January has now drawn to a close and with it came another Whisky Squad session. It’s hard work writing up two of these a month, it barely gives me any time to sit on my arse and obsessively watch The West Wing. Only two episodes watched this evening. And yes, this is two Squad posts in a row, but I’ve got other things to write about this week (although mainly for work) and I didn’t want this post to sit languishing until I sober up/find some time.
Anyways, January’s second session took us back to a previous venue, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s London rooms. However, rather than just begging the space (and the lend of the glasses) we were joined by their Brand Ambassador John McCheyne who brought along a selection of drams, the ability to talk about said drams and the promise of 10% Off! if we bought any of the bottles.
I’ve been a member of the SWMS for about 3 years (I think I just paid my 4th yearly membership) and have often been a big fan of their whiskies, however part of the nature of the beast is their unpredictability: The Society bottle only single cask whiskies at cask strength. No finishes (although I was sure I remembered one, I think it was instead a/several Glen Moray wine cask matured whisky/ies…), no colouring, no chill-filtering and, until a couple of years back, no fancy bottles. The Society has had a bit of an overhaul in the last couple of years, with the new bottle livery, the revamping of the Society magazine, the upgrading of the London rooms to be prettier and the tweaking of their website to not be entirely hateful to techies. I miss the old bottles (as the 1978 Caledonian grain whisky that I almost bought in the most recent ScotchWhiskyAuction will attest…along with my love of grain whisky and the year of my birth) but things have become more shiny in recent times. Anyways, the whisky:
We tasted everything blind as usual, although as the Society bottlings are all numbered and given an ‘appropriate’ name rather than the distillery name it wouldn’t have helped too much. First up was Laurel, Meadowsweet and Honeysuckle. On the nose it had butter icing, stacked grass, lots of vanilla and coconut, and a hint of Hall’s Mentholyptus. To taste it kicked in with a lot of sugary sweetness, but with a charcoal burnt bitterness sitting behind everything. In between there was sour wood, toffee and green wood. It finished with more charcoal and some bitter wood. The number was revealed to be 97.21, showing it to be the 21st cask from Lowlander Littlemill and, by coincidence, also aged for 21 years. Littlemill is now closed and just to make sure it was not only dismantled in 1996/7 but the remains caught fire in 2004 (with the traditional rumours of dodginess) meaning that it’s very much gone. As far as I know this was my first dram from the distillery.
Next on the list was Church Pews and Hymnbooks. John made a few hints (concerning the Duke of Sutherland) which, along with the nose, gave away the distillery (and probably removed any chance of me properly tasting it blind). The nose started off thin but strong, getting heavier and initially smelling of dark cinder toffee. That subsided as it sat in the glass to give a familiar scent of wax, foam bananas and sweet apples. Along with that it slowly picked up some musky wet dog and some muddy vegetal notes – quite changeable in the glass. To taste it was creamy, with fake strawberries, honey and beeswax slowly turning to spicy dark wood and liquorice. A drop of water helped open it up a bit, bringing out more spice and some cloves. It finished quite long with some menthol, bananas and more beeswax. It was no surprise when the label showed it to be 26.77, as distillery 26 is one I remember – Clynelish. This was matured in a second fill bourbon cask for 27 years (rather beating my estimate of 18) and I rather liked it. But then again, I’ve not found a Clynelish I didn’t like. Yet. In other news I’m visiting the distillery in a few weeks and I’m rather excited, despite the 6.5 hours on trains and hour or so of walking it’ll take me to get there and back…
Dram three was called Old Friends Remembered. John’s hint this time of ‘this is a distillery that doesn’t bottle very much single malt’ wasn’t particularly helpful so I went into this one properly blind. On the nose it had meaty sherry, pine, swimming pools, caramel, fallen leaves and the edge of rancio savouriness. To taste it was hot & spicy, with vanilla, cherry, lemon butter and marzipan, although overall still quite savoury. Water brought out some sandalwood soap and more caramel. It finished with sweet butter and lingering pine. This was revealed to be 73.44, a 29 year old from Aultmore, distilled on the 21st of April 1982 and matured in a refill sherry cask. Most of their output goes into the Dewar’s blends, owned as they are by Dewar’s owners Bacardi, and as far as I can tell there aren’t any current official bottlings available, so you’ll need to look to the independents to try any. Which explains why this is the only 2nd whisky from Aultmore that I remember tasting.
Fourth on the list was Unusual and Highly Enjoyable, a statement that was quickly examined. Firstly, it was pink:
So it fulfilled the first part – Unusual. Secondly: Highly Enjoyable. This was not universally agreed, with a number of exclamations around the room at its vileness, although there were also a good number of quiet “that’s nice”s. On the nose it was quite meaty and fruity, with stewed strawberries, raisins, cinnamon, and sweet peaches and plums. To taste it burst on to the tongue with a sweet but tannic port taste, giving away the cask it matured in, before moving on to fake fruity chews, cherry chocolate and a sherbet fizz at the end. Water balanced things out a bit more and brought out more of a berry sweet and sourness. It finishes with red boiled sweets, marzipan and a lingering sugary sweetness. Not one for me, thanks to the sweetness, but the label came off to reveal that it was 123.7 from Glengoyne. This was a bit of a shock for me and my more geeky brethren as Glengoyne is a fairly traditional distillery in its outlook as far as we knew and we didn’t expect any pink whisky shenanigans from them (although a bit of an internet search showed a comment from distillery that they’re playing with port casks). As The Society doesn’t do finishes this was completely matured in a port pipe, although at only 10 years old the spirit hadn’t be totally overcome with porty flavours. A Marmitey whisky around the room, with a fairly even split in the end.
The last whisky of the evening was Old Lace and Lavender Hand Cream. Again John dropped in some facts, although they confused more than helped – this distillery has the world’s shortest railway, at 30ft long; it also has the longest foreshots run of any distillery (the run of the spirit still before the spirit is saved for being filled into casks) at 45 minutes. On the nose it had tarred ropes (a bit of a classic Islay tasting note there, and one I’ve never felt the urge to use before now), sweet smoke, ash, freshly unwrapped bandages, pears and a touch of dentist’s surgery. To taste it was dry but with a fruity sweetness, as well as tarry peat and cracked stone. Water added some more sweetness and lemons, and the finish was initially sweet and floral, moving through liquorice and glazed ham to coal and tar. The label was peeled back to show that this was 29.106, a Laphroaig, not a great surprise but showing a different side to the distillery than the official bottlings.
And that’s that for another month. There are two more Squads arranged for February, both sold out, and there should soon be announcements of March’s sessions, all themed around the events of March 17th… Keep an eye on the site.
97.21: Laurel, Meadowsweet and Honeysuckle (Littlemill)
Lowland Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 54.7%. ~£80
26.77: Church Pews and Hymnbooks (Clynelish)
Highland Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 55.1%. ~£90
73.44: Old Friends Remembered (Aultmore)
Speyside Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 53.7%. ~£90
123.7: Unusual and Highly Enjoyable (Glengoyne)
Highland Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 59.6%. ~£40
29.106: Old Lace and Lavender Hand Cream (Laphroaig)
Islay Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 57.3%. ~£50