Hidden Gems: November 2019
At The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we are on a passionate pursuit of the world’s most unique spirits. In what is now our 36th year as a club, 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 excites us most. It would be all too easy to acquire a cask from a well-known distillery and simply offer it as a single cask representation of that distillery’s style. Instead, we look for whiskies that are different, those that stands out among the vast sea of casks aging around the world to offer a unique take on the more classical styles.
Last month saw the beginning of a new monthly series called Hidden Gems. In this series, I am tasked with the unique responsibility nay privilege of tasting through the selection of casks available to Society members in America. The objective? Well aside from having a bit of fun of course, I’ll be tasting through the current selection in order 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 November:
There’s something to be said for the casks categorized in our Oily & Coastal flavour profile. The whiskies that fall into this category are often produced at distilleries along the Scottish coast. Now when we think of “coastal whiskies” we often think of peated, smoky whiskies. That’s because the majority of Scottish distilleries situated along a coast (or the islands) have embraced the peated style of malt whisky. Harder to find are unpeated, coastal whiskies and I find that to be a shame because there’s nothing quite like it.
Cask 52.28 ‘Milking a Cowfish’ is a perfect representation of what makes this style so great. It’s a big, brutish dram with a cold and coastal array of dampened wool, sea breeze, and new leather. A dash of water brings out salted butter on sourdough bread, zesty citrus peel and a hint of thyme. A stunning whisky and a nice change of pace from the more common flavours found in Scotch.
Oh baby! Rarely do we get the chance to enjoy a cask from Distillery 94 and this one so happens to be the fifth we’ve ever bottled. Cask 94.5 ‘Vineyard mud guard’ is a Highland whisky that spent 11 years in a bourbon hogshead before a final maturation in a first fill STR (Shave, toast, re-char) wine barrique. The result is a wild and zesty dram with notes of fermented grapes, old leather, and gingerbread.
Maturing whisky in wine casks is always a bit risky. Oftentimes the characteristics of the wine will overpower the gentle spirit beneath it. Not so with this one. There’s a near-perfect balance between the big, malty character of the Highland spirit and the funky-yet-satisfying flavours of the STR barrique. An unexpectedly stunning dram.
It’s Irish whiskey…but not as we know it. Earlier this year we released three (3) casks from Distillery 51, a renowned Northern Irish distillery known for producing both grain and triple distilled single malt whiskey. Our casks, including this one, are neither of these things. Cask 51.8 ‘Funky flowers and tropical fruits’ is a uniquely double distilled Irish single malt. In other words, it was produced in the typical Scottish fashion.
As a double distilled single malt, it’s richer, more intensified, and it clings to the palate longer than you would expect from an Irish whiskey. The flavour profile is exactly as described: juicy tropical fruits such as mango and papaya, a touch of green apple, a dollop of vanilla cream and a hint of potpourri. If you’re a fan of Irish whiskey or more of a Scotch appreciator looking to try something unique from the Emerald Isle, this is a brilliant pickup.
When I set out to uncover the Hidden Gems of November, I didn’t expect to feature a peated whisky. Considering the popularity of peat and all things smoky whisky today, these casks are often the first of our selection to dry up after their release. So while peated whiskies are rarely “hidden” these days, Cask 66.150 ‘Smoke, soot and tarry ropes’ is worthy of recognition nonetheless.
When we think of peated whisky we often think of the Scottish islands, specifically Islay, where the majority of it is produced today. Cask 66.150 ‘Smoke, soot and tarry ropes’ is a peated Highland whisky. Highland peat is very different from the peat found on the islands. The resulting flavour profile is less of your typical beach bonfire and more indicative of a slow-burning indoor fireplace, free of the saltwater and seaweed notes you’d encounter along the sea. And while the majority of peated Highland whiskies are more delicate in nature compared to their island counterparts, this one is a full-on assault of burning wood, savory smoke and roasted toffee apples (if there is such a thing). Unlike any peated whisky I’ve had before, including other casks from this same distillery, Cask 66.150 ‘Smoke, soot and tarry ropes’ is a must-have for my fellow peat lovers.