The SMWS October outturn ‘Founder’s Favourites’ delivers 22 new single cask whiskies whilst highlighting Society originator Pip Hill’s recently released book - ‘The Founder’s Tale’. Whilst it’s always nice to see and hear from Pip I can’t help but wonder what it might be like if the Society occasionally looked to the future rather than persistently dwelling on the past. Whilst whisky’s present is inherently tied to its ancestries (maturation will do that), and there should always be respect for the importance of times gone by, it’s the next generation who will safeguard the Society over its next 35 years. Modernity and relevance are not automatic. And the times are always changin'.
This outturn features bottlings from 11 of the Society’s colour-coded flavour profiles (Heavily peated not being present this month) and is a month of notably high quality. There’s a host of noteworthy expressions across all styles - to my mind, mainly driven by a pleasing preponderance of well-judged refill ex-bourbon casks. If you’re looking for a new Society bottle, this is a great outturn to pick from. But, if you’re looking to watch your wallet, you might want to turn away before being tempted further.
I’ve reviewed 10 of the 22 new single cask whiskies – Phil has put his thoughts to the remaining 11 (which you’ll find over at https://www.philipstorry.net/) – no my maths has not gone wonky – 35.230 was yet to arrive at the Member’s room in London when we conducted our review tastings, so I’m afraid you’ll be going into that one blind.
Dashing across the winner’s line this month is the deliciously fruit-forward Inchmurrin (112.43 Starfruit: the next distillation) and the on-point, archetypal ex-bourbon Glenlossie (46.82 A journey from light to dark). But, there’s strong competition in this set with a terrifically thought-provoking Tobermory (42.47 Oblivious to genius) and a preposterously multifaceted St George’s (137.3 Smouldering Englishness). Whatever your style, there’s something here for you - and nothing is less than a solid effort. If these are Founder’s Favourites, perhaps there’s something to be said for looking to the past after all?
10 year old Linkwood that’s been maturing in a refill ex-bourbon barrel since June 2008.
Nose: Sweetness up first – cotton candy, lemonade and sugared lime juice. Then, a kick of yeastiness – warm ale, doughy buns and toasted bread. Finally, ex-bourbon led cereals and florals in the form of Alpen, almonds, desiccated coconut and freshly cut garden stems. Reduction introduces sage and green grass whilst adding stone fruit peaches into the mix.
Taste: The arrival is sharp and tart with bright fresh fruit notes of apple, pineapple and orange peel. A spoonful of confectioners’ sugar and a scattering of sherbet adds sweet zing, whilst ginger and chilli spices build. The mid-palate favours baked good – spongy chocolate cake and Maltesers tiffin, before a gentle pang of salinity brings up the rear. The addition of water expresses peach and guava alongside rosehips – all quite juicy.
Finish: The longer side of medium – fading pineapple and citrus with oatcakes and graphite.
This young Linkwood is quite the shapeshifter, altering composition with both oxygenation and dilution. Whilst initially fruit and sweetness are forward, these give way to deeper aromas and flavours which add nuance but never detract from the whole. Young & Spritely is far from my favourite Society flavour profile, but this bottling ticks a few surprising boxes for me. Quality distillate is, at the end of the day, quality distillate.
Simple things – a Glendullan drawn from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead after 9 years of maturation.
Nose: Soft and creamy with peach and apricot yoghurt served with a cup of milk Lady Grey tea on the side. Orange marmalade is spread onto bread whilst clean cotton sheets are livened by lemon sherbet tang. Reduction follows through on the promise of afternoon tea with toasted bread, oven-baked buns and choux pastry.
Taste: The arrival (a touch hot) delivers both fruits and spices – strawberry boot laces, pear and orange juice with a kick of red chilli heat. Cherry Bakewell tarts are joined by sponge fingers and raspberry and rosewater cake. Water unleashes the cask – dry, dusty oak flooring with an interesting green pepper vegetalness.
Finish: Medium, combining pear slices, chocolate cake and cask char.
A straight-forward, undemanding Glendullan which offers a very pleasant nose and a slightly less successful palate. That’s not to say it’s bad all – merely delivered with a bit too much alcoholic prickle for my tastes.
Phasers on full for this 15 year old Inchmurrin that’s been slumbering in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon hogshead since September 2003.
Nose: Opening with Hubba Bubba, fresh laundry, drying grass and fudge – a weird and wonderful combination. Then – lemon Turkish delight (well dusted with powdered sugar), lime margaritas and a glug sunflower oil. The addition of water instantly adds discernible pineapple – freshly chopped, alongside lemon curd and angelica.
Taste: Juicy tropical candy and chews is the order of the day – wine gums, fruit pastilles and Jolly Ranchers – blended together to create an alluring combination of guava, lychee, peach and lime. The mid-palate expresses earthiness – warm, dried and cracking clay alongside limestone minerality. Then we’re back to fruit for more juicy pineapple, served alongside effervescent lemon. Reduction adds white fruits – melon and gooseberry – and further notes of tropical with mango and papaya.
Finish: Medium, earthy with dry soil and clay and fruity with lemon and lime.
A crackerjack Inchmurrin that’s packed full of vibrant well-defined fruitiness and entirely sympathetic earthiness. Simply a joy to drink - beam me right up. Unsurprisingly, given my effusion - joint pick of the month.
More fun salmon times with a 10 year old Speyburn from the a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Commencing with farminess – hay, threshed fields and barnyards (though not in an autolytic manner) this then morphs forwards fruit and sugared treats – banana bread, gingerbread men and chocolate soil with a steady influx of hedgerow berries creeping in. Wild honey provides additional sweetness, whilst in the background, pink water biscuits are joined by newly fried French fries. Dilution ups the sweetness with a trip to the confectionery to pick up lemon drops and an assortment of jelly beans.
Taste: Tea cakes packed full of gooey marshmallow are joined by chocolate digestive biscuits and oven-baked buns. Red berries – raspberry and strawberry are drizzled in milk chocolate sauce before being sprinkled in nutmeg and ginger spices. Water heads back to where it all began – farminess – grasses, reeds, flax and sunflowers.
Finish: Medium in length and favouring chocolate flavours – cocoa powder, crumbled chocolate and a hint of spiced mocha.
This Speyburn manages to cut across a variety of aroma and flavour styles throughout its development. Whilst chocolate always seems at the centre of the palate, there are plenty of other interesting sojourns to be had here – as such, it’s both a tasty and an exploratory dram that’s well worth checking out.
Where do they get these names….I mean honestly?! 9 year old AnCnoc (or Knockdhu as it were) that’s been drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Dried mango and fresh peach slices served on top a bowl of golden cereals dashed with both milk and some indulgent cream. Deeper - buttered popcorn, Bird’s custard, olive oil and a smear of table polish. Dilution adds crumbled biscuits and freshly-baked bread alongside a scattering of dried basil and a pang of rocky minerality.
Taste: The arrival continues where the nose left off – peaches and apricots with bright cereals. Quite lovely. Then, we’re on a rollercoaster – first stop, vegetalness with green peppers and sauerkraut – then, a spice market for white pepper and ginger. Final stop, grainy bread and a scattering of zest lemon. Quite the ride. Reduction is all bakery – rolled pastry, toasted bread and doughy buns.
Finish: Medium and very greenhouse – peppers and vines with ripening warm stone fruits.
A well composed and tasty AnCnoc that offers a good combination of sweet and savoury, and a fairly wild development on the palate. No meatiness for me though – a case of hide the sausage?!
13 years in ex-bourbon and then a finish in 1st fill oloroso for this 14 year old Dailuaine.
Nose: Heavily-reduced sugars – burnt toffee, treacle and honeycomb taken too far in the pan. Raisins sit with Terry’s Chocolate orange whilst Armagnac-soaked sponge cake is slathered in dark chocolate sauce and pepped up by stem ginger. The addition of water broadens the aromas out considerable – wine poacher pears, fig rolls, tangerines and golden syrup alongside choux pastry and burnt tart cases.
Taste: More of the same – though in no way unwelcome with it. Dark chocolate, burnt caramel, dates and cinnamon rolls alongside 1970s orange liqueurs and a hearty seasoning of nutmeg. The mid-palate favours bitterness – boot polish, high cocoa solid chocolate, syrup-drizzled dates and piquant red peppers. Reduction once again is highly beneficial – syrupy oranges with pear cordial, scrumpy cider and velvety chocolate sponge.
Finish: Medium to long and all on chocolate and cinnamon spicing.
Straight out of the bottle, this Dailuaine offers an abundance of deep sherry influenced aromas and flavours – rich and fulsome, but at times, a touch astringent in places. Water proves to be the great leveller not only emphasising a much wider selection of flavours, but also giving the underlying weighty spirit more room to express itself. Pipettes at the ready.
Well-aged Glenlossie - sign me right up. 26 years in refill ex-bourbon for this release.
Nose: The qualities of a long ex-bourbon maturation are immediately obvious here – guava, melon, gooseberries and grapefruit alongside delicately polished aromatic wood. Orange marmalade and fresh lychee join hawthorn bushes, daisies and lacquered mahogany. Everything is fresh, ripe and vibrant, despite being underpinned by time-served oakiness. Water gives more shape to the orange – peels and zest, whilst also adding a notes of shelled cashews and freshly pressed laundry.
Taste: Wood panelling and teak oil sit with orange, tangerine, guava and melon – we’re not far off Umbongo here. Pink wafer biscuits, milk chocolate sponge cake, dusted petit fours and Italian meringue sit alongside leather armchairs, old bound books and gentle notes of earthy dunnage floors. Reduction changes the composition – softer on the arrival with moist soils – spicier in the back with wine poached pears, white pepper and oaky dryness.
Finish: Medium to long and offering brighter (red) berry fruit and a lovely fading oak-driven dryness.
Long-time readers will know I always have time for well-aged Glenlossie. This is no exception. An excellent marriage of animated bright fruitiness with gentle, austere wood. The wonders of refill ex-bourbon. Joint pick of the month.
Blue 42 so Tobermory, not Ledaig. Drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Toffee sweetness collides with damp soils, forest mosses and a vegetarian Sunday roast (all potatoes and parsnips). Overt barley pushes though – germinating malting floors and whirring mills dusted in separated flour. In the background things are viney – hedgerows and bracken which chocolate covered wafer biscuits provide just the right amount of sweetness. Dilution unlocks a hidden coastal aspect with rock pools, hewn cliffs and graphite alongside a touch of machine oil and engine grease.
Taste: Earthiness up first – mushrooms, ferns and leaf mulch. Then green apples, melon and gooseberries – brighter, sweeter. The mid-palate moves back towards chocolate with digestive biscuits before the spices kick in – nutmeg and ginger – with a background industrial edge of cog lubricant. Water once again exposes the minerality of the underlying spirit – beach pebbles, clay and gravel with a tart pang of grapefruit juice.
Finish: Medium with pan oils, salinity and white pepper.
Shapeshifting, thought-provoking and somewhat unlikely. This Tobermory offers two-sides of a coin, with water being the catalyst for change. Despite usually preferring my 42’s in the green flavour profile, this non-peated edition ticks a lot of boxes – well-composed, alluvial and industrial at heart with a yearning for experimentation with dilution. Captivating and highly recommended.
This month’s obligatory 53 and its refill ex-bourbon all the way – 10 years in a hoggie.
Nose: Pickled onion Monster Munch, smoked kippers, white bait and a langoustine bisque. Running throughout smoked pears, seashells and fine sandy beaches. In the background, TCP and hospital floor cleaners with plenty of brine and a good twist of both salt and pepper seasoning. The addition of water sweetens things up with expressive lemon – zest, curd and jelly, whilst also focussing the peat influence on lump coal briquettes.
Taste: A booming arrival of intense ashiness (your palate may need a second sip to re-adjust). Briny water sits with shelled prawns and oysters drizzled in fresh lemon juice, whilst bitter chocolate is seasoned with both salt and pepper. The back-palate is tarry and oaky – fireplaces, road surfacing and plenty of still smouldering wood. Dilution ups the ante further – tarred felt roofs and beach huts with moist soils and wet coastal piers.
Finish: Medium, ashy, sooty and with lingering medicinalness offset by sweet lemon curd. Very drying though.
Let’s be clear – this Caol Ila is unsubtle – indeed, it’s about as large and roaring as this spirit gets at this age. An all on assault of fish, ash and tar. Frankly, I’m down with that. It’s therefore a shame that the back palate and finish deliver far too much dryness to compensate for the intensity. But if you fancy something a little wild and fun - release the Kraken.
Norfolk’s St George’s makes a welcome return with this peated 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Mango slices, rosehips, sage and bergamot sit with porridge, wallpaper paste, mezcal and olive oil. So far so out there. The smoke offers sootiness, hospital bandages, antiseptic, rubber bands and envelop glue. It’s still out there – but it works. Water reminds me of a garden shed – earthy, moist – an aroma of damp wood, whilst also adding green bell pepper vegetalness and a pang of chiselled minerality.
Taste: Tea tree oil, menthol, wax candles and smoked kippers. Clearly we’re staying in the left-field. Bromine and brine are joined by chopped herbs whilst floor cleaners and cold cream sit alongside machine oil, axle grease and salinity. Reduction adds overt meatiness – gravy and finishing jus – as well as discernible minerality – gravel and shingle.
Finish: Long with clay, moss, olive oil, smoked chip pan fat and salt.
What just happened? I not quite sure whether to be in awe or bemused. On balance – I’m both. This peated English whisky offers intensity and complexity in spades – it’s fascinatingly perverse, and yet miraculously balanced. Sit ten people down and I guarantee you ten very different tasting notes. Whilst not impenetrable, this is complexity personified. if you're looking for an adventure - highly recommended.