SMWS’s November outturn ‘Made for Sharing’ delivers 37 new single cask whiskies alongside an Armagnac and two bottles of rum. Except, we had a little early November outturn a few weeks ago - and, there’s yet more to come before the month is complete (hint). It seems that rather than the days of old where SMWS would issue an outturn list with enough bottles to sink a battleship, now, the end of the year is being divided up into more bite-sized offerings. I can see the sense in that from both a Society point of view and for members themselves – less of marathon, more of a time trial.
This outturn features 11 of the Society’s 12 colour-coordinated profiles (Heavily Peated is omitted this month) - and I’ve reviewed 17 of the new releases for you. Phil will deliver his verdict on the other half of the outturn at https://www.philipstorry.net/. We were lucky enough to conduct our tasting sessions concurrently this month, so rest assured, there’s some real gems on Phil’s side of the outturn that deserve your attention (and mine).
The Dramble found that the outturn this month backed up its wide variety of styles (and hefty size) with some great quality whiskies – and a baffling number of 11 year old bottlings?!? Top of the pile this month was the elegant, well-aged Bladnoch (50.103 Funky nuts and a glass of wine), closely followed by a delicious sherried Highland Park (4.249 The mermaid’s marmalade) and particularly savoury Caol Ila (53.271 Smoky martini in a dirty glass). But, there was a raft of bottlings scoring just one or two points below our top three – the comprehensive selection certainly does contain plenty made for sharing.
8 year old Benriach distilled in September 2009 and matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Young & spritely profile.
Nose: Soft and sugary with warm pastry, white chocolate and a vein of potpourri. An array of fruits (peach, apricot and coconut) meets with vanilla, oak chips and a dusting of icing sugar. The addition of water adds some pink wafer biscuits and orange peels.
Taste: Quite bold on the arrival with plenty of kick. Spit-roasted pineapples, apple crumble and hefty ginger spicing are joined by malty fruit loaf, vanilla custard and walnut cake. Dilution reveals notes of soft peak meringue, fresh red berries and dried grass.
Finish: Medium, with building spiciness (ginger and pepper) and a slight steeliness.
This Benriach is fruit driven, but quite powerful. There’s full-bodied youth here – which is not entirely yet in check. Might be an opening for an evening, but if it is, it’s certainly a hefty one.
We’ve had a few bottlings from Speyburn over the course of the year – this one is a younger example, matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Young & spritely profile.
Nose: Sea salt – check. Caramel sauce – check. Does what it says on the tin. Beyond that, there’s an interesting combination of shortbread biscuits, slight tropicalness (guava) and greenhouse aromas (bell peppers). In the background, creaminess from crème caramel and butterscotch and some deeper cigar box aromas. Dilution emphasises peach cobbler and transforms the salinity to more of a stiff coastal breeze.
Taste: Rather feinty on arrival with plenty of copper influence. There’s a lot less saltiness here (if any?!) – the palate is more focussed around cinema popcorn, toffee, vanilla cream and Key Lime pie. In the mid-palate an unusual herbalness – part minty, part engine room spirit. The addition of water reduces the youthfulness and stresses both menthol and pine needles.
Finish: Medium with tangy sherbet coated fruits and a dusty minerality.
A rather unusual Speyburn that’s more successful on the nose than elsewhere. There’s plenty of different elements here, but to my taste they’re not entirely integrated. On the palate, the youth of the spirit is immediately obvious and slightly jarring. This has something to say for itself, but I’m not totally convinced.
Aberlour with a cult TV reference and without the sherry - just a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel for this 10 year old. Sweet, fruity & mellow profile.
Nose: Bright and fruity with an orange and lime tea infusion, mango and apricot sauce and plenty of fresh red berries. An unusual, but at the same time appealing chalky minerality pervades the entire nose – dusty but not ashy, rocky, but not limestone. Think Andrew’s Liver Salts but without the zinc-like sharpness. In the background, a spoon of honey and plenty of crumbled rich tea biscuits. Dilution adds almonds as well as a herbal character – cut stems and leafiness.
Taste: Rather confectionary with lemon drops, Haribo and Bone Shaker candy (don’t feel bad if you have to Google that one) and a similar minerality to the nose – chalky and dusty and certainly textural with touches of sherbet along for the ride. The mid-palate delivered a combination of maltiness (barley water) and fruits (primarily citrus) alongside leafy greens, oaty cereals and hay. Water softened things up, reducing the steeliness and adding herbal tea and chopped almonds.
Finish: Quite a big impact, though on the shorter side of medium in terms of length – gummy sweets, cask char and continued chalkiness.
This Aberlour works nicely for me – the combination of sugary fruitys, sweet shop goodies and dusty minerality all ties together to create something that is both tasty and thought-provoking. One of the better-priced options from this month’s outturn and in my view certainly worth a look.
I always have time for this Speysider – this example was distilled in February 2007 and matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Sweet & spicy profile.
Nose: Immediately floral with honeysuckle, sunflowers and cedarwood. This is supported by a lovely vein of tropical fruits – pineapple and guava – alongside desiccated coconut, barley sugar and lemon zest. Dilution increased the fruitiness even further with tangerines, and Seville oranges as well as introducing a slight steeliness.
Taste: A bold arrival that’s true to its 60%+ ABV. Jolly Rancher sweets, grapefruit, lime (margaritas) and orange zest sit alongside pronounced florals – lavender, cotton and verbena. The mid-back palate delivers both ginger spicing and menthol – becoming increasingly drying as it develops. The addition of water emphasises tannic fruit tea, chocolate and bitter toffee.
Finish: Quite long, with tart lemon and cough syrup medicinalness.
Intriguing Craigellachie that develops in the glass. It’s well worth both resting and playing with dilution with this one. A thinking dram as well as a drinking dram. Just a touch too tannic and drying to reach the upper echelons, but still worth your time.
Bottle Name: 55.50 Biscuit bites
ABV: 57.9% Distillery: Royal Brackla Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Region: Highlands
Not seen an SMWS Brackla since last year’s Barrique fantastique – this one is a bit younger at 11 years of age and drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Sweet & spicy profile.
Nose: Gingerbread, milk chocolate and digestive biscuits conjoin with mint and earthy leafiness – mushrooms, heather and wet grass. Honey and red berries (raspberry and strawberry) alongside cream and meringue (Eton Mess time) add some sweetness. The addition of water further enhances the buttery biscuit (base) aromas, but doesn’t change the profile overall.
Taste: The arrival is very malty – loaves and Ovaltine alongside barley and multi-grain bread. There’s plenty of forest-lead flavour here – leaves, mosses and bark. Woodiness levels are high – oak chippings, old park benches and sawdust alongside vanilla and shaved coconut. Dilution adds a sense of creaminess as well as harking back to the biscuits from the nose.
Finish: Medium with toffee, damp soils and a touch of leafy greens. Dry.
This Royal Brackla is both malty and earthy. Unfortunately, it’s also rather oak-driven – nearly to the point of distraction. Not for me alas.
Bottle Name: G1.16 Chardonnay flavoured white wine gums
ABV: 61.9% Distillery: North British Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Region: Lowlands
Middle-aged grain from North British, but with a bit of a twist – 25 years in an ex-oloroso butt followed by a finishing period in a 2nd fill butt with a heavy toast and medium char. A pretty high ABV on this one considering the age. Sweet & spicy profile.
Nose: Sparingly devoid of the typical acetone/glue aromas that pervade most grain whiskies, this delivers linseed and sesame oils, golden syrup and peanut brittle. There’s some sherry influence at play with coffee grounds and marzipan. Woodiness is still perceptible, but older and more relaxed – almost resinous. Water brings out wine gums (yes, the white ones) and juicy sugariness.
Taste: More mainstream grain flavours now – popcorn, buttered toast, glue stick, shoe polish and 2x4 planking. There’s an intriguing savouriness in the mid-palate that delivers carrots and vegetable stock alongside tonka bean and split vanilla pods. When reduced, oatmeal and breakfast cereals are introduced.
Finish: Medium with vanilla, and cask char.
A solid North British that really comes to life when reduced – at that point, the combination of oaty cereals and wine-like sweetness marry together nicely.
No Paterson influence here – straight up refill ex-bourbon (that personally I’d love to see the distillery put out themselves once in a while). Spicy & dry profile.
Nose: Immediately sweet and sugary. Banana bread, golden syrup, candy floss and sponge cake. Behind this, lime zest and fine ground white pepper. Reduction introduces orchard fruits (apples and pears) and well as greener elements – chilli peppers and nettles.
Taste: The arrival starts with vanilla custard and chocolate ganache, but then starts to roil into a particularly spicy little number – stem ginger and particularly white pepper becoming amplified. The mid-palate introduces lemon sherbet and coconut, as well as vanilla ice cream. Reduction takes the edge off of the heady spicing, introducing a softer, more malt driven profile with just a touch of salinity.
Finish: Medium with lemon balm, peppermint, coconut and plenty of pepperiness.
In no surprise, this Dalmore is a world away from the distillery OBs with its outlook. Powerful and impactful and with heaps of spicing – some might find that dilution is necessary to take the edge of here. Super spicy.
Bottle Name: 4.249 The mermaid’s marmalade
ABV: 64.6% Distillery: Highland Park Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Region: Islands
There’s always a steady influx of HP bottles to choose from – this one has one of the highest ABV’s I’ve seen from an SMWS no.4 bottling. Matured in a refill ex-oloroso butt (though unclear if full-term of just a finish). Deep, rich & dried fruits profile.
Nose: Warm pastries, stewed fruits (orange and cherry), toffee and roasted peanuts provide a backdrop for BBQ’d meat (burnt ends and pork ribs), salted chocolate and inland floral smoke. Reduction heightens the salinity of this whisky as well as adding in spongey ginger cake.
Taste: Bigger smoke influence now – with soot, fireplace wood and scorched hay fields. Red berries and darker fruits (plums) are joined by dark chocolate, a slice of gateaux and plenty of rum-soaked raisins. The mid-palate has aniseed and liquorice (Black Jack chews), burnt toffee and honeycomb that’s been taken too far when adding bicarbonate. The addition of water as burnt biscuits and both ginger and pepper spicing.
Finish: Medium, with charred toffee pieces, wood embers and pepper.
This rich and intensive sherried HP is one of the better examples I’ve tasted in a while. The sweet, spicy fullness sits excellently with the underlying distillery character with neither overpowering the other. Neat balancing and pretty delicious to boot. Well recommended.
Eddie Izzard inspired and 1st fill charred red wine influenced. Consider me intrigued. Deep, rich & dried fruits profile.
Nose: A strong focus on the sweet stuff – brown sugars, butterscotch, orange marmalade, honey and poached pears. These are supported by plenty of patisserie aromas – flan cases and tart bases. In the background, forest influence – leafiness and earthy mushrooms. Water certainly adds depth to the nose and moves away from overt sweetness - bracken, fern, hay and barley.
Taste: Oily and unctuous with demerara, baked bread, pastries and butterscotch. The fruit influence is primarily red – blackberries, cherries, cranberries and raspberries – and sits with cake, sponge fingers and vanilla cream. Reduction added both juiciness and slight meatiness (ham hock) as well as sticky toffee pudding.
Finish: Medium, with creamy fudge and just a sprinkle of pepperiness.
Whether a full-term maturation or red wine finish (unsure), this is a successful full-bodied sweet and rich Tomatin that’s ideal as we transition into colder weather. Cake or death! – or Death by cake? I don’t think it matters, I’ll die happy.
Well-aged Longmorn delivered from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Old & dignified profile.
Nose: Expressive and fresh with a perfumed bouquet – rose water, strawberry icecream, Eton mess and cotton candy sit with cigar boxes and pencil shavings. In the background just a touch of salinity and delicate honeysuckle florals. The addition of water brings out lemon balm, orange peels and a touch of charred cask.
Taste: A waxy arrival with plenty of mouthfeel and lots of mint choc chip (icecream and After Eights). Lemon curd, rich tea biscuits and steep fruit tea sit alongside burnt cigars, charred cask ends and almonds. Dilution introduces peach and apricot – part fresh, part baked in puff pastry.
Finish: Medium to long with some vegetal notes of boiled potatoes and olives alongside herbal tea.
An interesting floral Longmorn with plenty of character, but not quite as much obvious maturity. Entirely pleasant, but not rocking my world.
More red wine this month with this 20 year old Glenlossie matured for 19 years in a refill hogshead then re-racked into a 2nd fill charred barrique. Old & dignified profile.
Nose: A juxtaposition of sweet vs. savoury – Turkish Delight, orange marmalade and fruit wine gums sit alongside toasted bread, green peppers and thai lemongrass. In the background, hung laundry, blackberries and blackcurrants along with some aromatic and exotic spicing. Dilution added further lemon as well as stone fruits – peach and apricot.
Taste: Syrupy with old wood, polish, leather and bung cloth. The fruit backdrop is primarily red berry based with strawberry and raspberries – though there are touches of pear and lemon peels added into the mix. The mid and back palates focus more on patisserie with tart cases and freshly baked buns. Water has a softening effect, adding tinned juicy fruits alongside biscuits and a slight nuttiness.
Finish: Long with toasted nuts, orange zest and a sprinkle white pepper.
This Glenlossie has an interesting offset nose, but it’s on the palate where it really delivers – marrying sweet fruitiness from the wine influence along with well-judged, balanced maturation from the previous refill hogshead. The result is rather the tasty whisky and at £82, this is certainly easy to recommend.
Bottle Name: 50.103 Funky nuts and a glass of wine
The second SMWS Bladnoch of this year and another well-aged example. 28 years in a 2nd fill bourbon barrel. Old & dignified profile.
Nose: A complex integration of stone fruits (apricots and peaches) and earthiness (bracken and moss) with oaty cereals, underripe bananas, gooseberries and white wine. There’s a prevalent oiliness that runs throughout – sunflower and olive oils. Water adds some more typical lowland aromas – cut grasses and hay along with biscuits and peppermint.
Taste: The complexity continues with Turkish Delight, lavender, grasses and reeds sitting with poached pears, red berries and coconut oil. The mid-palate is more creamy with both milk chocolate and well buttered digestive biscuits. This fades into a spicier back-palate that delivers ginger and a touch of menthol. Dilution adds a wonderful sense of juiciness –plenty of tinned fruits.
Finish: Long, and surprisingly waxy (at this stage) with green apples, mangos and wet lawn.
Straight out of the glass, this Bladnoch is firing on all cylinders – with just a touch of water, it's elevated even further. Excellent pronounced fruitiness, alongside elegant and well-integrated butteriness and spice. My pick of the month.
11 year old Tullibardine drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. Juicy, oak and vanilla profile.
Nose: Few if any peaches for me – this goes straight down the orchard route with pear and apple – freshly picked, or brewed into cider/perry. There’s a sharp citric centre to this – part lemon, part balsamic, almost cider vinegar. It’s tart and awakening. Running throughout, honey, ginger and a touch of salinity. Water further pronounces the salt with outright minerality as well as adding in some unripe green fruits.
Taste: Very ex-bourbon in its focus with buttercream, vanilla, coconut, toast and cask char. Adding some additional interest is a dusty, almost coal-dust pepperiness along with both spearmint and coolmint. Dilution adds florals with grass and hay as well as heightening the minerality into something fairly chiselled.
Finish: Medium with vanilla pod, coconut and plenty of chalky rocks.
A straight-forward ex-bourbon matured Tullibardine with a real mineral underbelly that’s particularly pronounced when reduced.
The near-obligatory monthly Bunna. This one takes a different approach to the most recent bottlings, having been finished in a 1st fill ex-oloroso hogshead after 7 years in refill bourbon. Oily & coastal profile.
Nose: Coastal – sea breeze, jagged rocks and slightly singed driftwood. Sherried – caramel, almonds, orange marmalade, raisins and sultanas. Reduced – some hazelnut nuttiness. Straight-forward.
Taste: Similar story. Coastal – rock pools, limestone and mineral dusty. Sherried – reduced and dried fruits (figs, raisins and damsons), ground ginger and allspice. Still straight-forward.
Finish: Medium with a touch of white pepper, clove and sea breeze.
Nothing particularly wrong with this sherry-finished Bunnahabhain – but no fireworks for me either. The combination of maritime spirit with sweet oloroso works well enough – and the length of finish hasn’t removed the underlying distillery character.
Coastal Balblair – oh go on then. An 11 year old matured in a 2nd fill hogshead. Oily & coastal profile.
Nose: Certainly maritime with sea salt, minerality and rock pools. More typically ex-bourbon Balblair with breakfast cereals, buttered toast, toffee an vanilla. In the background some dried berries and old coffee beans alongside touches of heather and fresh sappy oak. Reduced, there’s some additional fabric aromas – leather and bung cloth.
Taste: An interesting development that moves from salt to herbal to sweet. Starting with the coastal, there’s shale and shingle. This moves inland with heather, pine and leafy greens. Finally, the underlying sweetness reveals itself with peaches, mangos and lemon peels all dusted with icing sugar. Dilution adds some florals – sunflower and buttercups as well as cut grasses.
Finish: Medium, slightly sooty with hint of medicinal char.
There are some interesting toasted and herbal nuances to this particularly coastal Balblair. Solid stuff, and a wee bit different too.
Over to Campbeltown for this 11 year old drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Oily & coastal profile.
Nose: An aromatic blend of tobacco and florals - sooty spent ash, mint and cut flowers. These sit with apricots, choux buns, white chocolate and sappy wood. With water, oranges were revealed, alongside liquor-like bitterness, hay and compressed strawberries.
Taste: The arrival delivers saltiness wrapped up in tropical fruits – mangos in particular. There’s still plenty of tobacco-like smoke alongside fruit tea infusions, chamomile, and almond brittle. Reduction added a hint of farmy cream cheese as well as heather and more outright smoky char.
Finish: Medium to long with orange tea and almonds.
Despite its 11 years, this Glen Scotia is surprisingly refined and elegant with plenty of fruit, delicate florals and fragrant wood smoke. Clearly a good cask at play here. Recommended.
Bottle Name: 53.271 Smoky martini in a dirty glass
ABV: 57.3% Distillery: Caol Ila Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Region: Islay
There’s been a lot of SMWS 53s this year – but they’ve all been pretty solid. Standard stuff with this one – a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Peated profile.
Nose: Super savoury, eschewing the usual Caol Ila lemony coastalness. Lobster, scallops, fish tanks and brine are joined by sea salt, ozone and smoked candy floss (if such a thing even exists). Throughout is a vegetal note of olives that is supported by a fresh smoke that feels more restaurant grill than it does peat bog. Dilution adds yet more umami with cream crackers, langoustines and some outright brine.
Taste: Meaty and oily! BBQ ribs, burnt ends, charred ham and heavily reduced stock. Smoke is more coastal and medicinal now – tarred ropes, engine ash, smoked kippers and brine. The whisky is lifted by pear and lemon sweetness (not tart) that balances with the carmelised meats pretty perfectly. The addition of water adds some vegetal flavours – green peppers, olives (again) and pickled cabbage.
Finish: Medium, with seaweed and a developing sweetness.
Happy days. Whilst this might look like many of the other SMWS Caol Ila’s, it’s actually a very memorable one. This is mainly due to a particularly savoury profile that emphasises seafood and meat rather than lemons and medicine. Refreshingly different and certainly recommended.