SMWS Outturn 340 - Bold and Balanced

SMWS G15.19 - Sweet Shop on the BeachA short list this month, which suggest we may see something else appear later on. (Perhaps something for the upcoming months of festivals we're on the brink of?)

The year of sherry continues, although it's rarely my first choice as a cask. The Dailuaine is impressive, sporting cherries and a hint of meatiness. The Benrinnes is an odd cove, with brioche, dried fruits and hickory. I wanted a bottle of each.

No surprised that my favourite was the Rhosdhu grain - sweet, floral and lemony is always of interest. More than one bottle, please!

But not to be overlooked in this outturn are the Bourbon, the Rum and the Armagnac - each one a little atypical and a very pleasant surprise. These are spirits which might not overjoy the expert in each of their fields, but call siren-like to whisky drinkers...

SMWS Outturn 322 - The Big Release

SMWS 66.217 - Cliché, but who cares?The SMWS usually has two lists in November, and this year is no exception. And just like the first list, the quality is pretty uniformly high here. Lots of 4/5 and “I’d like a bottle” on display.

These were previewed on the same day as the ones for Outturn 321 at the start of the month. In fact, I split the drams and gave Matt what I thought would be the better of the Ardmore and Glen Scotias we had, but it turns out both of us thought that these were better.

The Ardmore charms with citrus, smoke, leather and chocolate in harmony - it got the only 5/5 technical score, and deserves it. The Glen Scotia is smokey and dirty with a touch of sweetness, and follows shortly behind the Ardmore in my favours.

Then there’s the Penderyn, which is rich and sweet with leather tobacco pouches. And why not move towards sweetness with the Glentauchers which carries pink wafers and fruits alongside foam bananas and marzipan...

There’s bound to be something you’ll like, but those four are the ones I want bottles of.

(Sadly the grains didn’t arrive in Greville Street, so those I’ll just have to buy blind...)

Next month should be the Christmas Parcels, which usually has some slight eccentricities on it, so begin bracing yourselves!

Two drams from Dràm Mòr

We are blessed with an explosion of independent bottlers recently, making it hard to know where to look. Standing out from the crowd is difficult, especially for the newer companies. But if there’s one thing that Dràm Mòr does it’s stand out in a crowd. They’re run by husband and wife team Kenny and Viktorija Macdonald, with Kenny being the “frontman” and Viktorija providing the brains. None of this would matter if they didn’t know their whiskies, but luckily they’ve got that covered...

In particular they’re very good at matching spirit to cask, with a lot of their bottlings being second maturations that work very well.

Dràm Mòr have done a few tastings with the SE23 Whisky Club, where I’ve gotten to know Kenny and understand how they approach whisky. So when out of the blue I was offered two samples, I decided to say yes.

Deanston 13yo, 52.5% abv, Cask #188, First Fill Bourbon/Refill Red Wine

If you don’t know Deanston, you’re missing out. A superb spirit, which really rewards a good cask.

The nose has fresh oak, soft toffee, red berries, damson and a hint of raspberry. The mouthfeel is decent, but no cling. The body has toffee, brioche, greengages, fruits of the forest and then cinnamon and hints of ginger. The finish has toffee, cinnamon and red berries with a touch of fresh oak.

Water brings out thin, compact whorling that barely mottles. The nose gains more toffee and some brioche, and a hint of lime. The body gains a sweet lemon note, and more of the toffee. There’s less cinnamon, but it’s still there in the finish alongside a touch of lemon.

The red wine cask has really done a great job, lifting the dram with fruit notes that are wonderfully integrated with the oak, toffee and bread from the bourbon cask.

Technical score: 4.5/5
Personal preference: I’d like a bottle.

Ben Nevis 8yo, 57.1%, Cask 9001092, Refill Madeira Blood Tub

Ben Nevis is going through a renaissance these days, becoming highly sought-after as people discover what it’s capable of.

The nose has fudge, cashew nuts and hints of brandy. The mouthfeel is thin with no cling. The body has polished old oak furniture, cinnamon, cashew nuts, walnuts, cinnamon, toffee, plums and a hint of liquorice. The finish has polished oak, cinnamon, brandy flavoured chocolates and walnuts.

Water brings out thin, compact whorling that dissipates quickly without mottling. The nose gains old oak furniture and walnuts. The body gains fruits - more plums, pears, apples, and hints of peach. The cinnamon is also somewhat diminished. The finish gains plums and hints of peach.

I much prefer this dram after water, when fruits come out and the cinnamon is a little more muted.

Technical score: 4.5/5
Personal preference: I’d have another dram.

Both these drams are rewarding, but the Ben Nevis passed me by a little - it’s not quite my style of dram. That Deanston, however, was very much my kind of thing.

I understand that when bottled these are destined for the European market, which is their gain and the UK’s loss. But they’ve reminded me of my enthusiasm for Dràm Mòr’s output, and hopefully these notes will help others see why this small indie bottler is gaining such popularity...

Master of Malt 1971 North of Scotland 46yo

46 years old, distilled October 1971, bottled July 2018, 41% abv, 154 bottles

Available at Master of Malt

The initial nose has unpolished oak furniture, dried fruits (apricot, apple, banana) and vanilla with a hint of marzipan. The mouthfeel is thin with no cling - to be expected at 41% abv - but there’s still presence on the palate. The body has candied orange cake decorations, cinnamon spice, old unpolished oak, marzipan and hints of pipe tobacco. The finish has marzipan, dried apricot and banana, and old unpolished oak.

I’m torn about whether to add water. At 41% it seems unnecessary. I decided to leave the dram to sit for a while.

Slowly the fruit fades from the nose and is replaced with bready notes. The body gains more fudge and loses some of the marzipan and cinnamon. The finish gains more oak. Eventually a hint of acetone begins to permeate, and the dram is finally done.

At 41% this is delivering quite a bit of flavour on the nose and palate, with the finish being the weakest spot. It seems volatile, so could be sensitive to temperature and should probably not be left in the glass for long periods of time. I poured a little over 1cl and gave it a couple of long breaks to see how it developed. At 46 years old it’s still spritely, but also definitely not a youngster.

Technical score: 4.5/5

Personal preference: I’d like more a bottle.

SMWS Outturn 321 - Shelter from the Storm

SMWS 112.63 - Raindrops on rosesNovember at the SMWS looks like it'll be split into two lists... I say this because I have preview notes for 15 whiskies, but only five of them are here.

(No point in asking me what the others are. My lips are sealed!)

With just five whiskies, it feels a little odd to be picking out favourites. Luckily, the standard of all drams was fairly high.

My clear favourite was the Inchmurrin, which has floral and fruit notes that are very much my kind of thing.

But if you're not one for sweet delights, then luckily both the peated drams are superb. The Allt-a-Bhainne is the more medicinal of the two, with fruits and smoke in the meix as well. And the Caol Ila? It's a Caol Ila. And I mean that in the most complimentary manner. This is the most Caol Ila of Caol Ila's we've had for a while, and it's very hard to complain about that.

I suspect in a couple of weeks we'll be back here looking at more whiskies. Some of which are nice treats...

SMWS Outturn 319 - All Together Now

SMWS 108.55 - Treasures of the SeaFinally circumstances allow a preview tasting, for both myself and Matt. When the whiskies were divided between us I found a new distillery, a corn whisky and an oddity on my list.

The Gathering will be happening in September, but those whiskies will be coming out separately and weren’t available for preview. That leaves a slightly smaller than expected list, but still some treats.

My favourite was not what I’d expected - the Allt a Bhainne. It’s lightly peated but has fruit, barbequed seafood and smoke in just the right proportions. I’d like more than one bottle.

A close second is the Auchroisk, which provides oranges, nuts and dark chocolate. I’d like a bottle.

There are a few I’d like another dram of, but I’d like to highlight the oddity that is the Ardmore. Matured in a peated cask, the peating is slight but it’s the chemical notes which make it a challenging but interesting whisky.

Overall a short but decent list, to tide us over until The Gathering bottlings arrive...

Matt reviewed the other half of the list, so if you don't see what you were looking for then try there...

The Philosophy Of Whisky by Billy Abbott

Before we begin, a brief disclaimer: I know Billy Abbott, and have done for some years now. Whilst I have approached this book as neutrally as possible, it would be foolish to assume that there is not some friendly encouragement involved here.

The British Library’s “Philosophy Of” series covers a broad variety of topics, from beards to beer, but it is inevitably whisky that brings it to my attention.

The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show 2021

I’d been looking forward to The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show (hereafter just TWEWS) for a long time. I’ve been to every physical one so far, and some standholders have the partial deafness to prove it!

For those that don’t know, TWEWS is the best whisky show in the UK. It’s one of the best in the world. It’s a hall filled with wonderful whiskies and more wonderful people, where you can learn more about your passion whilst sampling some of it. It all happens at Old Billingsgate Market in the City of London, over a three day period.

There were some obvious questions about how different TWEWS would be from previous years given that we are still at the tail end of The Event. The Whisky Exchange ensured that everyone was either vaccinated or had a negative test recently, and everyone - visitor, staff or exhibitor alike - was then tagged with a bright green wristband. No wristband, no access. That really helped allay people’s fears, and is just one of the many reasons to thank all the people who worked hard to put on the show.

This year the queueing moved from the front of the building to the rear, more due to the London Marathon than anything else, but it was a welcome change to see the sunshine occasionally and have a view of the Thames as we waited. I hope they can keep that arrangement for the future!

As is traditional I was early to the queue each day, so that I could chat with people from distant lands and maximise my time at the show by being one of the first in. Here is the first of two negative notes - the absence of some friends. It was perfectly understandable given the events that have been happening. Some weren’t here because it wasn’t certain that they’d be able to get into the country, and tickets sold out by the time that was solved. Others chose to stay away because they were sheltering vulnerable family members. Both are excellent reasons, but the list of people I’m hoping to see next year is longer than I’d like it to be. Then again, I’d like it to be empty!

The other negative note is the bottle buyers, who were early to the queue so that they could dash in and buy the expensive and rare bottles. I understand that this is good business sense, but it still sits uneasily with me that my hobby is also - for a minority - a cutthroat business. Much discussion each day amongst the drinkers was around what could be done at the show to fix this, and three main suggestions met with approval:

  • Token the bottles, with the shop giving the stands tokens for each day’s stock before opening. The tokens are only to be given after a sample has been tried. Upside - each buyer will have to pick one bottle. Downside - small administrative overhead for the shop.
  • An assault course between the doors and the shop. If you didn’t go through the course, you can’t buy bottles. Upside - free entertainment for other visitors. Downside - disabled accessibility will be an issue.
  • The buyer must take on The Whisky Exchange’s champion in single combat, preferably on a rotating plate with spikes as seen in Flash Gordon. A number of Champions are available, going up in difficulty as the bottles get more desirable. Dare you defeat Dawn for a Dalmore? Can you beat Billy for a Ben Nevis? Who shall assault Alex for an Ardnamurchan? Upsides - entertainment, entertainment, entertainment. Downsides - may not pass Health and Safety checks.

All three suggestions will be passed on to the organisers, so here’s hoping that next year we’ll see an improvement.

Sadly there may not be space next year for that rotating plate, as this year there was a little more room between stands and a few traditional exhibitors were missing. Mostly they were the smaller businesses, who could not afford to lose staff should the worst happen. It was rather a disappointment, but completely understandable. Their return next year will be the only reason I’d accept for a lack of a rotating spiked plate and an angry Ollie wielding a jagged broken bottle of Oc1...

And there was plenty of good stuff on the stands that were there. As usual it was a great selection of different spirits. Not just in terms of the whiskies available, but also the approaches to selling them. From fancy flash stands fully manned and flaunting freebies, down to plain and simple stands that want to let the whisky do the talking, it’s all there. And the exhibitors are always gracious, generous, knowledgeable and delightful. Even when you’re travelling the stands alone you’re never truly alone, as a good chat is never far away.

This year was three days instead of the usual two, and that still wasn’t enough time to do all the stands. You really have to just accept that it’s not possible if you also want to spend quality time talking about the whiskies and set your expectations accordingly.

There are of course the things we can’t possibly write about. The secret samples behind some stalls. The things that happen in the queue. And apparently at least one idiot had enough whisky samples to open his own stall! These people simply must be stopped...

So what about the whisky? It feels odd to do a review about a whisky show without talking about a single whisky, but as I thought about my favourite of the show I realised it was for the right reasons. My favourite was Benromach Organic. It wasn’t the best whisky I had at the show, it was just a very good whisky. I definitely had better other whiskies that were better than it. But I picked it for the memories it brought back. It transported me through time to a birthday party long ago, surrounded by friends, around a table filled with bottles of whisky we were yet to discover. Sometimes the impact of a whisky is more than mere flavours, and much more important than any flavours could ever be.

After a year of not having in-person whisky events, TWEWS 2021 was a welcome chance to make more such memories with friends both old and new.

See you all in 2022. To make more memories.

SMWS Outturn 308 - Spice Up Your Life

SMWS 3.333 - Slowly Forgetting the 1980sThis list is another large one, with plenty of variety - and spice!

Unfortunately I had to do these previews alone, as Matt was on a trip to Scotland. This left me with the temptation of simply picking all of the whiskies I thought I’d like - but I went for two of the three Spicy & Dry drams, at the cost of skipping a lot of the Spicy & Sweet. And I feel that was a good choice. The drams I picked were interesting, and what is the SMWS if not a home for interesting whiskies?

My favourite of the bunch was the Bowmore, which not only had a pleasing number (all the threes!) but balanced floral, fruity and peated notes with grace and poise. I’d like more than one bottle, but it’s sadly limited to one per member.

We can cleanse the palate with the Auchentoshan, which had plenty of sweet fruit notes and some clean oak, making it a superb summer dram. Why was this not released two months ago? Such are the mysteries of the SMWS...

Lurching towards the extremes of sherry, we get to the Dailuaine, which lived its life in two sherry casks before being bottled. You’d think that would be overkill, but they married well and produce something that’s lighter than I expected - oranges, milk chocolates and ginger make for a seductively sweet combination.

My last two picks are both oddballs.

The Linkwood was placed in a cask that previously held peated malt. Personally I usually find this provides a whisky of two distinct halves, with “cask peating” often arriving late in the body and boorishly dominating the proceedings. But this dram has managed to find a rare balance, and the odd combination of strawberry notes and bonfire smoke was quite enchanting.

Lastly, the Inchmoan. It’s finished in a Jamaican rum cask - could the name be a clue as to which distillery the cask was from? And this is not the usual rum finish. Again, decent integration has occurred here, with stewed fruits and barley sugars dancing around the rum notes.

There have always been those who complain about finishing whiskies, often trotting out the dumbest statement I’ve heard outside of politics: “They’re just saving a bad whisky” - as though making a whisky more drinkable is a bad thing! But I think that the three here show it’s worth doing, because when you get the balance right, it’s great.

Kudos to the team handing the SMWS stock, as they’re really hitting their stride with these unusual casks. And for those who disagree - carry on disagreeing, as it means more great whisky for the rest of us!


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