Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Harmonious Balance” 19 year 55.2%

We almost didn’t open this bottle… after sampling a quintet of “Dream Drams” in Dubai early 2019, we stopped to enjoy a delicious dinner, socialize with our better halves until someone somehow came to the conclusion that we simply had to open just one more bottle!

So out came this Laphroaig, bottled by the folks over at Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), fancifully dubbed “Harmonious Balance.” Matured for 19 years in refill ex-bourbon hogshead cask, this whisky truly turned out to be the “show stopper” of the night!

SMWS 29.229 “Harmonious balance” 19 year (13 May 1988) 55.2% (Laphroaig)

  • Nose – A floral perfume, hand spun candies, a hint of tobacco leaf peaking through  honey
  • Palate – A delicious spice, peat yet more nuanced and balanced than expected from a Laphroaig, think a mild sweet cigar not a brash bold bad boy, chased by a bit of sweet salted toffee
  • Finish – What an absolutely glorious finish! By far the longest, lingering and lovely finish of the evening… much after sipping, one could still enjoy the sweet peat and touch of spice with a chocolate minty freshness too

For many, this was the favourite of the evening… even those who purport to not care for peat were won over and we must admit it was aptly named “Harmonious balance” as all the elements came together in the most beautiful way.

When I compared our impressions with the full version of their tasting notes found online, there was a clear resonance in experience. Here is what the SMWS folks had to say

Imaging waking up, looking out the tent door pitched on the beach and seeing a glorious sunrise over the sea. We then made breakfast on a driftwood campfire by toasting bread and having it with salted butter and thick set honey. To taste, cigar smoke sweetness at the start, ashy with a hint of tar in the mid palate and a slightly herbal/peppermint finish – all in perfect balance and harmony. When we reluctantly added a drop of water the sun continued getting higher in the sky and the scent of fresh salty sea air made us feel ready for whatever the day had in store for us.

It was one of only 234 bottles produced from the cask, last seen online selling for approx EUR 200.

Our Dubai host put together a remarkable collection of “Dream Drams“:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Kilchoman Sherry Single Cask 59.5%

Started in 2005, Kilchoman was the first new distillery on Islay in nearly 125 years. More importantly, the distillery crafted a distinctive “Islay character” style that challenged assumptions that quality required age.

Recently in Mumbai, I had the pleasure of chatting with Kilchoman’s founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale, where he shared with pride their journey into the world of whisky making.

There will be more on that another time, for now let’s focus the whisky! This particular single cask release featured as the 5th whisky sampled early January 2019 in Dubai.

In keeping with our “unique” theme, this bottle was one of only 42 produced to be sold from the Kilchoman distillery shop. It is approximately 5 years of age and according to Whisky Base, last sold for EUR 161.

Here is what my tasting companions found…

Kilchoman Sherry (8 Nov 2007/22 Feb 2013) Cask 447/2007 59.5%

  • Nose: Wet wood, campfire, burnt sugar cane, cinnamon, black pepper
  • Palate: The peat from the fresh bottle was quite pronounced, edgy, taking time to settle down and reveal the sherry dimension
  • Finish: A sweet peat cinnamon
  • Water: Tamed it considerably but for some it still remained a bit brash and unbalanced

I could swear one of the guys called it an “utara” whisky… which in Hindi literally means “descend” or “bring down” but is also slang for what you drink the next morning to take the edge off a bad hangover… like “hair of the dog.”

For a few of my sampling companions, this was simply too powerful and peaty for their palate – which is perfectly fine as half the fun of tasting a range of whiskies is discovering your personal preferences. That said, moving to a fresh pour of a cask strength at nearly 60% after the Longmorn 25 year or Strathclyde 38 year was certainly a shift in approach!

For these gents, perhaps something like the rich fruity Kilchoman Sanaig 46% might have been a more natural progression in our sampling journey. For a strong expression like this, having the right setting, time to ease into its personality, slowing down and settling in, makes all the difference.

Here is what the folks at Kilchoman have to say in their tasting notes:

  • Colour: Rich golden
  • Nose: Nice, combines peat and sherry, typical Kilchoman cloves and cinnamon
  • Palate: Soft peaty aromas with overtones of sherry, slightly dry on the palate. A good example of Kilchoman in sherry wood.
  • Finish: Clean, long and rich

If you are curious about other Kilchoman tasting experiences, check out:

The other Dream drams generously shared by our Dubai host included:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Longmorn 25 year 46%

The Longmorn distillery has an interesting history – after building Glenlossie, John Duff founded Longmorn near Elgin in 1893, part of the Speyside region. He then went on to set-up nearby the BenRiach distillery too. What is also notable is Masataka Taketsuru, the man behind Nikka whiskies did a stint at Longmorn in 1920.

Today part of Pernod Ricard’s Chivas Holdings, it produces the official Longmorn 16 year bottle plus can be found in a collection of independent expressions like this one. The rest of Longmorn’s production lends a sweet, deeply fruity element to blends.

This 25 year old Longmorn graced our “Dubai Dream Drams” evening as the 4th whisky sampled…

Longmorn 25 year (1988/2014) Cask 14384 46% (Berry’s Bro)

  • Nose – What a nose! It immediately greeted us with ripe tropical fruits…. it really was sooooo fruity! Then shifted into an eggnog rich sweetness
  • Palate – While no doubt the fruits remained, they were joined by deeper notes – including speculation about a hint of peat, plus continuing our theme of the evening we also pronounced it “buttery”
  • Finish – Long, lovely

In truth, the scant scribbled notes I took that evening did not do justice to this whisky. It was truly quite superb in a class of its own. Sweet, substance and one to savour.

As for what they shared on the bottle?

The name Longmorn is said to derive from an old Scottish word meaning “place of the holy man”. Produced near Elgin, this malt whisky is high respected for its smooth, complex full character and heady bouquet.

The primary aromas give peach skins, tropical fruits and honey. There is some underlying grapefruit and pineapple to enliven the nose. The palate offers a creamy texture with abundant fruit and some white chocolate notes cut by a little spice.

As for other Longmorn encounters? Read on…

Here are are few more remarkable drams our Dubai host generously shared that evening:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Old Pulteney 17 year 46%

I fully admit to enjoying the occasional Old Pulteney…

Currently the Old Pulteney 21 year is my evening sipping dram at our wee “cabana” in the country… the perfume of the fresh air combines with the fragrant fruits, spice, dash of maritime salt of the whisky in the most relaxing way.

Whereas I recently finally finished the last drops of the Old Pulteney 12 year in Mumbai, having enjoyed its warm apple crumble yumminess.

And while I don’t have a bottle of the 17 year conveniently gracing my whisky cabinet, there is something about this particular expression that brings us back. I’ve had a few opportunities to sip and savour this expression over a few years:

Alas it is now archived and increasingly difficult to track down… so if you do come across it, do take advantage of the opportunity and enjoy!

Old Pulteney 17 year 46%

  • Nose – A beautiful bouquet of flowers, then cherries, a hint of salt, lemon cake
  • Palate – Smooth as silk, sweet, a little fresh tobacco leaf, some citrus
  • Finish – Lovely, light and lingering

What a delight to revisit…. and in such terrific company.

A few other drams our amazing Dubai host shared included:

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Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (1977) 49.6%

In our special “Dream Drams” evening in Dubai early 2019, we went from a lively and most enjoyable Irish whiskey to a completely different direction with a single grain.

And no ordinary grain, it was a Strathclyde bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) from 1977, matured for 38 years, producing only 72 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon cask…

And in their trademark way, it was creatively dubbed “Busy Buzzing Bees” by the SMWS folks.

What did our merry tasting group in Dubai have to say about it?

SMWS G10.10 “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (23 Nov 1977) 49.6%

  • Nose – It greeted us with fresh pepper, then mellowed in vanilla, nougat, eucalyptus, emerging a distinctive farm-like quality, cedar wood, light lavender
  • Palate – Honey and caramel, a few found it “buttery”, delightfully sweet
  • Finish – Bitter almond
  • Water – Beautiful and silky

How rare it is to have a grain whisky that has matured nearly 40 years… we were honoured to have such an opportunity.

What did the SMWS folks have to say about this whisky?

A light, sweet and floral aroma greeted the Panel. Sugar dusted fruit flavoured bonbons and candy corn were mentioned before a picture full of promise emerged; sitting in the garden sipping on a Lemon Drop Martini and listening to the bees buzzing in the laurel hedge.

The taste had honey-roasted peaches with lavender ice cream whilst the overall impression was one of an almost perfect balance between delicate, perfumed sweetness and dry wood spice.

A drop of water and a plate of seafood pasta in a creamy marinara sauce and a glass of chilled, slightly mineralic, Riesling Auslese was being served.

DRINKING TIP: Perfect to replace a dessert wine

For those curious to try, it is still showing as available through the SMWS for £278.40.

Here are a few more whiskies we sampled in our Dubai Dream Drams evening:

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Dubai Dream Drams – Midleton, Strathclyde, Old Pulteney, Longmorn, Kilchoman, Laphroaig

We brought 2019 New Year in Dubai… after seeing the fireworks on the Marina, the fountains and lights show on Burj Khalifa, a special evening of whiskies was organized. And what an evening it was!

Our amazing host put together with great enthusiasm a remarkable collection of drams:

  • Midleton Very Rare (2011) No 042585 L121731255 40% – You won’t find this vintage outside of auctions, however do keep an eye out for the annual edition!
  • SMWS G10.10 “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (23 Nov 1977) 49.6% – With only 72 bottles in existence, this Strathclyde was one of a kind!
  • Old Pulteney 17 year 46%Once part of the standard collection, it has now been archived and increasingly challenging to find… catch it where and when you can
  • Longmorn 25 year (1988/2014) Cask 14384 46% (Berry’s Bro) – Incredibly fruity, a remarkable Longmorn indeed…
  • Kilchoman Sherry (2007/2013) Cask 447/2007 59.5% – A singular peaty single cask, once available at the distillery with only 42 bottles produced
  • SMWS 29.229 “Harmonious balance” 19 year (13 May 1998) 55.2% – We nearly didn’t try this Laphroaig, but wow! So glad we did!

Join me in discovering these “Dream Drams” experienced in Dubai…Want even more Whisky Lady posts? Follow this blog on:

Bavarian Bounty – Slyrs, SILD, Aureum, Finch

Normally you would only hear about a whisky from me AFTER it has been tasted. However  with my recent jaunts to Munich, I’ve gathered a few German whiskies yet confess I know very little about the industry there…

What surprised me most in this recent Munich visit was just how many German brands putting out “single malts”. Even more remarkable to learn there are approx 23 distilleries producing some variation of “whisky”… No wonder I saw distilleries like “Stork”, St Kilian, Höhler, Hammerschmiede with The Glen Els as just a few vying for space with Slyrs.

So decided to do a little “Pre-Cursor” post to explore a bit more about the whiskies I did pick up… call it an appetizer before the tastings to come…

Slyrs is the best known Bavarian single malt. While the first whisky was distilled using stills from the traditional Lantenhammer distillery in 1999, by 2007 Slyrs whisky had a new home at a newly erected distillery in Neuhaus. From there I have sitting in my cupboard 3 whiskies:

What else did I pick up?

  • From Ziegler distillery, I picked the “basic” Aureum Single Malt 43% rather than their experiments maturing in Chestnut barrels, guitar wood in barrels, ex plum brandy or cognac barrels.
  • And from Finch, their Finch Classic 40% which is matured for 5-6 years in ex Bourbon then  wine casks.

We’ve had quite a few European whiskies over the years, here are a few German ones we’ve managed to sample:

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Starward 10th Anniversary 52%

In the grand scheme of things, 10 years may not seem like a long time. However in the context of a young Australian upstart which challenged conventional thinking about maturing whiskies, casks and more, all with a goal of creating something accessible and affordable, well…. then it is something to celebrate indeed!

Starward 10th Anniversary 52%

  • Colour – A beautiful deep dark ruby
  • Nose – Strong black cherry, intense and concentrated, prunes, old dark wood, cherry brandy, peppery – mostly black peppercorn, rich burnt cake, toffee, dark chocolate, burnt orange, cinnamon, dark purple grapes
  • Palate – Sugar sweet, tart, had a definite kick, while a bit odd initially and took some time to adjust to its concentrated quality, the wood, dark cherry, berries, figs, toasted oak, creamy vanilla, rummy raisins
  • Finish – A lovely black pepper spice that sweetens

Above all, for me this whisky was a heavy rich tapestry of intense flavours.

We decided to add a generous dollop of water to see if it tamed it. What did we discover?

  • Nose – Brought out loads of fruits, while retaining the richness
  • Palate – Absolutely gorgeous! Turned down the volume on the intensity without diminishing the character or complexity
  • Finish – Retained the lovely spice

When we returned, it was distinctly flat coca-cola! Then shifted into a very tasty creme brûlée,

There was no doubt this was quite a whisky. It reminded me of the richness of some Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask or Paul John’s Kanya. What they both have in common is accelerated absorption of the barrel’s interaction with the new make spirit thanks to the respective climates in Australia, Taiwan and India.

So what is the story behind this dram?

Apparently it is a vatted blend of 28 casks of various ages and 8 different types used throughout Starward’s 10 years, of which most are first fill Apera, Pedro Ximenez and red wine barrels.

What would it set you back? If you bought it at the Whisky Exchange, as this one was, then £79.95.

Here are a few other Starward‘s explored:

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Starward Solera 43%

Solera is the process of transferring part of maturing liquid from one barrel to another in a continuous rotation, typically used in making Sherry. In Australia, this method can be found in the making of Australia’s equivalent of Sherry – Apera – and now also in Starward’s “Solera” whisky which uses this system to bring consistency to each batch from their Apera barrels. As they put it, it also

means that every Apera barrel we have ever emptied is in every bottle of STARWARD Solera.” 

A few years ago, the Whisky Ladies were introduced to Starward with an early Solera version… and it was such a pleasure to try its newer avatar as part of a Starward trio…

Courtesy Anish Trivedi

Starward Solera 43%

  • Nose – Lemon, fruity, varnish, wet bread, burgundy, even some pear drop buried beneath the top notes, more of that wood, vanilla… then lemon curd
  • Palate – Much more going on than the nose would suggest – has a “graph” to how the palate evolves from soft to strength and substance, even a hint of brine
  • Finish – Strong… with some liquorice

We found it much more enjoyable than the “project”, easily accessible..

We weren’t sure whether water should or should not be divided.

After some time, we returned to be greeted by a delightful “cotton candy” aroma, still initially light but retained the substance. Delicious!

And what do the folks over at Starward have to say?

The original STARWARD is solely matured in Australian fortified wine barrels, which are hand selected, re-coopered, re-toasted and re-sized specifically for aging our spirit.

These barrels have formerly contained Apera, which is an Australian take on Spanish sherry. These barrels are 40-50 years old and have rich and complex flavours of dried fruit, spice and sweetness.

Here are a few other Starward’s explored:

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Starward Wine Cask Project (2018) 41%

Starward’s New World Project series is deliberately intended to “buck” whisky convention. In truth, what is bottled is not “whisky” at all by the traditional guide of requiring a minimum of 3 years maturation. Instead it is a malted barley spirit, playing around with different wine casks – either fortified or table wine – in this case an undisclosed red wine.

And what better way to kick of our evening exploring Starward than with one of their experimental wine cask projects!

Starward New World Project Wine Cask 2.25 yr malted barley spirit batch 170721-A (8 Aug 2017) 41%

  • Nose – Pear drops, autumn leaves, wood, fresh sap, bourbon, very sweet, raw molasses then shifted into a lighter caramel, orange concentrate
  • Palate – Smooth yet youthful and a bit raw, a tinge salty, marzipan, fruits
  • Finish – Sits there with a slight nuttiness

Overall the aromas were much more interesting than the palate – one even described it as “palate stripping!”

It was certainly interesting… we wondered what it would be like with water. For those who added, it lost the delightful pear on the aroma and didn’t gain much on the palate or finish.

And when we returned after some time… was quite sour on the nose, became quite tart on the palate – think the inside of a kumquat.

My strong recommendation with this one is enjoy it but don’t linger too long. Or perhaps try it one of the many cocktails the folks at Starward recommend.

As for its cost? This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange, London and currently retails for £50.25.

Here are a few other Starward‘s explored:

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