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.
Girvan 8 years (2006/2014) 46% from Berrys’ – Starts with a hit of pure alcohol then sweet bananas, some vanilla from the oak wood, lemon drop sweetness peeped out… all the elements were very subtle with the overall scent of light varnish
Girvan 28 years 42% – From a bio-chemistry set to sweet fruits, pudding, tasting like honey water, eclair and a caramel rum ball
Strathclyde 25 year (1990/2016) 51.1% from Douglas Laing – A remarkable nose that kept evolving – all elements nuanced yet distinctive. Whereas on the palate, it was came across as innocuous, something to accompany with little remarkable on its own.
Still to try something from North British and Starlaw… However not such a bad start to exploring this category of whisky!
Curious about even more grains? Check out this Grain’s pagededicated to just grain – in all its various from Scotland to Japan to North America and Europe!
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Every once and a while there is a chance to sample a piece of whisky history. In this case from a Lowland grain distillery that shut its doors in 1993. Before that, Cambus produced grain from early 1800s, with a hiatus from 1913 to 1938 when a fire destroyed much of the original distillery before it was rebuilt.
Like most grains, it mostly went into blends and you won’t find any official bottles. However – if you are lucky – you may come across a few select independent bottles… such as the one from Signatory that I snagged in Singapore at Whisky Live.
Cambus Single Grain 24 year (1991/2015) Cask 55891 51.9% (Signatory Vintage), Bottle 22 of 447
Nose – Floral, tempting, subtly complex, honey lemon, shifting between a heady perfume and light ginger, cinnamon, butterscotch and rich vanilla cream
Palate – Spice, with a great mouthfeel, cream like Amarulla with a bit of a hazelnut too, fruity, there was depth and character yet with a soft touch
Finish – Lightly bitter, closing on more of that delicious vanilla
Water – Brings out even more vanilla and toffee, think of a butterscotch ice cream
Overall it was exceedingly tasty… and far far far too easy to drink! It was hard not to say things like “Really nice!” and other happy murmurings.
And that’s just the thing about this whisky – it is simply delicious! A happy companion for a pleasant evening. It doesn’t challenge you but it does have enough substance and spice to make it a sprightly delightful dram.
What else do we know? It quietly matured for 24 years in a single refill butt and was bottled at cask strength.
Since then I will admit to taking another nip or two as it is simply a rather enjoyable whisky. I keep telling myself to stop and keep it for others to try a sip of history but it sits in my cabinet temptingly tasty. And did I write more tasting notes? No… it was simply too tasty a treat to do anything but enjoy.
Nose – Yheasty, butter caramel, slightly raw, herbal, sour peaches, basil, almonds, quite tangy with tamarind, puckering citrus, almond face oil, the peaches quality became increasingly pronounced from raw to steamed to canned peaches
Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean Lowland Malt Scotch Whisky tells the story of a 1930s Glasgow man, a real cheeky chappy who was ever the life and soul of the party, and a real connoisseur of fine food and drink. A dram we describe as “city born and bred”, The Epicurean is a blend of some of the finest Lowland Malts; a marriage of the best that the East and the West of Scotland have to offer. This small batch bottling is proudly without colouring or chill-filtration and bottled at 46.2% ABV.
Nose – In a tipple of our Small Batch “The Epicurean”, you can bet on a nose that is barley-rich, citric, floral and herbal.
Palate – The mouth-coatingly sweet palate displays crunched sugar, burnt citrus, mixed spices, thyme, peaches and hard candy…
Finish – All charmingly underpinned and enriched in the finish with more of that earlier herbal character, in a gristy style with almonds, cut grass and burnt sugar.
This Lowlands distillery is part of the Girvain complex, owned by William Grant & Sons. Most of the output makes its way to blends however there was a recognition that a single malt expression should also make it to market.
What did our cigar chomping gents think?
Ailsa Bay 48.9%
Nose – Sweet and peat, raw bacon, honey cured ham, black pepper then cinnamon spice, smoked paprika, very sweet
Water? Sweet toffee, butterscotch, no bacon and almost syrupy, even more sweet on the palate, still a bitter long finish
We set it aside to revisit… much more enjoyable however still more on the sweet side, not much variety, could even be described as ‘linear’ with a wintry quality.
Overall we thought not a bad start but not one we would run out to grab another bottle immediately.
So what do we know?
Alisa Bay is purported to find balance between sweet and peat… which they strictly adhere to 21 PPM for the peat then also measure the ‘sweet’ side too with their SPPM – at a level of 11 SPPM. They also use a ‘micro maturation’ process with the new make spirit filled into Hudson Baby Bourbon casks (25-100 Litres vs standard barrels with unto 200 Litres) for 6-9 months for an ‘intense rapid maturation’ then transferred to a mix of virgin and 1st fill American oak casks.
Nose: FRESH WOOD SMOKE WITH NOTES OF SMOULDERING DAMP HEATHER AND AN EXTINGUISHED BONFIRE. FOLLOWING THE SMOKE IS A WAVE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND HOT BUTTERED TOAST WITH AN INTRIGUING HINT OF CARAMELISED APPLE.
Taste: AN IMMEDIATE PUNCH OF PEAT IS QUICKLY BALANCED BY A BURST OF VANILLA OAKINESS. THE FLAVOUR MEANDERS BETWEEN SMOKE, FRUIT, CREAMY TOFFEE AND BACK AGAIN. WITH EVERY SIP THE COMPLEXITY OF THE WHISKY DEEPENS AS LAYER UPON LAYER OF FLAVOUR IS REVEALED.
Finish: AN INTRIGUING BALANCE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND PEATY DRYNESS.
Would we agree? Mostly… however complex? Not what we found.
While I can’t definitively confirm, I suspect this particular bottle made its way to us via The Whisky Exchange where it can be purchased for approx £55.55.
It is finally slipping into “winter” (by Indian standards), with the pollution smog haze rarely lifting, and somehow the weather and climatic conditions seem to be influencing whisky preferences… to peat.
And no ordinary peat… an exploration of a few whiskies one would not normally have on the top peat picks list from regions not immediately associated with peat. Because why should our familiar friends over in Islay corner the market when other options exist?
As this was a BMC session, we had no pretence of hiding the bottles… instead merrily dove in to our discoveries eyes wide-open!
Our host shared that it began with acquiring the BenRiach 25 year peated… and morphed from there… each selected to be peat with a twist.
For example, you don’t typically find BenRiach whiskies peated…
Then it continued with Loch Lomond – again not normally peated….
So why Ledaig you may ask? By their “nature” Ledaig is Tobermoray’s peaty whiskies. Yes indeed. However the “Very Cloudy” Vintage 2008 is known to have a lighter dusting of peat rather than full force peat one normally associates with a Ledaig….
And Alisa Bay? Not only is it newer to market as a single malt, it breaks with typical Lowland convention to combine peat with sweet…
What to do when you discover a common thread in standard duty-free offerings? Coin a new term! In our case, none were “nasty” merely “NASpy.” Confused? Read on….
Auchentoshan is known for its lighter whiskies, triple distilled in the Lowlands. Their Heartwood combines ex-bourbon and ex-sherry Olorosso casks.
Auchentoshan Heartland 43%
Nose – Fermented fruit, pear, light honey, melon, pine, warm vanilla, a slight piquant (not spice), pear tart, fresh fruit basket, custard which settled into a soft caramel with basil
Palate – Light on the palate, there like a whisky rinse
Finish – Bitter light burn with wood
Overall quite fruity – particularly pear – sweet, light and a dash of other elements. In short, we found it not unpleasant though entirely innocuous.
Between this and the Highland Park Einar we sampled next, we coined a category of whisky where one could say “You know, it just simply is rather NASPy.” Referring to a generic travel retail breed of No Age Statement palates that aren’t awful but are certainly not awesome either… in other words something that may be acceptable for parties but not a whisky we would deliberately buy.
Here is what the folks over at Auchentoshan have to say on the bottle note:
Released for travel retail, the Auchentoshan Heartwood is made with triple distilled single malt Scotch whisky which has been matured in both Oloroso Sherry casks and bourbon casks, resulting in a very well balanced expression from the Lowland distillery.
Our Single Grain trio evening continued with Strathclyde single grain from Glasgow. Originally built in 1927 on the site of an old cotton mill to produce gin, it has gone on to pump out grain spirit, primarily for blends for its current owner – Chivas Bothers Holdings, part of the Pernod Ricard group.
Strathclyde Single Grain 25 year (Aug 1990/Sep 2016) Refill Barrel DL11335 51.5% Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, 116 bottles
Nose – Unmistakable varnish – full-on, then caramel, banana, light flowers, then nuts like walnut, coconut, dried fruits, shifted into a creamy aroma – like sweet coconut cream, becoming increasingly sweet like butterscotch – loads and loads of butterscotch, then baked banana bread, roasted almonds, a bit of chocolate, then just as earlier it was unquestionably butterscotch, it was sawdust or fresh wood shavings, after airing even more like marshmallows!
Palate – Cinnamon sweet, the 2nd sip was quite bitter and a bit harsh, the settled into mulled wine, while pleasant, nothing remarkable
Finish – Bitter long, with a spice chaser, very dry and closed with nail polish
Water – Don’t. Loses the nose which is by far the best aspect. However it did bring out the most compelling nescafé instant coffee taste!
The nose was the most interesting element of this grain whisky. It was remarkable how it kept evolving – all elements nuanced yet distinctive. Whereas on the palate, it was came across as innocuous, something to accompany with little remarkable on its own.