugars and proteins have caramelised and sweetened. The addition of water tones things down a notch – but even so, this is still a very robust whisky. Charcoal fires, burning iron stoves, open fire pits and a slightly chalkiness.
Finish: Long with brine, buttered langoustines and smouldering pine cones.
Recent Society Bunnahabhain’s have been average to good – this one is excellent. A raw expression of the inherent power that’s possible from the distillery’s ‘moine’ output. Big, full-bodied and intense.