Posted 03 January 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
SMWS’s January 2019 outturn ‘Tak aff your dram’ focusses on Burns Night which this year takes place on Friday 25th. The outturn delivers 21 new single cask whiskies and a 2005 vintage Armagnac - pleasingly there’s a focus this month on ex-bourbon casks (sorry sherry lovers, just the one for you this time around). But, whatever floats your boat, there’s more than enough new bottlings to assist with any Burns Supper celebrations.
The outturn features 10 of the Society’s colour-coordinated profiles (Oily & Coastal and Heavily Peated are omitted this month). The Dramble has reviewed 10 of the new single cask releases. As always, Phil will bring you his views on the other half of the outturn on his website: https://www.philipstorry.net/ - When I spoke to him last week he seemed particularly enthused by the well-aged Cambus (G8.9) – sounds like grain lovers might well want to check that one out.
There were some highs, and lows this month – including one bottling which might well have been unfortunately tainted. But, at the upper end of the scorings, my pick of the month was delivered in the form of a particularly bold, young Caol Ila (53.277 Yeast feast). Joint second place goes to a lovely madeira influenced Cragganmore (37.112 Cream tea with a difference!) and a seemingly straight-forward Glen Elgin (85.49 Aloha!) that delivers way more than you might expect in terms of its fresh fruity deliciousness – it’s also a bit of steal at only £48.20.
Well-aged Benrinnes distilled back in August of 1997 and then matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Fruits and nuts as promised. Strawberries and raspberries – part topping a pavlova, part reduced into a sticky jam. Alongside – chopped almonds, ginger cake and buttery biscuit (base). Reduction adds some ex-bourbon notes of vanilla and coconut shavings along with cinnamon and sunflower oil.
Taste: An oily and silky arrival of Victoria sponge cake and orange peels with plenty of vanilla pods and desiccated coconut. The mid-palate offers up citrus with lime zest, alongside earthy spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. The addition of water adds biscuit crumb as well as heightening the inherent nuttiness of the whisky – marzipan with drying oak.
Finish: Medium, part creamy, part dusty with wood and white pepper.
A nicely fruity Benrinnes with a well-judged backbone of spiciness that’s peppy but still well-balanced. One to hold onto for the warmer summer months.
This Cragganmore has spent 14 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and then been reracked into a 1st fill madeira hogshead for a period of finishing. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: We’re straight into a super-tasty Eton mess packed full of chopped raspberries, berry coulis, crumbly meringue and whipped cream. In the background, garden herbs (mint and chervil) and light florals including elderflower. The addition of water brings out some bakery notes of brioche, toasted buns and pancakes.
Taste: Rather unctuous with cherry cola, chocolate sponge cake and toffee sauce – richer an bolder than the soft and fruity nose. The mid-palate continues with the creamy theme – petit fours, crème caramel, and a steeped fruit tea on the side. Reduction has an interesting effect, as well as adding in orange peels and liqueurs, it also brings with it a hint of well-riddled biscuity champagne – nicely yeasty, bit with a lovely touch of fizz.
Finish: Medium with a soft and delicate nutmeg spicing.
A surprisingly opulent teenage Cragganmore which has benefitted well from its madeira finish. Super tasty and packed full of creamy fruity goodness. Recommended.
Over to Balblair for an 11 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Particularly floral - rosewater and potpourri – but also sweet – redcurrants, guava, jelly babies and pear drops. Straight-forward, but appealing all the same. Reduction moves things towards the earthy side with hay, dried reeds, flax and hessian cloth.
Taste: A spicy arrival of green and chilli pepper alongside poached pears and apple crumble. The mid-palate offers both ginger spicing and a change in texture to a rather chalky, near aspirin like consistency. The addition of water reduces the pep of chilli heat, turning things sweeter with lemon sherbet and prosecco fizz.
Finish: Medium, quite dusty with chalk and with ginger white pepper.
Spice fans will probably enjoy this straight-forward, but prickly Balblair that starts floral, but reveals a devilish underbelly of zingy flavour. Those adverse to well-spiced whiskies might struggle a bit though.
10 year old Glen Elgin drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Cotton sheets and cotton candy with a lovely fruit punch of pineapple, raspberries and hedgerow berries. There’s dusty wood and spice in the background – oak beams and crystalline ginger – as well as some delicate cut garden stems from lavender and sunflower. Water adds creaminess with a foamy latte, crème brulee and toasted breakfast cereals.
Taste: An impactful arrival aided by the high ABV delivers fruits and florals. Raspberries, mango slices with citrus peels to lift alongside honeysuckle and elderflower tea. The mid to back palates offer a more traditional ex-bourbon profile with vanilla and custard – but both marry well with the basket of fruits and flowershop basket of cut stems. Reduction takes things to the rose garden with Turkish delight then heading off to the patisserie for some coconut macaroons and choux buns.
Finish: Medium with ground white pepper and fresh green pepper alongside ginger and an interesting note of curryleaf.
This Glen Elgin is pronounced, defined and quite delicious. Whilst amongst the cheapest bottles from this month’s outturn, to my taste, it’s one of the most successful. Recommended.
Bottle Name: 72.71 Drumnadrochit’s drinking society
Hard to pronounce, but easy to understand – straight up Miltonduff from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: A creamy opening with vanilla custard, crème brulee and panna cotta. Running throughout – redcurrant and gooseberries for sweetness and wet soils and moss adding some earthiness. After a short period of resting, a clay-like alluvialness develops – moist, but still mineral. Water brings out almond paste as well as a range of fabrics – hessian cloth, tanned leather and cotton sheets. Interesting.
Taste: Semi-industrial – polish, engine oil, lubricants and minerality – but without any sense of smoke. The mid-palate offers burnt toffee, leather, hay and some slightly lactic barnyard flavours. The back-palate provides a fruity retreat with cooking apples and homemade scrumpy cider. Reduction takes this whisky much more mainstream, removing the sense of Victorian era advancement for light tropical (mango), cut herbs and buttery pastries – it’s quite nice, and much more ‘normal’.
Finish: Medium and mixing sprightly white wine with dirty minerality and earthiness.
This is one of the strangest Miltonduff’s I’ve ever tasted. Part creamy, part manufacturing sector – intriguing, but at the same time baffling. I can’t see this appealing to all tastes, but at its heart, it’s highly spirit-led and totally idiosyncratic – and that’s what single cask spirits should be all about. Transformed with water to much more conventional composition – whilst I’d not necessarily suggest you buy a whole bottle, this is prime time stuff for tasting during your next visit to the member’s rooms or a partner bar. Challenging.
Our first cask of Society Auchroisk since 2016 – this one an 11 year old from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: Sweet cereals with hay and reeds and soft-peaked meringues. Hard candy sweet provides a tangy sugar uplift. Leafiness runs in the background – wet and mossy with some old cloth and dusty white pepper. Reduction adds more fabric with dirty cotton, bung cloth and leather.
Taste: Arriving 100% ex-bourbon with vanilla, toasted cereals and coconut shavings, this develops quite wildly with spicy pepper and clove studded pear. The mid-palate reveals a more fruity side with pineapple and cooking apples, whereas the back-palate expresses a dusty chalkiness with hay and stale beer.
Finish: Medium with pepper and old tobacco tins.
An odd combination of hard sweets and filthy clothes runs throughout this Auchroisk – it’s generally OK, but I’m not entirely convinced by the balance of aromas and flavours, which never feel completely coherent and complementary.
Bottle Name: 39.172 Starry starry night
ABV: 48.2% Distillery: Linkwood Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Old & dignified Region: Speyside
Well-aged Linkwood that’s been matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead for 26 years and then finished in a toasted second fill hogshead before bottling. Old & Dignified profile.
Nose: Very forest-like with pine needles, bracken, broken twigs and old 70’s herbal liqueurs. Likewise, quite floral with cut grass, potpourri and lemonbalm. Pleasant enough, but not offering the level of luxury and gravitas I’d expect and hope for from a 28 year old whisky. Resting proves fruitful though, unlocking deeper aromas of chocolate, toffee, wood lacquer and curry leaf. The addition of water felt ill advised – notes of yeast bread and pond water mixed with mouldy fruits, decomposition and engine grease. A strange start.
Taste: Ultra-herbal with sage and tarragon joined by garam masala paste, wood panelling, sandalwood and week-old vinegary stale wine. Vanilla and tonka bean alongside porridge provide some ex-bourbon stability to things. Resting again helps steady the ship – blackberries, yeasty bread, steeped tea and wet soiled dunnage floors. Whilst the nose was ill-effected, the palate seems to adore water – removing many of the hodgepodged flavours out the equation to leave something altogether superior with notes of mango, guava, rosewater and bright lemon peels.
Finish: Long with fading pepper – both black and bell.
Whilst described in the outturn as “majestic”, I’m finding this Linkwood just plain bizarre. There’s certainly plenty going, but rather than aged-opulence many of the aromas and flavours here just feel musty, decayed and well past their best. Resting seems near essential and certainly offers improvement, but water proves totally divisive, enlivening the palate, but taking the nose to a very strange fetid place. Society ‘Vaults collection’ bottlings are priced according to their age and desirability – don’t think that the black labels and gold lettering are any sure-fire guarantee of quality by themselves – this Linkwood is heading towards (to the point where I wonder whether my sample was from a tainted bottle) being flawed.
10 year old Strathisla drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Light & Delicate profile.
Nose: Fresh and fruity with breezy lemon zest and spit-roasted pineapples. Running throughout is vanilla custard, supported by a peppy spring from citrus sherbet. Reduction introduces an immediate creaminess with coconut milk, toffee fudge and a freshly baked apple pie.
Taste: Maple syrup is up first, slathered over toasted cereals and salted caramel popcorn. Vanilla and toffee are revealed during the development, which steadily heads towards sharp lime zest and bitter oak tannins in the mid to back palates. The addition of water adds some creamy custard alongside stem ginger.
Finish: Medium to long with toast, crackerbread, lime juice and a sprinkle of salt.
Unexpected salinity adds another dimension to this perky Strathisla – whilst straight-forward, its well-composed and well-behaved when diluted. A tasty opener to an evening.
Bottle Name: 4.252 An Orkney beekeeper’s dram
ABV: 61.3% Distillery: Highland Park Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Lightly peated Region: Islands
The near-obligatory monthly Highland Park – this edition is a 12 year old that’s been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Lightly Peated profile.
Nose: Thick with gorse bushes, heather and hillside flowers, but with a strong coastal vein running right through the centre – brine and buttery seafood. Time in the glass reveals wild honey (well named SMWS), buttered bread and lightly charred BBQ’d meats. Water brings out a more medicinal side with hospital surface cleaner, ash and lime zest.
Taste: Sweet vs. coastal vs. smoke in a three-way grudge match. Opening similarly to the nose with an arrival packed full of wild vegetation – gorse, heather and St. John’s wort alongside smoked fish, roasted pork ribs and salted popcorn. The mid-palate offers lemon balm and honey, whilst maintaining a firmly smoked maritime profile. Reduction adds sweetness, with caramel sauce, whilst emphasising the peat influence with additional ashy smoke, bandages and antiseptic creams.
Finish: Medium to long with coal ash, bathroom tile grout, putty and smoked kippers.
Whilst categorised in the ‘Lightly Peated’ SMWS profile, to my taste, this HP doesn’t hold much back. Whilst unsubtle in its approach, its deviation away from the largely insipid OBs of late is quite remarkable. A much darker, more powerful side to Okney than you’ll find with anything covered in Viking nonsense.
Bottle Name: 53.277 Yeast feast
ABV: 61.9% Distillery: Caol Ila Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Peated Region: Islay
Another month, another Caol Ila – but, this one comes from the younger end of the spectrum after a mere 6 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Peated Profile.
Nose: Hewn rocks – shale and limestone - come together with seafood (fresh prawn and lobster), fermenting home-brew, kelp and brine. Running throughout, some trademark Caol Ila lemon – alongside dirty engine oil, hospital wards, ozone and menthol. Precise and well-honed. Reduction brings forth a wave of farmyard with hay, pig sty, old barns and yeasty bread.
Taste: The arrival is all lemons – zest, juice and balm – and powerfully peaty – hearth fires, ash, bitumen and tar alongside smoked fish, engine oil and greasy lubricant. The chiselled minerality remains – granite, rock pools and salty sea water. The mid to back palates reveal the farmyard detected on the reduced nose – yeasty, buttery and almost lactic. Water calms, diverting the profile away from smoke towards a fruitier outlook – peach and pineapple – but still with plenty of salinity.
Finish: Quite long with lime zest, ash and sticky BBQ’d burnt ends.
This young Caol Ila is big, bold and ballsy, yet at the same time, still packed full of poise and nuance. It’s peaty and meaty, yet still precise, carved and firmly coastal. At £67 it’s pricy for a mere 6 years old age – however, it’s right up with the best of the younger 53’s I’ve tasted since last year. Highly recommended and my pick of the outturn.