The SMWS December outturn ‘Christmas Parcels’ delivers a host of festive tempters in the form of 30 new single cask whiskies, 2 Cognacs, a gin, a rum and an Armagnac. Despite the November mid-month being an epic list, this main month offering, just a few weeks later, is larger than I expected. Having seen the schedule for the rest of December, you can look forward to (or hide away from) a similar number of new releases on a drip feed until year’s end. I read somewhere that 60% of whiskies bought over the festive period are purchased for the sole intent of gifting – seems the Society is hoping its members are feeling particularly generous in 2019. Either way, there’s a lot to look forward to.
This outturn features bottles from 10 of the Society’s 12 colour-coded profiles (Old & Dignified and Heavily Peated going AWOL this month). It’s a list that offers a wide range of styles with plenty of sherry and plenty of peat - oh and the booklet is back into a sensible order once again. An SMWS Christmas which keeps on giving.
I’ve reviewed 14 of the new bottlings - Phil will be covering the rest over at www.philipstorry.net. And having managed to pull off one final double review session of 2019 I can tell you first-hand that there’s just as many delectable treats on his side of the outturn. So go check it out once you’re done here.
Whilst there are always highs and lows – and of course also person preferences along for the ride, I was impressed by the overall quality of this pre-Christmas list. There’s a lot of full term maturations and plenty of well-judged refill ex-bourbon on offer. My pick of the month is an expensive bottling – but frankly, if ever there’s a month for a Christmas treat its December. The Glen Grant (9.171 A double buttered old crumpet) offers everything I’d want from a fruit-packed, elegantly composed Speysider. Closely behind in second place is the highly successful Benriness (36.168 Fruity, earthy and exciting) that’s as equally packed full of dunnage character as it is rich, sherried fruits. Third place nods go to the young, but far from simplistic Glencadam (82.21 Shed soup) and the more than meets the eye Linkwood (39.184 Showered with petals) – both of these are well worth checking out given their price brackets.
Our next SMWS-focussed posting will be the January 2020 list – so until next time, have a spirited Christmas break and great New Year.
We’ve not had sight of a Society Glencadam since 2015 – this welcome return for distillery #82 comes in the form of an 8 year old drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Fresh and rather leafy – apricots are joined by tomato plants, greenhouse vines and dried soils. In the background, rich tea and caramel wafer biscuits with a dollop of whipped cream. Reduction adds citrus oils and gentle waxes as well as planed wood and cracked black pepper.
Taste: The arrival is biscuit forward – digestive crumbs and crumble mix with shaved milk and white chocolate and cashew nuttiness. The mid-palate reveals orange peels and white pepper together with more interesting herbalness – basil, sage and sun-dried leaves and vines. Dilution expresses rolled pastry whilst also emphasising the cask much more prominently – big pepperiness and with a substantially more drying palate.
Finish: Medium to long, boiled vegetables, chopped leafy greens and moist soils.
A Glencadam which ably combines bakery notes with a curious vein of green leafiness. Despite falling in the Young & Spritely category, I find there’s plenty of depth and interest here. An opening dram, but an adventurous one. Good stuff.
Over to indy bottled regular Linkwood for a 12 year old matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Clean and fresh with cotton sheets and pressed laundry supported by peaches, melon and lemon curd. Running throughout – soft-peaked meringue and pancake batter and a vein of delicate floral elements – rosehips, lavender and buttercups. Water unlocks Battenberg cake and lemon oil alongside a dollop of honey and a sprinkle of chocolate.
Taste: A deeper and less fruit-forward opening – patented leather and suede alongside chopped almonds, aromatic wood and a waft of moist golden tobacco leaf. The mid palate offers up sweeter flavours with candied lemon peels, tart gooseberries and grapefruit segments. Reduction adds juicy tinned apricot alongside pear juicy and an emergent tang of minerality.
Finish: Quite long with fading rosewater, prominent stone fruits and dusty oakiness.
This Linkwood offers more than it says on the tin. The ‘petals’ are certainly thee, but there’s a deeper complexity deriving from fabrics and fruits which is also heightened and expanded upon when subjected to dilution. Tasty and quaffable – but equally happy being explored slowly and methodically.
Glen Grant regularly appears in outturns with age statements from opposite ends of the spectrum (with very little in between). This black label bottling is from the elder side of things with 26 years behind it after being matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel laid down in 1992.
Nose: Prominent icing sugars combined with red berry sherbet and candied lemons. These are backed up by kiwi, pineapple juice, balled melon and jelly sweets. Running throughout, pancakes served simply with sugar and lemon juice (as they should be!). The addition of water reveals jammier fruits – sugar-packed preserves and spreads alongside sunflower oil, baked bread and polished oak.
Taste: Fruit-bomb alert. Mango slices, spit-roasted pineapple and guava are tempered by sweet and bright lemon juice, gooseberries and old orange liqueurs. The wood influence is polished and lacquered but exceedingly well-judged – sympathetic and enhancing. In the background, waffle mix and a tingle of white pepper. Dilution retains the fruit-packed profile, but lightens it towards kiwi fruit and melon, whilst adding in additional wood panelling and sheened tabled.
Finish: Long and fruity-juice forward. Multi-vitamin stuff. A touch of anise joins and array of sugared baked goods.
A beautifully composed and exceedingly elegant fruit-packed Glen Grant. There’s a ton of complex unravelling ester and oak forward aromas and flavours. Whilst water reduces the precision and focus, its results are nevertheless worth exploring. Straight out the bottle though this is excellent. Quite expensive, but excellent. Pick of the month.
A straight-forward maturation for this Speyburn – 9 years in a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Aerated lemon cream served with baked Alaska, yoghurt and whipped Chantilly. The backdrop is that of orchard fruits – apples and pears diced into a fruit salad. Alongside, clean cotton sheets and freshly baked bread. Dilution adds a leafy dimension with wet green mosses and cut stems alongside biscuit crumb.
Taste: Bright, crisp and fruit-focussed on arrival – pears – ripe and juicy are joined by creamy toffee yoghurt, crème brule and burnt custard cream. The development heads to the bakery with rolled pastry and tart cases gentle scatted with confectioner’s sugar. Reduction offers a bolder and richer profile – tinned and syrupy fruits alongside golden syrup and charred cask heads.
Finish: Medium with lemon peels and pear juice alongside icing sugar and meringue.
A pleasing fruit-forward Speyburn that offers substantial creaminess on both nose and palate. It’s all rather summery and quite out of season for the wintery month – but nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with looking forward to warmer times. Highly likable.
Mannochmore laid down since September 2006 in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Creamy homemade fudge and toffee sit with pink wafer biscuits, buttered bread and coconut macaroons. Popcorn and fresh linen are joined by chopped reed and flax for a slightly vegetal backdrop. Water expresses pancake mix and ginger spiced cookies alongside lemon drop candy and sunflowers.
Taste: A well-balanced arrival of apples and peaches followed by pepper and anise spicing. The mid palate offers sweetness with biscuits, buns, cake mix, white chocolate and vanilla pods before heading deeper with earthiness, and singed tart cases. Reduction adds lemons pith whilst expressing more of the cask with burnt toffee and additional vanilla influence.
Finish: Medium with earthy chocolate covered biscuits sitting with tinned apricot halves.
A rather precise and well-formed Mannochmore that doesn’t offer as much floralness as the name and description suggests, but it still entirely pleasant and worth exploring.
9 years in ex-bourbon and an additional maturation in a 2nd fill PX hogshead for this AnCnoc.
Nose: Bizarre. Paprika, mace and cumin alongside green peppers, chocolate sauce and peanut brittle. Sesame seeds are joined by water crackers and Szechuan pepper. Think homemade curry with some stuff thrown in which really shouldn’t be there. Water lowers the perversity, focussing on savoury aromas – fermenting ale, rising dough and yeasty rolls.
Taste: A big chilli hit erupts on the palate – cayenne and red chilli alongside smoked paprika. Then we’re into pickled onion Monster Munch, spring onions, BBQ’d meats with an inexplicable side order of dried berry fruit cake, dark chocolate and gingerbread. Still weirder than weird. Dilution goes for cashew and hazelnuts alongside a rich chocolate sauce, dried earthy and piquant green peppers.
Finish: Long, packed full of pepperiness, char and big oak tannins.
Well where to start with this anomalous AnCnoc?! It’s undeniably fun, and if you’re looking for a demonstration of just how out-there whisky can be, this will tick those boxes and then some. But, in terms of the composition and actual enjoyment - a hot mess. Whisky for masochists.
Glenfarclas is no stranger to full-term oloroso maturation – indeed, much of their stock does down this well-trodden path. Here we have a refill ex-oloroso sherry butt utilised for a whole decade.
Nose: Fruits and pastries – baked apples and juicy pears with red berry preserves, toffee sponge, vanilla cream and toast. Running throughout cashews and hazelnuts with cookie dough and rising bread mix. Reduction adds a fabric dimension with sack cloth and hessian alongside spun sugar and crispy meringue.
Taste: Apple crumble and poached pears sit with raspberry jam tarts and hazelnuts whilst pepper and cinnamon spicing is joined by brown sugars and malt cake. Water reveals molasses, toffee and chocolate with charred cask staves and golden syrup.
Finish: Quite long and quite malty now – golden barley, malt loaf with touches of leather and fading red berries
There’s two things to note about this 10 year old Glenfarclas – firstly there’s enough sherry influence here that I’m surprised it has been ‘housed’ in the Spicy & Dry category. Secondly, my notes read surprisingly like a description for an OB Glenfarclas 10 year old – and that’s because this is pretty much exactly that, albeit delivered at a cracking ABV. Solid stuff, but incredibly familiar all the same.
Only the 12 bottling from this distillery – and drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Breakfast cereals, oats and fresh golden barley sit with custard cream biscuits. Freshly cut grass, reed and flax is joined by hay. Dilution adds a citric zing alongside gingerbread and sponge cake.
Taste: Fresh, perky and easy-going in nature – malt loaf and bowl of oats are joined by buttery biscuit (base), crackers and dry oakiness whilst peppery spices emerge and become quite piquant. Reduction adds preserved lemons and ginger alongside dry oakiness – garden decking.
Finish: Medium with shaved chocolate, honeycomb, lingering pepper and dry oakiness.
Straight-forward down the line Glen Spey which focusses on the cereal character of the distillate. A touch too cask-led and spicy for my liking, but nevertheless enjoyable enough. Simple things.
Sherry alert – this Glen Moray has spent its entire 11 years in a 2nd fill ex-oloroso butt.
Nose: Big fat rich sherry. Raspberries and strawberries alongside stewed plums, raisins and sultanas. Running throughout hazelnuts, chocolate sauce and gingerbread. Leather gradually peeks through alongside fig rolls and orange peels. The addition of water releases notes of old pipe tobacco alongside hessian cloth.
Taste: Rich and full-bodied with fresh and jammy cranberries, strawberries and raspberries served alongside chocolate sponge. Leather and liquorice emerge, joined by orange peels, cinnamon spicing an a gradual build of intense brown sugars. Reduction emphasises oranges with juice, segments and liqueurs together with cloves and pepperiness.
Finish: Long but incredibly taut – anise, eucalyptus, cough syrup together with exceedingly dry prominent oak.
There’s plenty of sherry delivered with this Glen Moray – but there’s also plenty of cask along for the journey. The promise of rich, jammy fruitiness and sweet treats is met with the nose and palate, but sadly the finish is rather jarring with the sherry volume of oak influence it brings. Agreeable for the most part, but not plain sailing.
16 years in ex-bourbon followed by a transfer over to 1st fill ex-moscatel hogshead for this Benrinnes. Colour me interested.
Nose: Black forest gateaux packed full of dried red and cherries sits with dusty orange peels, unrefined brown sugars and oven-baked pastries. Running throughout a perceptible earthiness – part wet and mossy, part dry and cracked – mosses and lichen with old books and damp cellars. Running throughout leather covered armchairs and an abundance of moist dunnage floors. Dilution offers up cherries – black and glace alongside anise and ginger spicing and orange barley water.
Taste: Immediately off to a warehouse. Wet walls, moist earthiness, old venerable whisky-filled casks filling the air. An almost alluvial quality. Alongside, rich, jammy fruits, orange, cherries and plum – reduced down into preserves – leather bound books, old libraries and rich chocolate sauce. Reduction offers a bigger orange component – peels, drizzle and jellied with a side of gingercake – less earthy in outlook and much more brightly focussed.
Finish: Long with tree resin and menthol sitting with leather seat covered.
A highly successful Benrinnes which pairs appealing old dunnage character with rich and reduced sherry-forward fruitiness. Effective both neat and with water, and possessing a wide appeal which will charm most enthusiasts, not just sherryheads. Highly recommended.
One of the most picturesque Speyside distilleries - which certainly does look better on a sunny day. This Society offering comes from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Peaches and apricots with cream served with fluffy meringues scattered with grapes, gooseberries and melon balls. Clean cotton sheets are joined by candy canes and oaty breakfast cereal liberally submerged in milk. Water moves things away from the fresh and clean profile with wet soils and oily bung cloths together with omelette and egg custard. Less sunshine, more interesting weather patterns.
Taste: Poached pears and French crepes sit with ginger nut biscuits, cream-filled buns, baked brioche and a slathering of vanilla-forward crème patissiere. The mid-palate gradually introduces ex-bourbon influence with cereals, popcorn and a twist of pepper. Reduction adds sweetness and brightness – green apples, gooseberries and melons together with vines and chopped herbs.
Finish: Medium, cereals and stone fruits fade with chewy nougat.
A light and generally airy Strathisla which is well-balanced and well-defined. Water offers nuances which are worth exploring, though don’t necessarily follow the fresh and clean profile this offers straight out of the bottle.
Yet another full-term sherried offering this month – this time via a Bunnahabhain which has been maturing in a refill sherry butt since 2004.
Nose: Creamy-forward sherried fruits – redcurrants, raspberries and black berry tarts with crème caramel and whipped cream – together with raisins, sultanas and a slab of chocolate cake. These are joined by a gentle vein of coastalness – seabreeze and jagged rocks. Dilution furthers this maritime link with flecks of salt and rock pools.
Taste: The arrival offers plump ripe berries and confectionery – hedgerow raspberries and strawberry boot laces alongside redcurrant jelly, gateaux and fig rolls. Again minerality is present – in the back palate – salt, granite and graphite. Water reveals engine grease and puffs of industrial smoke alongside bread rolls, white pepper and charred cask heads.
Finish: Medium with fading rich jammy fruits and a scattering of biscuit crumbs.
A fascinating grudge match between sweetness and coastalness which for me requires a touch of dilution for both competitors to properly limber up. Nevertheless very tasty either way.
Over to Islay for a 29 – this one drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Surprisingly shy straight out of the bottle taking a little time in the glass to unravel. Cured meats, ham hock and boiled vegetables sit with prominent damp cardboard and wallpaper paste. Running throughout, brine and a combination of tarriness and medicinal wipes. These expand with resting to take on ointment, bandages and green peppers. Reduction highlights brackish pond water and even more moist paper matter – papier mache.
Taste: A bigger and bolder arrival which offers good impact – a building wave of flavour which erupts and concentrates. First open, burning logs, then tarriness with bitumen and felt. The development moves through brine and salt into kelp before heading to the hospital with floor cleaners and a tang of grapefruit pith. The back palate has meatiness from BBQ and additional road surfacing elements alongside fire hearths. The addition of water reveals ashiness and pepperiness, but also a touch of raw oak in the back-palate.
Finish: Medium to long, tarry and with lemon-soaked oysters and yet more damp cardboard.
Whilst it would be unfair to describe this young Laphroaig as ‘undercooked’, there’s nevertheless a lack of precision and the character that sub-10 year old Laphroaig is capable of producing. I’ve seen plenty of fuss about this bottling from preview tastings early in the week – and I’m honestly confused as to why (beyond a die-hard predilection for distillery #29). Damp cardboard syndrome™ runs throughout and whilst it doesn’t spoil the overall character of the whisky, it certainly detracts from it.
Peated Allt-a-Bhainne is increasingly becoming a ‘thing’ and it’s rapidly moving onto my radar. This bottling – exclusive to offers – has spent 7 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Lemon peels, rock pools and chiselled cliffs mix it up with some interesting spicing – curry leaf, garam masala and smoked salt. Industrial gas vapours, graphite and metals are joined by vegetal smoke – peated leaf salad, burning mosses and melting tar/felt roofing. Water adds bromine and fish tanks together with potpourri and chopped kitchen herbs.
Taste: Bold and expressive – combining gooseberries and tart green apples with quartz mines and salt pits. Felt and tar are joined by coal dust, barbeque briquettes and burning logs whilst lemon curd sits with bracken and leaf mulch. Industry meets forest fire. Reduction adds juicy apple together with smooth rocks, gravel and paving slabs.
Finish: Long with fading lemon zest and hints of smoked fish.
Packed full of inland peated character, with some thought-provoking industrial and alluvial spins. Bright, full of vigour and surprisingly drinkable at its pokey bottled ABV.