Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wemyss Malts Week - Part 4

Over the last few months we have received a series of packages containing whisky samples from Wemyss Malts. As a result of various circumstances, we have not been able to review and taste them ... until now.  We have decided to put all of these samples together and review them in one week - our very own Wemyss Malts Week.  This will be a four-part series which showcases some whiskies from the companies ever expanding range.

Welcome to the fourth part of the series.  Yesterday, we covered three of the whiskies in Wemyss' single cask bottling range, while on Monday and Tuesday we covered the eight and 12 years old blended malt range with a run down of the company's history and ethos.  Click here to read any of this information from Part 1, to save us covering old ground on each of our posts this week.

In today's final part we continue with Wemyss' range of single cask bottlings.  These are specially selected by the company, with the help of whisky industry legend Charles Maclean, and the range covers different regions of Scotland and different ages of whisky.  Each single cask has been given a name which reflects flavour profile and style of the whisky, rather than the distillery where it was produced.  The single casks are all bottled at 46% ABV and are priced differently according to their age.  The price, plus other cask information, is included in each review below.  Today, we turn our attention to a selection of older single casks from the 1980s and early 1990s.

Caribbean Fruits - Highland
The colour is golden yellow and the nose has the 'fruit' from the name immediately leaping out of the glass.  There are aromas of peach, apricot, pear and a tiny hint of pineapple, which are complimented by some lovely honey, vanilla and sweet malted barley notes.  There are also background hint of cinnamon bark and wet tea leaves.  The palate begins with plenty of bittersweet malted cereals and drying oak spice. It takes time for the sweeter and the fruity notes to kick in and when they do, they are not as expressive or vibrant as on the nose.  The vanilla and honey notes are joined by some golden syrup, while there are again notes of peach, pineapple and pear (this is the only note from the nose which seems stronger now).  Then the drying oak spices fight back and take you into a sparse finish that hints at the vibrant fruits from the nose but little else. There is a little barley sugar-like sweetness in the background. A little hard work from the drinker needed for this one.

Distilled - 1990, bottled - 2011, cask : ex-bourbon hogshead, no. bottles - 320, price £72, distillery named as - Glencadam

Lemon Grove - Speyside
The colour is pale gold and the nose is fresh and full of vibrancy. A number of uplifting aromas contribute to a wonderfully scented nose - lemon zest, honey, vanilla, fresh green fruits (think of pear and apple), malted barley, something floral (maybe honeysuckle?) and a hint of creamy yeast , which reminds us of pastry.  On the palate, this has an immediate tangy and zesty quality that does have the 'lemon' as suggested in the name.  The fresh feeling in accentuated by a note of crisp green fruit and before it gets to much, some sweetness (vanilla, honey and a little toffee) and drier notes arrive (bittersweet cereals, wood spices and a hint of dried grass).  Again the combination is lovely. As we move in to the finish, the lemon notes soften and become more like lemon curd than the zest.  The finish begins sweetly and gets drier with the wood/baking spices coming through well.  This is a very good cask that has maintained some youthful vibrancy despite its age.

Distilled - 1989, bottled - 2011, cask : ex-bourbon hogshead, no. bottles - 371, price £69, distillery named as - Cragganmore

Whispering Smoke - Islay
The colour is golden yellow with a slight brown hue.  As with the previous two whiskies, this has a nose with a vibrancy and freshness that defies its age. The peat smoke is obvious and has a distinct whiff of hot tar, but as the name suggests it wafts around your nostrils allowing you to capture the other aromas - green fruit (pear and apple), oatcake biscuits, woody pencil shavings, dried apricot, brown sugar, vanilla, honey and some minty menthol and liquorice.  On the palate, this feels delicate with many subtle notes combining with the soft, smouldering peat smoke (this still has the tar-like feeling). The mix is complex and includes elements of malty barley, vanilla custard, honey, peach, apricot, toffee, toasted oats and an abundance of wood/baking spices - think of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice.  The delicate yet complex nature carries on in to the finish, which balances some lovely fresh sweetness with increasing drying spices and slightly acrid tar-like smoke.  A very good dram indeed.

Distilled - 1981, bottled - 2011, cask : ex-bourbon hogshead, no. bottles - 228, price £150, rumoured to be - Caol Ila

What's the verdict?
Where do we start?  This has begun to feel like an epic journey as the week has progressed ... 4 days + 12 whiskies tasted = sensory overload. However, by reviewing the whiskies back-to-back in this way has allowed us to establish a number of key signature characteristics about the Wemyss Malts range. 1 - the quality of casks selected for the single cask range is very high, across all of the regions and styles. 2 - the quality and balance of the blended malt range is equally as high. 3 - because of this, both ranges offer exceptionally good value for money.

The overall range maybe concise but the quality is above that of some of Wemyss' independent bottling contemporaries, in comparison to whiskies that we have tasted to date. The selection of fine casks is clearly key to this and we like the idea of de-emphasising the distillery of origin in favour of flavour characteristics - this removes any preconceptions about the distillery, negative or positive. They are deserving of your attention and that of a wider audience.

Our personal favourites were difficult to pick given the quality whisky on offer, but if we had to stump for two they would be the Peat Chimney eight years old from the blended malt range and the Lemon Grove from the single cask range. All bottlings are available for sale from and from selected specialist whisky retailers.

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