The reindeer are approaching and the third week of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Advent Calendar comes to an end. Let’s get on with our charades because distilleries are always undercover like secret agents, but Mr Google knows everything, so if you ask him, he’ll also be able to decipher the mysterious codes…
G14.7 ‘Fabulous Fusion’ 33 yo (1986/2020, SMWS, 42,6%) – 14 Dec
How many grain whisky distilleries start with four letters meaning ‘scemo’, in Italian? Not many, so you can easily guess. N: very open and enjoyable, full, with a deep sweetness of figs, caramelised fruit, dates with mascarpone. Lots of sultanas, very many indeed. There are notes of a seed oil that we do not recognise (perhaps linseed oil?). P: less seductive here, with quite evident notes of solvent and, above all, with a texture that is far too thin for the flavours it carries. More dates and mascarpone, more Christmas nuts (those end-of-dinner baskets that last forever, between one tangerine and another, while the already too drunk uncle molests his second cousin who has just come of age). Marshmallows. F: long and persistent, again dominated by that sense of dates and mascarpone. Did we already say “dates and mascarpone”? Overall it’s a very good whisky, delicate and soft, frankly perfect for Christmas: 86/100.
53.332 ‘Storm-tossed kelp on an Islay beach’ 11 yo (2009/2020, SMWS, 58,8%) – 15 Dec
From the largest distillery on the island comes this 11-year-old that is lighter than a Riesling. N: We are in a restaurant, fish speciality: kippers, but maybe octopus cooked with bay leaves. Also porchetta with herbs, which is not technically fish, but is smoked. However, it is the herbs that take over, increasing (rosemary and burnt camphor, more than the seaweed of the name). Powerful and pure peat, ash and an underlying sweetness of sugar and lime. With water burnt chocolate (does it exist?), liquorice and oysters. Textbook, but with a ‘green’ twist. P: how do you feel it’s ’53’: sweetness, salty lemon and ash, or rather burnt embers. There is a lively fizz, like Citrosodine dissolved in sea water. The burnt grass of the nose remains, but a very medicinal and atypical mentholated note is added. With less sweet water, grilled vegetables like radicchio. F: very long, oily, tarry, pure liquorice and cumin from the meadows (yay!). Uncompromising, marine, powerful, burnt. More nervous and brawny than usual, for our distillery 53. The medicinal herb part above all is uncommon. That said, it doesn’t have a single flaw. 87/100.
39.200 ‘Felicitous combination’ 13 yo (2007/2020, SMWS, 59,3%) – 16 Dec
The distillery is literally linked with wood, and we wink. Speysider antique gold in colour, it’s a 13 year old that did a two year finish in re-charred red wine barrels. N: dear, beloved butter! Immediately present as shortbread and warm puff pastry, also very toffee-like. Then the wood takes the lead: it’s like sticking your nose into the drawer where grandma keeps the tablecloths: fragrant peach pit, spicy rye, cloves and dried almonds. The fruit is vague, between strawberry and blood orange. With water plus vanilla and a distinct sense of mint. P: what a weirdo. It starts off spicy like a rye, with an evident note of burnt wood and a hint of dried meat. Then a carnival of incoherent suggestions starts: exuberant orange marmalade, mandarin, berries (redcurrants and gooseberries). But the clearest notes are a super oily liquorice and…. ginger ale! F: toffee galore (Elah liquorice candy), spices, Angostura and a hint of rum and rosolio. Post-modern whisky, highly charged, difficult to understand. One is bombarded by contrasting suggestions and the effect is unique. The alcohol is very integrated, but the final sensation of liquor is not entirely convincing. 84/100.
113.33 ‘Tropical popping candy’ 7 yo (2012/2019, SMWS, 60,2%) – 17 Dec
At the 113th distillery bottled by SMWS they are really good, or as we say in Italy, “Bravi!”: in the glass we have a seven year old Speysider, matured in a barrel first fill ex bourbon. N: initially a bit closed, but with patience and practice a very fresh note of lime and maracuja can be perceived, accompanied by vanilla pods. Pear and a drizzle of icing sugar. P: pineapple in pallets, we would say fresh pineapple juice. Then again the acid part of the exotic fruit, starting with the kiwi and going back to the maracuja. The water pushes out a slightly “dirtier” part, almost of slightly fermented coconut water and white wine. F: dry and of medium duration, the tropical fruit returns accompanied by a sensation of industrial wood. One wonders why not give this little guy another five or ten years in the barrel to evolve (did they stop because of that woody note on the finish, which for now is almost pleasant, and with time could become cumbersome? Who knows?) On the other hand, as it is, it is an extraordinarily pleasant whisky, given its age and alcohol content. For fans of (Caribbean and) pineapple: 83/100.
66.175 ‘From Arbroath to Bogotà’ 12 yo (2007/2019, SMWS, 60,6%) – 18 Dec
In the glass we have a whisky produced at an Aberdeenshire distillery that is making waves, especially among independents. A 12 year old aged in a second-fill ex-bourbon cask. N: the refill barrel leaves the distillate very much in evidence even after 12 years. There are sulphurous edges, herbaceous hints and a fairly pronounced earthy, organic peat. The monstrous alcohol content doesn’t bother you too much. White chocolate and puffed rice, vanilla and liquid sugar. Floral touches here and there. P: the entry is explosive at 60 degrees, for trained palates. It proves to be consistent with the nose: sulphurous, herbaceous and very distillate-oriented. Quite savoury and earthy, with a gentle smoke. The fruit is really at its lowest, rather it brings back sugary suggestions, between vanilla and white chocolate. F: white pepper and grass, vanilla and burnt earth. An unadorned whisky and consequently a sincere witness to the edgy personality of this Highlands distillery. The profile is particular, with the only limitation of not being very multifaceted, for example the fruit is practically absent. The score is 82/100. Ah that Bogota on the label comes from that typical note of Chicharron (Colombian style fried pork) found by the writer of the official notes. And we’re not joking.
72.91 ‘Caribbean cream tea’ 9 yo (2011/2020, SMWS, 61,4%) – 19 Dec
Gentlemen, I give you a nine-year-old whisky aged in a barrel first fill ex-bourbon produced in a distillery whose name combines a father of English literature and Homer Simpson’s favourite beer. N: very shy, probably because of the atomic alcohol content. A whiff of vanilla and banana. Acacia honey. P: excellent even at full degree, it certainly benefits from the addition of water, but in moderation. The palate is full and warm, although it feels like being in an ice cream parlour: vanilla ice cream, whipped cream with coloured sprinkles, banana and apple milkshake. White chocolate and milk chocolate in pralines. F: remains fresh and dry, not tending towards sweet, on more vegetal and dried notes (fruit tea). A real surprise, given its unglamorous provenance, age and alcohol content, we expected a riot of candied fruit and yeast, but instead we found a mature whisky with an undeniable personality. It’s just a shame about the olfactory part, penalised by the alcohol content: 86/100.
84.35 ‘Orange-y-tang’ 12 yo (2008/2020, SMWS, 56,8%) – 20 Dec
Wordplay reminiscent of an orange orangutan (!) for this 12 year old Speysider, 10 in bourbon and 2 in first fill Pedro Ximenez. The distillery is in Dufftown, halfway between Mortlach and Glenfiddich. N: acetic and vinous touch, then big fruit (peaches in syrup, apricot, orange). Very aromatic, rosewood and rose brandy, dried tobacco. As it gets warmer, peach and chocolate cake and sultanas. Balsamic vinegar! Excellent. P: intense and initially aggressive. Wood, bitter cocoa (Boers). A vibrant citrus acidity remains and a bitter note appears, between chinotto and juniper. Powerful and balanced. The vinosity is clear, even strawberry jam appears. F: medium-long, more chocolate and gingerbread. A clamorous nose, a palate that is not exactly consistent but still very full, even if on drier tones. Balanced and expressive, it evolves a lot. Surprise: 87/100.