SMWS’s May outturn ‘Whisky with character’ delivers 22 new single cask whiskies in advance of the festivals taking place in Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. The theme of this month is partly about celebration (there’s a few more festival goodies due mid-month – and rest assured some of them are fairly spectacular), but there’s also a firm focus on now well-established Society flavour profiles. I rather like the new #whiskycharacters surrounded by small selections of aroma and flavour illustrations. They add a bit of colourful fun and will likely prove engaging for newer, less experienced members. Who said whisky needs to be dead serious all the time?
The outturn is the first in a while to feature all 12 of the Society’s colour-coded flavour profiles. I’ve reviewed 11 of the new releases for you this month. Head over to see Phil at www.philipstorry.net for his thoughts on the remaining 11 bottlings. Oddly, 16.35 Dante’s Mondeo appear to be a re-release (or a mistake?!) as it was part of the February outturn.
Whilst I didn’t find a slam-dunk insta-buy release across my half of the outturn, I did discover several standout bottlings in amongst a month of generally high quality liquid. Topping the charts this month is Old Pulteney (52.25 A morning at the beach) with a particularly chiselled coastal offering. However, hot on its heels is an elegant (but very expensive) Caperdonich (38.24 Princes Street gardens in summer), a super interesting, unctuous and salty Balblair (70.30 Goose juice) and well-aged, and well-priced Ardmore (66.143 Steam trains and puffers). Until next month….
Distilled in August 2007 and matured for 11 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Strawberries and cranberries are up first – ripe and warming. They’re accompanied by stewed apples and poached pears with everything given a dusting of peach sherbet powder. In the background, grassiness – freshly cut lawn and hay with sunflowers and a crumbling of caramelised white chocolate. The addition of water introduces soft orchard fruit peels – sugary and garden-fresh alongside pancakes with a drizzle of fresh lemon.
Taste: An oily arrival with some bold impact – citrus and tartness from grapefruits, lemon peels and curd. This develops through malty biscuits and chocolate before moving caskwards with building pepper and anise spicing. With water – an interesting steeliness – sharp wet metals, aluminium and mild chalkiness.
Finish: Fairly long and oak-focussed – pepper with a well-judged dryness.
A well-named bottling that presents a well-judged combination of expressive spirit with focussed fresh fruits. This Glen Ord stands out for its liveliness, but at the same time, it’s a highly amenable dram that would serve as a good opener no matter the occasion.Score: 85/100
Another of the Society’s remaining casks of Caperdonich – this one, drawn from the refill ex-bourbon barrel after 26 years of slumber. View on SMWS
Nose: Delicate florals (particularly rose) sit with wild honey, shortbread biscuits and cashews. In the background, Turkish delight, wet grass and ferns provide additional nuance. Dilution expands the aroma palette introducing sunflower oil, chopped hazelnuts, marzipan and a slice of freshly buttered toast. Mild-mannered, but oh so Tantalising.
Taste: Fruit-focused – peaches, apricots, guava and lychee straddle a stone and tropical fruit spectrum – all have a slightly dusty, dunnage aged edge. Berry (strawberry and raspberry) Eton mess is joined by milk chocolate, gingerbread men, and sophisticated lemony polish. Reduction adds a tinned fruit dimension with more of a tropical slant into mangos and overripe oranges. It also introduces the marzipan detected on the nose – brought back in Battenberg cake form.
Finish: Long with ripe stone fruits gradually moving towards sourness and plenty of old lacquered oak.
This Caperdonich makes up for its mellow and restrained outlook with plenty of quietly erudite fruitiness and heaps of natural integration. Expensive (remember the distillery was demolished in 2010), but rather lovely all the same. Recommended.Score: 86/100
Over to Speyside for a 16 year old Aberlour – 13 years in ex-bourbon before being re-racked into a 2nd fill toasted hoghead for a decent finishing period. View on SMWS
Nose: Werther’s Originals sit atop a chocolate sponge cake with a side order of orange marmalade spread across toast. In the background, macerated cherries are joined by Ribena blackcurrant and digestive biscuits. With water, there’s more cask coming forward – charred wood, burnt toast and an almost Bovril-like meatiness.
Taste: Juicy and spicy. Cinnamon dusted chocolate gateaux is packed full of cherries and served with a burnt toffee sauce spiced with anise. On the side a pile of choux buns and puff pastries. The addition of water introduces some grapefruit tartness whilst expanding the spice base to include stem ginger. Piquant stuff.
Finish: Medium in length with cinnamon spice and steeped fruit tea.
I’m not sure what this Aberlour is redolent of, but regardless, there’s lots to like. There’s just the right amount of sweetness here to offset the powerful cask spicing. The result is both interesting, but also well-judged and surprisingly integrated – both resting and dilution have interesting and positive effects. Spice up your life.Score: 84/100
A welcome sighting of Balblair – this month’s an 11 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Prominent creamy toffee and salty fudge make for a welcome first nosing. Deeper, there’s condensed milk, tart bases and flan cases piped full of poached pears and overripe apricots. In the background, a combination of refined sugars and wet vegetalness – moss and moist soils. Reduction brings out some over cask influence with cereals, vanilla and pancake batter joined by dusty cinnamon.
Taste: Bolder, spicier and saltier – Freshly baked digestives (sprinkled with cracked black pepper) alongside chunks of salted caramel. Rolled pastry is topped with grapefruit segments whilst dark, reduced toffee (almost burnt) sits with forest mushrooms and alluvial clays. The addition of water expressiveness bread pudding, lemon curd and an increased pepperiness.
Finish: A little short with pepper, all spice and dusty oak.
I’m sad that the finish of this Balblair is a touch short, as otherwise everything else is rather excellent. There’s quite a different experience on offer here between the nose and the plate – the former, unctuous and creamy, the later, piquant and spicy. The commonality throughout is salinity – well-judged and well-placed. Super interesting and certainly recommended.Score: 86/100
Young Braeval laid down in May 2010 and matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: Strawberry laces and Chantilly cream are served with honeydew melon and toasted hazelnuts. Deeper, milk chocolate sits with dried grasses, reeds and flax. Dilution adds apricots and lychee with some pencil shaving and toasted oak.
Taste: Richer, bigger, and certainly boozier. Barley corns and malt loaf are joined by cacao nibs, whipped cream and plenty of old fashioned orange liqueurs. The development heads through a journey of sweetness into sourness, ending with grape juice and gooseberries. Reduction softens the attack adding vanilla cream for a rather nice balance between sweet and sour.
Finish: Medium with chopped hazelnuts and over oakiness.
This young Braeval is characterful and tasty, but to my mind a touch hostile fresh out of the bottle. Dilution is worthwhile here, adding balance and greater integration of spirit and wood. A worthwhile opening dram, but have the pipette on hand.Score: 83/100
We’ve seen a few sherried Craigellachie’s over the last few outturns – this one is delivered au naturale from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: Commencing in the orchard with fragrant pears and spiced apples. Vanilla ice cream is served on a sandalwood table alongside cream crackers, sunflower oil and honeysuckle. Running throughout – quite a whack of woodiness – oak furniture workshops, balsa constructions and corkboard. With water – hemp herbalness alongside lemongrass and sage seasoning.
Taste: A balance between sweetness and bitterness – sugar-coated peaches and pepper-spiced toffees fight against toasted bread, nut brittle and pokey, sappy oak. Reduced, this is much more my speed, a greater expression of stone and citrus fruits (apricots, lemons and limes) with freshly brewed tea and tingling white pepper.
Finish: Medium in length with chopped herbals and cough sweet syrupy menthol fading.
A gentle Speysider that favours herbalness as much as it does fruitiness. Too much overt oak for my liking, but this really does like water, offering both thought-provoking additions as well as enhanced balance.Score: 80/100
A 1st fill wine barrique has been utilised full-term for this 11 year old Glen Moray. View on SMWS
Nose: Immense and intense. Heavily reduced apricot crumble and caramelised pan sugars are joined by grape spirit and brandy alongside deck varnish, paint stripper and garden fences. There’s brimstone here – bummy sulphur – it passes after a few minutes in the glass. In the background, sugary cinnamon pastries. The addition of water adds burnt cream, toffee and ginger spicing. An odd duck.
Taste: The arrival is penetrating though not hostile from the ABV – there’s a ton of big flavour here – spiced cinnamon rolls, burnt toffee, spent espresso grounds and tarmac. The wine influence is explicit and tannic – immediately drying. The wood has run roughshod over the spirit – an abundance of Ronseal, patio sealant and wood panelling. Water improves things – more cask char than whole cask, adding some creamy toffee and reduced berry juice.
Finish: Quite long, becoming increasingly bitter and sour.
This Glen Moray presents a ton of impact and character – but, I fear it’ll divide the room. Some will love the intense caramelised sugars and all-pervading woodiness, but to my palate, this experiment is sadly a failure rather than a novelty. The integration is very poor – the distillery spirit is all but lost behind a wall of imbalanced, tannic wine cask oak. Heavy-handed, over-oaked and to my mind, a cask that has simply been left too way too long and then been bottled up for sale anyhow. Your mileage may vary.Score: 75/100
Straight up no messing for this Benriach – just 9 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. View on SMWS
Nose: Banana bread and hedgerow berries are merged with greenhouse elements – green peppers, vine-ripened tomatoes and leafiness. In the background, split vanilla pods, gingerbread men and clean cotton sheets. The addition of water presents oaty biscuits, salt crackers and a sprinkle of white pepper.
Taste: Under ripe green apples, vanilla cream, toffee and charred cask heads (presenting ginger) merge sweetness with spiciness – just as it says on the tin. Running throughout, ferns and leaf mulch with moist earthiness. Dilution introduces macadamia nuts and melted white chocolate.
Finish: Medium with singed oak and dusty white pepper.
This young Benriach presents older than its years, offering a straight-forward, but well balanced combination of sweetness, spice and cask influence. Entirely pleasant.Score: 83/100
Another month, another OP – this makes me happy. On offer – a refill ex-bourbon hogshead that’s been maturing since 2007. View on SMWS
Nose: Buttered toast and split vanilla pods express this whisky’s ex-bourbon origins whilst inviting creamy toffee and salted caramel is mineralised by beach pebbles, slate and hewn granite. Reduction introduces fabric with hessian cloth and cotton sheets whilst expressive salinity continues to run throughout.
Taste: The arrival delivers spent coffee grounds, toffee, vanilla cream and plenty of maritime liveliness – limestone, rock pools, fresh sea breeze and an abundance of salinity. The development moves into freshly baked bread, pokey rye spices and engine oils. With water – softer, with peanut brittle and cinema popcorn all dusted in sea salt.
Finish: Medium with well-judged oak bitterness and emerging citric tartness.
When approaching Old Pulteney I’m always looking for coastal and maritime character – this has it in spades balancing the distillery’s spirit style with an excellent refill cask that lends just the right amount of oak influence. Super coastal, super salty and deliciously balanced. Totally yum and The Dramble's pick of this month.Score: 87/100
The near obligatory monthly Ardmore – but, this time served up at a notably higher age. 20 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Sweet, grassy and delicately smoked – heathery and mossy peat sits with wild honey and rolled pastry. Running throughout – umami and industrial aromas – spring onions, chicken pot pie alongside engine oil, axle grease and wafting vaporous coal smoke. Dilution introduces salinity, liquorice and cashew nuttiness.
Taste: Richer and sweeter with smouldering heather fields sitting with smoked orchard fruits. Coal dust develops into ashiness before moving towards grapefruit tartness and eucalyptus oil. The addition of water adds salinity and beach shingles alongside burnt driftwood and Black Jack liquorice chews.
Finish: Quite long with smoked chocolate and freshly brewed espresso fading into citric tartness.
This Ardmore is relatively straight-forward and undemanding, but at the same time, refined and quite cohesive. There’s an excellent integration of spirit and cask which has, after two decades, taken on an elegant balance of delicacy and power. Recommended.Score: 86/100
We’ve seen a little run of weirdly peated Glenturrets the last few months – here’s the latest – a 7 year old matured in a recharred hogshead. View on SMWS
Nose: Meaty stuff – pork sausage meat, burnt ends and ham sandwiches (on white bread) served with sage and onion stuffing. The smoking is quite varied here – coal dust, rubber tyres and molten plastic bags. With water – ashiness, fish tanks and farminess along with pine needles and stagnant pond water.
Taste: The arrival is powerful and packed full of slightly mad bituminous, sooty, ashy peat. Charred and burnt meats – pork, beef and ham are joined by farmyard sties. In the back-palate, grapefruit and citric tartness are accompanied by chilli pepper heat and a sweaty motorway repair crew. Reduction adds olive brine and salinity with axle grease and exhaust fumes.
Finish: Medium in length with tarmac, rubber and plastic bag alongside drying oakiness.
I’m pleased that the Society notes that this is not for everyone – indeed, it’s quite, quite mad. I’m pretty down with these aroma and flavour combinations, but even so, despite everything being powerfully delivered, there’s a tautness and imbalance here which doesn’t quite permit the lunacy to gel into a totally cohesive whole.Score: 84/100