In something of a surprise, it’s a Dramble SMWS mid-month review. Longer-term readers will know that I don’t normally cover these – but then the Society doesn’t normally suddenly announce 45 new single cask expressions a mere two weeks after a main monthly outturn. So, seeing as it’s a biggun I thought you’d probably be wanting some notes on it. ‘Big Party Animal’ is made up of 41 new single cask whiskies plus single cask spirits (one gin, one Armagnac and two Cognacs).
Despite the outturn being very large, it doesn’t cover all of the Society’s colour-coded styles (Old & Dignified and Oily & Coastal are passed up). Also, a necessary moan – the outturn booklet is back to having no structure whatsoever – come on SMWS let’s have these consistently listed in flavour profile groupings each month – it makes everyone’s lives much easier.
Quality wise, this big list offers a generally solid selection of new single cask expressions – and once more, similarly to the main November outturn, there’s plenty of Dark, Rich and Dried Fruits, and peated expressions. Good work!
I can’t help but thinking that perhaps Phil (inadvertently – we do this in a largely arbitrary fashion) got the better half of the list to review. Throughout our rather long tasting session there were regularly, rather plaintive “mmmm’s” audible from his corner of Greville Street – and several quick dashes over for drams which Phil thought I really should try (of course, he was right). So, you’d do well to go check out his reviews at https://www.philipstorry.net/ after you’ve finished reading here.
The top spots in this outturn go to the deep, dark, heavily PX influenced Glenfarclas (1.212 Beeswax on barrels), the sumptuous ex-port cask HTMC finished Glenturret (16.39 Sweetness and spice laced with mystery), and the big, rich, fruity and menacingly peated Bunnahabhain (10.179 Flamingos smoking pipe tobacco).
Not far behind and certainly recommended are the well-judged, and well-priced Mannochmore (64.111 Pleasing sweetness, playful heat), the fruit-forward toasted hogshead Balmenach (48.107 Brandy implementation matrix) and the adventurously peated Allt-a-Bhainne (108.18 Pancetta roulette).
OK, let’s get on with it – there’s a lot to get though.
A Young & Spritely Balblair that’s been matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel for 10 years.
Nose: Fresh and bright with lemons, limes, hedgerow berries and orange peels sitting atop of candy pear drops. Running throughout, cream buns and toasted bread with aromatic tangy oakiness. The addition of water expresses ginger and brand snaps alongside nutmeg, doughy rolls and oven-backed buns.
Taste: A zingy arrival of lemon sherbet and lime margaritas that’s joined by tarter gooseberry and grape fruit elements. Choux buns and toffee popcorn sit with toasted breakfast cereals and milk chocolate, whilst pepperiness expands across the palate emphasising the cask influence. Reduction softens things up – less zing, more juicy fruitiness with a host of orchards (apple and pear) alongside stone fruits (apricot and cherry plum).
Finish: Medium with creamy chocolate livened by perky pepper and charred cask ends.
A lively Balblair with plenty of zip, but also an expressive fruity core. There’s some ABV prickle and spice intensity when sampled neat – but this takes water well, offering a still fruit-driven but softer composition that’s an ideal opening dram.
Dufftown was bottled fairly infrequently by the Society until last year – since then we’ve had five new bottlings – all just a shy under 10 years of age. This example has spent its life in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: A highly floral opening of rosehips, pine needles, lavender and potpourri. Lemon peels, jelly sweets and well-dusted Turkish delight provide additional sweetness whilst rolled pastry is joined by a sense of alluvialness in the background – wet soils and waterlogged clays. Dilution adds some spice with stem ginger alongside overt grassiness.
Taste: Tart fruits (grapefruit and lime) arrive on the palate and are softened by balled Galia melon. Crème patisserie and biscuit crumb are joined by Bird’s Custard and whipped cream, whilst ginger cake and charred staves bring forward some of the cask influence – drying, and somewhat dusty. Water favours the oak – custard, vanilla and emerging tannins.
Finish: Medium in length with biscuits and pepperiness joined by drying and somewhat tannic oak that sticks around the gums.
This Dufftown possesses a rather different palate than the nose suggests. And alas, I rather prefer the former. Whilst both possess a pleasant combination of fruits, I found the floralness of the nose far more successful than the wood-forward, rather drying palate.
A straight-forward Glenlivet that’s maintained a high ABV during its 12 year 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel maturation.
Nose: Brown sugars and pink wafer biscuits sit with creamy meringue, freshly-made café latte and spoon of soft nougat. Bright berry fruits emerge (redcurrants) and are joined by garden-fresh sunflowers and daisies. Reduction transposes thing towards a more jammy outlook – with reduced berries sitting with kiwi and melon alongside grassiness with reed, flax and wet hay.
Taste: A fruit forward opening of strawberry boot laces and redcurrant jelly which transitions into soft Chantilly creaminess, aromatic oak and gentle pepperiness alongside white grapes and gooseberries. In the back-palate, more meadow-led flavours of cut wet grass and pressed flowers. Water adds a very pleasant pillowy texture – adding wild honey, spent coffee grounds and creamy mocha.
Finish: Medium with fading berries and gooseberries joined by a dry earthiness of sun-baked soils.
A rather well composed Glenlivet that contrasts defined fruitiness against the natural floralness and earthiness of the underlying spirit. Reduction is well worth the experiment here – adding both additional fruit-forward aromas as well as a lovely creamy texture to the palate. Good stuff.
Interesting stuff here. A Glen Moray matured for 15 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel and then re-racked into a 1st fill ex-IPA barrel for some extra maturation.
Nose: Quite unusual. An assortment of jelly sweets (especially Wine Gums) sits with candyfloss, lemon grass and lemon balm. Whilst elderflower cordial is infused with sage seasoning and a dollop of industrial machine grease. Dilution reveals light perfume alongside apricots and peach cobbler.
Taste: Textural – quite viscous and oleaginous. Rosewater (Turkish delight) is upfront alongside elderflower and milk chocolate. The hop influence is quite perceptible – its herbal and floral rather than being overtly citric in nature – but it still has some of the bittering and dryness you’d expect. Water greatly diminishes the IPA influence – less floral, less hoppy, and more focussed on fruit notes of green apples, peach slices and guava. A pleasant adaptation.
Finish: Medium to long with fading lemon peels, cough syrup and wild honey.
I find this IPA cask finish to be one of the more successful examples I’ve tasted. The influence is perceptible and sympathetic to the spirit, without being in anyway overwrought. Different and a very positive manner.
7 year old Blair Athol drawn from a re-charred hogshead. Great name.
Nose: Rich red and dark fruits – raspberry, redcurrant, plums and rhubarb – sitting with overbaked bread (burnt and blackening at the edges) and cookie dough. After a time, glace cherries emerge together with chocolate sponge – almost gateaux-like quality. Water isn’t really welcomed sadly – adding yeastiness and wallpaper paste which doesn’t quite sit with the core aromas.
Taste: Now we’re into a proper chocolate cake – rich, spiced with ginger, packed full of dried blackberries, cranberries and cherries and served with a slice of rye bread. Orange marmalade provides additional sweetness, whilst oak is lacquered but still quite fresh and sappy. Again dilution jars – white pepper and astringency added and some of the definition of sweetness and spice lost.
Finish: Medium and cask-forward – pepper, ginger, anise and plenty of charred oak.
This Blair Athol would score several points higher were it not for its rather hydrophobic nature. The undiluted nose and palate have developed natural sweetness and fruity richness from the charring process, but taken down a few %, balance and definition disappointingly goes AWOL.
An 11 year old Inchmurrin drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Orange marmalade, mandarin preserve, fig rolls and jelly sweets are counterbalanced by leather chairs, dried grasses, basil buttercups and green bell peppers. The combination of sweetened fruits and vegetalness is quite odd. Reduction brings out further leafiness with greenhouse qualities and tomato vines dusted with icing sugar.
Taste: Again, far from mainstream. The arrival is syrupy and with good weight and texture – cinnamon and clove lead off with liquorice and dark chocolate sponge providing deep sweetness. Raisins and swirled buns and joined by nougat and dry oakiness whilst hebalness returns in the back palate with basil leaf. Water takes juicy tinned apricots and pitches them against boiled potatoes. Still quite anomalous.
Finish: Long with polished wood panelling and fading cinnamon and clove spicing.
I guess this Inchmurrin is a talking point whisky, in that its particularly peculiar. Fruits and vegetables might be found in the same supermarket aisle, but that doesn’t mean that their existence is always going to be as harmonious when in liquid form. In this instance I’m not totally convinced.
Glen Deveron, The Deveron or Macduff – I’ve given up caring as the distillery doesn’t seem to what to stick to one of the other over its relatively short life span (founded in 1962). Regardless, this Society bottling (ergo Macduff) has been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead for 12 years.
Nose: Red jelly beans and rose petals sit with redcurrant and quince jelly and lime peels. Running throughout, Victoria sponge, chocolate buns and gingerbread. Dilution adds a great deal more expressiveness here – key lime pie, fresh gooseberries, creamy custard and cracked cashew nuts.
Taste: Bright and tart with grapefruit, melon and gooseberry. The mid-palate introduces patisseries with tart cases and cake mix alongside biscuit crumb and whipped double cream. Reduction again offers improvement – crème brulee sitting with pink peppercorns and some champagne fizz.
Finish: Medium to long with white pepper and fading white fruits.
Undiluted, this Macduff is straight down the line – standard, inoffensive and pleasant enough. But water teases out plenty of additional character and nuance here – it’s brighter, broader and with some zip in its step. If you’re sampling, do ensure you’ve a pipette to hand.
A welcome ex-bourbon barrel Dalmore (at least by me). This example comes from a first-fill and has been matured for 12 years.
Nose: Crumbled rich tea biscuits and desiccated coconut sit with lacquered oak, cashew nuts and buttered bread. Running throughout – fresh cotton laundry and cooking apples alongside bread pudding. In the background, an interesting meatiness – honey-roast ham with an industrial floor cleaner aspect. The addition of water reveals darker wood panelling, clove spicing and serrano ham.
Taste: Wonderfully strange - and with a powerful arrival. Leather covered seats and bound books sit with ginger and anise spiced sponge cake whilst red berries are livened by chilli pepper, liquorice sweets (Black Jacks), biscuit crumb and roasted Sunday vegetables. Dilution adds sweet and tart peels – grapefruit and lemon alongside spent coffee grounds and milky tea.
Finish: Medium with ground biscuits, and a fading milkiness.
A very solid and characterful Dalmore that challenges the perception that 1st fill ex-bourbon invariable delivers a good whacking from the vanilla stick. This is far from mainstream and yet still in tune with the underlying distillate.
A strangely categorised Old Pulteney that describes itself as highly coastal and then eschews that dedicated category for the Spicy & Sweet profile. Hmmm. 17 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel for this one.
Nose: Rosehips and wood lacquer join with orange peels, melon balls and pancake batter whilst chalkiness sits with marzipan, gingerbread and wood sap. Reduction emphasises floralness further with potpourri, rosewater and almond paste. It also brings out some additional fruitiness with lemon zest and under ripe pears.
Taste: A textural arrival with plenty of oils and waxes. Spice is upfront – chilli, cinnamon and black pepper. It sits on top of spiced pears and highly aromatic wood – cedar and rosewood alongside doughy bread rolls and a very slight mineral rockiness. Water soften things up considerably with peach slices, lemon peels, porridge and a touch of coastal quartz.
Finish: Medium in length with drying cinnamon and peppery spices.
Despite the outturn description suggesting an archetypal OP maritime character, that’s not what I’m finding here. On the nose – perfume – fragrant, but almost cloying. On the palate – spice – pungent and penetrating. The addition of water returns this to some semblance of normality with mineral cues and a wider fruit complement, but overall I’m not really convinced.
A straight up refill ex-bourbon barrel for this 8 year old AnCnoc (Knockdhu).
Nose: Creamy toffee sits with an assortment of fruits – jammy red berries, ripe cranberries alongside under ripe plums and greengages. Running throughout, marzipan, chocolate covered biscuits, hot house vines and moist earthiness. Water adds creaminess – yoghurt and crème patisserie along with further earthy notes of mossiness and damp limestone.
Taste: The arrival is bright and enlivening – red and black berries together with lemon jellies, and tart grapefruit. The mid-palate delivers crumbled biscuits together with earthiness from ferns and bracken and a twist of pepper. Dilution favours the cask, adding vanilla cream and toasted cereals.
Finish: Medium with a combination of dry and water earthiness, and green leafiness.
Another Dramble name-sake bottling – I’m going to have to speak to the copyright lawyers at some point. Purely in terms of the liquid though, this An Cnoc presents a solid combination of fruitiness and earthiness which work together well. Nothing too challenging, but a decent choice from the cheaper priced bottlings in this outturn.
Young BenRiach matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Garden-fresh with buttercups, thistles and rose petals joined by toffee-coated green apples, and desiccated coconut. Running throughout – bakery notes of griddled wafflers, doughy bread and oven-fresh buns. Reduction revealed lemon peels alongside bread & butter pudding.
Taste: Sweeter and more confectionary-based – Jelly sweets, mango slices, guava and unripe pineapple sit with golden sugars, nougat and pancake batter. The development introduced preserved lemons and pepperiness alongside digestive biscuits. The addition of water ups the spicing considerably with addition pepperiness and ginger, tempered by some ex-bourbon creaminess.
Finish: Medium with creamy meringue, gentle pepper and charred cask ends.
A well-composed BenRiach that offers straight forward fruity sweetness together with pleasant bakery notes. Hard to go too far wrong.
This Mannochmore has spent its 8 year old life in a re-charred hogshead.
Nose: Toffee and caramel are joined by brandy butter and a cup of warm coffee, whilst berry Eaton Mess sits with wild honey, chopped field flowers and an interesting industrial greasiness. Dilution adds tart lemon and burnt pan sugars alongside meringue and herbalness form gorse.
Taste: Rich, sweet and with a background savouriness. Grapefruit, raspberries and plums all reduced into a sticky compote, alongside ground coffee beans and chopped almonds. The development is thought-provoking – gingerbread, leather satchels, axle grease and cough medicine moving steadily into greenhouse sweet/vegetalness before emerging with a lick of minerality. Water adds stem ginger, and brown cooking sugars alongside café latte and dry oakiness.
Finish: Medium with fading reduced fruits alongside ginger spicing and a pang of rocky outcrops.
A memorably lovely Mannochmore that is as well-judged as it is delicious. Stimulating, adventurous, responsive to water – and in amongst the cheapest of this month’s outturn. Worth your attention. Recommended.
Back to where it all began. Farclas – 23 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and then finished in a 1st fill PX hogshead.
Nose: All of the bees – beeswax together with bee honey (this is certainly well named). Intensely reduced fruits – cherries and strawberries with orange and mandarin – all quite syrupy. Brown sugars, molasses, leather seat covers and bound books alongside pipe tobacco. Deep overt PX sherry – sticky sweet and concentrated is livened by rum and raisin ice cream and fig rolls. Dilution adds brightness with fresh berry fruits alongside chopped almonds and marzipan icing.
Taste: Intense, incredibly rich and quite aromatic – Sandalwood and cedar sit alongside very dark chocolate sauce, liquorice and molasses. Fruits are still perceptible in the abundance of sugar-led treats – stewed apples and apricots together with dried mango slices and guava. Spicing develops in the mid-palate with cinnamon and cloves alongside oven-cooked fans, raisins and figs and cigar tubes. Water reduces things down to a syrupy consistency with ginger-flavoured cream and a freshly packed aromatic pipe.
Finish: Long with leather armchairs and syrupy orange and red fruits.
There’s nothing diminutive about this PX-finished Glenfarclas – huge sherry, big sweetness and near cavernous intensity. The fact that there’s still plenty of life and brightness here is a testament to the original ex-bourbon maturation as the 1st fill PX has had a colossal influence on the spirit over its final couple of years. The price is quite stiff (and the ‘free gift box’ is unlikely to lessen the blow), but the liquid itself is excellent. Sherryheads rejoice. Joint pick of the month.
An interesting maturation journey this one – 17 years in a port pipe and then transferred into a 2nd fill HTMC (high toast, medium char) puncheon.
Nose: Immediate richness - dark chocolate sauce, oozing Dulce de leche and creamy toffee spread over waffles. Pink wafer biscuits and buttered popcorn sit with toffee-coated apples, maraschino cherries, toasted cereals and baked bread. Dilution unlocks further sweetness with orange peels, molasses, ginger beer and breadiness from yeasty and doughy buns.
Taste: Juicy strawberries and raspberries are joined by plums and greengages whilst moist earthiness from vines and damp moss adds intrigue. The development moves towards toffee, custard cream biscuits and vanilla Chantilly alongside creamy fudge and French toast. Reduction brings the fruits further forward – berries and stone fruits with spiced orange slices and sugar dusted flans.
Finish: Long with creamy fudge livened by crystalline ginger.
The recent spate of peated Glenturret’s have all be pretty exceptional – this ex-port/ex-char bottling continues that excellence but in an entirely different fashion. Lushness and fullness combined with bright and discernible fruitiness and plenty of sticky sugars. Joint pick of the month.
Over to Balmenach for a 17 year old matured for 14 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being finished in a 2nd fill toasted hogshead.
Nose: Bold and tropically-focussed – dried mango, pineapple chunks, guava and dragon fruit sit with brandy cream and burnt toffee. Orange liqueurs and peels are joined by toasted coconut shavings and are enriched with boozy sponge cake, gingerbread and cloves. The addition of water emphasises further dried fruits – apricots and peaches, whilst also adding patisserie notes of tart cases and puff pastry.
Taste: A continental breakfast of fruits and pastries. Tropical fruits (mango, pineapple) and lightly charred dried apples dusted with icing sugar and served with croissants, choux buns, and filo-topped tarts. Dilution expresses tinned fruits – marinated in their own juices alongside perceptible charred cereals and oak staves. It also unlocks some spice influence – ginger and cloves.
Finish: Medium with vanilla cream, toasted cereals and charred cask heads.
Another fine example of how fire and oak combined can unlock delightfully rich and deep fruity flavours. Recommended.
Simply things – 11 year old Miltonduff drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Lemon peels, grapes and gooseberries alongside textural/fabric elements – waxes, oils, greases, waxed jackets, leather coats and clean cotton sheets. In the background, green apples, barley water and bread pudding. Reduction adds brightness and pep from crisp Chablis wine, fresh white grapes and balled melon, whilst also emphasising floral elements –buttercups and sunflowers.
Taste: A soft arrival, but with plenty of natural weight from oils and wax. White fruits – melon and grape sit with cream-filled buns, custard cream biscuits, crème brulee and toasted bread. Water adds additional creaminess – Chantilly and cream cheese – alongside fabrics – sack cloth and cotton sheets.
Finish: Medium with lemon and lime cream, coconut and dry oakiness.
A crisp and clean Miltonduff that nicely combines fruits and fabrics whilst maintaining a good weight and texture throughout. I likes it.
A dozen years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel for this Dailuaine.
Nose: Oranges abound – tangerine, mandarin, orange liqueurs and plenty of peel and zest. Turkish delight and barley water combine with coconut shavings and biscuit crumbs, whilst orchard fruit juices are served with golden syrup and a sprinkle of ground chocolate. Dilution add jamminess with marmalade and preserves alongside syrupy bright citrus fruits and confectioners’ sugar.
Taste: A syrupy and fulsome arrival. Peach cobbler, tinned apricots and pears are joined by strawberries (ripe and bootlaces) and foam shrimps. Fran bases and brand flakes sit with biscuit crumbs whilst gentle pepperiness emphasises the oak. Reduction adds a sense of roundness with quince jelly, pineapple and gently charred staves.
Finish: Medium in length with fading jelly sweets, fresh cotton and creamy vanilla-laced coffee.
An orange-fest of a Dailuaine that’s bright, fresh and well-defined. Sweetness rules the roost, but is kept in check throughout – even with the addition of water which suits the weighty spirit character.
Over to the underappreciated Glentauchers for a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel that was laid down for 17 year.
Nose: Cotton-fresh with pressed laundry, melon, lychee and grape. Pink grapefruit provides a zing, whilst rosewater and pressed flowers add a field-like floralness. Deeper – apple juice and pear drops sit with chopped almonds and icing sugars. Water emphasises lavender and chalkiness making for soap/hand wash whilst also adding creamy meringue and fizzing ginger spicing.
Taste: Pear drops, peat juice and poached pears join with grapes, melon and light tropicals (dried mango slices). The oak influence is palpable – lollypop sticks, park benches and a freshly sawn 2x4 – it’s a bit much. In the background, vanilla cream and frosted flakes alongside baked bread. Reduction brings out lemon balm and French crepes, whilst softening things up.
Finish: Medium to long with vanilla cream filled buns, gentle white pepper and sawdust.
A straight-forward Glentauchers which doesn’t really act age – whilst everything is fresh and vibrant I’d expect more depth, and less overt dusty oak influence. Simple and easy-going…but it really should be so much more.
We’re steadily seeing more peated output from Allt-a-Bhainne – and barring the risible recently released OB, I’m pretty excited about that. This example, a mere 7 years of age and drawn from the 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Bright and fruit-forward at first – lemon curd and grapefruit. Wafting earthy inland peat smoke is perceptible, but playing a supporting role – burnt ferns, mosses and felt roofing, alongside pork meatiness and smoked gooseberries. Dilution brings out barnyard character – hay lofts, burnt ends and leafy green vegetables.
Taste: A much bigger palate than the nose implies – tart but expressive lemon peels and grapefruit segments with rocky minerality, salt and pepper seasoning and near-lactic farmyard – pig styles, wet hay and silage. Clays, puttys and oils add a sense of industrialness whilst burnt twigs and branches sit with floor cleaners and antiseptic creams. The addition of water focusses the smoke towards fireplaces and burnt logs, whilst adding nuance in the form of chopped almonds and icing-sugar coated lemon slices.
Finish: Medium to long with candyfloss sweetness paired off against salted lemons and fading iodine and ozone.
The nose on this Allt-a-Bhainne hides the power that the palate subsequently delivers. Nevertheless, both are well-balanced, focussed and thought-provoking, and never does the peat smoke intensity feel like its hiding any sins of the relatively youthful spirit. Recommended.
10 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and finished in a 1st fill red wine barrique. Oh, and heavily peated - consider me interested.
Nose: Sweet, smoked cranberries and raspberries are greeted by a firm coastal breeze, before being enveloped by ashy chimneys, fireplaces and Victorian steam-powered workhouses. Bright minerality from beach gravel sits with playdoh, putty and axle grease, whilst pork ribs and BBQ’d ham is served with a side of rich cherry sauce. Dilution adds alluvial soils and farmyard cues from haylofts, whilst also expressing blackcurrants and hospital floor cleaner.
Taste: Big and impactful – this is not messing with either it’s ABV nor its concentration of flavours. Red and black berries alongside cherries are reduced down to thick, spreadable jams whilst burning logs and smouldering gorse are joined by wet hay and pig sties. Medicinal and autolytic combine in notes of cold cream and ointment whilst meatiness from game meats (well-hung grouse) sits with ashiness and char. Water adds industrial dirtiness with greasy pans, machine oils and meat fats, whilst also adding more fruity/savoury treats – ham hock with redcurrant, burnt ends with cherry jelly.
Finish: Long with intense berry sweetness, rich meatiness and tart balsamic notes.
A full-on Bunnahabhain that’s about as far as you can get from an opening-dram. Concentrated fruits alongside a wonderful combination of industrial/farmy peat smoke and enchanting meatiness. Big, brash, bruising and brilliant. Joint pick of the month.