There was an outturn every week in November at the SMWS. The 4th November was a cold night in the van with a low of 3 °C [bring on the summer already], but a cup of tea and some hummus [luxury right] in the morning set me up for SMWS’s official outturn event in London, and what a cracking outturn it looked on paper at least. I reviewed a ‘cheeseboard 5’ whilst Jasmine made a Guy Fawkes. I went with three oldies from the Glens before a bit of island hopping.
Glenrothes 1992/2016 24yo SMWS 30.92 [192 bts] 46.7% WB
`’The curious case of Benjamin Button’
- N: With many cask strength whiskies I find the actual oak rather blatant until water is added and they settle down, although the abv isn’t astonishingly high here for CS. Neat, and aside from the wood it’s the dried tropical fruits that leap out, particularly mango and papaya. On the spirit side there’s a clear putty-mash note, hinting at a bitter-sour that may well be revealed on the palate. Thirty minutes later and it’s another story. The wood has subsided and the fruits integrated and leaning more medicinally. Now we have a far more recognisable Speysider with soft sweet lemon barley spirit, long aged in a keen cask. A long while later there’s a Rosebank lightness as the distillate is promoted forward. Is this the incredible case of Benjamin Button?
- T: Oh yes, it’s a bitter>sour one with the oak tannins in force. Those light tropical fruits turn to grapefruit and aniseed [with a little anise heat], but its the bitter-sour wood that dominates. After thirty mins and with water, everything is softened but neither the form nor direction have changed yet the oak and mash are more combined. Now two hours later and like on the nose, the distillate is back on the case. Theres a strange uniting of spirit & cask in that there’s a surprising calm now once the volatility has waned and the drama has diminished.
- F: Stays on bitter tannins, wood-tea & [green] grape skin tannins and an overall fizziness [totally SMWS], with prickly soft heat to follow. Once that settles down there’s a smooth Caramac-peanut butter-vanilla, white chocolate & Hubba-Bubba finish that helps the palate lift away from any trouble. Also, there’s a hint of crab>mackerel pate! Two hours on and the fizz has diminished somewhat and there’s more emphasis on the soft heat moving to a soft-fresh warmth,… and we can disregard the crab. After all that action the bourbon cask is subdued and relaxed.
- C: A tough one to start the day with. The action at the death is the top of this Rothes game but the spirit is somewhat lost to the cask at times. You know what they say about the old ones however – give them time. This one wrapped itself inside-out. Ends as a very whisky-ish whisky, but what a way to get there!
Scores 85 points
Let’s stick with the Glens and the grand ole’ age.
Glen Moray 1991/2016 24yo SMWS 35.161 [162 bts] 57.2% WB
Last months SMWS Glen Moray was such a cracker apparently, it was all gone before i got to try it so I thought id get in there early this time.
- N: Following on from the oaky Rothes theatrics, this is equally woody at the start and also a 24yo in a [2nd] refill cask. There’s far more honey to this one and a general sweetness also. Water brings more bourbon-honey-vanilla sweetness but with the mash & oak at loggerheads. With time, a sweet dark-tomato<meatiness develops with a boozy cream note – buttery, hinting at brandy butter. An hour later and i’m picking up rum notes of Velier proportions. Two hours in and we have more of a nutty, oily, rum number, still pokey but far more cereal based than when this bottle was first opened with a clear lemon strain running though the heart.
- T: Another big cask hit, more fizz, more fruits and again more [wine-like] tannins. Pour in water for a far more consolidated form and the emergence of bitter-sweet fruits, albeit a little reluctant. Dark malt-mash develops, chewy at first before fizzing and whizzing into the finish. Thirty minutes later, water added – form is better, length is better although that fizz wont be deterred completely. After two hours the fizz has subsided significantly. The arrival then sees sweetcorn initially and for those that love a deep oak-mash chew, this will be right up your street. There are fruits drowning in the porridge bowl, so grab your spoon quick and pick them out. It’s a heavy bowl with a thick, concentrated body.
- F: It’s desperately trying to turn to cherry chocolate liqueur but cant quite escape the fizzy oak. Pouring in the water brings a vanilla cream spread over the staves, seasoned with clove. It eventually settles with sweeter=sour zestiness, but the dark, oak-mash that remains bubbles away in the background. Two hours later, there’s still some fizz but a solid continuation just like the nose. It’s fizzy oaky vanilla-mash all the way now. I really feel this at the back of the tongue such is the bitter-sour depth, although there is some sweetness.
- C: It’s no easy dram but give it lots of time, time for the fizziness to subside in order to appreciate the qualities.
Scores 84 points
Let’s continue with these older Glen’s.
Glen Grant 1996/2016 20yo SMWS 9.110 [150 bts] 60.8% WB
- N: I struggled with the first two but this seems way more on target. Staying in the Glen’s and still in the twenties, this GG has clear bourbon cask notes assisting light, summery fruits, fruity bubblegum and vanilla ice-cream. Then there’s the light butterscotch, sweet biscuits, sweet sponge cake and very keen cask notes knocking once again. I’ll offer that the wood is still a little raw.
- T: Boy that’s a hit, no doubt the strongest abv so far i imagine. There’s a sharp burst of char conjoined with honey=vanilla>fruit-syrup sugars before the bourbon cask notes flood in. I definitely pick up newish/active oak despite this being a refill, but what does ‘refill’ really mean in actual years, who actually knows? Lots of active oak travel,……
- F: ……. into waxy, bourbon char with a bitter edge, it’s akin to a straight bourbon in many respects. Quite a fresh note at the end, vegetal char fresh. Plenty of vanillin on the long finish.
- C: A boisterous Glen Grant, not indicative of the distillery but rather the [bourbon] cask. A whisky for bourbon drinkers no doubt.
Scores 84 points
A wee hop over to the islands now.
Highland Park 1999/2016 16yo SMWS 4.221 [156 bts] 55.9% WB
- N: We are island hopping now and dropping the age a bit, but we are still in maturation sweet-spot territory. This HP is sweet with barley-grass, a little smoked linseed oil, doughy [brioche, sweet rye bread & panettone], and ripe pineapple – yet cut near the bark.
- T: Similar flavour profile, rather lovely slick mouthfeel, a little oily, a hint of metallic paint and metal workshops. Water brings out more of the smoke on the palate and the barley character itself. There’s a little cloying as the darker oak-mash notes dig in but more water brings the fruits to the fore.
- F: A little smoked oil now with a light sprinkles white pepper,….. then a long barley sweet travel with a concentrated bitter-fruity-tincture quality, still oily and vanilla seasoned towards the death. Moves from an oily to a waxy mouthfeel. Barley>oak finish
- C: Certainly the simplest dram of the day, most balanced and un-muddled. The nose is simply charming.
Scores 85 points
Let’s continue the island hop and keep the age up.
Laphroaig 1998/2016 18yo SMWS 29.200 [150 bts] 53.4% WB
- N: Not sure why this is an F dram but hey, im on the ‘cheeseboard 5’ deal so let’s sit back, relax and enjoy. This is a very relaxed Laphroaig, certainly on the nose at least. Peated whisky doesn’t automatically switch my ‘yes’ buttons on but this one certainly does. It’s often the peat that brings out the barley and the sweetness, the vegetal sweetness in this case. SMWS notes highlight ‘Indian candy salmon’. As someone who’s been to India more times than i desired, it’s impossible to deny that eastern subcontinent flavour link, yet i’m more inclined to think of UK seashore with salty seaweeds and 6oz sinkers – anglers will concur. However, It’s the huge oiliness that impresses me the most with touches of thick green grass.
- T: Vegetables, barley and two-stroke oil continue the journey yet it becomes harsher into the finish as the cask? kicks in. Adding water 50/50 brings forth the vegetal fresh – not TCP, more Listerine.
- F: Massive mackerel notes, although i get the salmon association now – weirdly the fishes skin is the common denominator. Thankfully that fish note, like the crab pate note with the Glenrothes dissipates, more now on fishy<vegetal smoke – if thats better?
- C: Probably more a fisherman’s friend that a city chum but a decent whisky no less.
Scores 86 points
I only managed a few brief visits to Greville Street during the next few weeks. Unwittingly I continued the island hopping theme only briefly.
Arran 2000/2016 16yo SMWS 121.93 (192 bts) 54.6% WB
- N: A 2nd refill oloroso cask is a fine thing indeed. Salted caramel (oh that’s SMWS noted too), nutty sweet rice and soft floury grain notes along with a chocolate-fruit ice-cream topping sauce – ah it’s the raspberry ripple sauce I’m getting that SMWS mentioned on the palate. Youthful with a confidently tender cask influence.
- T: Big, sharpish-prickly arrival, damn! Best to wait for the unravel on mild sweet=herbal caramel. With water and time it’s more like an Irish, Bushmills pot still vibe – that putty note becoming stronger and stronger. Once past the initial hot arrival, the release flows effortlessly into the finish.
- F: Mild, waxy, slightly salty white butter caramel with a little sour-herbal (tea leaves) at the finish.
- C: Let down only by the arrival [that water can’t rectify], this is a refreshingly herbal, mildly-sweet Arran which often sits somewhere between sherry and bourbon, that cask playing quite a role.
Scores 84 points
Back to Speyside now.
Linkwood 2000/2016 15yo SMWS 39.132 (150 bts) 58.6% WB85
- N: A great age for life in a virgin butt, one that shows impressive oak maturation with dusty dunnage layers.
- T: Lots of honeyed oak, neither overly vanilled nor resinous.
- F: Saying that, the vanilla builds although it’s the bourbon sweetness that takes control and rises with a gentle crescendo.
- C: Nice but in the end it’s the virgin cask that imparts most of the flavour. It’ll make for an excellent first fill now.
Scores 83 points
I’ve had a few other SMWS bottlings in the last month, one from my first Whisky Squad event, also in November. The subject of my next blog perhaps?