Posted 02 September 2019 by Matt / In Group Tastings
Today marks the start of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s new week long whisky festival – The Gathering. Established to celebrate the Society’s Leith-based origins, The Gathering offers seven days of celebrations, not just at the Society’s spiritual home at The Vaults, but around the world across a wide variety of SMWS venues. There’s a raft of events planned including whisky and food pairings, tastings and film screenings as well as walking tours which highlight Leith’s long-standing whisky history. And, of course, no whisky festival is complete without festival bottlings.
The September outturn is just four days away but in advance of the monthly deluge of bottles, there’s an additional delivery of new liquid to consider. Those looking to keep their powder dry until the main month outturn might consider the Gathering Discovery pack which includes five drams taken from the selection of festival bottlings. Otherwise, expect at least seven festival bottlings and also some venue exclusives to hunt down.
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: 33.137 Campfire marshmallows on singed sticks
A rare sighting of distillery 33 – SMWS can’t have too many of these casks left now sadly. This example is a 10 year old from a 1st full ex-bourbon barrel.
Nose: Herbalness from nettles, mint and lemon balm alongside scorched pine needles and delicate tarriness. Smoke runs throughout – pronounced, but controlled - part sweet and floral, part burnt and charred. Chalky soils and salinity are joined by singed oak whilst lemon peels and juices sit with gravel and fish tanks. Reduction dials things up a notch – tarred felt roofing, bitumen road works and a developing bonfire ashiness.
Taste: Boom. No messing around now. Where the nose was suggestive, the palate is apparent. Rich, fulsome and intensely charred. Beach fires and brick charcoal are joined by penetratingly fired casks (Alligator char levels) and spent hearth ashes. Medicinal cleaners and bandages sit with inland vegetation – moss, fern, bracken and leaves alongside wet soils, earthy mushrooms and a glug of engine oil. The addition of water further enhances the viscosity with olive oils, whilst also amping up the char – incinerated oak and cremated tree bark. The introduction of lemon and lime tempers the composition, but it remains concentrated, powerful and penetrating throughout.
Finish: Long – all on char and burning – smouldering wood, paper and leaves with lime juice and salinity drawn from a freshly made margarita.
SMWS Ardbeg doesn’t require either an introduction, nor a glowing review – this 33 will sell out before you’ve had time to put the kettle on. But, irrespective of the lure of the distillery’s brand, and it’s infrequency of being independently bottled, this 10 year old is nevertheless thoroughly excellent. Alluring and subtle on the nose, an elegant sledgehammer on the palate. Cracking stuff.