The devil is in the detail when it comes to whisky. Each part of the process is as important as another, to create and deliver that dram you enjoy so much.
In recent years, the influence of the wood has been brought forward by the industry to try and hide the flaws in their efficiency gains. It has been the subject of debate on our social channels and through various articles online. It’s all about the wood, or that’s the line they literally want you to swallow.
Today we live in a bizarre wood turbocharged era where distillery subtleties are overridden and almost erased by aggressive wood. My own preference for bygone eras showcases the influence of the cask but in harmony with the spirit itself. Flavours we rarely experience in today’s modern equivalent and this isn’t a rose-tinted glasses moment. Whisky can harness such qualities through the use of good barley strains, longer fermentation and never underestimate the influence of yeast. This is what makes the new generation of distilleries so exciting and why we’re covering as many as possible here. These youthful punks cannot compete on output, efficiency, marketing or pricing but they can knock it out of the park when it comes to flavour.
Whisky can be all-consuming and speaking to distillers you realise the emphasis on numbers. My short but fun time at Ballindalloch distillery showcased that efficiency can co-exist with flavour and a hands-on ethic. The measurement of efficiency and the gains the distillery has enjoyed in recent times with seemingly simple measures such as adjusting the temperature of the mash for maximum yield. Impressive. As was the post-mash journey of the liquid where the potential for flavour was maximised throughout the fermentation, distillation and then the casks that awaited at the end of the process.
If you mention numbers in whisky, then many might think of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Their numbering system camouflages the origins of the distillery itself. Only true geeks can provide a rendition of the numbers. Personally, whilst being on the jaggy end of the geek scale, I tend to limit my numbering knowledge to the classics. It is always fun to visit the member’s rooms for an outturn release and see attendees reaching for their pocketbooks or lists, when a bottle is revealed.
We place too much of an emphasis on the distillery. The beauty of the single cask format is every distillery can have its day including Auchentoshan, Bruichladdich and Jura. These and more can transcend their everyday form and deliver a wonderful whisky moment. This is a particular revelation to our American friends who have been force-fed a diet of Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig and Macallan marketing in recent years. These distilleries appear to be the kings of the castle but nothing could be further from the truth.
Explore whisky. Step away from the bright lights. Let your nose and taste buds guide you towards better and more stimulating whisky. Ignore the names and numbers. Eventually, you will find new joys, and appreciate that a great drop can come from almost any source. Potentially you’ve taken those first steps by visiting us here, where don’t care about the aforementioned names. We only care about whisky that delivers and doesn’t rip you off at the checkout.
Now to spoil the SMWS numbers! Skip this paragraph if you would rather be kept in the dark for now as to the origins of each of these bottles. Both are long established distilleries and extremely capable of producing a solid if not excellent whisky. From Islay quoting number 10, we have the rugged and subtle flavours of Bunnahabhain, while from Speyside we have the 7 and classy Longmorn.
SMWS 10.155 Warms the heart – review
Distilled on 3rd October 2007 before being bottled at 10 years of age at 61.3% vol. This resulted in 264 bottles from a refill hogshead/ex-bourbon. This originally cost £62.80 before selling out.
Colour: Pinot grigio.
On the nose: A gentle peat arrival, followed by seashells and a sandy dimension. A coastal vibe but subtle with a little sea salt. Wine gums, lime cordial and a baked vanilla cheesecake. The joys of apple strudel and barley drops. Noticeably chalky towards the end as well. Adding water reveals a floral sense, sugar puffs and more oats.
In the mouth: A nice texture arrival with an oozing dimension. Green apples, olives and a touch of spice followed by mace. Liquorice on the finish with a twist of salty lemons. Water unlocks bitter almonds, white chocolate and an extra sprinkling of salt.
SMWS 7.211 Calm and tranquil – review
Distilled on 7th September 2004, this was bottled 13 years later at a robut 60.6% vol. From the 1st fill barrel/ex-bourbon, 192 bottles were extracted. This bottle is still available online for £61.
In the mouth: Buttery yes, thick and citrus like with melon, apples and lots of coconuts. Caramel, a light vanilla and runny honey. A little bit of cask char with a touch of alcohol. Now stewed apples, Chinese incense, milky bar and lemon sherbet. With water memories of drying cement and a mineral quality.
On the nose: A wholesome coating texture like molten caramel, very nice. More subtle flashes of coconut with a grapefruit finish. Water proves beneficial and unleashes a vanilla sponge, oils, melon, orange bitters and pine needles.
I enjoyed taking in Warms the heart and if you’re new to MALT, I always recommend our scoring guide. We’re not hiding behind some industry biased 100-point scoring system. A score of 6 means this is a good whisky.
The nose is good fun and whilst the palate arguably showcased the limitations of the cask, the spirit offered enough to satisfy. Very easy drinking and amongst friends, you could easily polish off a bottle. The price? We always talk about pricing here. What does a single cask Bunnahabhain cost nowadays? Even a whisky bottled at cask strength? We could argue a tenner here or there. For the experience provided, I’m satisfied.
Calm and tranquil started out very strongly indeed. A fine nose and unfortunately the palate lagged behind a little. More time in the cask would have been beneficial. A sense that this whisky had been plucked before it’s prime. This is a strength and flaw of the monthly outturn format that a handful of independents subscribe to. The compulsion to offer members choice and a range of casks even if a few are snatched before fully realising their potential. Ultimately a solid duo from the Society. We’ll check out more releases as and when.
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My thanks to Ian for the opportunity to try both of these releases.