Nose: Toast initially, some pleasant sea-spray / brine characteristics, apricots in syrup, chunky marmalade. An alcohol prickle due to the strength, but not to the detriment of the nose. Smoky. Some clove and pepper. Becomes slightly earthy as the malt emerges, then some some grassy, leafy, herby notes appear. After a few minutes some lovely butterscotch and (natural) caramel develops to complement the emergent smoke. Complex and alluring. A drop of water releases some oiliness and more citrussy aromas.
Palate: A hint of coal, then amazing concentrated savoury roasted malt character bursts through, parks the bus and just sits like a lozenge in the centre of the tongue, with the smoke and spice making occasional forays from the background. The alcohol props up a huge polished chunk of pure maltiness and the balance is almost flawless. Damn, that's good! Water makes it sweeter and spicier, with more obvious sherry notes.
Finish: Epic. Malty. Becomes dusty as the oak gets a look-in, but in a good 'old books' kind of way like a lecturer's study. Impressive length, with the smoke re-asserting itself amidst tingling spices.
Comment: Just as impressive as last year's release, but with a change of emphasis, dropping some of the richer, more sherried notes to allow the malt and smoke to shine through. Much more savoury. In fact, I think I prefer this to last year's bottling.