Posted 28 February 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
SMWS’s March outturn ‘Strikingly different’ delivers 21 new single cask whiskies alongside a solitary new rum from Travellers in Belize. The theme of the month is compare and contrast, with a selection of bottlings which the Society has picked for sampling together – exploring how age and wood type effect maturation - any excuse to tempt you into buying more than one bottle. However, to my mind, this month’s list is the most consistently solid outturn that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing for The Dramble over the past two years – there’s an impressive level of quality on offer here, so perhaps buying more than one bottle is actually a good idea!
This outturn features bottlings from 10 of the Society’s colour-coded flavour profiles (Young and spritely and Heavily peated are omitted this time around) – and with a nifty little update from Dramble webmaster Danny, we’re now showing you these profiles in lovely technicolour on each of our reviews (including all the historic ones). We hope in the near future to offer you all the ability to search our SMWS reviews by their flavour profile, recognising that many of you use the colours as a short-hand to help you zone in on the expressions which might best suit your tastes. Watch this space.
We’ve reviewed 10 of the new releases for you this month, Phil over at https://www.philipstorry.net/ will have the other 11 for you. He was also similarly enamoured with the outturn, so you’ll have a lot to choose from.
There’s a lot of good scores this month. So much so, that with the vagaries of scoring and differing personal tastes, it seems almost impolite to recommend our picks of the month. And anyhow, it would be too long a list – you’re just going to have to try to be selective here. It’s worth noting that not only is the quality this month pleasantly high, but also, everything feels particularly evocative of its style/category – fruity drams really are fruity, coastal bottlings are seriously coastal. Though I'm not sure that makes your decision-making process any easier - there's far too many tempting bottles here!
Benriach – laid down in September 2009 and then drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel 8 years later. View on SMWS
Nose: Plenty of fruitiness here with confectionary – Chewits and marshmallows – and orchards – orange peels and freshly picked raspberries, berry yoghurt and strawberry sorbet. Florals also play their part with honeysuckle, heather and potpourri. Peppery spice is tempered by a slightly chalky mineral edge, but both marry well to the inviting fruit combo that dominates. Reduction adds overt sweetness with icing sugar, meringue and candied lemon peels.
Taste: Punchy stuff with intense deeply reduced fruits – raspberry coulis, strawberry liquor and poached oranges. The mid-palate presents a growing pepperiness alongside sappy but drying oak – nothing out of check though – both amalgamate well. Water brings out some biscuity flavours as we as adding sharpness from grapefruit and underipe gooseberries.
Finish: Medium, peppery and with compressed fruits.
Despite its young age, this Benriach is surprisingly dense with flavour. Fruits and spice are the main order of the day, both are delivered with some aplomb. A whisky that’s confident with its spirit quality, and likewise is not overly oaked. A great start to this months’ outturn.
Always happy to see ex-bourbon wood 13 – this example has spent 11 years in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: Wood certainly feels in charge here, but it seems older and more relaxed than this 11 year old age statement would initially suggest. Teak furniture, wet bracken, damp old paper and chopped herbs join preserved lemons, orchard apples, dusty polish and brassiness. Water brings out some real fattiness with a chip shop fryer and lard buttered bread.
Taste: Undoubtedly woody, but pleasantly aromatic with it – cedar and sandalwood alongside wood lacquer, milk chocolate, cookie dough and tart apple pies. Spiciness levels are high, but to my taste they work exceptionally well here – white pepper and mace – interloping, then fading into the distance as grassiness and hay take over in the back palate. Reduction lessens the perceptibility of the aromats and takes things down a more traditional ex-bourbon note with a touch too much sharpness.
Finish: Medium to long with cacao nibs, plenty of dryness, but not too much astringency.
Whilst this 11 year old Dalmore is better at its natural ABV, there’s a lot to like about this decidedly modern composition. I’m usually not one for big and unrestrained oakiness, but here it presents itself in such an aromatic and perfumed fashion that I can easily forgive it. Divergent from the house Dalmore style. And divergent from most indy Dalmore’s too. ‘Out there’, but well worth an exploring.
Next up in the Society’s Bushmills account comes a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel with 17 years of maturation under its belt. View on SMWS
Nose: The label doesn’t lie – there’s certainly lemon here. But, much of it feels more cream-based rather than being explicitly tart and citric. Lemon sponge, lemon meringue pie and lemonbalm (I’ll stop there). Backing this up is crumbled biscuits, tempered white chocolate and a good dollop of bees honey. The addition of water brings out some underlying maltiness as well as waffles, iced buns and refined sugar.
Taste: A creamy arrival with preserved and soured lemons adding some tang to a base of vanilla custard, flan cases and rolled pastry. There’s more fizzy and recognisable citrus here – and its backed up by some lovely garden floralness – peony, sunflowers and cut grass. Reduction adds a whole new level of fruity expansiveness – peaches, apricots, pineapple, ground chocolate and some interesting ‘greener’ notes of nettles and ferns.~
Finish: Medium with honey-sweeted tea, dry oak and delicate hints of minerals.
Lemons ahoy! The fruit constituent of this Bushmills feels a little one dimensional (whilst still being quite delightful) – until its reduced - then a much wider array of sweet orchard flavours are allowed free reign. Either way, quality distillate matured in a cask that allows it to shine naturally.
Bottle Name: 9.162 Nectareous rapture
ABV: 56.1% Distillery: Glen Grant Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Spicy & dry Region: Speyside
Recent Society Glen Grants have had some age to them, this one has just entered its teens and is drawn from 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: Stone fruits up first – peaches and nectarines – served with a side of cream whilst sitting in a sunkissed field. There’s plenty of vegetation here – hedgerows, reed, flax and grass. Running alongside, Victoria sponge cake, gingerbread men and a scattering of rosehips. Water brings out some moss and bracken alongside vanilla toffee.
Taste: Plenty of patisserie here – cakes, buttery biscuit (base), gingercake slices. The mid-palate becomes more malty with barley, oats and brown bread, before heading back for earthy vanilla and ginger sorbet. Reduction proves beneficial here – softer fruits – even some light tropical coming into play - there’s prominent sugar, but tempered by slight chalky alluvianess.
Finish: Short to medium with oaky oats and drying wood.
This Glen Grant offers a decent combo of fruit, cakeshop and garden vegetation – everything works together nicely, though the finish is too cask influenced for my liking – prominent drying oak. Nevertheless, pretty decent – standards are high this month.
Interesting cask choices for this Cragganmore – 12 years in ex-bourbon and 2 years finishing in a new oak hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Wooden furniture with a heady mix of Indian spices – cardamom and curry leaf livened with reduced fruits – figs, dates, raisins and plenty of orange peel. In the background, more exotics with Turkish delight, toffee sauce, golden tobacco and processed brown sugar. The addition of water adds a ton of batter mix – waffles, pancakes – not quite Yorkshire pud thankfully, as well as emphasising the orange aromas with – tangerine and mandarin.
Taste: Boldly flavoured and impressively deceptive –you’d swear this was a sherry cask! Chocolate, raisins, figs and plenty of toffee sit with Black Forest gateaux and brown sugars. The mid-palate offers some punchy sappy wood – young trees, park benches and wood chips – it’s really the only sign this is not from ex-sherry. Water introduces cola cubes and gingerbread, offering a great balance between sweetness and spice.
Finish: Long with reduced pan sugars and prickly cask spicing.
I find this quite compelling – particularly because of its new oak camouflage, which, other than some overt oakiness on the palate genuinely feels like sherry influence – there’s a ton of reduced fruits, sugars and deep flavours here. Good at 56.1%, but verging on great with a drop or two of water.
Sherry lovers rejoice – the Society have definitely got you covered this month with a Craigellachie that’s spent 13 years in an oloroso butt before being reracked for yet more sherry – into a 1st fill moscatel hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Tons of sherried depths with figs, prunes and raisins sitting with a slice of chocolate cake. Old tanned leather and balsamic sharpness are joined by burnt honeycomb, toffee sauce and a cork pin board. Not everything here is dark and foreboding – toasted marshmallows and Chantilly cream softens things up and provides some pleasant lightness. Reduction introduces a well-made tiramisu, peanut brittle and walnut bread.
Taste: Plenty of rounded sherried fruitiness here – red berries (raspberry and cherries) merge with plums, damsons and an assortment of air-dried fruits. Cocoa powder and chocolate nibs are served with toffee sauce, maple syrup and a selection of leather goods. In the mid-palate, spices poke through, cinnamon and nutmeg – delicate, supportive and in no ways distracting. Water leads to a more expansive palate – orange peels, marzipan and walnuts added to the mix.
Finish: Medium to long in length with dusty cinnamon spicing, and an almost mentholated kick of chocolate.
This well-sherried Craigellachie doesn’t disappoint – whilst there’s plenty of rich depths, there’s also a good whack of bright sugars and fruits. The end result manages to somehow straddle the divide between lively and cavernous. This brings balance to the force.
Bottle Name: 10.172 A silurian’s seasoning cupboard
Straight-forward refill ex-bourbon Bunnahabhain from 2007 – not much to go wrong there. View on SMWS
Nose: Entirely coastal with a big hit of salty sea breeze, granite, shale and alluvial clay. Dried fish, rock pools and seaweed keep with the maritime theme, whilst vanilla buns, popcorn and toasted bread draw directly from the refill ex-bourbon. Dilution introduces a basket of fruits – lemons, peaches, white grapes and gooseberries.
Taste: Still sticking firmly with the coast - limestone, chalk and shingle sit with salted lemons and plenty of kelp. A touch of engine oil, axle grease and coal dust, hark to the Victorian workhouse look of this Islay distillery – dirty and mechanised, but still with a focus on sharp minerality at all times. The mid to back-palates once again draw from the wood – vanilla custard and toasted cereals. A few drops of water adds desiccated coconut and salted toffee. But, make no mistake, whichever way you serve this, it’s always chiselled.
Finish: Medium, salty and mineral with fading lemons and gooseberries.
In many ways, this Bunnahabhain is a bit of a one-trick pony. But, if you like your whiskies mineral and coastal (which I most certainly do) you’ll no doubt be pleased by quite how sharp and precise this 11 year old Bunnahabhain is. Salt, salt and more salt.
A few missing cask numbers between this refill ex-bourbon barrel Balblair and the January release of 70.29 - perhaps more to come from this underappreciated distillery over the coming months. View on SMWS
Nose: Apricot tarts, orange peels and wine gums are tempered by a solid influx of limestone coasts and granite outcroppings. Bright golden barley and buttered bread sits with salty water and seaweed. Reduction adds plenty of green herbs – mint, olive brine and crispy kale alongside some ozone.
Taste: Crystalline salinity is up first, subsiding to reveal a more fruity underbelly – apricots, coconuts and citrus with salted caramel and vanilla tarts. The mid-palate has some savoury tinges – damp hay and light hammy meatiness. Dilution softens things up – less coastal, more stone fruits and dried herbs alongside some chalky aspirin.
Finish: Medium, green herbs, brine and a firm coastal breeze.
The underlying citric fruity spirit character of Balblair is present and correct here – but in this instance it’s wrapped up in a particularly maritime delivery. It’s not quite as single-minded as this month’s Bunna, but instead offers coastalness with plenty of natural fruits and a good scattering of herbalness.
Ardmore is a regularly of nearly every Society outturn – this bottling hails from 2006 and has been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead for 12 years. View on SMWS
Nose: Plenty of vegetation with hay, fern, bracken, mosses and even some fish tank. Peat is delicate, but certainly perceptible - forest fires, coal dust and slight tar. There’s more than a hint of farmyard here with barns, haylofts and a good slap of cream cheese. In the background – crackerbread, tree sap and burnt soils. Reduction adds meatiness with a roasted lamb shoulder and animal feed (verging on silage, but not quite in that ballpark). It also emphases some light crystalline minerals.
Taste: Bolder on the arrival with a ton of farmyard flavours – gruyere, dried grass, silage, damp cellars, barns and pig sties. Gorse and bracken add some earthy vegetation whilst sweetness is derived from toffee, grapes and gooseberries. Smoke presents as seared meats and ashy burning hay with a slight touch of rubberiness. The addition of water reveals industrial flavours – oils and greases with menthol and eucalyptus.
Finish: Medium to long in length with a fading medicinal edge. Still very farmy with earthiness from clay and muddy fields.
There’s a wonderful balance to this slightly perverse Ardmore. Everything marries together well and feels perfectly in place with a good length of development. This style of whisky is likely not going to be for everyone – but, if you like things a little farmy, do check this out. For my money, it’s the best 66 I’ve tasted in a while.
Bottle Name: 53.280 Morning glory
ABV: 61.8% Distillery: Caol Ila Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Peated Region: Islay
I don’t remember the last outturn to *not* feature Caol Ila – but no complaints from me, they’re usually consistently sound. Refill ex-bourbon hogshead for this 6 year old youngster. View on SMWS
Nose: Pancake batter, brown bread and smoky sea breeze alongside fish and chips drenched in vinegar and liberally seasoned with salt. Shellfish, lobster bisque and preserved meats are joined by seashells, brine and sharp and tart grapefruit juice. Water releases some toasted bread, plenty of iodine and ozone and cask influence in the form of creamy vanilla.
Taste: The arrival is incredibly ashy – a packed pub ashtray at the end of a very long evening – but, surprisingly everything is rather sweet with sugared lemon and grapefruit. Phenolic peat, bitumen and tar sit with brine, shale and coal dust. Reduction hints at the youthfulness of this Caol Ila with some residue rawness, but tempted by more lemons and a scattering of stone fruits.
Finish: Long with tarry ashy smoke.
To my mind, Caol Ila works well at an incredibly variety of ages – this youthful example delivers the powerful, unrestrained aromas and flavours you’d expect from the spirit at this sort of age. Big, punchy ashiness is the order of the day – plenty of peat, plenty of coastalness. Not quite the erection the bottle title implies, but entirely decent all the same.