As members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we have access to the most diverse collection of single cask whiskies in the world. Yet while there are so many unique styles and flavour to choose from, many of us are after the “hidden gems”. These are the casks that may originate from lesser-known distilleries or appear relatively unassuming on paper. Yet when finally uncorked, the spirit will thrill and delight unlike anything before it.
This month I’ve tasted through the vast selection of unique whiskies available to Society members in the USA to uncover three hidden gems worth considering. All of these casks offer both a fantastic tasting experience and remarkable value.
During a recent visit to Campbeltown (last year…pre-COVID…), I had a chance to sample a variety of casks maturing in the warehouse of Distillery 93. While I was thoroughly impressed by the variety of flavours derived from nearly every cask, there was one that stood out above the rest: the first-fill Bourbon barrel. I found myself enamored by the contrast between a cold and coastal Campeltown spirit with gentle undertones of seafoam and smoke beneath a dollop of warm vanilla cream and burnt citrus courtesy of the fresh bourbon wood. It is a polarizing sensory experience that I think works beautifully. With Cask 93.139 ‘A flavor journey’ tips the balance toward the wood, offering a warmer profile of buttered toast, coconut husk, and raspberry sauce with a faint touch of iodine and menthol. It’s got to be one of the more unique casks from a distillery based in the most unique region of Scotland.
When we think of whisky matured in Oloroso sherry casks, we tend to think of a spirit that is deep mahogany in appearance with a bold and spicy profile of dark stewed fruits, fig and baking spices. Cask 35.258 ‘Stirs your soul’ was matured in a refill Oloroso sherry puncheon but the result is wildly different than what one would expect. Simply put, as a refill cask, the spirit has undergone a gentler maturation. The result is a warm and exotic profile of dried ginger, tamarind, and worn leather with a subtle hint of smoke. The depth is extraordinary for a whisky aged just 11 years and at a whopping 64.9% ABV, it packs as much heat as you’ll ever need. If you’re into sherry-matured whisky but would like to explore a different variation of the spirit, this is a must!
Opposite of the old and elegant Speyside whisky described above is this: Cask 72.83 ‘Raiders of the lost malt bin’. This is a raw and assertive spirit that quite literally smells and tastes like a working distillery in the Scottish Highlands! It’s a big and malty whisky with a wonderful undertone of breakfast cereal, dampened hay and eucalyptus. At 7 years young and 57.1% ABV, it’s surprisingly palatable neat. With fall now underway, this is the type of whisky that I like to bring with me on an outdoor adventure: bold and earthy with tons of personality. It’s a versatile spirit that more than anything, is just plain fun.