SMWS’s February 2019 outturn ‘A sensory revelation’ eschews the smorgasbord of tenuous Valentine’s tie-ins to simply present us with a broad batch of new single cask whiskies. 21 new Society bottlings are being released today – 22, if you include 24.132 Engaging Warmth which is a special release for UK Society venues - it’s highlighted in Euan’s outturn introduction, but has no associated listing in the booklet – read on to find out what The Dramble thought.
This outturn features 10 of the Society’s colour-coordinated profiles (Light & Delicate and the mid-level Peated profiles are omitted this month). I’ve compiled reviews for 11 of the new single cask releases – for the other half of the outturn, do check out Phil’s musings over on his website: https://www.philipstorry.net/
Overall, whilst I did not find a killer standout bottle, there were a number of expressions in the running for our pick of the month, and plenty of solid offerings to choose from, no matter your style preferences. In the end, topping the scoreboard was the weighty and textural Dailuaine - 41.115 Scottish lemon preservation society, and the incredibly chiselled and highly coastal Pulteney - 52.24 Tin foil hats at Dornoch Castle. But, those of you who either identify as a sherryhead, or a peathead should read onwards - there's at least one good pick in your respective categories to consider looking out for.
15 year old Longmorn drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile. View bottle on SMWS
Nose: Fruit-forward with ripe raspberries and strawberries served alongside vanilla cream and Italian meringue. In the background, orange liqueur, hints of rosewater, desiccated coconut and honeysuckle. Water brings out additional creaminess in the form of berry yoghurt and plump marshmallows as well as some additional floral notes of cut grass.
Taste: A fairly viscous mouthfeel (almost candlewax) delivers juicy red and black berries (raspberry and strawberry again), with tonka beans and vanilla pods. In the mid-palate, peppery cask spice develops and builds increasingly in piquancy. Charred cask can be felt in the back. Reduction tames the oak influence (though spiciness is still rather prevalent) and introduces tarter, sourer fruits – redcurrants and blackberries, alongside ginger and mainstream ex-bourbon flavours of toffee and tanned leather.
Finish: Medium with fairly intense pepperiness and overt oak.
The cask influence of this Longmorn feels a little unchecked in the back palate and finish, but other than that, there’s plenty of bright, ripe fruitiness and natural cream to provide the succulent experience the bottle name infers.
Ex-bourbon Aberlour is not bottled nearly enough for my liking – and rarely at all by the distillery itself. Here, we have an 11 year old that’s been drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Gummy bears and fruit pastilles provide a fruity vibrancy that’s enlivened by cherry and berry cordial. Whipped cream and pavlova add some creaminess, whilst rose water Turkish delight adds a pleasant floral back note. Water moves things out of the orchard into the bakery with rolled pastry, sponge cake and fresh coffee beans.
Taste: A silky delivery of sweet and sour fruitiness – red berries (raspberry and cranberry) alongside unripe green fruits (gooseberry and greengage). Toffee and coconut sit with toasted cereals, and steadily develop spiciness from dusty pepper. In the back-palate, florals once again present themselves – rose petals and lavender along with chopped kitchen herbs. Reduction perks up the spicing levels whilst adding a slight chalkiness to the texture.
Finish: Medium in length with white pepper, cut flowers (rose) and savoury herbs.
There’s some good gradation and variety to be found in this Aberlour – sugars, fruits, creams, spices, florals and herbs. Even better – everything sits together nicely in harmony. A good choice for a light, but surprisingly intricate whisky to start an evening with.
This Mortlach had been matured for 14 of its years in a an ex-bourbon hogshead before being re-casked into a 1st first fill ex-moscatel hogshead for a short finishing period. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Very bakery-led with sponge cake, biscuits and cookie dough and freshly toasted bread. The sherry influence is rather background, but presents as raspberry pavlova, freshly-brewed coffee and raisins. The addition of water adds fruitiness with strawberry and cream (rather too early for Wimbledon), fresh mint leaves and light touches of cinnamon.
Taste: The arrival is much bolder than the nose suggests - it’s also much sweeter. Red berries (particularly strawberries) sit with chocolate digestive biscuits, spent coffee ground and vanilla pods. Chocolate sauce is livened with warming baking spices that grow in intensity – ginger and cinnamon. The back-palate is extremely wood focussed, offering dustiness, mouth-sucking dryness and a near astonishing level of astringency. Reduction tempers the tannins somewhat, but still struggles to contain the levels of wood that present here. Softer tinned fruits (some stone varieties introduced) are joined by toffee apples and oatcakes.
Finish: Medium with spiced berries and an unrestrained level of tannic dryness.
This Mortlach is a game of two halves, and rather similar to an England performance, a bright start is marred by a sloppy finish. The nose and arrival are packed full of lively sweet fruits and pleasant bakery aromas – but the cask has run amok here and results in a bitingly harsh back-palate and finish.
Macallan sans-sherry. This example being a 16 year old from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel, and a UK Society venue exclusive. Sweet & Spicy profile.
Nose: Certainly a sweet and spicy opening - cinnamon swirls, allspice dusted choux buns, sponge cake and some ready rolled filo pastry. Skittles and wine gums provide additional saccharine enjoyment, and sit alongside burnt vanilla cream, tangerines and sunflower florals. Water reinforces the patisserie side of things with rich tea and custard cream biscuits – all we need now is a coffee break.
Taste: Apricots, peaches and light tropicals (mango) are defined, but at the same time tart. They are joined by a slab of chocolate cake, sponge fingers and vanilla cream. Lime zest and pepperiness develop alongside cream custard and dusty oak. Reduction adds some brightness and juiciness into the mix with pears and clementines pepped up with some stem ginger and chocolate fingers.
Finish: Medium in length with white and chilli pepper spicing and underlying earthiness.
Out of the bottle, this Macallan is a solid drop. But, once diluted it shines brighter with greater fruit expressiveness and more overall balance. That said, there’s a high price for this month's two SMWS Macallan's – quite substantially higher than other similarly aged indy ex-bourbon Macallans - which feels like you're paying a hefty premium purely for the distillery name.
Decade old Dailuaine from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: Rather expressive with plenty of coffee beans, bourbon biscuits, dark chocolate and sunflower oil. Running throughout – lemons (well, one would hope from the bottle name) and some savoury water crackers. Water really heightens the citrus here with preserved lemons and zesty peels alongside buttery crumble mix and French meringue.
Taste: The arrival immediately reinforces the natural weight of the Dailuaine spirit – it’s waxy and full with plenty of mouth cling. Lemons (and limes) present first – tangy, but sweet – alongside chocolate covered biscuits, apricot flans and pastry cases. Reduction adds some juicy tinned stone fruits as well as interesting brassy and chalky flavours/textures.
Finish: Medium with delicate pepper spice, coconut cream and vanilla.
There’s a lovely weight and texture to this Dailuaine and a good balance between fruits and biscuits. Though not quite as lemon-forward as the name might suggest, nevertheless this is a very tasty drop. Joint recommendation of the month.
Down to the Lowlands for an Auchentoshan that’s been matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon hogshead for 13 years before being finished in pedro ximenez for a good few years. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Nose: Sherry is immediate with boozy trifle chocolate and latte coffee. Burnt toffee and icecream sit alongside ginger, almond and orange zest. In the background, herbalness – potpourri and delicate sweet perfume. The addition of water adds peach melba alongside an array of orange-based aromas – mandarin juice and vintage Grand Marnier.
Taste: Jammy fruits arrive first – raspberries and blackberries all heavy reduced. Chocolate and black forest gateaux are livened by ginger biscuits (lebkuchen) and cardamom spiced sponge cake. The back-palate again reveals an underlying floralness – rose petals and violets. Reduction heightens the chocolate flavour whilst adding coffee grounds and earthiness.
Finish: Medium to long with earthy ginger cake, chocolate and icing sugar.
A rather idiosyncratic Auchentoshan that’s developed an unusual floral/earthy ginger character. But, it holds it all together nicely providing a tasty, and different take on PX finishing. Oh, and if you like lebkuchen, you should be all over this.
Over to Speyside for a 16 year old Aultmore that’s been finished in1st fill PX for around a year following an initial maturation in ex-bourbon. Surely, CTRL+ALT+PX would be a more typical play on the three-finger salute? Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Nose: Deep and intense sherry with reduced jammy berries (blackberry and blueberry) and a surprising level of meatiness – ham stock and balsamic dressing. Brown sugar,raisins, sultanas and espresso provide a PX backbone that lighter shortbread biscuits and crumble mix sit on. The addition of water adds substantial aromatic spices into the mix – cinnamon and ginger – heady, but playing well with the rest of the composition.
Taste: Rich sherry-forward flavours led off with chocolate, raisins and sultanas whipped into a deep and luxuriant cake mix. The mid-palate offers a more fruity aspect, emphasising blackberry cordial alongside cinnamon swirls and burnt pastries. In the back palate – underlying earthiness and gentle white pepper. Reduction adds some brightness to the sherried depths – red berries, icing sugar and toffee sauce.
Finish: Medium to long with bitterness developing – earthy and chilli chocolate.
A solid sherry-lovers Aultmore that’s packed full of deep intense flavours, but still with a good level of integration. Only the finish lets this down, where cask astringency comes to the fore. Nevertheless, if big, robust sherry is your thing, this is well worth considering.
Always nice to see 52 on the outturn list – particularly when it's served au-naturale like this bottling – 17 years in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Oily & Coastal profile.
Nose: Immediately coastal with salty sea water, salted caramel, limestone and rockpools. Creaminess is introduced via coconut milk and vanilla icecream/granite. There’s a slight nuttiness in the background – hazelnuts – it sits with charred cask ends and a sense of viscous engine oil. Reduction adds crumbled biscuits, bung cloth and fresh paper as well as some floral honey and toasted bread.
Taste: A wonderfully balanced combination of lemons, gooseberries and greengages with overall maritime influence – salt toffee, brine, minerals and chalky aspirin. There’s plenty of umami flavours here – water crackers, green bell peppers and salted popcorn. The addition of water brings out stone fruits with peach and apricot, whilst also emphasising some industrialness – axle grease, shale and coal dust.
Finish: Long in length with plenty of alluvialness – clay, putty, granite and shingle.
Fans of the distillery’s OB 12 year old would do well to take a look at this Society bottling – the profile is similar, but on steroids. Utterly maritime, highly chiselled, crystalline and precise. They don’t come much more coastal than this. Joint recommendation of the month.
Green label 42’s always get me interested – this one has spent 9 years in ex-bourbon hogshead and then around 3 years in a 2nd fill ex-white wine barrique. It's an exclusive for the monthly bundles. Lightly Peated profile.
Nose: Part farmyard, part coastal – hay, sties and lacticness sit with salinity, kippered and buttered prawns. Poached pears provide a lift of sweetness before more typically odd Ledaig aromas take over – Crayola crayons, maple-smoked bacon strips and a sprinkle of chilli pepper. Dilution results in an increasingly meaty composition with burnt ends, and roasting joints joined by langoustine tails and an earthy smoked savoury hay aroma.
Taste: Highly savoury and suitably berserk – pickled onion crisps, fish and chips (well salted and dosed in vinegar), cheese crackers and a platter of surf and turf. The mid-palate emphasises smoke more directly with burnt planks, beach fires and ashiness, with some medicinalness supporting – floor cleaner and bandages. Whereas the back-palate goes fully coastal with limestone, shingle and shale. Water once again favours meatiness with BBQ’d ribs and fat juicy lobster served with a side order of iodine and seaweed.
Finish: Medium with mineral peat, antiseptic cream and sharp smoked limes.
There’s a lot less molten rubber here than one usually expects from Ledaig – but there’s still a riot of aromas and flavours across the board that fans of this left-field distillate would no doubt adore. The nose is arguably weaker than the palate, offering less coherence and power, however, water proves to be the great leveller it often is with 60%+ ABVs. Fun stuff.
The Society continues its recent run of Inchmoan’s with an intriguing green label bottling that’s been drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Lightly Peated profile.
Nose: Juicy bright fruits – apricots, oranges and pears with a saccharine element of Jelly Babies and Haribo gummy sweets. Toffee custard joins digestive biscuits, nutmeg spicing an overt oak in support. But, there’s no smoke at all that I can detect. Reduction introduces a slight nuttiness of almonds and chopped cashews, alongside rocky outcroppings and pebbles.
Taste: Bright and crisp with stone fruits (apricot and peach) and creamy fudge lifted by white pepper, chilli and nutmeg. The mid-palate reveals a slight coal dust ashiness – a gentle a smoke as is possible. Reduction finally delivers the peat that was promised – it’s still light and wafting, but presents hearth embers, ashtrays and spent bonfire ash. It also adds in some tropical with mango and guava joining an assortment of tinned fruits.
Finish: Medium with dusty minerals (quartz), chocolate and light white pepper spice.
I can imagine the difficulty in giving this bottling a colour code. Straight out the bottle, it mainly presents pleasant spiced fruits, but it's only once diluted that any sense of peat smoke becomes perceptible – and even then, it’s remarkably feint. It all works well enough, but feels a bit undecided as to what it wants to be. Perhaps this highly innocuous profile is a good one to try on a member of anti-peat brigade? But, for my palate, it’s all rather too ambivalent.
If any of you tried last month’s 16, you’ll know what to expect here. Those that didn’t well – hold tight. 7 year old peated Glenturret that’s been drawn from a recharred hogshead. Heavily peated profile.
Nose: Swirling vaporous smoke that’s part industrial revolution with axle grease and smouldering rubber, and part farmyard with hay, stiles and more than a hint of fishtank. The addition of water adds definition across the board – beach rock pools, engine oils, fish market, preserved lemons and burned out cars.
Taste: The arrival delivers fresh limes and sweet sponge – and then goes insane with an explosion of filthy peat smoke. Bonfires, TCP, iodine, tarred ropes and burnt rubber meet barn loft, pig sty, damp hay and gruyere cheese. This builds and builds and is hard to describe in words the level of intensity that is present. The back palate restores a small semblance of normality with lemons and limes sitting alongside digestive biscuits, toasted bread and buttered seafood.
Finish: Medium to long and presenting liquorice root, tart citrus and coastal minerals.
Dante’s Mondeo is frankly pretty bonkers – whilst the nose provides hints of what’s to come, the detonation of grimy, industrial peat smoke is still rather unexpected. This is not going to be for everyone – nor (unless you’re a whisky masochist) a daily drinker. However, there’s still a strange balance here, and as the cheapest bottle of the outurn, I’d certainly recommend it for those who like things powerful, but strange.