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Hidden Gems: January 2021

At The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we are on a passionate pursuit of the world’s most unique spirits. Over the course of what has now been 38 years, we have uncovered thousands of remarkable casks from nearly 200 different distilleries, each with their own characteristics and individual story to tell. More than just bottling whisky of exceptional quality, it is the uniqueness of each cask and its contents that has excited me the most.

Each month I am tasked with the unique responsibility of tasting through the selection of casks available to Society members in America. The objective? To identify the “hidden gems” that may have been overlooked since their release. You see what fascinates me most about Society whisky is that oftentimes the casks that turn out to be the most memorable are the also the most unexpected. They frequently come from lesser-known distilleries or appear relatively unassuming on paper. Yet when finally uncorked, the spirit will thrill and delight unlike anything before it.

So without further ado, I present to you my Hidden Gems of January:

Cask 41.136 Varnished crumpets

On paper, Cask 41.136 Varnished crumpets seems like your bread-and-butter type of Scotch whisky: 12 years of age, originating from Speyside (approximately 50% of all Scotch distilleries are in Speyside), and matured in a refill American oak hogshead. And while these cask specs are about as common as it gets, it took all of one sip to fall utterly and completely in love with this spirit. How in the world does this whisky taste as it does?! It offers a remarkable profile of old varnish, stone fruits, toasted fennel seed and a hint of musk. The flavour is full, the complexity is undeniable, and I can’t shake the feeling that the spirit in my glass is climbing up its inner walls and just waiting to absolutely burst out! Cask 41.136 Varnished crumpets is an absolute joy to drink and one that is so easy to love. 

Cask 26.151 Fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers

Adorned with a swanky black label and gold monogram, Cask 26.151 isn’t exactly one to go unnoticed. But after sampling this rare whisky at our Burns Night Celebration this week, it would be criminal not to mention it. This 26-year-old Highland whisky is the epitome of old-world Scotch…at cask strength. Bold yet elegant, deep and complex yet surprisingly vibrant, Cask 26.151 is not just a standout of the month but of the past year. I love the symphonic display of beeswax candles, sandalwood incense, worn leather and jasmine that keep you coming back for more, unveiling new, subtle flavours and aromas with each encounter. Sublime in every sense of the word. 

Cask 112.68 A tasty plethora

Well this is a tasty plethora alright! Cask 112.68 is a wonderful reminder that no two single cask whiskies are ever alike. In fact, I can’t remember tasting anything like this one at all. This 17-year-old Highland whisky offers a luxurious array of carmelized figs, toasted pine nuts and cinnamon baked apples intertwined with bold and assertive undertones of dried moss, fresh tree bark and orange liqueur. 17 years is no small amount of time in oak and during that time, this spirit has extracted all the goodness from the cask without being too “oaky”. It’s a beautiful spirit for those cold winter months and one that evokes a real sense of ever-lasting warmth. 

Slàinte mhath!

Ben Diedrich