*A sincere thank you to the good folks at the SMWSA for the samples.
The second 2012 “holiday” outturn from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA) was entitled “Holiday Parcels” and now that I’ve missed that boat and the holidays are long since over, I thought I’d take a three-part look at this group.
Here’s part one of three, examining the two most unique offerings of the bunch…
SMWSA Cask No. 27.97, “Glazed Cashews and Lemon Lollies”
In the world of oak maturation casks, the Gorda is huge barrel used primarily by the American whiskey industry. Usually made from American oak and having a capacity of around 700 liters (a bourbon barrel holds around 200 liters just for comparison), they are mostly used for marrying various whiskies for blended or vatted expressions. Occasionally they also used for maturing Scotch whiskies like, for example, this Springbank expression. The deep, almost maple syrup amber color of this one leads me to believe that despite the gorda’s size, the wood influenced the spirit quite a bit, perhaps this was not American oak, but instead European?
The Nose: A rich, yet tight and taciturn nose, with warm caramel sauce over apple slices and berries dipped in chocolate initially. Vanilla, cinnamon, a touch of dry leaves, and just a small bit of fruity coffee beans. Slight hints of burnt sugar and a thin wisp of dry woodsmoke in a room filled with oak and leather. Water helps open the nose a bit, but it still seems a little reluctant to give up its secrets. There’s a bit less caramel and more almost bruised apples and macerated cherries along with a bit of added cola.
The Palate: Wonderful, thick, rich mouthfeel with sweet dried fruits early, raisins, currents and tart cherries. Complex notes of nuts, almonds, cashews, and peanuts; at first candied and sweet, then roasted, salted, and even smoked. A nice amount of drying, spiced, wood influence; candied clove, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and cinnamon red-hots, and nice, grippy, cut cedar. Adding a bit of water not only helps to calm the palate down and take away some of the heat, but adds a subtle layer of earthy, herbaceous-ness to the already complex palate.
The Finish: Long with that continued nuttiness and tannic dryness. Sweet as well, just a touch fruity, and just a hint of the subtle smoke that started way back on the nose.
Thoughts: I love Springbank. I love its complexity and uniqueness and as of yet, I’ve not been disappointed by anything of theirs that I’ve tried. I found this one similar to other younger Springbank expressions with its tight-lipped nose (that makes no sense, but it kind of does). It really requires patience and concentration to pry it open. That interesting nutty complexity of the palate and the fruit and spice combination point to some unique influence from the refill gorda. Water does open this one up a bit, but it works as a high-powered sipper at strength as well. A complex, beguiling, contemplative bottling to be sure. Recommended.
SMWSA Cask No. 27.97, Campbeltown (1998 Springbank 13 year old, matured in a refill gorda)
Ahhh, Scottish grain whiskies, they’re a bit of an anomaly in the whisky world. Closer in make-up to American Bourbon, they are almost always used to make up a large percentage of spirit in blended whiskies. Generally speaking, their “smoother” and relatively lighter flavor help make blended Scotch appeal to a wider audience, but this wider audience rarely, if ever, knows from where the whisky hails. Scottish grain distilleries are often massive industrial sites without quaint country settings or welcoming visitor sites and their resulting booze is rarely bottled on its own unless an independent bottler gets their hands on a cask or two.
Located east of Stirling in Alloa, Carsebridge was at one time the largest grain distillery in all of Scotland, employing nearly 300 people, before it was eventually closed by its owners, DCL (Diageo), in 1983. Founded as a malt distillery way back in 1799 by a fellow named John Bald, who, we can only assume, did not have a full head of hair, it traded its pot stills for patent stills in 1860 and began producing grain whisky for increasingly popular blends.
The Nose: Somewhat like the nose I was expecting…and somewhat not. Milky caramel and rich vanilla bean, with white chocolate and lemon furniture wax on old, dry oak. Lesser notes of Corn oil, both fresh and slightly burnt along with soft cinnamon and touch of lemon pepper in the background. Water flattened the nose out too much, leaving the waxy lemon and creamy caramel as the dominant notes.
The Palate: Whoa, more vanilla and unexpectedly, sweet coconut syrup to start. There’s buttered popcorn (with a few burnt old maids) and peanut brittle as well. The spice grows as it moves on, drying, tannic oak, cinnamon stick, soft nutmeg, and just a touch of anise. Like the nose, water softens pretty much everything, perhaps too much. That initial burst of vanilla and coconut is nearly lost, though the cask-influenced spices are nicely rounded and drawn out.
The Finish: Quickish with lingering popcorn and burnt corn oil with a bit of that nuttiness…and of course, more vanilla.
Thoughts: A unique whisky, certainly a unique experience to taste an older expression from a distillery that is no longer with us. I have to admit, I was expecting more complexity and cask influence than I got from the nose, instead it was livelier and simpler. The palate, however, offered up some surprises, though still not bringing the amount of mature richness I was expecting. The ABV was not so high here that it requires water. Indeed, I enjoyed it much more without, water mellowed the dram a bit too much for me. Interesting stuff, Scottish grain whisky is certainly a departure from Scottish malt, and though this one lacked a bit of depth and complexity that I expected from something 35 years old, it was a rare treat to have in a glass.
SMWSA Cask No. G2.2, Grain (1976 Carsebridge 35 Year Old, matured in a re-fill barrel)