The August Outturn of Scotch Malt Whisky Society Canada whiskies is out, and it is another great range. Some of the guests on Friday in Calgary felt it was one of our best Outturns of the year. Hard to disagree with such high praise, but in truth we hear similar comments most months… The six new whiskies this month were great, but before I get into the details of all of them, I feel the need to interject myself into the debate surrounding one of the whiskies (71.41: Curious and intriguing) which was at the very least divisive, if not controversial. One of the things that I love about Whisky, especially Scotch Whisky, is the tremendous breadth of flavour, profile and styles. I also love the debates they can provoke among whisky drinkers. The Drinking Tip for 71.41 alludes to debate and difference, suggesting the malt is “A dram for debating with friends”. Some people aren’t fond of debate however, preferring their opinion be taken as gospel. The fact is there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to taste, only preference, which is personal. This is partly why I find the concept of one man getting to pick “World Whisky of the Year” so ludicrous.
The specific opinion I am alluding to, is the debate over sulphur in whisky, and whether it is always a flaw, or another flavour component. A certain over rated (IMHO) whisky writer promotes the view that it is always a flaw, and unfortunately he has way too many disciples. He has provoked a witch hunt among some whisky drinkers, who look for even the faintest traces of sulphur, immediately rejecting the whisky as flawed. The fact of the matter is sulphur can find its way into whisky from the grain and by increased copper exposure during distillation. Some distilleries, Mortlach and Dailuaine come to mind, intentionally aim for this component to give their whiskies a “meaty” style. That being said, the most prominent source of sulphur in whiskies, is when producers burn a sulphur candle in wine or sherry casks to sterilize them before shipping to Scotland. The sulphur in the smoke can contaminate the barrel, and the new make spirit filled into the cask can quickly incorporate it into the liquid. This can result in anything from just a faint trace of sluphur, to a whisky that is completely dominated by it and everything in between. But is any trace of sulphur always a flaw, or can it be part of a complex flavour profile?
While I have come across whiskies, where the sulphur is so dominant that it ruins the experience, I can think of far more where it was just a part of an interesting palate, especially when peat and salt are also present. If it isn’t abundantly clear yet, I don’t always dislike a little sulphur in my dram. I think the Society has taken a very balanced approach to sulphur notes in whisky, recognizing it as a component of many sherry cask matured whiskies. Some of my favourite whiskies from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society over the years like: Cigar Smoking Dragon, Below Decks on HMCS Victory and Guns on the Grouse Moor all contained traces of sulphur. And I’m not the only one who enjoys these, I have many customers who enjoy discovering that note in some of their favourite whiskies.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society “71.41: Curious and intriging” matured in a Refill Sherry Gorda does have a prominent sulphur note. The panel’s tasting note refers to “a matchbox” in the tasting note and walking over “burning coals” in the drinking tip. This whisky isn’t for everyone, and perhaps not even the majority. But neither are some heavily peated, medicinal Islay whiskies like Laphroaig. This is a love it or hate it dram, and that’s ok, because there are 5 other new whiskies to enjoy from this month’s Outturn if you find this one too challenging. And there are plenty of others who will love it.
Here is the August 2016 Scotch Malt Whisky Society Outturn:
- 48.56: Popcorn in a sauna – 56.3% – 13 Year – First Fill Barrel – Speyside - Flavour profile: Juicy, oak & vanilla - Outturn: 214 bottles - Panel’s tasting note: “The initial nose had peachy perfume and polished bookcases. Soon we were in a cinema foyer as popcorn dominated and sweet notes of toffee with hazelnuts lingered in the background. The palate had orange ice cream cones and vanilla fudge with hints of lemon, sherbet and chili. On reduction the nose was warm and comforting; Belgian waffles, toast with jam and chocolate milk after a bowl of Coco Pops. Hot pine wood took us to a sauna where we indulged in large helpings of popcorn and a little more ice cream (rum and raisin). Thai spice and sweet candy apples combined for a well balanced finish.” Drinking tip: “While watching a good movie” – $142
- 50.68: Orange exposition – 57.3% – 25 Year – Refill Barrel – Lowland - Flavour profile: Sweet, fruity & mellow - Outturn: 144 bottles - Panel’s tasting note: The rich and fruity depths to this whisky instantly intrigued. Orange oil, custard powder on baked apples and a touch of noble rot displayed maturity and complexity. On tasting, we were introduced to the sweetness of icing-covered biscuits, hazelnuts and honey. Spearmint chewing gum freshness appeared with water, whilst pleasant solvent notes danced in the background. Acetone, airfix glue, linseed oil and tart black cherries lay behind layers of honey, apricot yogurt and buttery pastry. These themes continued in the reduced palate, intensely sweet and biscuity notes, orange oil, orange muscat, emulsion paint and aniseed to taste. Raisins, hot cross buns, spiced honey and chocolate oranges linger in the finish. Sublime!” Drinking tip: “Aperitif on a sunny evening” – $245
- 73.71: A scene from Madeira – 55.5% – 14 Year – Refill Butt – Speyside - Flavour profile: Spicy & sweet - Outturn: 522 bottles - Panel’s tasting note: “The nose suggested sweet treats spread out on a wooden table – vanilla and walnut fudge, coconut macaroons, currants and custard creams. The palate started out with mouth-flooding sweetness (apple strudel, raisins, dates and prunes) but then a spicy ginger, chili heat kicked in – and seemed to out-last the sweetness. The reduced nose conjured up a scene from Madeira – painted boats on a pebble beach, old deck-chairs, honey cake and lemonade, with a flower market not far away. The palate now showed its lighter side, with cinnamon swirls and maple and pecan Danish pastries – but still enough to sustain our interest.” Drinking tip: “Ideally, with high tea at Reid’s Hotel in Funchal”- $168
- 71.41: Curious and intriguing – 57.2% – 17 Year – Refill Gorda – Speyside - Flavour profile: Deep, rich & dried fruits - Outturn: 720 bottles - Panel’s tasting note: “A curious and intriguing nose – we found spiced toffee apples, roasted chestnuts, figs, fudge and old wood (cigarette boxes?); a mixture of treacle, some rich sherry and a matchbox. The neat taste had tongue-numbing menthol and eucalyptus and made us think of figs, sherry, burnt toffee, honey-roast parsnips and beetroot crisps; old tea chests and erasers. The reduced nose got dried flowers on a lavender polished table, old leather chests, hazelnuts and menthol cigarettes. The reduced palate had pleasant woodiness, some acceptable earthiness (roasted sweet potato, walnuts, hay) and candy floss sweetness (including chewing the stick).” Drinking tip: “A dram for debating with friends, or as a reward after walking over burning coals” – $195
- 66.72: Pagan feasting round the fire – 58.9% – 11 Year – Refill Barrel – Highland - Flavour profile: Oily & coastal - Outturn: 197 bottles - Panel’s tasting note: “Fresh lily of the valley and narcissi wreaths on flaxen haired maidens carrying dripping tallow candles. The dark forest beyond yielded sweet crab apple and pear. They feasted on liebchen and kaffebröd (pastries with cardamom and fennel seed) with slabs of French salted butter. To taste hints of the forest floor tangled with pecan, sweet pipe tobacco and creosote. Grilled Portobello mushrooms with ham on toast, and then minty chocolate. A rain shower brought out butter toffee, corn cakes wrapped in an oily rag. More nuttiness emerged with roasted brazils, walnuts and chestnuts, and a long smoking finish. Spellbinding.” Drinking tip: “When you are feeling devilish” – $136 Only 6 left!
- 29.178: Bee-smoker on a pebble beach – 55% – 20 Year – Refill Barrel – Islay - Flavour profile: Peated - Outturn: 150 bottles - Panel’s tasting note: We detected something of the sea on the nose – fresh oysters, a pebble beach, boat-decks and rush matting in a fisherman’s cottage. Beyond that we got gooseberry and lemon, salted caramel and bubble-gum bonbons – maybe also some bacon crisps. The palate was deliciously smoky, salty and floral – violets, lavender and sherbet straws, with dry earthy spices and an almost coal-dust minerality. The reduced nose evoked swimming pools in exotic parks or gardens, scented candles, dried seaweed and burnt paper in a bee-smoker. The palate had become a sweet, smoky, floral delight, with burnt flower bouquets and honey on charred staves.” Drinking tip: “With oysters or when celebrating” - $225