Hidden Gems: October 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.
What fascinates me most about the discovery process of these casks, 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. And while every spirit bottled by the The Scotch Malt Whisky Society must meet an exacting standard of exceptionality and uniqueness, there are inevitably some that tend to get lost in the shuffle. These are what I like to call the Hidden Gems.
Beginning this month, I will be tasting through the selection of casks available to Society members in America with the objective of highlighting these Hidden Gems. I will then introduce some of their unique characteristics and share my own opinion on why I think they deserve a place in every Society member’s home bar. Without further ado, here are the Hidden Gems of October:
Categorized in our Light & Delicate flavour profile, Cask 54.74 ‘Sacrebleu!’ is a 12-year-old Speyside whisky matured in a first-fill fill ex-bourbon barrel and bottled at 58.7% ABV. Just prior to its initial release, I read through the cask description and tasting notes and thought to myself, “Well this seems like a perfectly nice whisky”. The Light & Delicate flavour profile is often reserved for our most approachable whiskies, making a great starting point for new members discovering single cask whisky for the first time. As a self-proclaimed whisky geek I have always sought after the big bold flavours.
But when it came to actually tasting Cask 54.74 ‘Sacrebleu!’, I was floored by the sheer intensity of the flavour. Bright, fruity and malty, this little number is bursting with character! Yes, the top notes fall on the lighter side but at 58.7%, the delivery is absolutely explosive. It’s the sort of whisky that evokes pure happiness, an ideal companion for a Saturday afternoon when the sun is shining and the air is crisp. A stunning cask that could be easily overlooked among the growing selection of casks released by the Society.
Released just last month as part of ‘The Gathering’ celebration, Cask 112.48 ‘A piece of paradise’ may just be the most unique whisky I have tasted this year. One would think that after tasting thousands of whiskies in my time, the opportunity to discover something truly different would be few and far between. This is one of those rare opportunities. Cask 112.48 ‘A piece of paradise’ evokes the characteristics of a true Highland whisky; big, floral, and grassy with a touch of dried fruit but with this cask, every single note is dialed to 11. It is a full-on assault of the most satisfying flavours I have experienced in quite some time and so different that I find myself struggling to describe exactly what is going on in this glass.
What I have also come to appreciate about Cask 112.48 ‘A piece of paradise’, categorized in our Juicy, oak & vanilla flavour profile, is just how developed it is for being just 11 years old. 11 years is by no means a young whisky but the extraordinary depth and complexity of this particular spirit matches that of casks boasting 20+ years of maturation. In other words, a remarkable value for the wonderful experience to be had.
I was initially hesitant to feature Cask 9.166 ‘Nectar-sweet, honeyed fruits’ in an article titled “Hidden Gems”. After all, a whisky that has been aged for more than a quarter century and given the Society’s black label and copper emblem signifying its rare status is hardly “hidden”. Yet even with the additional up-front acknowledgement this cask has received, it took all of one sip and less than five seconds to realize that no matter how decorated the bottle may be, Cask 9.166 ‘Nectar-sweet, honeyed fruits’ could not possibly receive the credit it deserves. Simply put, this is a near-flawless whisky, one that I feel may be overlooked in favor of the more-popular Sherry and other types of wine casks.
It’s rare to find a 26-year-old whisky that spent its entire life in a first-fill Bourbon barrel (they’re usually re-fill) and this particular spirit has soaked up every drop of goodness from that fresh cask. The aroma is orchestral: a beautiful display of overripened fruits, sweet corn, and toasted vanilla pods. This is, in my opinion, the Speyside of yesteryear. A classic representation of what made this region so prominent to begin with. As autumn draws near, the air thins and the leaves become golden, I could not think of a more perfect whisky to toast the end of summer and welcome the changes to come.