Posted 05 September 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
September’s SMWS outturn delivers 23 new single cask whiskies with a selection of bottlings earmarked for the Society’s inaugural whisky festival – The Gathering, which celebrates the Leith-based origins in a seven day raft of events and, well gatherings. People are, after all at the very heart of the whisky sharing experience. There’s also a few venue exclusive Gathering bottlings not covered in this outturn, so if you’re visiting your local branch anytime soon keep your eyes peeled.
This outurn offers a broad selection of styles, with bottlings from 11 of the Society’s colour profile (only heavily peated is omitted). It seems there’s plenty more coming up across the month of September as we sampled several interesting bottles which are due for a mid-month release. Apologies to those who already read our Monday Gathering post – whilst we were informed that those bottles would be receiving their own release, it turns out, they’re all merged into the standard outturn. So, we’ve included two of those tasting notes here again to present the full record of what we sampled.
We’ve reviewed 10 of the new releases for you this month. Phil, who you’ll find over at https://www.philipstorry.net/ will be exploring the remainder.
OK, so, as always, picks of the month – The double-downed sherried Aultmore (73.114 Total eclipse of oloroso) offers a journey into rich intensity that is well worth experiencing. Equally as notable, but from an entirely different perspective is the characterful, vegetal and savoury Ardmore (66.150 Smoke, soot and tarry ropes). I’ve additional nods for the Cragganmore, Glen Moray and a rare sighting of Fettercairn – so as is often the case, there’s something for everyone. But, as you’ll see from the Balmenach, it’s not all plain sailing.
Bottle Name: 35.239 Sweet Seduction
ABV: 52.9% Distillery: Glen Moray Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Old & dignified Region: SpeysideAge: 23
Starting things off in Elgin with a Glen Moray that was laid down in October 1995 and left to mature in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel for 23 years.
Nose: Polished fruits are up first – soft and lacquered – peach and apricots livened with tart apples and ripe pears. Very fruity indeed. Running throughout, floral notes – quite perfumed – rose water and Turkish delight alongside daisies and a touch of chamomile. Smoothed, planed oak panelling is joined by hessian cloth, waxy lemons and green spices. The addition of water favours tropical notes with the introduction of mango and guava alongside heathery wild honey.
Taste: Fruit-forward and with some creamy texture - peach and particularly apricots sitting with mango yoghurt, crème brulee and glass of lemon barley water. Spicing develops in the mid-palate, pepper and ginger – both rather dusty – before earthiness takes over with dried soils and vegetalness sitting alongside biscuit crumbs and fresh oak. Reduction does not introduce any radicalism, but it does pronounce a tinned syrupy aspect of the stone fruits which is entirely pleasant.
Finish: Quite long and combining fading yellow fruits with souring peppery liqueurs.
There’s a lot to like about this well-aged Glen Moray – expressive fruitiness, controlled spice and cask influence and a positive (if every day) reaction to dilution. It’s a emblematic near quarter of a century ex-bourbon maturation at heart – no unexpected thrills, but a totally solid offering all the same.
An interestingly categorised (given the distinctively un-coastal location) Craigellachie that’s slumbered in a refill ex-bourbon barrel for 12 years.
Nose: Starting in a DIY store in the adhesives aisle – sealants, waxes and resins – before heading to the cobbler for a quick boot polish. Then, it’s off to the greengrocer to acquire some potatoes for boiling, whilst stopping off at the café for some slices of buttered toast. A final sojourn to a spice market for chilli flakes and cayenne pepper is interrupted by a visit to the coast where the aromas of chalk, shale and cleaved rocks provide a maritime kick. What?! A truly eclectic selection offering true depth. Dilution rather normalises – apples and guava with damp leaves and charred cask ends – all very pleasant, but I certainly preferred the confident madness this offered near.
Taste: The arrival reinforces the weight and texture of this distillate – thick, fatty and resinous. Salinity kicks in first, then more buttered toast. Tart unripe pineapple chunks are joined by fizzing homemade lemonade whilst pressed lavender flowers sit with chilli flakes and dry savoury biscuits. Still wild, just not quite as cohesive as the nose. Water sharpens things up considerably – tartness abound – alongside a good twist of salt and pepper seasoning.
Finish: Medium in length with shale and coal sitting with sunflower oil, salinity and fading chilli.
This Craigellachie is big, intense and wholly fascinating – its profile is fundamentally at odds which the distillery location and natural spirit style – and it’s all the better for it. Whilst the selection of aromas and flavours seem haphazard, they work (particularly on the nose) together in an unconventional harmony. It’s therefore such a shame that dilution breaks down this strange cohesiveness. Were it not for that, this would be scoring several points higher.
Bottle Name: 48.108 Tasteful eroticism
ABV: 60.1% Distillery: Balmenach Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Flavour Profile: Young & spritely Region: SpeysideAge: 8
An 8 year old Balmenach that’s been matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Overt new make rawness. Green apple, pear drops and spun sugar are joined by cream buns, custard tarts and pepperiness. But, the dominant aromas are unformed, coppery and feinty. Despite eight years of maturation, this is exceedingly underdeveloped – unless you happen to like radiator pipes and boiled vegetables as your dominant aromas. Dilution doesn’t so much change the nose as expand it – baked buns and pancake batter alongside kiwi fruits and gooseberries. I guess that’s an improvement.
Taste: The situation has not improved. Pear drops and apple Jolly Rancher candy sit with a raw, hot, boozy distillate that’s packed full of copper, glue, potatoes and ‘greenness’. Alongside there’s chocolate digestives, cotton candy and sappy ex-bourbon wood – none of which feel integrated whatsoever. Water adds some buttery cream cakes, white chocolate and gentle pepper. Better reduced for sure.
Finish: Medium with charred oak, slight menthol, creaminess and coppery minerality.
Bottling this Balmenach and labelling it as journey into spirit character feels almost satirical (or simply an outright piss take) - despite eight years of maturation it’s incredibly undercooked and offers less enjoyment than drinking a genuinely well-made new make spirit. The refill ex-bourbon cask has offered so little actual maturation (and was surely a knackered vessel to begin with) that I’m honestly shocked the Society would decide to bottle this as single cask. This does a disservice to the SMWS’s mantra of ‘lovingly selected, exceptional quality’ single cask whisky. A travesty.
Nose: Highly vegetal. Greenhouse aromas – tomato vines, green leaves and tree sap alongside gooseberries, grapefruit and green apples. Running throughout, soft, gooey honey, white bread, flax and reeds. The addition of water unlocks tropical aromas of mango and banana, whilst also expressing bakery with rolled pasty and oven-cooked brown loaves.
Taste: An effective combination of berries, spice and cake mix. Blackcurrants, orange peels and grape juice are livened with a hearty kick of ginger spicing – fiery. Homemade bloomer loaves and sponge cakes sit with burnt pan sugars, whilst plums stew in their own liquor. Water adds pepperiness and drying oak alongside cake mix – batternburg and Victoria sponge.
Finish: Medium with a bite of peppery minerality and fading planed oak.
There’s quite the difference between the nose and the palate of this Cragganmore. But, both are rather successful. Well-judged pronounced spicing integrates nicely with a wide selection of fruits and sugars resulting in a very likable, and interesting Speysider. Recommended.
Now this is interesting. Not only has it been nearly five years since the Society bottled up some Fettercairn for us, but this latest edition comes matured in what is proving to be rather the cask de jour – a 1st fill STR (shaved, toasted, recharred) wine barrique.
Nose: A strawberry malt shake starts things moving, whilst reduced sugars and sponge cake add further sweetness. Running throughout, mocha and chai latte alongside some Fettercairn ‘funk’ – wet soils, leaf mulch, hay lofts and pig sties. A strange combination, but one that works and is certainly thought-provoking. Reduction emphasises dried hay and scorched grasses, whilst adding notes of balsamic and saw dust.
Taste: Grape juice is immediate (STR anyone?!), it’s reduced and sugary and joined by a scattering of juicy red berries and bramble bush blackberries – wild and vibrant. The mid-palate adds savouriness with maple bacon, whilst addition sweetness is derived from bourbon biscuits and dark chocolate. Spicing appears during the development and extends into the back palate – cinnamon and ginger. A few drops of water and this turns into a particularly fruit-forward number with berries and wine gums adding sweetness and juiciness whilst the cask reveals charred wood and anise.
Finish: Medium and rather herbal with allspice and dried grasses alongside fading chocolate and char.
What’s most pleasing about this STR matured Fettercairn is that it has retained its distinctive character. Whilst the fruits and sugars have been dialled up from the wine cask influence, the underlying funk of the distillery’s spirit has been allowed to shine. Fettercairn is a peculiar and distinctive liquid that has historically been sadly inconsistent. This return to the Society in STR form makes me wonder if changes have been afoot at the distillery over the past decade. It’s a hit in my book. Recommended.
Similarly to distillery 13, Society Glendronach’s are always rooted in ex-bourbon maturation rather than OB sherry. As such, they’re always of interest. This example has spent a decade in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Nose: Jelly sweets and lemon sherbet sit with cranberries and redcurrants. Further sweetness is derived from confectioners’ sugar and waffles whilst rose hips and verbena add a delicate floral aspect. Dilution adds an assortment of savoury aromas – pecan and cashew nuts alongside crumbled cream crackers.
Taste: Red berries and poached pears are livened with lemon peels and citric oils whilst rich tea biscuits are dusted in caster sugar and served with French crepe pancakes. Water adds gummy sweets and emphasises the refill ex-bourbon hogshead with white pepper and overt oakiness.
Finish: Medium to long with pepper and anise and expressive young oakiness.
Glendronach’s underlying naturally fruitiness comes through well here and sits nicely with the combination of sweet and savoury aromas and flavours – but, whilst it’s Ssmple and effective, there’s just a bit too much wood (particularly once reduced) for my liking.
Nose: Iced buns, cream cakes, pancake batter and honey sit with butterscotch and fudge whilst lemon balm and slight chalkiness provide a enlivening kick of citrus and minerality. Reduction adds sponge and almonds in the form of Battenberg cake whilst lemon yoghurt delivers a velvety dessert-like aspect.
Taste: Toffee apples and rocks. Green apples and cooking apples are drizzled in dulce de leche and served atop of biscuit crumb. Maple syrup and chocolate sauce are added for richness, whilst hewn limestone and chalk cliffs sit with cashew nuts and lemon curd. Dilution emphasises freshly baked apple pie and ground ginger spicing.
Finish: Medium with fading chocolate and the suggestion of gravel and shingle.
Whilst I general prefer my 10s to be full on Oily & Coastal in profile, this Spicy & Dry example offers a lot to like all the same. The down-low mineral character from the distillate combos nicely with the sweeter, more bakery-led aromas and flavours. Quite likable.
Benrinnes that's been matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon and then has been reracked into a 1st fill PX hogshead for a two year finish.
Nose: Industrial with engine lubricants, sunflower oil and pan fats. These sit on burnt and reduced sugars, dried apricots and plums, raisins and chocolate. In the background, burnt toast, sticks and twigs alongside sponge cake and ginger spicing. Dilution adds wallpaper, dusty books and coconut oil.
Taste: Richer, fuller and most certainly drier. Indeed, this is dry and tannic from the arrival. Axle grease, olive oil, lardy fat and meat extract provide texture and weight, whilst metholated oak sits with planking, wood chips and creosote. Toffee and honeycomb are joined by biscuit crumb and hazelnuts, whilst redcurrants and orange peels derive from the PX influence. The addition of water softens the palate, with less drying oak – but it also dulls the vibrancy of the fruit.
Finish: Medium with burnt orange peels, balsamic and charred oak.
There’s a lovely fattiness to this Benrinnes, but sadly the cask has rather run amok. Some of you might like this bone dry sherry that favours a more savoury rather than sweet style. But for me, the tannins have long taken over here.
Sherry tastic. 15 years in an ex-oloroso butt and then yet more sherry on top from a two year finish in a 1st fill PX butt.
Nose: Rich layered sherry. Cherry cola and cola cubes are joined by raisins, sultanas and dates. Intense dark chocolate and cocoa powder have further sweetness added from Terry’s Chocolate Orange whilst suede leather and ham meatiness provide some deep savoury aromas. Running throughout, ripe red berries and dusty cinnamon spicing. Water brings out hazelnut nuttiness whilst adding ginger into the spice mix.
Taste: Rich and fulsome with great texture. The spicing is immediate and intense – cinnamon sticks and stem ginger – both pronounced and piquant. Their influence is softened by flamed orange peels, chocolate and toffee sauce and berry-packed cake – rather Black Forest gateaux. The mid-palate reveals yet more spice influence with cloves and allspice, whilst hedgerow berries add both sweetness and tartness. Reduction softens things up emphasising leather sofas and gentle pepperiness.
Finish: Medium to long with fading berries and still perky cinnamon and pepper.
Quite the ride. An intensely sherried Aultmore that doesn’t mess around with ensuring a lavish offering of richly fruity aromas and flavours alongside plenty of piquant spicing. For the sherryheads who like things opulent but still potent. Joint pick of the month.
Another month – another Ardmore. September’s is a 10 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Savoury and quite smoky. Liquid tar, bitumen and burnt out engines sit with smouldering leaves, melted rubber and felt roofing. There’s a sweetness here – partly from smoked, fatty meats – party from the underlying fruitiness of the distillate. Reduction adds an alluvial aspect with clay and putty joined by damp moss and bracken.
Taste: Much ashier now – burnt ends, hearth fires and coal dust alongside beef gravy, hot cracked soil and tree bark. Lemon zest joins chilli peppers whilst sugar-coated lime is rimmed around a margarita glass. Water adds coastalness (strangely) with cracked rocks, granite outcropping and a twist of salty seasoning.
Finish: Medium to long and packed full of ash – fireplaces, spent beach fire and quartz minerality.
I’ve always got time for the Society’s 66s and this month’s is a near perfect example of Ardmore’s characterful inland, vegetal peat style. It’s highly savoury, wonderfully balanced, and when reduced, packed full of chiselled coastalness. Great stuff. Joint pick of the month.