Posted 01 October 2020 by Matt / In Group Tastings
SMWS’s October outturn ‘Lets get fizzical' offers up 20 new single cask whiskies, 1 new single cask rum and a flashback to the August 2019 outturn with another list billed as focussed on the ‘hauf n hauf’ of whisky and beer pairings. Don’t mind if I do. But perhaps the biggest Society news this month comes not from the upcoming list of whiskies, but from the announcement that a new SMWS website is on the horizon. Quicker than expected. This I’m sure will please many members – particularly those who have struggled to navigate a site which has become increasingly creaky over the past few years.
Much of this brittleness stems from the high volumes of load that the site is subjected to on outturn days. However, it’s worth recognising – especially those newer to the whisky world - that SWMS is far from the only producer or bottler to have struggled with the traffic volumes that whisky now seems to engender. It’s a long-standing and growing problem. What’s more pertinent to note here is the speed in which the Society have reacted – they recognise that with social restrictions still in place across much of the world, that more than ever, their website is the first port of call ‘window’ into the Society. And likely even when the real normal returns, that having an excellent digital offering is part and parcel of a membership offering that extends globally - far beyond the confines of the venues alone. I for one am excited to see what a new look SMWS website looks like and how it functions. Though I’m cautious that technology can only get you so far. It cannot alter the volumetic truth of how much whisky it's possible to disgorge from a barrel.
This month’s outturn is of high quality across the board. Light and Delicate and Heavily Peated are MIA this month – but the remaining 10 colour-coded profiles provide a notably solid selection of diverse single malts to suit all budgets. I’ve reviewed 9 of the new bottlings and Phil’s got another 9 over on his website.
My pick of the month goes jointly to the elegantly composed, though expensive, old-timer Glen Ord (77.65 Pure dead brilliant) – as lovely as you’d hope, but also expect - and also to the wonderfully dirty Glen Scotia (93.145 Sweet filth) which offers a joyful amalgamation of surf and turf combined with just enough Campeltown funk to keep all lovers of this style of whisky extremely happy.
My recommendations this month are both available in the ‘Still or sparkling pair’ offer. The Glen Spey (80.16 An attack of the vapours) offers a captivatingly challenging combination well beyond its years, whilst the Ardmore (66.177 Gummidge vs Pugwash) offers a fantastic intermingling of land vs sea. Both are excellent in their own rights – but together as a pair they offer two-sides of a similar coin – whisky that has drawn its aromas and flavour cues from diverse foundations, but that bring them together into enthralling cohesive wholes.
Nose: Sweetshop indeed – an array of saccharine-led treats is delivered in the form of candy canes, foam strawberries and nougat. Supporting this – berry packed Eaton Mess, Jammy Dodger biscuits and evaporated milk. In the background – a dusting of icing sugar and a touch of grainy chalk. The addition of water offers a different complexion – hessian sack cloth and pressed laundry alongside pink marshmallow and cherry blossom.
Taste: Bolder, more forthright – and hotter. Quince jelly and strawberry cordial sit with peeled clementines and red apples. Alcoholic prickle follows delivering an assortment of red and yellow jelly babies, steeped fruit teas and pepperiness. Reduction is soothing, quickly reducing the boozy hostility. It adds strawberry bootlaces, redcurrant cordial and a selection of Haribo gummies.
Finish: Medium with Pink strawberry cream mushrooms, white chocolate mice and textural sunflower oil.
A well-named Dufftown that offers plenty of confectionary with just a touch of unsolicited antagonism on the palate. Nothing that a touch of dilution can’t fix – the resulting presentation is vivid, bright, fruity and reminiscent of an assortment of 70s retro indulgences.
Nose: Deep and inviting with notes of blackberries and plums alongside tart cases, aerated pink chocolate and leather car seats. Diverse notes follow with earthy mushrooms joined by well-chewed mint chewing gum, pumice stone, cold steel and old cloth sacking. Dilution reveals a distillate-forward freshness with salt, ginger and menthol, played off against increasingly earthy notes of leaf mulch, clay and moist soils.
Taste: The arrival offers fruitiness front and centre – pineapple juice and balled melons served with jam sandwiches. The development returns to contradiction – metal dust, sliced ham and a scattering of chilli flakes into mentholated oakiness, chocolate milk and oaty breakfast cereals. Water adds a creamy nose – gooseberries with Chantilly as well as presenting reed and flax.
Finish: Medium with menthol cough sweets, golden cereals and a scattering of pine needles.
A fascinatingly broad selection of aroma and flavours styles are offered by this challenging, but still hospitable Glen Spey. Sweet, savoury, vegetal and earthy have no real right to work together this well. Recommended (I hope the 66 – included with this 80 in the ‘Still of Sparkling Pair’ offer is similarly impressive. *Post tasting note* - it is indeed.)
Bottle Name: 9.178 A leather cyberman
ABV: 55.3% Distillery: Glen Grant Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Deep, rich & dried fruits Region: SpeysideAge: 23
Well-aged Glen Grant is a not uncommon Society sight. But this month we’re presented with something a little tangential - a vatting of (roughly 19 year old) hogsheads back in 2016, each filled into a 1st fill oloroso hogshead for an additional four year maturation. So single cask in destination only.
Nose: Initially dense, tight and somewhat constricted. Deep chocolate and cashew nut brittle sit with almost savoury caramel, hard wood furniture, tree sap, pipe smoke and hot cross buns. The addition of water brightens things up substantially expressing cherry and berry compote, freshly griddled waffles, Turkish delight and maple syrup covered pecans.
Taste: A wider, more expansive palate that’s adopted plenty of savoury oloroso character – meaty demi-glace sauce, roasted barley, chocolate porter and dark lacquered wood flooring. Sticky toffee pudding, gingerbread and chocolate syrup offer rich sweetness whilst a pinch of chilli flakes in the back palate provides welcome enlivenment. Reduction is once more welcome – a lift back to the lighter side with toffee caramel, cherry chocolate gateaux and chopped salted walnuts.
Finish: Medium to long in length with ganache-filled bon bons, drinking chocolate powder, crystalline ginger and dry oakiness.
The Glen Grant light, approachable and fresh character feels a little lost in this sherry cyber-conversion. Initially possessing something of a cold, cybernetic heart, this compact and resinous cyborg finds its optimum level of augmentation only once reduced. With its dense armour removed and its humanity restored, there’s rather the amenable fellow left underneath.
Over to Auchroisk distillery in Keith for another of SMWS’s always interesting ‘not a sherry cask’ Deep, Rich and Dried Fruits offerings. This one was matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead for nine years and then re-racked into a 1st fill re-charred barrique until being bottled as an 11 year old.
Nose: Grilled orange segments and roasted apples are joined by bread and butter pudding and American-style pancakes served with grape jelly. A meaty quality lurks beneath the surface – Sunday roast served with spring green leaves and a rich wine reduction. Spicing is aromatic and rather exotic – Chinese five spice over egg noodles together with a ginger-infused martini. Dilution reveals sponge cake and flamed orange peels together with notes of golden tobacco and apple turnovers.
Taste: A meaty, almost steak-like arrival of fried pancetta served with roasted pineapples, fig rolls and juicy pressed black grapes. Burnt toffee and charred barrel staves sits with overdone honeycomb, whilst Black Jack chews introduce anise spicing. Water amps up the cask char, whilst also brightening the fruit complement – pineapple cubes and orange zest together with stem ginger and Crunchie bars.
Finish: Fairly long with caramelised sugars, charred oak and a dusting of ginger powder.
This Auchroisk offers plenty of reduced natural sugars – it also delivers ample Cooper-induced barrel char and oak spicing from its additional maturation in a re-charred barrique – both of which pleasantly offset the more saccharine aspects of this whisky. Nicely composed and nicely balanced.
Bottle Name: 77.65 Pure dead brilliant
ABV: 49.3% Distillery: Glen Ord Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Old & dignified Region: SpeysideAge: 28
The oldest bottled Society Glen Ord to date and drawn from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel that was laid down in 1992.
Nose: Immediately textural with machine and lamp oils alongside melted church tapers. Lemon curd and yellow jelly babies sit with canvas sacking, gauze bandaging and cotton buds whilst leafy undergrown from ferns and bracken is joined by heathery honey and an assortment of metallurgy – wire wool, atomised steel and iron filings. Reduction presents coastal notes with beach shingles and chalky cliffs alongside toasted buns and honey spread over French crepes.
Taste: Still weighty and oily. Still palpable old and austere. Lemon-tinged polish applied to teak flooring, hardwood panelling and tree resin. Fruit pastilles, clementines and heavily reduced nectarines alongside wild honey and chopped walnuts. In the background there’s still an industrial element – Brasso metal polish and sewing machine lubricant alongside herbalness from a bouquet of potpourri. The addition of water reveal soft honey and damp earthiness together with axle grease and wet wool.
Finish: Long with dry, well-aged oakiness sitting with fading, but still bright fruitiness.
The quality of Glen Ord’s distillate is rarely given much limelight by owners Diageo – but when combined with a sympathetic cask, good things invariable happen. And that’s certainly the case with this Society bottling. An assortment of thought-provoking textural and industrially tinged elements harmonise admirably with the underlying leafiness of the Ord spirit to produce a whisky that has been substantially elevated by high quality refill oak. Joint pick of the month.
Bottle Name: 2.117 Cheerful enjoyment
ABV: 58.9% Distillery: Glenlivet Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Juicy, oak & vanilla Region: SpeysideAge: 18
An 18 year old Glenlivet that’s been matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel for 18 years. And depending on where you shop not all that more expensive than the official bottling – but delivered with a substantially higher ABV.
Nose: Fresh and crisp with clean cotton sheets, pressed laundry and spring flowers – daisy’s, buttercups and rose petals. Strawberry sorbet is served alongside fluffy meringue whilst a Finger of Fudge (just enough) sits with hay bales and freshly mowed grass. Dilution offers planed oak alongside mint humbugs, lemon bon bons and orange peels.
Taste: Apricots and peaches are served with more meringue whilst freshly cropped strawberries are dolloped with whipped cream. The mid-palate offers light toffee and a building (but controlled) pepperiness that sits alongside cranberry jelly – before continued development introduces charred oak, sugar-dusted cereals, grapes and gooseberries. Reduction offers buttered bread, sharp and tart lemon juice and additional peppery asides.
Finish: Medium, cream and mint leaf join declining ground pepper.
Part precise and snappy, part indulgent, fruity and creamy. All work nicely in equilibrium alongside a tangible oak-driven spiciness that never out stays its welcome.
Nose: Brown breads spread with burnt butter is joined by smoked fish served with a rich bouillabaisse sauce. Meat extract and beef dripping are joined by wild nutty mushrooms, whilst fire-dried soils are joined by smoked salted caramel. In the background – moisture – damp carpets, garden sheds and waterlogged wool. Water releases some Campbeltown ‘funk’ with sweet cinnamon balls played off against brine and rubber inner tubes.
Taste: Smoked BBQ meats and fish stock are joined by briny water, beach pebbles and engine oils, whilst rich tea biscuits and a cup of mocha sit together with shed roofing, eucalyptus oils and chocolate shavings. Smoke is supporting rather than leading, but still persists throughout – a combination of maritime and inland and with a meaty character throughout. Dilution presents salted lemons and coal dust with kelp and residue chalkiness.
Finish: Medium with sweet golden cereals and dirty industrial peat sitting will highly alluvial putties and clays.
Given my predilection for sweet filth, this bottling was always firmly on my radar. And for those of you who share my partialities won’t be disappointed. A challengingly ‘adult’ young Glen Scotia that offers a diverse array of surf and turf combined with the perfect amount of mechanised smoky grime. Joint pick of the month.
Another teenaged Ardmore. This one takes its naming inspiration from a supposedly friendly, but actually petrifying scarecrow (a no-budget, field-based, British version of Freddy Kruger) and a cartoon of a rotund, pompous pirate – as you do. But in terms of more important things - the whisky itself has been matured for 14 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Opening on felt roofing and molten tar, bacon lardons and sweet langoustines are served with chips drizzled with cider vinegar. Old ropes and wet dog fur are joined by hay barns, whilst light floor cleaner and pickled onions sit with pine resin and buttered, shredded crab meat. Water presents sea breeze and briny rock pools together with quartz-like minerality and old parchment paper.
Taste: Brighter and more chiselled. Lemon and lamp oils sit with spent fire hearths, whilst bung cloth and smoked autumn leaf mulch are joined by air-dried meats and prawn bisque. The mid-palate offers livening grapefruit segments together with controlled smoke that’s part maritime and part inland. Dilution expresses greater citric qualities with lemon cubes and peels sitting with a combination of sugar dusting and axle grease.
Finish: Medium with preserved lemons and dry driftwood.
A rather excellent combination of land and sea that makes good on the children’s TV show themed bottle name. The two sides offer both harmony and just enough contrariness to provide for some thought-provoking tension. But above all, this is simply very tasty whisky with more than enough on offer for lovers of the Highland peated style to get stuck in to. Recommended (and notably also recommended in conjunction with 80.16 in this month’s twin-pack offering).
Nose: Apple pie, white grapes and gooseberries are joined by fireplace embers whilst buttered, golden scallops are served under a smoke-filled cloche. White chocolate shavings are joined by reed and flax whilst smoked mint tea is joined by a side order of crisp French fries. Reduction offers salted caramel and pronounced notes of pine and resinous, smoky mezcal together with green salad leaves and residue aromas of newly laid tarmac.
Taste: Expressive on the arrival with roasted red berries (strawberries and cranberries) assaulted by a wall of ashiness and BBQ briquettes. Burnt toffee and overdone honeycomb are joined by spent fire pit logs whilst smoked mascarpone cream sits caramel chews. Water reveals intense cask char, forest fires and icing sugar.
Finish: Long with persistent ash and pepperiness joined by lime peels and scorched oak.
A good value Allt-a-Bhainne that demonstrates that the peated spirit produced at this distillery could be well worth paying attention to once it has got a few more years under its belt. In this younger form, there’s plenty to enjoy already with the estery distillate tangibly presented and sitting nicely with some potent, but not overwrought ash-tinged smoke.