Posted 31 October 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
The SMWS November outturn ‘Gather in happiness’ delivers 21 new single cask whiskies with a focus on cosying up next to a warm fire as the nights draw in. And the outturn itself pleasantly reflects this with an abundance of Dark, Rich & Dried Fruits (6 bottlings) and peated expressions (5 bottlings). Managing the monthly outturns is no easy task – there needs to be some balance. Sometimes the Society gets it right, and sometimes it’s a sea of pink/purple labels. That said, for SMWS’s mantra of single cask exploration to ring true, there needs to be a consistently diverse selection of distilleries, distillates and cask types – and that we get month in month out. It can’t be all dried fruits and peat all the time. Except this month it is. And I’m sure members will lap it up.
With the focus on dried fruits and peaty things, there are just 7 of the Society’s colour-coded profiles present this month (Young & Spritely, Spicy & Sweet, Old & Dignified, Light & Delicate and Heavily Peated are all put away for another day). We’ve reviewed 12 of the new single cask whiskies. Phil (you’ll find him here https://www.philipstorry.net/) has somehow managed an epic and will be bringing you his notes on all of the bottles from the outturn – once he’s recovered. When you’ve finished here you should definitely go take a look at his thoughts.
The standard this month is high. So there’s a swathe of bottles which might well take your fancy:
My joint picks this month take the form of the stunningly composed Benrinnes (36.167 Nuts in velvet) and the wonderful seafood medley Bunnahabhain (10.181 Feast of St. Columba).
Close behind, in second place by its lonesome, is the perversely peated Glenturret (16.41 Cosy contentment) – assuming you enjoy things as left-field and weird as I do.
Bronze medals are awarded to the unfathomably deep Glenfarclas (1.213 Seduces and invites fantasies) and the beautifully well-aged, but still bright and vibrant Ardmore (66.157 Eternal bliss).
There were a fair few comments flying around social media suggesting that folks were going to keep their heads down and skip this month. I doubt they’ll manage that. Nor should they – this is a crackerjack selection. Until next time.
Bottle Name: 9.170 Australian outback
ABV: 53.7% Distillery: Glen Grant Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Sweet, fruity & mellow Region: SpeysideAge: 24
22 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and then a finish in a 2nd fill American oak PX hoggie for this Glen Grant.
Nose: Red berries (raspberries and strawberries) alongside meaty balsamic, nougat and dark chocolate. Additional fruitiness develops with resting – plums, orange peels and some brighter tropical notes of guava alongside melon. Running throughout – lacquered furniture and a background musty dunnage note. Reduction adds much more expression – buttercup florals with rosehips (Turkish Delight) and underlying grassiness.
Taste: Soft but viscous on the arrival. Plenty of silky fruits with raspberry Eaton Mess served with a side of strawberries and whipped cream. Then, there’s spice – plenty of it. Pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg with a sliver of hot red chilli – all quite punchy. After the spices have faded - chocolate sponge, and some juicy tropical from guava with melon balls. Dilution tempers the spiciness and adds orange and lemon peels alongside a soft chalkiness.
Finish: Medium to long, rather cask-forward and astringent. Dry oak and hot chilli.
There’s some lovely aromas and flavours knocking around in this Glen Grant – the PX has added an array of defined berries and dark fruits. But, there’s also a fair whack of unchecked cask. If you like it spicy-forward you’re in for a treat - but it’s pushing the boundaries of balance for me. Good, but should have been better.
Nose: An immediate sense of texture – beeswax and bees honey with a daub of grease. Cooking apples, glace cherries and gooseberries sit with crumbled rich tea biscuits, choux buns and buttered bread. The addition of water releases some tropical notes with dried mango slices and guava alongside cashew nuttiness and honeycomb.
Taste: Still quite the textural affair with a real sense of waxy weight. Ripe green apples and pears journey into baked buns and tart cases whilst pepper pushes through. Burnt toffee sauce joins buttery biscuit base with a split vanilla pod. Reduction takes things away from the patisserie adding hints of lemon balm, orchard fruits in their own juices and a slightly burnt, but hard to define umami flavour.
Finish: Medium in length with fading fruits, charred cask heads and still effervescent pepperiness.
A well composed Craigellachie which possesses a lovely texture and weight throughout – mouth-coating and substantive. A solid balance between fruitiness and patisserie and a never outstaying its welcome peppery spice. Good stuff.
Bottle Name: 77.55 Sharp and tart
ABV: 60.9% Distillery: Glen Ord Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Spicy & dry Region: SpeysideAge: 10
A straight down the line Glen Ord – 10 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Opening on fresh fields – bright hay, sundried grass and stringy reeds. White grapes and gooseberries are joined by melon and lime zest, whilst rich double cream is tempered by damp ferns and petrichor. Running throughout – golden syrup laced gingerbread and a well honeyed cup of black tea. Water unlocks singed digestive biscuits and freshly picked green apples alongside sage seasoning and slightly brackish water.
Taste: Soft, juicy and a little bit different. Forest pine, fallen leaves, sage stuffing and dry cracked earthiness are sweetened by grapes, gooseberries and balled melon. The mid-palate is all alluvial with dried soils, graphite and pronounced musty oak. Reduction is rather transformative, and certainly takes things sharper and tarter – lemon and lime peels – sweet, but acerbic at the same time, with developing white pepperiness.
Finish: Medium, somewhat forest-led with soils and leaves alongside lime zest and continuing white pepper.
A shapeshifting Glen Ord that’s thought-provoking….and a little bit random. The flavours here work – but are often unexpected in their combinations. Well named, and with an attention-grabbing earthiness – certainly worth an exploratory dram.
Nose: Sofa, old car seats, jackets – all of the leather you could imagine. This opens unfathomably deep. Molasses are subdued – sweetness, but intensely compacted – and are joined by chocolate-dipped walnuts, orange peels and dusty cinnamon. Cigar boxes and shed workbenches sit with lacquered wood panelling (rosewood and cedar), whilst clove-studded ham, pine cones and leaf mulch are perked up by balsamic sharpness and sweetness. The addition of water adds a gravy-like meatiness with plenty of dark chocolate and dusty oak.
Taste: The arrival is juicy rather than viscous, but it still packs plenty of dark punch. Stewed plums, dried apricots, rum-soaked raisins, dark chocolate cask and ginger spicing. Leather appears once again in the mid-palate – old, cracked, well-worn – alongside chopped almonds, tobacco tin and a sweet, moist mushroom earthiness. The it’s into cask spiciness with cinnamon and charred staves. Reduction generates a serious wow – what was once dark shall now be illuminated – hedgerow berries, pineapple, lychee and bright plump plums. Vibrant, vivacious and immeasurably brighter in character.
Finish: Long with lingering cinnamon, clove and nutmeg sitting with dark an intense high cocoa solid chocolate.
This Glenfarclas starts off challenging and brooding. The sweetness here is compressed, compacted and intense – and its only through the addition of water does the underlying fruitiness of the spice come to the fore. Both versions are well worth exploring – sometimes the occasion calls for something dark and concentrated. But, it’s the reduced version which really gets the heart pounding – and earns this several additional points. Recommended.
Over to Elgin for another Glen Moray – this time in a ‘custom barrel’ – hardly the most useful of descriptions. This spent 13 years in an ex-wine barrel (Chenin Blanc) before it’s 24 month ‘custom’ finish – the bottle check-in sheet (which I managed a sneaky glance at) suggested some form of toasted/charred cask as the finish.
Nose: Cola cubes and cherry heering sit with brown sugars, plump raisings, prune juice and brown sugars. Deeper, there’s stem ginger, chocolate sauce, brown bread and Turkish Delight alongside sticky pan sugars. Dilution reveals the cask influence – corkboard and dusty dunnage floors with sides of burnt caramel, butterscotch and flat Happy Shopper Cola.
Taste: Cask-forward from the get-go. Charred staves, caramelised wood sugars and polished ebony tables. Molasses and orange liquer sits with rose water whilst dried and charred mango slices are joined by spent tobacco and plenty of chocolate. Reduction brightens things up with juicy tangerine, mango sauce, spit-roasted pineapple and gingerbread men.
Finish: Long with chocolate cake, cinnamon and burnt ginger and plenty of charred oak.
A very neat re-charring on top of the wine cask origins have given this Glen Moray plenty of defined caramelised flavours. Fruitiness meets sweet oak in a cask-led expression that’s well-judged, sympathetic and on the right side of oak influence. Smart.
Nose: Fresh apples and crumble mix are given a decadent topping of chocolate sauce, gingerbread and vanilla toffee. Bright ripe pears, tangerines and nectarines and joined by walnuts and marzipan whilst resting adds dried mango slices and dusty cinnamon spices. Water reveals lemon balm, pink wafer biscuits and rolled pastry.
Taste: The arrival is soft, but with a mouth-coating texture of slight (but pleasing) greasiness. Bright and vibrant oranges, mandarins and quince jelly are livened further by cinnamon, ginger and pepper spicing, and sweetened with sponge cake soaked in orange liqueur. Toffee and chocolate bright up the rear for more sweet treats. Reduction adds ground coffee, and lovely sweetness from plums, berries, kiwi fruit and melon – in fact, this whisky adores water – incredible juicy sweetness. Delightful.
Finish: Long with dried fruits, crumbled chocolate and soft sticky toffee.
A glorious Benrinnes that sherryheads should be all over, despite there not being a sherry cask in sight. Bright, precise, delicious and even more delectable with a few drops of water. Joint pick of the month.
Bottle Name: 37.126 Madeira, manuka and macerated plums
Nose: Deep and earthy with mosses, green leaves and clay sitting alongside fig rolls, plum, cherries, dusty orange and jelly sweets. Brown sugars envelop tobacco leaves, whilst dark wood panelling is joined by leather-bound books. Water adds bakery with biscuit crumbs, oven-baked buns and doughy rolls.
Taste: Bold and perky. Prominent ginger spicing arrives on the palate with rich chocolate sponge, rum-soaked raisins and a scattering of bright red fruits – cranberries, raspberries and cherries. Espresso coffee is joined by rich toffee, whilst cinnamon sticks and tobacco reinforce in the back-palate. Dilution adds creaminess with booze-soaked berries sprinkled over Chantilly cream.
Finish: Long with drying oakiness, chocolate and heavily reduced pan sugars.
Have no fears with this wine finish – everything has been kept well in check. The underlying spirit is still pronounced, with the barrique adding both fruitiness and decadent depths.
Nose: Immediately coastal with seashells, rock pools and hewn granite. But the main order of the day here is rich buttery seafood – langoustines, crab cocktail and lobster claws. ‘Green’ aromas from lettuce and sea vegetables are joined by the creamy richness of a well-made bisque, whilst background oily smoke punctuates, but never pervades. Dilution causes flashbacks to fish and chips by the seaside, with battered cod and a vinegar and salt dosed crunchy chips.
Taste: Lemon jelly sweets and zesty limes are served with crab cakes and shelled prawns whilst steely minerality introduces cliff faces and plenty of brine. The inherent industrialness which I’ve come to expect and love from Bunnahabhain is present and correct – a swipe of axle grease and a puff of engine smoke. Reduction amps up the sweetness with grapes and lime juice (margeritas once you add the salinity) whilst lowering the definition of lubricants and oils.
Finish: Long, salty with bine and with lingering lemon drizzled seafood.
An on-point Bunnahabhain that ably captures all of the distillery’s unique distillate – chiselled coastalness, rich buttery seafood and just a hint of Victorian workhouse. Balanced, delicious and my joint pick of the month.
Nose: Farmyard with cowpats and silage, hay lofts, sties and tarred felt roofing. Pork ribs and roasted chestnuts are joined by plasticine, playdoh, putty and oil paints, whilst maple smoked bacon and engine oils are given a punch of salinity. Dilution releases olive oil and olive brine whilst emphasising the smoke from burning logs and bitumen road surfacing.
Taste: A brighter palate than the nose suggested – spiced brown bread, yeasty funs and part-fermented beer sit with fatty bacon, red berries and chocolate ganache. Rubber tyre and gravel provide a mechanised feeling and are joined by clay, putty, leaf mulch and burning dustbins. Exceptionally easy drinking for the ABV – and perversely wonderful. Water adds browned biscuits, lime zest and chocolate shavings alongside more overt charred and still smouldering wood.
Finish: Long with chocolate, tarriness, felt and tarmac.
Make no mistake, this Glenturret is gloriously ‘out there’. It shouldn’t work – and if you’re reading these notes and wondering what’s going on – I hear ya. And yet, there’s little doubting that this is both balanced and highly evocative. A pertinacious, perverse joy. Highly recommended.
Nose: Dry, nutty champagne lees and yeasty buns are smeared in Sudocream and medicinal plasters (but overt TCP is somewhat subdued). Tart cases, salt-baked vegetables and salt-water crust pasty are joined by briny water, menthol and mint leaves. Reduction brings out sweetness with melon and candy chews whilst also adding a smoked beef joint and sticky vanilla toffee.
Taste: A bold arrival of rock pools, brine and floor cleaner is tempered by doughy buns, pastry cases and rocky minerality. Wood smoke pervades – partly medicinal, party bonfire with antiseptic cream and blazing logs. The addition of water soften things up and brings out more of the cask – wall paper paste, vanilla and lemon peels.
Finish: Quite long, salty and with medicinal wipes and charred cask staves.
At this tender age I’d expect a riot of raw, untamed Laphroaig power. But, that’s not quite the case here – whilst the underlying medicinal/coastal (it’s very salty indeed) profile is present and correct, there’s not the concentrated impact I’d both expect and hope for. Solid enough, but not quite Defcon 1.
Well-matured Ardmore that’s been matured in refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Well-matured yellow fruits – pears, mangos and melon with plenty of bright orange juice and a lovely lemon-y polish. Citrus peels and white chocolate mingle with inland smoke from leaves, ferns and bracken. Water adds dried fruits – mangos and apricots whilst also expressed cask char, vanilla and toffee.
Taste: Bright and vibrant with lemon balm, mango slices, guava and pineapple chunks. This sits atop gentle, but perceptible mainland peat smoke – singed logs, smouldering moss, leafy greens and a touch of felt. The back-palate offers sharpness with lime zest and hints of chalky minerality. Quite lovely. Reduction adds an incredible amount of juicy fruitiness – fresh orchards and tropical bathed in syrup.
Finish: Long with polished panelled wood, ground coffee beans, lime juice and a pinch of salt.
Wonderfully balanced Ardmore which shows off the distillate’s ability to be poised no matter the age statement. This isn’t the most complicated of beasts, but it’s nevertheless a joy to drink - animated fruitiness, well-composed smoke and excellent cask integration. Recommended.