We’ve all likely come across weird whisky. It comes with the territory of being explorers. An indescribable aroma. An unexpected flavour. Or – sometimes - just an unutterable mess. There are times when fellow drinkers find things peculiar that I find linear. And – sure as day – the converse of this is also true. But when it comes to whisky that sits outside what most might consider to be the norms, there’s a gulf of difference between variances in production that result in new and unexpected aromas and flavours and pure palate preferences.
Grain and yeast (not water) all play a significant role in defining the flavour of a spirit. Just speaking of yeast - it is far from a homogenous ingredient. Whilst many distilleries opt for efficient MX strains – the environment, temperature, and length of inoculation are all going to affect the wash produced – and there’s some variance that’s possible here even just with this one yeast strain.
And that’s saying nothing of artisan strains (some of which behave in radically different manners in terms of growth rates and temperature preferences), nor spontaneous or wild ferments – which you don’t tend to see larger distilleries, but which you will increasingly find at smaller craft operations. And trust me - those results can end up being rather feral in character.
Casks can also result in strange whisky. Fishky is the most obvious example which springs to mind – but take a look at Mackmyra and you’ll often see some pretty madcap wood in use by those guys. Some more successfully employed than others. Casks can also become spoiled and whilst most producers wouldn’t dare bottle something up from a vessel that has lost its integrity – some do – and I’ve tasted a few over the years. However, for all the many variables that can result in whisky tasting ‘weird’ – much of this assessment will come down to personal taste. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
Consider a whisky that’s somewhat lactic in character. One drinker might find this profile abnormal, whereas another might find it to be rather agreeable. I’m always reminded of my personal preferences away from spirits which taste ‘synthetic’ – but at the same time – how do you square that away with enjoying notes of rubber and exhaust fumes? Aren’t those entirely human-made 'flavours'? No one ever said palates have to make sense or be consistent.
People consume the strangest things. Durian fruit, pigs blood cake, horizonal hotdogs or even pineapple on pizza – are all enjoyed by someone, somewhere. And in the same way, being unconventional doesn’t automatically mean being weird – that’s always going to be a judgement of palate preference.
Door 14 of the 2021 Boutique-y Advent calendar offers up something which certainly sits on my strange spectrum – in the form of Millstone 4 year old Batch 3. It’s a 1,925 bottle batch, delivered at 49% - no cask information is provided, so I’m guessing ex-bourbon – but at the same time, I’d not be overly surprised if it turned out to be some left-field wood. Bottles are still available from Master of Malt for £49.95.
Both Sorren at OCD Whisky and Brian at Brian's Malt Musings and undertaking the 24 days of Boutique-y this year – so after you’re done here, go check them out for some alternative views. I'm particularly interested to see if they find this Millstone as strange as I do!
Nose: Resinous soap, glue, boot polish and chives. Odd. Sponge cake drizzled with sugar syrup and candied stone fruits restore some order, whilst incense cedar and sandalwood add considerable perfumed, aromatic wood notes. Dilution reveals mentholated oak and chocolate spread over waffles.
Taste: The arrival is all oils and tree saps and resins. Alongside this – brown sugar, caramel and vanilla together with cardamon and sandalwood. The development is again ultra-herbal/floral – almost moving into washing power territory and sitting alongside tannic, drying oak. Reduction offers sour red apples together with shaved chocolate.
Finish: Short to medium with pepper and persistent aromatic wood spice.
Hard to know where to begin with this Boutique-y 4 year old Millstone. Does it want to be a malt, a rye or liquid air-freshener? Sadly, I’m none too keen on the result which is just too peculiar and soapy for my tastes. But, as it's most certainly a weird one to my palate – your mileage could vary considerably here.