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Hidden Gems: January 2020

At The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we are on a passionate pursuit of the world’s most unique spirits. In what is now our 36th year as a club, we have uncovered thousands of remarkable casks from nearly 200 different distilleries, each with their own characteristics and individual story to tell. More than just bottling whisky of exceptional quality, it is the uniqueness of each cask and its contents that excites us most. It would be all too easy to acquire a cask from a well-known distillery and simply offer it as a single cask representation of that distillery’s style. Instead, we look for whiskies that are different, those that stands out among the vast sea of casks aging around the world to offer a unique take on the more classical styles.

This month I had a chance to taste through the selection of single cask whiskies available to Society members here in the USA in search of these hidden gems. It was my first time tasting some while others have become familiar since their initial release. What were the standouts, you might ask? Here are my Hidden Gems of January:

Cask 122.27 ‘Panna cotta, kilts and candlelight’

Even before tasting Cask 122.27 ‘Panna cotta, kilts and candlelight’, it had all the makings of a potential ‘hidden gem’. A spirit born from a unique set of stills housed in a lesser-known distillery and aged for just 7 years, I knew I was in for a wild ride. The result, however, was unlike anything I could have expected. It’s a deep and complex whisky with a juicy orchard fruit undertone and a layer of malt barn and wood polish. It’s far more thought-provoking and straight-up fun that I could have imagined, and I quite like that in a whisky. And this is just 7 years old?! A shocking result for a spirit of this age, one that only improves once given a few days to breathe.  

Cask 46.83 ‘Spicy berries and sour cherries’

While the name ‘Spicy berries and sour cherries’ may not carry the most appeal, the liquid inside the bottle certainly does. It’s a fantastic whisky that I am loving more and more with each dram. After aging for 24 years in an American oak cask, this whisky was transferred to a first-fill Port barrique for the remainder of its maturation for a total of 26 years in oak. The spirit that once began as a very elegant and mellow whisky has been enhanced with a rich layer of fermented grapes and mulled wine spices. A stunning whisky in every sense of the word.  

Cask 10.180 ‘Westering Rhone’

One of the more characterful whiskies I’ve tried in a long time, Cask 10.180 ‘Westering Rhone’ has what I like to call a French heart and an Islay soul. It’s a uniquely unpeated Islay whisky that spend 6 years in an American oak, ex-bourbon hogshead before being transferred to a French oak, second-fill charred red wine barrique. Maturing whisky in red wine casks is always a bit risky. Oftentimes the characteristics of the wine will overpower the gentle spirit beneath it. Not so with this one.  There’s a near-perfect balance between the cold and coastal Islay spirit and the funky-yet-satisfying influence of the raw and tantalizing French oak that I’ve come to love. Beware! At first sip, I thought this was one of the most intense whiskies I had tasted in a long time. With a dash of water and a few minutes to breathe, it quickly evolved into a silky, smooth and delicious dram that’s been an absolute blast to taste.