Words: Aly Mathers
I saw one guy with his top off, a fair few lovely girls in summer dresses and a dog licking someone else’s ice cream cone. And the sun came out. Honest it did. I took a photo. The sun came out and it was even quite warm for a few days. And then it rained.
It must be Summer.
At the last CASC #WhiskyClub we delved into peated malts. The one thing you often here when people talk about these peated whiskies is that they would be perfect on a cold winter’s night, when the rain is battering the windows and the fire has just been lit. So this month I thought we’d take a look at the flip side of that style and pull together five fantastic drams to be enjoyed on those long Summer nights – light, fresh, easy-drinking and ever so tasty drams from across the country.
BALBLAIR 2005 IST RELEASE
COLOUR: Pale gold.
NOSE: Fresh and vibrant notes of oaky vanilla, dull leather, freshly cut grass and orange peel. The hit of citrus is joined by tropical pineapple which really lightens the load of vanilla sweetness from the ex-bourbon casks and also brings an acidic, crisp edge to this light dram. In fact, in time, this 10yr old reminds me almost of a dry white wine in style. Refreshing, tight and light.
TASTE: Initially the taste resembles the nose with citrus, intense sweetness – toffee and vanilla, quite rich – and a clean acidity. With time, it opens up into a far fruitier affair with classic Ballair notes of green apple, milk chocolate and deep, charred spices. That sweetness slowly builds with each sip rounding out the crispy, spritz of white wine and pairing nicely with orchard fruits and creamy vanilla.
FINISH: Rounded, spicy, bright and fresh. The aftertaste lingers a little longer than expected and packs a bit of punch from the American oak. Not bad.
VERDICT: This is the perfect start to a long day of BBQing and boozing. Because it’s Balblair it’s not in any way offensive or harsh, instead what it lacks in age and depth it makes up for in moreishness (It’s a word. Deal with it). Get the coals warming, angle your chair towards the sun and pour yourself a large one. Just don’t put the bottle away because you’ll be reaching for it again very soon.
THE DEVERON 18YR OLD
NOSE: There’s an impressive amount of balance in the Deveron 18yr old. What you’ll first pick up on is the creamy style of this dram. We have malty aromas mixing with sweet vanilla, fresh fruits and only hints of sherry spice. It’s quite a lovely thing. Hazelnut slowly adds to it’s depth while the fruity elements solidify as green toffee apples and summer red berries.
TASTE: Those toffee apples have been left out in the sun and begun to melt. There is a much stickier, toffee sweetness present on the tongue and a far heavier hit from the sherry casks than expected. Tropical fruits are met with bitter, dark chocolate buttons, orange peel and earthy, heavy spices and cereals. And is that soot?
FINISH: More sherry than bourbon, that’s for sure. A classic long finish of dry, tannin-heavy spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
VERDICT: Firstly, let me just point out that the new re-branding for the Deveron means we have one sexy looking bottle here. And that this proved to be the most popular dram of the night by pleasing pretty much everybody. And I can only assume that’s that is down to the balance between soft bourbon on the nose and rich sherry spices on the palate.
THE BENRIACH 16YR OLD
COLOUR: Very pale.
BODY: Medium / Heavy.
NOSE: A massive blast of tropical, light, fresh fruit salad! Mango, banana, juicy pear, apple cores and fresh mint picked straight from the garden. All drizzled in sticky honey, icing sugar and muddled together with a cinnamon stick. Quite a complex nose once all those die down, however, which hints at the rounded, buttery nature of the distilleries spirit. Mmmmm.
TASTE: Rich, thick and buttery mouthfeel straight away which initially opens into sweet barley sugars, pick n mix boiled sweets and toffee popcorn. Those of you looking for a really solid expression of age and style will find it here. All the fruity elements from the nose are present, but they are joined by warm leather, almonds, hazelnuts and an ever so light touch of peat which adds even more depth.
FINISH: This BenRiach hangs around for a while but not so long as to overstay it’s welcome. There’s mostly sweetness here with more popcorn and barley sugars. Definitely some peat present but in no way smokey and a touch dry.
VERDICT: This new look bottling from BenRiach also has a touch more alcohol than the older bottlings (43% instead of 40%) and that certainly adds some welcome punch to the nose and sets you off on a great wee journey. Much like the Deveron 18yr old, there is balance from both the sweet and spicy elements (maybe just tipping the scales on the side of sherry spice). If you’re looking for a good all-rounder with a complex character at a good price this would be my recommendation.
CLYNELISH 1997 16YR OLD – DISTILLERS’ ART SINGLE CASK BOTTLING
COLOUR: Vibrant yellow.
NOSE: We may be looking for light, fresh Summer drams in this selection but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy something with a big more body. The Clynelish Distillery character is the first thing that is present on the nose meaning waxy, lemon rinds and a sharp hit from it’s higher strength. It’s pretty bold! And eventually sweet! The nose does let up slightly with time (and a drop or two of water) and becomes a big, chewy, bourbon cask beauty. Vanilla sugar. Cheap toffee sauce. Squishy butter fudge. Simple.
TASTE: A big, open palate as this one rolls around the tongue releasing little waves of vanilla as it goes. Take your time with this one, let it slowly build up on your tongue and you’ll find that there are crisp, almost salty elements too. Let it into your cheeks and it’ll dry them out like a tart sour beer. Lots of style, one-dimensional sweet flavour.
FINISH: Long and warming with thick, velvety vanilla and crunchy toffee popcorn.
VERDICT: I’ve always found Clynelish to be a rich and malty dram with official bottlings reminding me of chocolate digestive biscuits. This one however, having spent time only in ex-bourbon casks, has a really desirable sweetness. The bold character of the spirit provides the perfect base for thick, healthy dollops of vanilla cream and a fantastic, round mouthfeel. With only 242 bottles of this stuff kicking about it’s worth grabbing before it disappears.
ARDMORE 12YR OLD PORTWOOD FINISH
COLOUR: Ruby gold.
NOSE: Ardmore is generally known as being a heavily-peated Highland malt but do not let that put you off if you’re not usually a fan. What we have here is a wonderful mixture of heady, vibrant red berries and deep, earthy peat reek. No medicinal aromas, just good old fashioned woodsmoke and charred BBQ burnt ends followed by strawberries sprinkled in black pepper, cocoa beans and fresh mint.
TASTE: Peat rules the initial flavours found in this Ardmore but in an aromatic, relaxed and mellow fashion. Orange peel lightens the load. Stewed plums, maple syrup and comforting vanilla custard. Wine-like acidity, white grapes and charcoal. Great body, strong flavours, big ideas.
FINISH: Not as heavy as you might expect, in fact it’s surprisingly light and fresh. The peat hangs around the longest but there is a richness present in the form of those red berries on the nose. Burnt fruit cake and royal icing.
VERDICT: This is a whisky-fuelled BBQ on a cool Summer evening in liquid form. All the elements are there, present and correct, but kept in check as not to annoy the neighbours. Don’t be afraid of peaty drams during the Summer months. Peated whisky is for life. Not just for Christmas.