When confronted by an array of bottles in a bar, quite often, any plans go out the window. The case in point being a recent lunch visit to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society venue on Queen Street in Edinburgh.
While I was meeting a friend for an overdue catch up, it also served the purpose of trying out a few of the new releases, and in turn, highlighting anything worthwhile. Given my recent kind words regarding that Miltonduff it seemed sparked a run on the remaining bottles. I wanted to find another golden nugget amongst the meh and substandard releases. But where do you actually start?
Walking in with the best of intensions and potential purchases, distractions appears and conversations with staff take you off in different directions. Oddly, a gentleman in front of me was lamenting the lack of sherry casks (finishes or otherwise) in this month’s outturn. If anything, this is to be celebrated much like the humble bourbon cask that now forms the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry.
In my opinion there’s nothing worse than some of the aggressive sherry casks (seasoned or otherwise) that we’re now seeing deployed by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and other bottlers. A raw thud of sherry that swamps character and leaves you with a limited spectrum of aromas and flavours is not to be celebrated. I appreciate some folk don’t know any better, but therein lies the joy of whisky. Go out, mingle and explore current and past releases. It’s something I say and do a great deal, but there’s nothing more wholesome and rewarding. Needless to say, the bulk of my acquisitions were bourbon matured. My friend also appreciates this humble vessel of flavour, so I was in good company.
But where to start when faced with literally hundreds of bottles? I glanced across to the new outturn that was laid out in prime position and decided to have a wee competition. Simply put, lets pick 2 bottles side by side on the shelf that are fairly similar in terms of maturation, strength, cask and region. A wee knockout competition to bring hopefully an entertaining and competitive matchup. Without further ado, we’ll introduce the random selections before jumping into the notes and score.
Wearing SMWS number 48, is the obscure Balmenach distillery established way back in 1824. Balmenach is an oddity in Scotland, as a visit to its website will confirm they place more emphasis on its gin production than whisky. Touting gin tours as opposed to whisky is an interesting twist, but arguably showcases just how little confidence or ambition they have with their single malt. This is such a shame as I’ve had some surprisingly good independently bottled Balmenach’s over the years. It’s been a while since I have a modern equivalent so the prospect of re-engaging with this gin-come-whisky-distillery is enticing.
Then our random selection takes us to a more established and notable name and SMWS number. Wearing the fearsome 46 and taking on the mantra of the Artist Formerly Known as Mints (who thinks up these rubbish names?), is the one and only Glenlossie. Admittedly, we do enjoy a Glenlossie here, as we’re seeing several casks coming to market that literally destroy the more established Speyside catwalk distilleries. We try not to talk about Glenlossie here but for this knockout round, we’ll make an exception.
For the Balmenach, this was distilled on 17th April 2008, before being bottled at 10 years of age from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. This will cost £49.70 from the SMWS and that’s a commission-free link. An outturn of 249 bottles was produced at a strength of 57.9%. Whereas the Glenlossie was distilled on 22nd October 2008 and bottled at 9 years of age. Expect to pay £48 from the SMWS for this relase, again commission-free. The 1st fill bourbon barrel yielded 251 bottles at 57.7% strength. Giving us a fair match up in terms of region, age, cask type and strength – let the games begin!
SMWS 48.105 Custard and crumble – review
Colour: pine sap.
On the nose: sappy, with pine needles, green apples and a real tartness. Mint leaf tea provides some comfort, glucose syrup and some lime juice. Honeysuckle, a floured worktop and a raw sweet pastry take us into the kitchen. Time reveals a herbal edge with basil and Overall, a light, fresh, inoffensive and slightly dull nose.
In the mouth: prickly, with more limes and green apples. An apricot jam with the thurst of youthful alcohol. A light caramel, resin, sage, some vanilla and the sense of an inactive cask. A lack of character, confidence, dryness and development.
SMWS 46.73 The artist formerly known as mints – review
Colour: light gold.
On the nose: a traditional old fashioned lemonade, with apples juice and I’m struggling to seperate mint polos and Kendal mint cake. There is a zingy freshness, which indicates more spirit than cask. Lime peel, vanilla caramel, conifers, lemongrass and white pepper.
In the mouth: again more spirit than host with a certain hotness. The individual flavours haven’t had time to develop, ascertain themselves, or separate. Apples, icing sugar, green tea, sappy and coconut.
The Balmenach is disappointing, I do recall some wonderful old green bottlings from Cadenhead’s that had an explosion of fruit and style at a high strength. I really wanted to find that style once again. Here this release is scratching around for direction and its own voice. A bad choice for an outturn and here it feels like a sacrificial lamb, as filler to make up the numbers. Difficult to recommend, as its been plucked too soon.
The Glenlossie is well made but clearly not ready. Drinkable yet if there was a single cask release, I’ve had in recent times that showcases a need for patience and a considered long-term approach this is it. I’m left disappointed because what could be have been in a few years would have been much more than this. Bottle when ready ideally and its time has been lost.
In the end a close-run thing and neither really playing to the crowd. We’re left wanting more than these supporting acts and that’s quite often the danger with any outturn format. Neither can be recommended.