Whisky Squad #43 – Whisky by Flavour with Wemyss Malts

I am yet again behind on writing up Whisky Squad sessions. I blame the fact that #43 happened the day before I went to Maltstock, and that it’s taken me several weeks to recover from that weekend of drinking in Nijmegen and it’s follow up day of working at Whisky Live Paris. You know you are tired when you have to wedge yourself between three tables in the Eurostar bar car so that you can have a hand free to hold your beer and still not fall over as the train transitions from smooth French rails to bumpy British ones. Anyways, Whisky Squad #43, as led by Karen Stewart from Wemyss Malts.

Wemyss have made a bit of a splash in the whisky community over the last year or so, winning awards and making friends all over the place. They’re a bottler of both single cask and blended malt whiskies, as well as a very recently introduced blend that’s in the process of making its way into shops at the moment. While it’s only more recently that they’ve come out as a whisky company, the family has been involved (at least tangentially) for a little bit longer, with John Haig (the maker of Haig’s Blended whisky, now part of Diageo’s empire) building his distillery on the Wemyss estates back in 1824 – that distillery, Cameron Bridge, survives to this day and is now known for being Diageo’s grain production centre.

We were joined by Karen Stewart, marketing chief, who stepped in at the last moment when company boss William Wemyss couldn’t make it down. The company don’t only deal in whisky and along with some vineyards in France and Australia they also make Darnley’s View gin. So, as everyone wandered in to our home upstairs at The Gunmakers they were presented with a gin and tonic (constructed by my own fair hand) to keep them going until we got to the first dram. The gin is named after a window in Wemyss Castle, through which it is said that Mary Queen of Scots first saw Lord Darnley, later her husband. A quick trundle through Wikipedia shows that Darnley was a bit of a git, but the gin is rather good.

We tasted everything blind, as usual, and the first up of the night had a nose of fresh lemon juice, honeysuckle, sweet apple, orange peel, honey and a bit of honeycomb. To taste it was sweet and floral, with spicy honey, more honeycomb, beeswax, spiced wood and a hint of sandalwood. It finished with parma violets, lemon and orange peels, and dry wood. The frequent references to honey around the room meant that it wasn’t a huge surprise when the bottle was revealed to be The Hive 12yo. From the notes I wrote for work, it’s built around a base of Speyside malt with a chunk of refill and first fill sherry casks in the mix.

The next whisky had a nose of bubblegum, sour fruit chews, a touch of syrup, lemon sherbet, chutney, Green & Blacks Maya Gold chocolate and a bit of honey roasted ham. On the palate there was maple syrup and smoke, with perfumed wood, unripe nectarines, fresh green apples and green apple Jolly Ranchers, cracked slate, and black pepper. It finished with lingering pepper and some fruity apple skin. This was revealed to be Spice King 12yo, meaning that Whisky Squad has now tried all three of the 12 year old versions of Wemyss’s blended malts – we had the 12 year old Peat Chimney at the Mystery Smoke Stack tasting back in June. Which I didn’t write about because I am rubbish.

We then moved on to some of Wemyss’s most recent single cask releases, which gave me a bit of a head start as I’d tried them all (and written tasting notes) for work. Fortunately my memory is awful and without access to my tasting note stash I could only remember one of the bottlings. The single casks are the reason of the session’s name – Wemyss give them each a name to describe their flavour in a similar manner to the SMWS. They do (at least they do now) give vintage and distillery information on the bottle but, much to the dismay of many whisky geeks, bottle at 46% rather than cask strength. It’s not something that concerns me so much as others (working in the whisky world helps give a slightly different perspective on the issue) but it’d be interesting to try some of their whiskies at full strength…

The next dram had a nose of sour grapes, custard tarts, gooseberries, fresh sawn deal, brine, white pepper, spiced ham, ozone and pineapple. In the mouth it was oily with cinnamon, black pepper, floral hints, lemon zest, star fruit, pastry and light vanilla. It finished with cracked pepper, cinnamon, apple skin and damp wood. The label came off the bottle to reveal that this was Lemon Sorbet – Auchentoshan 1998.

We moved on to a whisky that I was certain I recognised – the one whisky that I remember from my previous encounter with the range. On the nose it had tropical fruit, sea spray, seashells, almond syrup (more specifically orgeat), liquorice, preserved lemons, lemon zest, lipbalm and, my favourite tasting note, Tropico (which I really need to track down and try again rather than using it as a dodgy shorthand for probably faulty childhood memory – in short, fake tasting but excellent tropical fruit squash). To taste it had white pepper, violets, pienapple, pastry, more Tropico and some general floral notes. It finished with a light earthiness and violets. I guessed this one correctly: Fresh Fruit Salad – Clynelish 1997. I’m a vocal Clynelish fan and also obsessed with tropical fruit flavours in whisky so this was a shoe-in as my favourite whisky of the night. I suspect I’ll be buying the first bottle of it when it goes up on the website at work.

The last whisky of the night had a nose of Eccles cakes, bananas cooked in Demerara sugar, dark sherry spices, lingering old wood smoke, damp gravel, moss and a hint of rubber bands. To taste there was dark chocolate, cocoa, a hint of rubber again, chilli, black pepper, coffee, damp wood, pine and a rich earthiness. It finished with spice, white sugar and more rich, damp earth. This was revealed to be Strawberry Ganache – Glen Scotia 1991. I didn’t get so much of the strawberry, but it was very much reminiscent of a rich and chocolatey ganache.

Another ‘thing of interest’ that came up while discussing the Wemyss approach to naming is something that hadn’t occurred to me about the ‘fun’ of getting products released in the USA. The process of getting labels approved for bottles being sold in the US is a tedious process at the best of times and sticking a fanciful name on them doesn’t help any, as Wemyss have discovered. They are releasing different casks in the US and have found that there are restrictions on the naming that you wouldn’t necessarily immediately assume – all three of the single casks we tried would have illegal names in America. Their regulations state that you can’t imply that things have been added to the whisky if they haven’t been, and that names like ‘Strawberry Ganache’ and ‘Lemon Sorbet’ might make people think that these have been flavoured with, rather than just ‘tasting like’, those things. And after all that the bottles have to be 75cl rather than the European standard 70cl…

Anyways, a rather good tasting with some great drams – I thoroughly recommend the Clynelish (if you like that sort of thing), although please wait until I’ve stocked up before buying any…

The piccies are from the Wemyss website as I forgot to take any…

The Hive 12yo
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£35

Spice King 12yo
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, 40%. ~£35

Lemon Sorbet – Auchentoshan 1998
Lowland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 46%. ~£65

Fresh Fruit Sorbet – Clynelish 1997
Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 46%. ~£65

Straberry Ganache – Glen Scotia 1991
Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 46%. ~£90

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