With everything now packed and ready to go [WLP: Pack Attack], I climb into the camper and head northwards towards Scotland via the first ‘in the flesh’ S.W.A.G. meet-up. Tonights free event is generously gifted by SWAG’s main man Wayne and his wife, Morag, who has bought three whiskies for us – the ‘Swaggers’ – to enjoy blind. Those who couldn’t attend in-person received samples in the post and joined us in the ‘Snug’ via Zoom. What an absolute treat. Thank you.
We’re all in, so we begin.
Nantou Omar Bourbon Type [+/-2020] Ob. TTL 46% [WB]82.50
- N: Malty, creamy and with a [column still?] industrial pong, my guess over the abv strength centres around 43%. The Foz picks up on the putty note and heads down an Irish wormhole. Picking up more of a chalkiness over sweet citrus and honey, I wonder if it’s tropical-y fruity enough to be Irish. More peeps pick up on grain vibes, strengthening my belief that this might have some column still distillate in the mix.
- T: This appears neither quite Irish nor Scottish. Although tasty and rounded – profile-wise – the fizzy mouthfeel is persistently off-putting.
- F: Hot chocolate/cocoa into, well, all sorts – and perhaps some sweet wine influence? Wayne plumbs for sauternes. With a somewhat gacky conclusion, I lean more towards madeira, but as it turns out, it’s neither. Bizarrely, it’s straight bourbon cask matured whisky, apparently.
- Toying with the idea of this being Irish, again, I’m guessing this is young at 4-5 year old. Is there an outside chance this could be a blend? With passing resemblances to the Highlands or Northern Speyside [Glen Moray-ish/Glen Elgin?], just before the reveal, I push all my chips back on Ireland.
- C: Taiwanese! Close then, not. An unusual yet somehow familiar nicely rounded and pleasing/likeable ‘hybrid’ whisky overall, though I struggled with the fizzy palate.
Scores 82 points
That has us all flummoxed. What will follow?
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish [+/-2020] Ob. 40% [50cl] WB81
- N: With a [somewhat doctored] oloroso-led sugared fruitiness, the minimum abv presentation is obvious from the off. With brown sugar, a slight pepperiness and plenty of Christmas-y tones, there appears to be some maturity behind this one in comparison to the Nantou.
- T: There is agreement that this light & dangerously drinkable whisky. Though thin[ish], there are suggestions of an older oloroso-matured whisky style [Glengoyne/Macallan/Glenfarclas twenty years back]. With a beautifully aromatic pepperiness, guesses over age range from 12-18 years,…
- F: ,… and a dusty malty salty finish seems to reinforce those perceptions. A slightly frail barley sugar finish further increases my suspicions of this being an older Aldi/Lidl bargain.
- C: Revealed! What this tells us is port casks can suit the Kavalan spirit very well, but this is probably old news for those that have followed Kavalan throughout the ‘teenies’. I correctly stab at £40 as the price-point which is great because I’ve been looking for a replacement for that cheap-as-chips [25yo] Glen Alba.
Scores 81 points, and at £40, it’s recommended. 50cl though.
- Foz: “A whisky to keep in the car”
- WLP: “For when you’re stuck in traffic.
In the spirit of ‘Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition‘, Morag has masterly figured that no one will suspect, nor indeed expect, a Taiwanese whisky flight – and she’s right. Afterwards, I suggest she carry out the same ‘trick’ again one day, or at least sneak the same whiskies into subsequent blind tastings, to keep us on our toes.
On a side note, it’s a small coincidence that I should retry the first Kavalan Solist I ever experienced [WLP] the night before another, but of course, I don’t know that just yet. Another coincidence is Wayne’s postcode, whose numbers are the same as the bottles I’m submitting at auction. Spooky?!
Kavalan Solist Sherry 2010/2015 5yo Ob. cask #S100211019A [btl #303/517] 57.1%WB88.24
- N: Despite still being blissfully unaware of the Taiwanese theme, I’m thinking Kavalan straight away. Aside from one or two crazy Karuizawa’s and all-sherried ‘Straight From The Cask’ Edradour’s, it’s Kavalan that consistently produce this type of prune-black whisky and with such viscosity. Smelling of prune juice-covered plimsoles with a little funky pesticide-like action, we’ve a huge amount of ‘boing’. Furthermore, I think it was Adrian who picked up on it – and a new one for me in a whisky – a celeriac top note. Spot on!
- T: With more rubbery plimsoles from full-on ‘Zebedee’ oloroso action, the cask and spirit are poles apart. In many ways, this style of whisky could have come from any distillery and yet there are more guesses for Kavalan. Wayne spots it too and declares it ‘new-world’. I guess ‘Kavalan sherry cask’, but won’t go as far as Solist [single cask] as the quality isn’t anywhere there in comparison to earlier bottlings.
- F: Notes-wise, we’ve all the usual contemporary sherry-matured contenders.
- C: I’ve said it before, I’m amazed people are still willing to pay the Kavalan Solist premium [£160 rrp], despite a noticeable quality dip in calibre and complexity since 2017. In 2013/4, Kavalan was producing such fantastic single cask output that I’d insist on having a bottle in my cabinet at all times. Now, it’s only ever in other people’s cabinets.
Scores 80 points
Up next, a bonus malt chosen by Wayne and also poured blind. As nobody had expected a Taiwanese trio, minds were racing with the possibilities of what this would be.
Kilchoman Am Burach  Ob. Ruby Port Finish [10500 bts] 46% WB87.17
Wayne tells us ‘Am Burach’ means ‘The Mess’. This one comes with a serendipitous story of two different Kilchoman expressions that were mistakenly combined. I can’t keep up with the tale, but it’s all written on the side of the box, and no doubt, on the Kilchoman website and any number of blog and vlog sites – just not this one!
- N: With its fruity vegetal smokey profile [being slightly Laphroaig-esque on the nose], I’m guessing we are in Islay.
- T: Being more vegetal and ashy [Ardbeggian] on the palate, the consensus overall is ‘sweet peat’ with a savoury smoky vegetal middle and a nice chew.
- F: Keeping my observations simple and concise at this point, the consistent profile theme here is peaty fruity savoury.
- C: At £85, perhaps it’s a tad overpriced? Regardless, what a fabulous result ‘The Mess’ has provided.
Scores 87 points
It’s impossible not to be ‘present’ in the surroundings. We soon peel out of the Snug, spreading out into the garden and onto the garden furniture under the beautiful warm yet clear night sky. SWAG-online members continue their chats in earnest. I wish them all to be here, yet given the geographical diversity of the group, perhaps this virtual & actual coexistence shall remain a theme, even after the non-zombie apocalypse is over.
And of course, there’s more, there’s always more! I’m offered my first Bimber of the night, courtesy of Lewis.
Bimber 2016/2020 Ob. Ex-PX cask #42 [btl #288/329] 58.1% WB88
Despite the fact that these bottles are fetching staggering amounts at auction [more than Caperdonich, more than Lochside, more than Ladyburn, more than St Magdalene, Glen Albyn, Glenugie….], peeps are still willing to buy and open young whisky from this new English distillery. Don’t mind if I do.
- N: A sweet pongy nose that settles to little more than a ‘nice’ young whisky.
- T: Urgh, that is not my thing. It’s almost coppery and bubblegum-sweet to start [though nothing resembling the Brenne Cuvee [WLP]. Given time, it improves and improves towards more candied~toffee action.
- F: Sherry-syruped cask-sweetened Bimber spirit with a barley sugar finish.
- C: Working from Bimber’s rather neutral yet somewhat ethereal [no feints or foreshots?: WLP] spirit, can Bimber’s current new make ever evolve from anything more than a youthful upstart?
Scores 82 points
Despite the second-market value of certain bottles, thankfully, a number of Swaggers are committed to the Acton-based distillery and more Bimber is poured.
Bimber  Ob. for Selfridges ex-Gonzales Byass Oloroso Butt finish #544-7/67 [936 bts] 51.5% WB88.50
Aside from the marketing/communication fiasco and the fact that I’m £30 lighter with nothing to show [Selfridges, you can ‘do one’], the bigger news is these bottles – at time of writing – are fetching up to £1000 at auction. That’s the same money as Brora 11th release [if you look hard enough and are patient].
- N: Despite the surprisingly ‘proper’ old-skool sherry vibes, the likeness to cask #42 is strikingly similar, albeit with a plastic-y burnt note.
- T: Displaying formidable strength on arrival and more old skool sherry vibes, the bubblegum is back. Again, with such a neutral [exposed] spirit, was the new make ever going to supersede such a characterful cask with a well-trodden path?
- F: There’s that plastic-y note again and very fruity layered tannins. This all speaks of that fabulous cask but where’s the barley spirit to back things up?
- C: Bimber spirit is crying out for a good caring cask. Problem is, if the cask isn’t sympathetic enough [active/virgin/first-fill for example,..] what can result is cask activity that compromises balance and provides an environment where the distillate can’t evolve. I shall re-review this with a bigger 10cl sample another time. Until then:
[Provisionally] scores 83 points, for a great cask.
Whilst we are discussing spirit, Wayne grabs Lindores’ [WLP] new make.
Lindores Abbey Spirit [+/-2019] Ob. 63.5% [WB]78.13
- N: Steady coppery cereal with only a little fruitiness.
- T: Raisiny-sweet porridge,….
- F: ,… with more copperiness.
- C: “jobbing’ spirit.
I had no idea it was 3am already, but the arrival of Abhainn Dearg should have been an omen. I’m kidding, I’m intrigued, it’s my first Abhainn Dearg!
Abhainn Dearg [+/-2008/2018] 10yo Ob. 46% [WB]76.50
Though they don’t write cask numbers on the labels, Wayne informs us that Abhainn Dearg only bottle single casks. If the ferries are running [and currently they are], I shall find out for myself in a few weeks time.
- N: New [faux]-leather belts, chicken, hammy, weird, “sheep shit”, albumen – all in a good way, honestly. With the help [from Ben et al] we manage to cobble together this descriptive nosing sentence: “,… like someone with silicon implants holding a pan of brussel sprouts in a Carpet Right“. “Boggin” says Morag, which as an onomatopoeia, doesn’t require translating.
- T: It tastes just as freaky as it smells with more than a glancing likeness to Origin Spirits’ Currach [WLP]. I also noted nettles and wood sugars in the style of the Czech Hammerhead [WB] – which I believe is all gone now.
- F: More meatiness, a dry waxiness, and peat smoke.
- C: The headline: Hellyers [WLP] without the hell.
Scores [the most intriguing and thought-provoking] 76 points [I’ve ever awarded].
It’s now 3:30am. Given I’m driving to Scotland tomorrow, I should nip it in the bud. The highlight of the night goes to the Foz hurling a whisky bomb into the chiminea – Paterson styley – followed with “It’s only Ardbeg’. Indeed, the Wee Beastie is not 50yo Dalmore.
With thanks to Wayne, Morag, and participating Swaggers for a fabulous evening. It’s been a blast.