Nose: Very fresh and lively, youthful even. Not showing its age at all. Citrus and freshly-ironed sheets, faint coal, burning driftwood on a beach. Over-ripe grapefruit, then hints of tweed as the oak makes a belated appearance. A pleasant manly cologne, would be quite happy to wear this out if I wasn’t going to drink it. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious w***er (a risk I battle on a daily basis), for me this evokes evening time in expensive hotel lounges, which is obviously a good thing (unless you’re paying, of course). Not particularly winey, though. I’d never have picked it as having anything more to do with wine than your standard third or fourth fill sherry cask. After ten minutes, a faint trace of swimming pools appears momentarily, but then it’s away, leaving more pronounced honey and BBQ aromas. Some camphor and bandage notes much later. This is all over the shop in a good way. In a word? Intriguing.
Palate: More savoury and maritime than the tail of the nose would suggest. Big coal and pepper attack, then something like chargrilled meat from the afore-mentioned BBQ. Wow. This is much more visceral than the nose suggested. No sign of the fruit on first tasting, but a big medicinal hit that again was only hinted at on the nose. Let’s have another look. Tweedy initially on second tasting, seaspray, more noticeable oak influence, and now the pepper and soot just pitches up in the centre of the palate and refuses to budge. Still very little sign of the fruit or sweetness suggested on the nose. This is a bit of a monster. I like it. In a word? Startling.
Finish: Pretty big. Medicinal notes, as mentioned above, struggling to compete with a fairly brutal spicy heat at full strength. After a few sips when it beds down on your tastebuds and you’ve acclimatised to the initial phenolic blast , some sweetness slowly starts to appear in the finish, (think barley sugar) but it’s through a big morass of top-end fiery stuff, so you have to work pretty hard to find it. In a word? Big-Boned. (Note to pedants: they’re hyphenated, so that counts as one word).
With water: As a card-carrying whisky masochist, adding water is usually an after-thought for me, but in some cases it seems a sensible option, and this definitely ticks that box. Then again…I’m reluctant in case it falls apart, I’m really enjoying this at cask strength. Maybe just a drop…
Okay, a drop of water has definitely mellowed the nose, some more obvious wood notes (polish, furniture wax etc). For the first time I get something possibly akin to a wine nose – and it’s probably just the power of suggestion, but perhaps there is a hint of oxidised white wine, maybe dry amontillado. The swimming pool notes are also back, again mercifully briefly.
The palate is actually pretty good with water (I’ve taken it down to maybe 45-48%), with some of the same old oilskin, tarpaulin notes as one sometimes finds on old Highland drams. I’m presuming this is from the oak – let’s not forget that this is a 27yo whisky we’re talking about here, and spirit that has survived a long time in second or third fill casks often has this character (which I really like). There’s still enough coal and sea-spray to keep me happy, and the sweeter notes are definitely lifted a bit too.
The finish first tingles the tip of the tongue as if a large grain of cracked black pepper was sitting on it, then finally becomes briny, as if a drop of seawater had replaced the pepper. I’m impressed. Overall, though, I think I still prefer the gut-punch of the full strength. I’d probably better just pour another little drop to make sure, though. In a phrase? Still pretty hefty.
Comment: Wine-treated or whatever, this is a muscular PE. If it was re-racked into a wine cask to take the edge off Lord knows what it must have been like before. As I said, we have a sister cask of this that would probably have sold out long ago if it didn’t say ‘Wine-treated Butt’ on the label (I’m guessing that people are thinking of wine finishes and deciding it’s not for them). If I had to guess I might wonder if it was a knackered fourth fill sherry cask that got a bit of a rubbing over with some fino in between fills. Either way, it’s preserved some pretty overtly phenolic spirit very well (some spirit is good enough that it doesn’t seem to need too much from a cask and can therefore stay perky for decades in tired wood), and if I had the type of budget to drop that sort of money on a bottle of whisky this would be right up there on my list.