The Society’s July outturn ‘Distinguished Characters’ have all been selected by whisky legend and Chairman of the Society Tasting Panel Charles MacLean. The outturn features 19 new single cask whiskies handpicked by MacLean as part of the Society’s 35th anniversary celebrations. He’s also written all of this month’s tasting notes – though that doesn’t make them any less esoteric. A member since the early 1980’s and Panel Chair for the last 26 years, MacLean is holding a range of tasting events at SMWS venues over the next two-days. If you’re not able to get along to one of these you can read more about his history with SMWS and the 35th Anniversary collection being released this month: http://campaign.smws.com/charlie-maclean/
The July outturn has a particularly broad selection of styles available, featuring all 12 of the Society’s colour-coordinated profiles. The Dramble has reviewed 10 of these 19 new single cask releases (and we tasted a few more interesting things whilst we were there – perhaps there’s more to come shortly?). Phil will have the remaining 9 bottlings covered on his website: https://www.philipstorry.net/review/smws-outturn-267-distinguished-characters - so why don’t you venture over there once you’ve finished wading through our monthly review roundup?
The Dramble has a range of highlights for you this month. In poll position is the exceptional Ardmore (66.117 Teasing spicy smoke), closely followed by a particularly coastal Highland Park (4.244 Welcoming an old sea dog). But then, there’s also a selection of exceedingly tasty whiskies to suit all palates: from a well-aged Linkwood (39.160 Will brighten your day!) and no-messing Auchentoshan (5.65 Cocktail hour) to a very tasty Dalmore (13.58 Remains of the Earl Grey) and the always fascinating but room dividing Ledaig (42.44 Winter warmer). Quality drams to raise a toast to both MacLean and the SMWS with.
This Speyburn was matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel for 8 years. Young and Spritely profile.
Nose: Bakery time – quite bready and yeasty with aromas of buns and pastries. Coffee and walnut cake in particular comes through – reminding me of my childhood – one of my mother’s most often made cakes. Apples are the basis for fruit here – toffee covered. In the background floralness – elderflower. The addition of water really brings out the ex-bourbon cask influence with tons of oak – wood planking, chips and sawdust – as well as adding further sweetness with a fruit tea infusion.
Taste: An arrival packed full of sweetness – Fox’s Glacier Fruits, and very tangy sugar-dusted lemon and lime. Bakery continues, now with more of an ex-bourbon slant – vanilla cream cakes and custard. In the mid to back palate some earthiness and forest moss. When reduced, fruits are softer and more syrupy, ginger is expressed and the wood becomes quite sappy and indicative of its young age.
Finish: Medium in length, very oaky and supported by creamy vanilla custard.
This Speyburn is certainly young and spritely – the nose is much more successful than the palate, but both still provide oodles of cask influence and intense sweetness. Despite possessing a sweet-tooth, this is a little too much for me and I’d prefer a lot more spirit character than is on display here. Conversely, the refill barrel used here has certainly been highly active and the overall result in some ways belies the 8 year old age-statement. If you’re and ant for sugar this could be right up your alley.
An Allt-a-Bhainne from February of 2007 that’s spent 10 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. Young and Spritely profile.
Nose: Fresh cotton sheets and folded laundry. Floralness is firmly in control of this nose. Lavender, potpourri and cut grass provide a clean and crisp opener. In support are gentle toffee, vanilla pods and some interesting vegetal aromas – bell peppers and summer greenhouses. Wet soils, lichen and oak lurk in the background. Reduced, the nose presents much more minerality – wet slates, as well as an increasingly earthy aromas.
Taste: A slightly hostile arrival with plenty of impact, but also plenty of raw alcohol. Cotton candy and vanilla cream sweetness is mingles with ginger and intense pepperiness – both black and bell. Earthiness is increasingly emphasised with planking soils and damp cardboard, however the entire development is exceedingly quick. The addition of water unsurprisingly removes much of the bites of the alcohol, but also reduces the definition of all other flavours – a bit of a double-edged sword.
Finish: Short, quite citric, peppery and with a real stinging boozy character.
This Allt-A-Bhainne is tricky to tame. Neat, it presents some interesting aroma and flavour combinations, but it possesses a delivery and development akin to a guillotine – sharp, intense and over very quickly. I struggled to find the correct balance of dilution, which managed to reduce the aggressiveness, whilst maintaining the overall definition.
Well-aged Linkwood from 1989 that’s spent 28 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Sweet, Fruity & Mellow profile.
Nose: Honey, bees and waxiness are joined by distant tropical fruits – flashes of mangoes and guavas, but both a touch dusty and austere. A little deeper there’s tinned fruit salad, overripe oranges and some steely minerality. Rested, both balance and definition improve and ginger spicing and lilies come out to play. Water reduces any sense of tropicalness, but adds in sweetened lemons and dustings of fine sugar.
Taste: Austere again – pleasingly so in places. Fruit salad (particularly mangos, oranges and lemons) is given additional bite from minerality – rocks, shale and slate. In the mid-palate, sweetness returns with honey and beeswax. Ginger runs throughout providing a touch of sharpness and pep to proceedings. The addition of water (quite sparingly in this instance) pronounces all aspects of the whisky further, adding stone fruits , more crisp minerals and additional honey sweetness.
Finish: Medium with garden-fresh honey, homemade lemonade and a squeeze of grapefruit.
This Linkwood and well-balanced and well-behaved, responding well to water, but being equally happy at its natural ABV of 48.4%. It’s quite a light a summery dram that benefits from a little resting period, but then offers light, delicate and fruity flavours and an easy-going nature.
A 21 year old Glen Grant drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead from 1996. Spicy & Sweet profile.
Nose: Quite hot, but packed full of fruits – apricots and plums – both seeming a little bit mulled. Touch of polish, hinting at age are joined by fresh floral – elderflower and cotton sheets. In the background, hints of chocolate and touches of leather. Water – which seems essential here reduced the stingy sensation and adds some fruit salad chews and ginger spicing.
Taste: Punchy and a little standoffish on arrival – a huge wave of lemons and tart grapefruit mingles with strawberries and galia melon. Honey and bees wax provides both texture and additional sweetness. In the mid palate, both shoe polish and intense ginger come out to play. The addition of water is not only necessary, but also brings about a much cleaner and crisper profile – alongside, some minerality – no necessarily coalmine, but certainly steely.
Finish: Long, slightly nutty with hazelnut and a fruit salad which is heavy on citrus. This sours quickly and also brings with it cutting alcohol until tasted reduced.
This Glen Grant is initially rather unapproachable – it’s not that the there’s poor aromas and flavours, but rather that they’re buried behind a wall of intense alcohol. Reduced, this is a far superior experience, with crisp and defined fruitiness. That said, I do wonder what fill this cask was up to (3rd, 4th?) to maintain such a high ABV after 21 years of maturation and likewise to seem so raw and spikey without dilution. Straight out the bottle I find this a touch questionable – reduced is becomes a whole different ball park, and much more enjoyable. I’ve scored to reflect this – you can’t be obtaining the higher points if water is a prerequisite.
Straight-forward Auchentoshan – just a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel employed for 15 years of maturation. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: ‘Cocktails’ is often used in SMWS bottle names – here it is more aptly deployed than most – freshly made margaritas with particularly zesty limes. These are joined by earthy tropical fruits – mango and pineapple – both a touch dusty. Bright florals, violets and lilies are sweetened with icing sugar and then deepened with just a touch of golden tobacco leaf. The addition of water brings out some underlying nuttiness as well as gentle hints of floor polish.
Taste: Orchard fruits on arrival – apples and pears. Both are quite zingy – almost sherbet-like. Bitter spicing from pepper and anise starts softly, but then steadily builds throughout the development. A touch of salinitity is present – salted peanuts perhaps. Around the edges oak tannins – but nothing too overt or over the top. Water adds tartness – grapefruit, as well as softening the crescendo of spices.
Finish: Incredibly long, with fizzing sherbet pear drops.
This Auchentoshan has a truly memorable finish – it’s staggeringly long and delivers plenty of liveliness. There’s a real journey to go on here – bright and crisp fruits at first, then roiling spice and ending with touches of oak and fizzing boiled sweets. Interesting, and quite solid indeed.
Dalmore time – no Paterson wine cask messing here – just a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel and 10 years of maturation. Spicy & Dry profile.
Nose: Warm buttered scones with a side of salted caramel (and unusual breakfast certainly). Toffee apples, vanilla cream and some interesting underlying minerality – wet slates, aluminium cans. Water expresses the cask influence further with creamy vanilla custard. It also allows the spirit a bit more limelight – earthy and mossy.
Taste: Sugar-dusted patisserie (buns, rolls and swirls) is joined by apples, pears and some fizzing grape juice (let’s pretend its champagne to increase the perception of class here). In the mid palate, chocolate and biscuits – a welcome break for Kit Kats – and some additional fruitiness that comes across as a tea infusion. In the back palate – oak and vanilla from the 10 years of maturation.
Finish: Medium in length and presenting a balanced combination of chocolate covered digestive biscuits and sherbet fruits.
This 10 year old Dalmore is surprisingly opulent for both its age and its cask composition. There’s bold and defined flavours and a real sense of purpose with the delivery. Highly likable and one of the better SMWS Dalmore’s for quite some time.
There’s only two overtly sherried numbers in this month’s out turn – this 10 year old Glenlivet is one of them. Drawn from a 1996 1st fill butt. Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits profile.
Nose: Orange peels, warm fudge and toffee sauce and chocolate are joined by a shot (make it a double) or espresso, walnuts and touches of tanned leather. Reduced, the nose emphasises real maltiness with a cup of bedtime Bovril.
Taste: Impactful and with plenty of sherry influence – Chocolate, raisins and more coffee (the machine is running on double shift today). Sweetness levels are quite high, both from burnt toffee and demerara sugar, as well as heavily reduced hedgerow berries. Building from the mid-palate is a wave of pepper spice, which is party bitter, but also a touch tart with the late arrival of sharp, tangy citrus.
Finish: Medium to long, chocolate, coffee beans and pepperiness.
A very solid sherry-forward Glenlivet that I’d be tempted to name ‘The king o’mocha’ - chocolate and coffee are in abundance. Equally at home at 60.9% or reduced to a lower ABV – this is either bold or opulent – take your pick.
Home of Chivas and one of the prettiest distilleries in the world – this 9 year old Strathisla has slumbered for 9 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Light & Delicate profile.
Nose: Cotton fresh with camomile and linen sheets. Sweetness is derived from light toffee, and a punnet of red fruits – raspberries and strawberries. Throughout that’s grassiness and light earth. The addition of water makes for a crisp and slightly mineral outlook, with additional cask influence of white pepper.
Taste: Soft and fruit-forward – with more emphasis on tropical notes now – pineapple, banana, both dripped with lemon juice. There’s a creaminess here – vanilla custard and soft-peaked meringues – I guess those melt in the mouth. Reduced adds a slightly syrupy texture to the fruit elements – like they’re tinned in juice, as well as emphasising the ex-bourbon cask with a light pepperiness.
Finish: Short to medium, with citrus tang, pepper and just a touch of tannins.
This Strathisla is straight-forward but effective. It has a crisp and clean flavour profile which is ideally suited as an introduction to warm summery evening – and in the UK it seems like we’re having (and will have) plenty of those.
Refill ex-bourbon Highland Park – this one clocking in at 13 years of age. Oily & Coastal profile.
Nose: A touch shy for a few minutes, then opening nicely – an interesting combination of coastal, vegetal and bakery. Very light (less than in most HPs) heathery smoke and salty sea air comes together with mosses, lichen, and boiled vegetables. Sweetness is derived via rolled puff pastry and a smattering of oven-baked, honey-coated buns. Water adds doughnuts (of the un-iced plain ring variety), a greater prevalence of salt and further interesting savoury motes.
Taste: A much bolder arrival than the nose would suggest – packed full of salinity, rockpools, and grapefruit sharpness. Rolling in from the sea is further salinity (salted caramel – yummers) and light tar. In the mid palate, the savouriness detected on the nose is given more shape – seafood – a full Fruits de Mer. In the background, earthiness – wet soils and forest mosses. The back palate doesn’t deliver any new flavours, however it does become increasingly drying – as if the sea is withdrawing for low tide. Reduced, were in an SMWS favourite – cocktails – margaritas this time with tangy lime and licks of salt.
Finish: Medium, salty/briney and still a touch vegetal/savoury.
A highly coastal Highland Park – correctly put into the right SMWS flavour profile – there’s smoke here, but its seriously downplayed compared to the maritime assault on the senses that this whisky provides. Crisp, fresh, balanced and with some punchy flavour on the palate. A very tasted ex-bourbon cask indeed. Recommended.
This Ardmore spent 9 years in ex-bourbon before being re-racked in a 2nd fill heavily charred barrel. Lightly Peated profile.
Nose: Sweetness, smoke and meatiness – often a combination for success to my particular tastes. Ginger nut biscuits to start, with some toffee for additional sweetness – then we’re going deeper with tar, rubber, camphor and earthy smoke – smouldering soils. Tobacco takes its place – burnt, aromatic and still wisping gentle smoke plumes into the air. Throughout is real meatiness – serrano ham, crispy bacon and heavily reduced gravy. The addition of water really brings out the natural sugars – burnt toffee, caramel taken too far and a touch of sugarcane molasses.
Taste: A full-bodies arrival of soft sweet and sour fruits. Toffee and liquorice up the sugar ante a level, before sending us on a spiralling journey into a smokehouse – BBQ’d ribs, seared steaks and a 24 hour brisket and joined by earthy smoke with hints of tar and bitumen. Water reduces the prominent meaty flavours, instead upping the sweetness levels. It also transforms the peat, from inland and earthy to airborne, ashy and chalky.
Finish: Medium to long, with tarry smoke, tart grapefruit and dryness.
This Ardmore is particularly moreish. It is perhaps more intensely smoky than many OBs, but likewise brings with it defined meatiness and reduced sugars. All of these things balance together wonderfully. That said, whilst water may be employed to lower the punchy ABV of 60.9%, at that point it loses some coherence, turning ashy and chalky with much lower overall definition. It’s well worth trying this at its natural strength – indeed, to my taste it has been bottled at exactly the right time. The Dramble’s pick of the month for this outturn.
This oddly named Ledaig (released during a heatwave in the UK) has been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead for 9 years. Peated profile.
Nose: Meaty, earthy, fish tank – wonderfully odd – it can only be another SMWS 42. There’s quite the juxtaposition of aromas here – ribs and roasted meat joints, pungent earthy smoke and a bucket load of brine and minerality – and yet it works – as Ledaig often does. Fruitiness is kept to a minimal, but there are touches of lemon zest which add tang. Likewise, sweetness is lower than in a lot of bottlings – but there is some and here its delivered via rolled pastries and an interesting underlying nuttiness. The addition of water brings out an aroma that I always expect with peated bottlings from this distillery – rubber.
Taste: Oily and dirty. BBQ’s meats and some oily engines in a rubber factory. Peating is quite ashy and chalky here and is played off against citrus and grapefruit. Minerality runs throughout – granite and quartz. The combination of chalky, citrus and mineral makes for a particularly sharp and tart development that is also increasingly drying. Reduced, the fruits are much softer, but tangy citrus is still firmly in charge – perhaps a bit too much
Finish: Medium, sour, citric, mineral and rubbery.
An idiosyncratic Ledaig as always. This bottling is a touch different to recent SMWS 42s – it’s particularly heavy on the sour and sharp notes. Whilst water reduces these adding to the overall balance, to my taste, Ledaig works best when these tart and mineral elements feel completely in-step with the underlying pungent, slightly dirty peating. No easy feat, but here, they’re just a touch off. Nevertheless, if you’re a big fan of Ledaig, there’s lots to like here and I’d certainly not turn away a dram of this.