I’ll be at the SMWS April outturn in London in a few weeks time. As a prelude to that, John McCheyne [SMWS brand ambassador], presented an outturn preview session last Friday 24th March, in the rather salubrious Hotel du Vin in Brighton. He announced to us that we were going to be trying 90 years worth of whisky comprising of five single cask/single malts – two from bourbon casks and three from sherry casks, with the last one a smoker. John told us [well ahead of April fool’s day], that whisky is to be reclassified as a health drink – given every dram contains 25 micro grams of copper. Though there’s no RDA, the average intake of copper for an adult is around 1.5-2.5 milligrams per day. All desperate to improve our collective well-being, we got cracking with whisky #1.
Glen Moray 2001 14yo SMWS 35.176 [240 bts] 57.1%
- N: The resinous wood from a fresh & feisty first-fill bourbon cask is glaring obvious given the grassy [hay] notes, sweet-resinous honey & varnished sawdust. Once fully opened up, it’s vanilla ice-cream focused with literally cup-loads of bourbon – yet it’s not all cask dominated as it later transpires.
- T: Long travel with a delicious chew on honeyed bourbon sweetness and candied bananas. The consensus around the room is favourable, it’s a popular opener.
- F: Creamy sweet wood, vanilla cream and icing sugar into the finish. It’s all really sweet but thankfully it’s never saccharin not for one moment, the full-bodied barley-cream maltiness makes sure of that.
- C: With this one, I focused on the mouthfeel and textural element more than the descriptors as it pretty much smells and tastes like it’s makeup. At first the cask appears to rather bully the spirit, but on reflection the spirit seems more than happy to muck in. The result is a simple & youthful yet deliciously sweet Glen Moray with both cask and spirit equally ‘up for it’ – in other words, it’s balanced. Reminds me most of Benromach’s 10yo  blog.
Scores 84 points
Glenlossie 1992 23yo SMWS 46.45 [240 bts] 52.7%
- N: Werther’s Originals [spot on Ashley], but that note doesn’t last given the movement, moving first towards a plastic/putty note before more sweet stuff on fruits & tutti-fruity – and yet i feel i will remember this as a more savoury dram given, especially in comparison to the sweet Glen Moray. An hour later and there’s fruity grapes and rubbery-smoke. John McCheyne said he detects smoke in Glenlossie, most likely from the char – the char though so low in the mix it’s not obviously recognisable as such. Then there’s more development on sweet biscuits, [East End] hot mango mint sauce [delicious with curry], and heathery>char. The spirit is still very open despite 23 years in oak, such is the joy of decent refills. This is very similar to the Bowmore [last in tonight’s flight], but it’s the 23 years of slow & soft maturation from this Glenlossie than win me over the most.
- T: A hard to describe chocolate-maltiness with a few Maltesers and a deep [very Irish!], putty mash.
- F: Waxy at the end and a little dry but with all sorts going on under the surface.
- C: Deceptively simple with some treasure-hunt depth and plenty of the Irish. it’s lovely stuff but I feel i’m over thinking it. in the main, it’s the ‘age’ i love the most and the magic that age brings when cask and spirit unite within a long & slow marriage.
Scores 87 points
The potent and unmistakable smell of breaded fish sweeps through from the restaurant into our tasting room promising to spoilt the nose show, but thankfully it disapates thanks to some very effective air conditioning units. With two down, it’s on to number three.
Benrinnes 2007 9yo SMWS 36.108 [486 bts] 58.2%
- N: Fully vibrant and blatantly directed varnished rubber, modern pine furniture and sherried tutti-fruity ice cream are the order of the day from this first-fill oloroso cask.
- T: Boing! There’s so much sherry>sulphur, moving more malty then more liqueur-ey before more putty-ey. It’s a palate clogger that’s for sure, so much so i rejected it rather quickly.
- F: Malty/putty, chocolate liqueur.
- C: There’s often [at least] one Zebedee per SMWS outturn and this is April’s. This would be more interesting lined up against similar fayre, so one could contrast & compare char levels, maturation lengths, sherry types and the like. Possibly the most balanced/desirable sulphured whisky ever? – a contender for sure but otherwise a tasty but not overly fabulous Benrinnes.
John suggests checking out ‘SMWS silver screen‘ on YouTube
Here’s one on flavour behaviour:
Glen Grant 1988 27yo SMWS 9.104 [504 bts] 55.5%
- N: An amazing 27 years in a refill sherry cask offers a relaxed/soft-matured malt with a decidedly aged & dusty-putty-fungal<dunnage profile with details of dusty raisins, lead soldiers [Ashley on fire once again], soggy-dry matches, olive=grape skin,…..
- T: Rich, very rich and extremely full bodied on the palate. The sherry is very very quiet. Paradoxically there’s more the illusion of bourbon cask maturation given the taste, and a semblance of first-fill cask use given the fullness – the abv contributing to that too. Overall it’s giving out a fruity-varnished, dry & tasty [bourbon]-sweet aged/cask-fungal persona with a particularly smaller, more detailed note of smouldering fireworks.
- F: More of that bourbon illusion, the sherry element of the cask rather insignificant – and that’s just fine. There is a good reason for this sherry=bourbon illusion, I’ll see if i can find an article about it sometime soon – Ralfy mentioned it a few times too.
- C: Twenty seven fabulous years spent in a very good refill sherry [not bourbon] cask, a cask still with just the right amount of oomph. It’s refreshing to have a whisky come from a sherry refill that’s about the cask itself and not the cask’s previous contents.
Scores 86 points
Bowmore 1997 17yo SMWS 3.248 [594 bts] 57.7%
- N: Another ex-sherry cask brings a deliciously rich fruity=smoky Islay malt with a wood-sherry complex, spices, varnish and sweet-vegetal notes. This last dram seems to be a culmination [plus], of all the previous four malts and is the first ‘shopping list’ dram of the night, namely big vegetal and leather notes with salty sea-fruits – capers not cod although i detect light anchovy oil. It’s very sulphur-desirable too, and i do hope the sulphur note i picked up here isn’t from that Benrinnes [although the previous Glen Grant had none so i think i’m clear]. Takes a long while for the 17 years of maturity to show. Comes across more a 9-12 yo for the first half an hour at least.
- T: Rich-resinous & sweet-herbal mouthfeel with solid char, a big sweet<herbal chew and a sweet-aniseed-heat. Again it’s hugely youthful.
- F: Herbal/peaty, salty, malty chew with a sweet <bitter-sour finish.
- C: Easily the most popular whisky of the night, being cursively complex, conservatively challenging and effortlessly engaging – the ‘Weekend Guardian of Whisky’ perhaps?
Scores 86 points
Just for good measure, there were a few more little SMWS treats for everyone to peruse ‘after hours’. Namely two new-make spirits, one from Glenmorangie and the other from Ardbeg. I never turn my nose up at trying the base spirit from any distillery. Firstly it helps my discovery & understanding of distillery profiles [if there are any anymore], often more easily read from the new make than finished articles [Lagavulin being a great example]. Having said that, both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg [like Lagavulin], have very strong and individual identities as whiskies in themselves, no more so than with their respective standard 10yo’s. Secondly, tasting the base spirit helps me understand more what notes/elements/descriptors are coming directly from the spirit alone and which are therefore more likely to come from the cask after maturation.
Glenmorangie new make 63.6%
- N: A dogged spirit with spud guns, copper and very light summer fruits [gala melon] and white peach.
- T: Copper and ginger with tinned anchovies. Once the anchovy dies down, theres a sweet copper chew into the finish.
- F: Sweet copper>spud guns, light aniseed and a hint of savoury crystalised lime ginger with flapjack at the death. A light & neutral coppered barley spirit lingers. Oily crisps at the death.
- C: Classic new make in many ways but with no discernible distillery character or profile that’s identifiable with Glenmorangie’s core range. It makes you realise just how much wood management there is going on at Glenmorangie – something they take very seriously.
Ardbeg new make
- N: Literally smells of Ardbeg, not Laphroaig, not Caol Ila, not Lagavulin – well maybe a little like Lagavulin.
- T: Again, it’s Ardbeg all over and it’s very drinkable at strength. Establishes a chocolate maltiness with no creditable fruits notes.
- F: Really creams up into the really long finish with lots of hot chocolate made with warm milk.
- C: This is totally drinkable and identifiable – but of course the strong peat character helps. I could even score this, better than many whiskies.
More from the SMWS April outturn in due course. Many thanks to John for a fabulous evening.