*A sincere thank you to the good folks at the SMWSA for the samples.
The excellent Scotch Malt Whisky Society needs no introduction, nor does their equally as excellent U.S. branch, fittingly called the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (but if they do, please follow their links). I thought I’d forgo the lengthy chin-wagging and barely researched historical musings and just get right to the reviews of their holiday whiskies before the holidays are over.
Here’s part one of three taking a look at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA) 2012 Holiday Outturn…
This one hails from the home of Famous Grouse Experience, Glenturret. While everyone and their grandmother has heard of Famous Grouse, Glenturret is relatively unheard from as a single malt expression.
A note on the color, for a 10yo whisky, this had quite a bit of color, especially in comparison to the Rosebank below, no doubt thanks to the refill port pipe.
The Nose: An interesting, quite rich mix of sweet and a little savory. Honeyed marzipan, burnt caramel, bruised apples, and flat cola to start with milder notes of candied bacon, roasted salted nuts, and Christmas spice wood notes. Tucked further back is a slight wisp of greenish wood-smoke. A little water takes away some of the stronger savory notes and plays up the honeyed nuttiness.
The Palate: A nicely oily mouthfeel, initially jammed full of spiced sweetness…like a moist, fresh fruitcake. Hot and attacking, it doesn’t take long for more bitter, earthy spice notes to move in. Somewhat harsh clove with allspice and cardamom mix with continued nuttiness – like burnt peanuts. Water definitely helps calm this one down by augmenting the sweet with more toffee and vanilla and toning down the bitterness of the woodspice.
The Finish: That bitter-ish, spicy heat is helped out a little by hints of burnt cookies, and returning honey and caramel. Like with the palate, water smooths the finish, quickening it a bit, but also adding a little more baked sugar cookie.
Thoughts: Though quite sweet at times, the heat and bitterness at strength kept me from falling for this one. There are unique subtle savory notes throughout, but they get a bit overwhelmed by the spirit-y-ness and influence of the cask. Water definitely helps though, and while it does take some of the complexity away from the nose, it also takes away some of the fiery harshness of the palate and finish. Interesting and bracing to be sure, but a little challenging as well.
Distilled in 1990, this is a 20 year old Lowland malt from the Falkirk’s dearly departed Rosebank. This one is so, so pale…how can it be 21 years old? Just shows how much influence (or lack thereof) the type of cask can have on a spirit.
The Nose: Again…hard to believe this is 21 years old. Bright, juicy Granny Smith apple. candied lemon, and crisp, under-ripe Anjou Pear dominate with beery grain and a soft, almost creamy floral quality a bit further back. Tucked even further back are subtle hints of vanilla syrup and dried leaves and grass. With water, that beery quality comes out a bit more and it all takes on a creamy roundness.
The Palate: Candy sweet entry with now over-ripe pear and vanilla nougat. The lemon is there as well, but it’s more bitter now and still accompanied by burnt almonds and a subtle but nice, brown ale beery quality. Some evidence of the 21 years in wood finally shows up in the form of white pepper (a little black pepper, too, for good measure) allspice and clove. Water makes the palate just wonderful, adding more pear, candied nuts and lemon curd, while toning down drawing out the pepper and spice towards the end
The Finish: Now that it’s here, that spice from the wood, pepper and coarse clove, hang around a bit with continued lemon and floral honey. Finishes even more nicely with a bit of h2o.
Thoughts: I’ll just go out on a limb here and say that I’ll probably never taste new-make spirit from Rosebank. This one is probably as close as I’ll get. The re-fill hogshead used here must have been re-filled quite a few times before this because it contributed relatively little in the 21 years it was in use for this bottling. I don’t find that a bad thing at all, however; the small influence of the cask really allows the distillery character, the spirit character, to come through. It takes off the rough edges, adds a bit of complexity, and in the end, really allows the spirit itself to shine, and when you’re dealing with a distillery that is sadly no more, that’s a rare treat indeed.