It has been eight months. Eight long months since we last ventured into Greville Street to put pen to paper for an outturn review. And I can honestly say that it feels great to be back. Back to the Society. Back to exploring the monthly outturns and most importantly – back to catching up with lovely members. And of course Phil.
The last year has been weird for all of whisky – but I’d posit that this weirdness has been even more pronounced for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Venues either closed or diminished to little more than bottle collection depots – yet at the same time, the influx of new members – with both reasonable and unreasonable expectations has been eye-opening….even whilst I’ve kept myself deliberately on the side-lines.
The cries of missing bottles have escalated to a tangible clamour – whilst at the same time, the sea of photos of bottles across social media – often of whole swathes of outturns have intensified to a point where one really must start to ponder whether a single cask business model can truly sate the needs of a growing international membership. SMWS have of course recognised this themselves with their continued, colourful blends and recent first foray into cask vattings from the same distillery – ‘ Distillery 10 Small Batch Release’ – a release of 2,333 bottles for the Islay Festival.
This Bunna conglomerate was an experiment in more ways than one – not only in the overall volume of bottles, but in how casks can be brought together harmoniously. But whilst the membership certainly wants more bottles – there’s a question mark floating above how they view the combining of casks. To many the single cask and cask strength are lord and ruler – and I suspect it’ll take some time and some education to change those mindsets. To others, likely a welcome sight of something which isn't going to sell out on impact - but we're probably talking about two very different types of Society members here by and large.
Much of life has remained insipidly inert for the past 12 months. But it would be unfair to suggest that the Society has not spent the time concertedly attempting to adapt to both the current whisky market and to rapidly changing, frequently uncertain circumstances. And to my mind that should be applauded. All too many distilleries and bottlers have been happy to rest on their laurels – if you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere. Whether you agree with SMWS’s initiatives and changes is largely by-the-by - you can’t knock them for being prepared to try new things. Societies adapt.
Outturn 305 ‘Enter a world of flavour’ is a bumper release of 27 single malt whiskies, two rums and a gin. The London rooms were fully up on their logistics for The Dramble’s long awaited return and as such you’ll find reviews of all 27 whiskies split between The Dramble and over on Phil’s website.
Young & Spritely and Old & Dignified have been given their marching orders this month – but in the meantime, the remaining 10 flavour profiles are present and correct – and with plenty of red and green foil tops for those of sweeter or smokier persuasions.
My pick of the month goes to the Glenturret (16.54 Frightfully good) – which is indeed frightfully good, offering a perfect amalgamation of expressive filth and concise precision throughout. In close contention for the top spot, we have three releases: a highly characterful, thickly textured Balmenach (48.133 Worm tub gun); excellently structured sherried Auchroisk (95.48 Starless sky with a big full moon); and an unexpectedly brilliant, and thoroughly crystalline Ben Nevis (78.47 Citric firecracker). All three of these offer wildly divergent experiences, but all excel in their own unique ways.
Let’s hope that circumstances permit that this outturn is a proper recommencement of reviewing duties. Until next month (fingers crossed).
Opening our coverage this month is an 11 year old Benriach that’s been matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Balled melon, lychee and grapefruit tartness are set against an aromatic background of potpourri and sandalwood. Crumble mix is spread across cooking apples and then dusted in cinnamon, whilst Turkish delight is served with a glass of underripe mango juice. The addition of water offers apricot cobbler and meadow flowers set against hawthorns and an oddly placed note of plaster of Paris.
Taste: Juicy fruits on the arrival that are both syrupy and quite honied. Lemons, pineapple and mango are served with a hearty sprinkle of dried chilli flakes whilst nut loaf is given a dusting of cocoa powder. Dilution expresses orange-led notes with mandarin and clementine whilst offering dry, peppery touches from the ex-bourbon barrel.
Finish: Medium with fading chocolate and syrupy fruit salad offering alongside a dry, somewhat tannic fade.
A mini festival of fruitiness defines this Benriach in such a manner as to belie its relative youth. However, we’re obviously in Rio’s five-month dry season for this expression as there’s a palpably arid character that sucks the moisture out of the fruitiness in fairly short order. Such a shame as the both the nose and the arrival on the palate are terrific.
A middle-aged offering from Loch Lomond’s Inchmoan spirit style. This one was laid down in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel in July 2000 before being bottled at a still decent 56.3% ABV some 20 years later.
Nose: Pressed flower petals, pink wafer biscuits and foam shrimps proffer a sweet, fragrant and aromatic opening. This is ably supported by lemon bon bons and buttery biscuit (base) and livened by a drizzle of well-reduced strawberry syrup. Reduction adds a dusty quality to the affair with granulated sugars and strawberry Nesquik powder. Hmmm. Better before.
Taste: Notably saccharine with Comice pears and syrupy peach slices and vanilla extract. Chocolate power and nougat joins pepper-spiced honey whilst the floralness from the nose translates across into meadow flowers and pressed cotton sheets. Water favours the cask influence with steeped fruit teas and freshly planed oak alongside orange barley water. Again, better before.
Finish: Medium. Apple turnovers and joined by the leafy character of blossoms.
A refined Inchmoan that offers sophisticated fruity floralness set agreeably against a backdrop of sweet and oak-influenced flavours. This is far more focussed and purer when approached at its natural ABV – indeed straight out of the bottle it’s a defined and elegant treat.
Quarter century Glen Moray that has slumbers for 23 years in 1st fill ex-bourbon and then been given an additional maturation in a 1st fill ex-sauternes barrique. Interesting choice.
Nose: Well-polished with lemon and orange jellies combined into a wobbly St Clements, whilst meringue and a slice of sponge cake sit with crushed cashew nuts. Straight-forward, but entirely pleasant. Reduction broadens things offering both sweet and savoury notes together – mandarin and pineapple cream offset against leafy greens and hot house vines.
Taste: Less polished, but still tropically focussed and well-adjusted in terms of the ABV vs mouthfeel. Roasted pineapple rings and mango slices sit with desiccated coconut whilst spirity molasses and raw can sugars develop in to crackerbread and Chantilly cream pepped up with a grind of pepper. Dilution works well here – a chocolate bonbons filled with defined and expressive orange jelly – quite pleasantly popping throughout the palate.
Finish: Medium with fading tropical fruits offset against well-judged progressive dryness.
This Glen Moray voyage is undertaken on a slightly narrow ship – resulting in every island looking highly appealing, but at the same time rather similarly. Nevertheless, there’s good weather throughout and the on-board service is consistently solid.
Before signing up to Game of Thrones as everyone’s favourite Ser, Rory McCann occupied the iconic role of Scott’s Porage Oats Man – a character originally inspired by Highland games champion Jay Scott who earnt world fame for his heavyweight feats in the 50s and 60s. Anyhow, enough of the history lesson – this is a 10 year old Tullibardine drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Sure – well named this one. Cornflake cakes and oatmeal sit alongside banana milkshake powder whilst woolly jumpers and fabric coverings are offset by a strange but appealing sense of steeliness and peeling wallpaper. Water reveals waxed jackets and dusty Alpen powder alongside touches of sweetened Greek yoghurt.
Taste: Left-field stuff. Apple crumble and a combination of toasted and fresh cereals are served with ceramic jars, tile grout, clay and putty. Barley water followed – with iron filings and shaved coconut added. Dilution reveals a beer-like hoppiness alongside additional barley cues and a pang of zesty lemon.
Finish: Medium to long with chopped herbs and sunflower oil together with wrought iron and steel cabling.
Part Porage Oats Man – but at the same time also part potty-mouthed armoured knight. There’s plenty of the ingredients on show here – but there’s also inextricably a profusion of ill-tempered diversions into metallurgy and alluvialness. This makes for a thought-provoking whisky, but not one which is necessarily immediately approachable or totally convincing.
Balmenach is one of the lesser-known distilleries still operating worm tubs for their condensing – though in the case of this distillery they’re more external ‘tanks’ than what you might think of as tubs (such as at Dalwhinnie). Weighty, sometimes meaty spirit is the result – and its nice to see the Society bottling it at a decent age – as to my mind this style of spirit often takes a little longer in cask to really allow its character to shine through when bottled as a single malt.
Nose: Fruits and funk. Fruit salad chews, lemon oils and clementines provide a juicy foundation for Key Lime pie, meringue and piquant ginger extract. Sitting abreast of it all – lamp oils, lubricants and greases. Dilution retains the appealing character with custard cream biscuits and desiccated coconut added to soft wax and damp wool.
Taste: Thicky, oily and notably textured. There’s a real glide across the palate here. Stem ginger and wild honey join shredded wheat whilst chilli pepper heat builds across the top of gummies and chews, livened by chai latte and a dusting of cinnamon. Reduction retains the weight of the spirit – and the spice – adding bung cloth and sour cream together with rosehips.
Finish: Medium and favouring mixed fruits and chilli spices.
Old school Scotch wrapped up in new school clothes – and highly likable with it. There’s plenty of depth and grunt here from the weighty Balmenach spirit – and that has combined excellently with the ex-bourbon barrel that’s been utilised here, resulting in fruits and funk set to detonate with a chilli pepper fuse. It won’t be for everyone, but if this is your jam – it certainly comes recommended.
Over to Benrinnes for an expression which has spent 9 years in 1st fill ex-bourbon before being transferred over to a 1st fill oloroso hogshead.
Nose: Chopped walnuts and maple pecan pie are set against polished oak tables and parquet flooring. Dark reduced berries and toasted bread are joined by a vinous quality – hot house flowers and very leafy green sherry. The addition of water presents hot pot spices – cinnamon, cumin and smoked paprika – alongside spiced brown bread. At this point it’s rather less of a dessert-like whisky.
Taste: The oloroso hoggie has certainly played its part here. Cocoa powder and chocolate sauce alongside tobacco pouches and chopped hazelnuts. Crunchy toffee apples, plums and plump raisins join cooking jus and oak-forward spicing from cinnamon and pepper. Water offers cayenne pepper piquancy which offsets some of the palpable sherry influence, retaining the boldness, but reducing the sweetness levels down a touch.
Finish: Medium to long with toasted nuts, sweet oven buns and bittersweet smoky spices.
A rather audacious Benrinnes which despite feeling jaggedly and over-intense in places, nevertheless, has a lot to offer in terms of its intensity and expressiveness. An enjoyable brute.
13 years in 1st fill ex-bourbon and then an additional 2 years in an STR oloroso seasoned barrique for this Auchroisk.
Nose: Fresh, bright and crisp sherry – strawberry foam sweets and chews together with raspberry tarts, dates and prunes. Chocolate sauce is livened by cinnamon sticks whilst a mug of hot chocolate is served with orange pralines, citrus oils and barley water. Reduction reveals crunchy toffee and gooey caramel together with nougat and oatcakes.
Taste: Richly composed and with an agreeable weight throughout. Cookie dough sits with orange segments, whilst plump sherried raisins are lifted by chocolate orange and scattered mandarin peels. A coffee and walnut sponge is livened with berry cordial and doubled down with a slice of banana bread. Dilution expresses a highly creamy body with oranges taking charge – jellies, oils and juices – all fresh and sweet.
Finish: Medium with chocolate sauces and perky cinnamon spicing.
A wonderfully structured Auchroisk that has been well-judged in terms of its time spend within the oloroso STR. Everything is where is should be here. Completely enjoyable and certainly recommended.
This Cragganmore has been matured in a bourbon hogshead for 15 years and then re-racked into a 1st fill oloroso hogshead for an additional 2 years.
Nose: Golden and dark sugars combine with banana souffle and banana breads. Orange tarts, plums and pecans are joined by a defined meaty character of cooking fats, pan oils and greases. In the background, additional fruitiness pushes forward – reduced black and red hedgerow berries. Water presents fabrics – both wet and dry – leather skins, damp cloth and linen. These sit with tobacco tins and freshly brewed coffee.
Taste: Sweet and meaty throughout. A roast joint stuffed with cranberried and redcurrants and served with raisins spiced with cinnamon and star anise. Spent coffee grounds and cardamon yoghurt are sweetened with a selection of wine gums. Reduction offers additional cask spice – a pinch of pepper together with cayenne, mace and cardamon pods.
Finish: Medium and still with plenty of oily character as the fruits and spices gently fade.
This Cragganmore offers plenty of heady aromats and solid texture – though it fares better at its natural strength of 55.7% ABV – than when taken down a notch or two. Characterful and deep – this could sit either with a dessert or with a meaty main course.
The light of Nevis seems to grow every lighter with each year that passes. It’s just such a shame the distillery still doesn’t have quite enough inventory to match this with increased availability of their own bottlings. This 11 year old SMWS has spent its life maturing in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Crisp, chiselled, and certainly citric. Lemon sherbet, lemon curd pie and scattered orange peels are joined by homemade lemonade, fizzy Haribos and a side of cream cheese and toasted oak. Simple, but delightfully invigorating. Reduction adds sponge cakes and freshly pressed laundry alongside a touch of aromatic potpourri.
Taste: More of the same for the B-side – defined, fresh and vibrantly citrus. Lemon gel and lemon sugar on pancakes combine with curds and citrus oils. A kick of chilli lifts the expression even further and combines with white pepper and ground ginger. The development heads more pastry-wards with apple tarts and baked buns alongside clean cotton sheets. Water reveals mascarpone cream alongside lemon imbued Chantilly cream.
Finish: Medium with toasted oak and sweet citrus fruits progressively souring.
Well, this is quite the treat. Despite usually favouring my Nevis with a bit of age under its belt, here we have a near crystalline, precise and defined expression which feels hewn directly from sugared lemons. Super enjoyable and well performing both neat and dilute. Indeed, it's incredibly drinkable at its natural 63.5% ABV. Very easy to recommend.
The first of two Bunnas in this month’s outturn. This Oily & Coastal edition has been aged for 13 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: An appealing combination of salted toffee, cream cheese, pickle and fermenting beer sits alongside cold cream, toasted buns and buttered scones. Reduction adds some sweeter notes with tart cases and French crepes alongside a daub of fairground rollercoaster grease and a prize of candy floss and gem necklaces.
Taste: Bolder on the palate with beef roast and sausage meat spiced with paprika and toasted oak. Hard toffee coins and chopped herbs sit with pickled cabbage whilst yoghurt creaminess joins wasabi heat. Dilution expresses balsamic sharpness and adds touches of salinity throughout.
Finish: Short to medium with zesty lemon, salty and residue pickle juice.
Rather savoury Bunnahabhain with plenty of character and unexpected asides throughout. It’s not mainstream, but it works both natural and diluted. Likably left-field.
Despite being largely out of action on the SMWS reviews over the past 12 months, I’ve returned to the familiar and always welcoming sight of distillery 66. This one is a youngster at a mere 7 years of age. It has spent its life in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Brass piping and machine oils – yes, this could be a lamp of sorts. Slate tiles and felt roofing join wet hay and touches of barnyard funk whilst custard cream biscuits and whipped cream add sweetness. Smoke is most certainly highlight – forest-y and damply vegetal. Dilution provides metholated oak together with tanned leather hides and farm steading hay lofts.
Taste: Sharp, salty and sweet at the same time. Salted caramel, seashells and rock pools alongside tobacco pouches, felt roofing and pig sties. Salted beef and herb-crusted ham join crystalline ginger, white pepper and a scattering of leafy notes from ferns and bracken. Reduction amps up the peat with damp vegetal smoke enveloping all, together with wet wool and water-logged fabrics.
Finish: Quite long and favouring toasted cereals alongside diminishing minerality.
Not quite as explosively potent as the official outturn notes suggest – but nevertheless all the expected Ardmore cues are present and correct. Certainly likable, but not necessarily lovable.
My love-in with peated Turret continued throughout lockdown so I’ve high hopes for this 10 year old Society bottling that’s been matured in a re-charred hogshead.
Nose: Smoked meats and charcuterie boards join BBQ briquettes and freshly laid tarmac, whilst smoked cheese and cold cream sit with chewy nougat, burnt meringue and fire-pit toasted marshmallows. Throughout – wet bonfire smoke – packed full of still moist leaves and waterlogged fallen vegetation. The addition of water presents a filthier outlook – bicycle tyres, wellington boots and the fallout from some kind of industrial disaster zone. This is joined by strong aromas of barn yards and hay lofts – all roofed in thick tar.
Taste: The smoke is immediate and enveloping – log fires, industrial chimneys and road surfacings alongside crisp bacon, balsamic and clove studded ham. Ash pervades the mid-palate with salted toffee and a touch of sweetness from candy canes. Reduction adds caramel and hard candy to the smoke – a sweeter billowing of murky goodness.
Finish: Long with clove cigarettes, balsamic and grimy sweetness.
Yes, yes, this is indeed frightfully good. Dirty and incredibly expressive throughout – combining industry, nature and sugars with aplomb. There’s a precision in amongst the grime when enjoyed neat – but once reduced the training wheels are fully removed and this just screams filth. A very easy pick of the month.
Yet more whisky which plays to my typical predilections this month in the form of a 14 year old Ledaig that’s been matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Grubby for sure – but with a delicate perfumed vein running throughout. Fish stew and rubber goloshes sit with putties and clays whilst prawn shells and saline meet hay barn and medicinal wipes. Cut stems and wildflowers add a somewhat unexpected but not unwelcome refinement to the mire. Water nukes the elegance entirely – bitumen, floor cleaner, fish markets and soot.
Taste: Ash for a fireplace and soot from a trawler chimney combine with surface wipes and medicinal tinctures and bandages. Fish sauce and honey cream follow adding a lightness alongside lemon gel. Dilution again takes things back to a more primordial state – wet smouldering vegetation, burnt rubber and sticking plasters.
Finish: Long and sooty with stepped black tea.
Diluted I’m all over this filth-ridden typically Ledaig-like, Ledaig. But straight out of the bottle, there’s considerable sweetness and daintiness here. That might provide some of you with some additional appeals – but personally, I’d rather just stick to grubbiness from start to finish and not confuse things.
Ending this month’s outturn review is the second Bunna offering of the month. This heavily peated 10 has been matured in a 2nd fill oloroso hogshead in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being re-racked into a 2nd fill oloroso hogshead (turns out this movement was not indicated in the official outturn listing so I've updated here for accuracy).
Nose: Instantly herbal with sage and onion stuffing and clove-studded ham. Burnt electrical board and molten plastic join almond paste and a cardamon and coconut lassi. In the background, fish sauce together with a sour tinge of squeezed lime. Dilution heads coast-wards with both sandy loams and overt salinity joining sea food stew and touches of heavily reduced berries.
Taste: Bolder and more concentrated. Concrete and steel girders provide an immediate industrial edge which is emboldened further by BBQ coals, hickory chips and fireplace ash. Salt-baked fish and charred meats are dosed in antiseptic lotion before sweetness of apple sauce provides a late-game lift. Water considerably softens the expressions with hedgerow berries reduced into a thick meaty gravy – but tarriness still lurking throughout.
Finish: Long with burnt oak and coal dust alongside meat stock.
Peat and meaty is the order of the day for this Bunnahabhain which expresses both aspects throughout – with occasional welcome diversions into more coastal notes. Bold and brash in equal measure – this will no doubt sell quickly – though those expecting a more typical sweet + smoke combination might well be surprised with what’s on offer here.