SMWS February 2024 Outturn Preview

Blind Tasting – Guess that Dram!

Last Sunday, my buddy and I attended the SMWS February Outturn preview. I had missed out on the previous tasting so I was excited to get back to the blind tastings and throw out my worst guesses ever (1 for 6 this time!). I have a lot of fun with these events and it’s a great time to meet up with other DC scotch enthusiasts.

All of the whiskies were poured well in advance of the tasting. I added 5 drops of water to see if any changes occurred in the whiskies. The order of my notes is in the same order as the tasting was presented. All samples were blind, however, there were 5 distillery choices to guess from on our cards so some clues as to the region could be inferred.

Glentauchers 2002 SMWS 63.98 “You’re on My Mind”

Nose: The nose immediately reminded me of Applejack. Caramelized sugar and orange zest, kind of like a flamed old fashioned. Toffee sweetness with a rich dark chocolate background. I was getting an odd, almost wine-like, note that after adding a few drops of water, became more evident it was a cider aroma instead. Threw me off when guessing the cask type!

Palate: Very peppery on the palate. Full on floral blossoms and still a hint of white wine. Despite the age reveal, and cask type, this tasted much younger than the 19 year age statement. Youthful grains, dried grass, and green oak. There’s a nice pectic, or citric acid, sour note on this one that I greatly enjoy.

Finish: The finish gave more of those white wine vibes and leaned into the hay notes. Herbal and grassy, but the cereals aren’t there. Red Vines, maybe closer to real licorice, with some anise coming out after adding water. Despite some flaws, the final honey note solidified the malt. Possibly even more rest or water is needed.

The reveal of this dram being 18-22 years old was quite a surprise. It truly tastes exceptionally young for a first fill ex bourbon cask and 19 years old. My honest opinion is this is an incredibly simple dram. Pleasant and appealing as an intro whiskey but not something I’d be buying for myself.

Glenburgie 2011 SMWS 71.98 “Wood-Panelled Library”

Nose: Holy funk! Fetid wood and wild mushrooms. Proper sweet and sour sauce with this grain/flour element like a poolish or tempura batter. Szechuan peppercorns in a sweet and savory sauce. The sweet notes were immediately revealed when adding just a few drops of water and it threw me off again. I was more leaning toward Haw Flakes but with dilution, it was fully into the maple territory. Lastly, malted milk balls. I wouldn’t say this is lactic funk but malty funk.

Palate: I got a bit lost here enjoying this dram so excuse my lack of notes here. That Haw Flakes tangy fruitiness flavor came out with a citric acid hit. Also notable was a distinct metallic note that I can only describe as copper. This is a fun one and I absolutely want to try more of this one.

Finish: There is a significant drop off on the finish with this one. Those coppery elements give you a medicinal flavor on the finish. Antisceptic. “Clean”, if you will. A bitter chocolate astringency diminishes the enjoyment I had on the nose and palate.

Looking over the official tasting notes and I’m a bit lost with how they describe this one. I would not describe this one as a “vanilla milkshake” but a Macduff level funky malt. It’s not even finished and again, can easily trick you. The sweet and savory notes this one drops on you like a ton of bricks. Your palate will get so confused and amused at the exploration of this cask. Exceptionally funky and fun!

Ben Nevis 2014 SMWS 78.72 “Fat Highlander”

Nose: An unappealing and incredibly delicate nose. I felt like my palate might be a bit chuffed after the last dram but my friend also concurred this was not a very potent nose. The first note I immediately picked up was graphite like from a #2 pencil. Behind that was a pear puree and a faint apple blossom aroma.

Palate: First off..DAMN! Sugar coated sugar. This is insanely sweet. Fruits, caramels, pure sugar extracts, and throw in artificial sweeteners as well. If you’ve ever had a clay pot mezcal, there’s even a hint of those plasticine and earthy clay notes as well. Grilled pears and what I will describe as “overproof rum-flambeed fruit”.

Finish: I’m digging this finish. It has a very grassy, almost agricole-like, sugar cane flavor to it. I don’t drink much agricole rum but raw sugar cane has a distinct flavor. The fruits turned into an amazing sugar-crusted grilled peach and I just wanted to live inside this glass. A toasted note came up at the back of the palate and threw me off on my cask type guess.

This is just downright a fun as hell whisky. A soft nose with an intense flavor. I would have never guessed this was a sherry cask either. Nevis is one of the few malts I feel is extremely adaptable to finishes and this one proves that theory to me again. I did buy a bottle of this one, so I’m excited to get an extended time to further dive into this bottle.

Allt-a-Bhainne 2011 SMWS 108.57 “Take Your Time”

Nose: A very simple nose of metals, tree nuts, and potpourri. I got a copper note in this whisky as well but it wasn’t as medicinal as the Glenburgie. This was more in that pocket change, old penny smell. Decadent pecan pie aromas get muddled a bit with an intense perfume note.

Palate: Hot, hot, heat! Spicy one that thankfully tastes better than it smells. As much of a peathead as I am, I wasn’t getting that typical Islay peat off this one. It wasn’t matching up with any of the distilleries I was familiar with and the reveal was surprising to me. Instead of peat, I kept getting whiffs of bagged potting soil and images of a warm greenhouse. A soothing flavor if you’re into those flavor profiles.

Finish: The lightly peated spirit is entirely in that earth and dirt realm on the finish. Tannic leather flavors combine with those peat notes to bring out a loose-leaf tobacco flavor on the sides of your tongue. I’m enjoying the flavor but not the drying tannic finish, unfortunately.

After adding a touch of water, this whisky is pleasant and soft. The greenhouse and garden center vibes are full on and you’re instantly transported to your back garden with a pair of rubberized gardening gloves on and a shovel in your hand. Delicious, but you need to be in the mood for a perfumy dram.

Croftengea 2014 SMWS 122.56 “Time From Mystery and Intrigue”

Nose: Where the previous dram’s nose was simple, this whisky’s is anything but. A mix of tangerines and soft peat. Seaweek and kelp bring an intense salinity I’ve only really found in Laphroaig and Ledaig. Then comes the sweet treats. Marzipan in all its glory with coconut flakes and clear vanilla extract aromas.

Palate: The nose gave me higher hopes than the flavor on the palate did it seems. A citrus note, now muddled by peat. It’s not working in harmony as some Caol Ilas I’ve had and the two flavors seem to conflict with one another. Weirdly tropical but bitter. Like grapefruit peels, tart kiwifruit, and unripe cantaloupe.

Finish: The finish lands flat for me with nothing more than a bit of peat and salinity to it. The tropical notes have all but diminished and you have this cloying, and artificial, sweet vanilla extract note left on your palate.

I like the tropical peat but not the vanilla heavy flavors I was getting. It diminishes the malt to some kind of cheap blended rum. I apologize to all the Loch Lomond fans, but I seem to just not enjoy their spirit be it peated or otherwise. I had guessed a Venezuelan rum finish and was kind of close, as it ended up being a Trinidadian refill cask.

Caol Ila 2012 SMWS 53.451 “Particle Accelerator”

Nose: If I was right on only two of the previous casks, this was clearly a sherried whisky. So incredibly off-putting that I wrote down “Sherried Insoles”. A heavy rubber and artificial turf aroma. If you’ve ever played a sport on a hot turf field, you know that smell very well. Earthy peat with a nice balance of saline, bay leaves, and allspice. The sherry note popped back up as more vinegary than I expected. Cooking sherry with a touch of maple sweetness for quite an odd pairing.

Palate: The nose gave me some interesting notes and a bit of exploration. The palate, however, is simply: peanuts. This whisky had to be from a Jim Beam bourbon cask. It is such an intense flavor of boiled peanuts that I couldn’t taste much else other than dirt and soil flavored peat.

Finish: The flavor was a bit of a letdown but I couldn’t imagine the finish also being poor. Peated peanuts. Thankfully, the finish is short.

3 peated whiskies in a row and I honestly felt this was the worst expression I’ve had from Caol Ila. I previously reviewed a tasting kit Caol Ila (SMWS 53.381) and described it as a casual drinker, an “intro into Islay peat” if you will. This cask feels like it was a poor whisky initially with an attempted finish to save it for bottling. I admittedly may have been fatigued at this point, but it didn’t work for me.