This one was a bit of a shocker. One of those whiskies that go to show that no matter how much you know, sometimes you just don’t know. I’d have sworn, when I tasted this for the first time, that this was a bourbon-matured malt. It was only on returning to it much later, and reading the label properly, that I learned otherwise. Turns out that this clean and nekkid, spicy l’il gem was actually napping in a sherry barrel for the last couple of decades. I honestly would never have guessed. Ammunition for my critics to say I know nothing, I s’pose. So be it.
So, what do we know about Strathmill? Not a lot, really. It’s another of those ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’ distilleries in Diageo’s portfolio. The team at this old Speyside distillery pump out nearly two million litres each year, but nearly all of that output is tankered offsite to Auchroisk for blending away into J&B (and likely other suitably unimpressive blends as well). Historically this has always been because blends were largely responsible for putting bread on the table, but I can’t help but wonder if now – in this age of single malt explosion – Strathmill is finally destined to see official bottlings of single malt released under its own banner. If things continue status quo I would think it’s only a matter of time. Blends just ain’t what they used to be in terms of market share (though they are still a far bigger seller than our beloved malts).
But moving on, let’s look at this independent Strathmill from the good people at A.D. Rattray. Is it spectacular? Nah. But it is utterly enjoyable, and mindbogglingly under-priced around here. I paid less than $100 for this one just a month or two back. Sub-century price tags are simply unheard of for bottles over 20 years now. Who are we kidding? We’ve hit a point where many 10 year old malts are falling into this price bracket. Or worse still, NAS malts at three figures (and beyond)!
This was a 631 bottle outturn from a sherry butt…a very dead sherry butt…and hit the shelves in 2012. If you can still find one…grab it. Well worth a hundred clams.
Nose: Big, naked and fruity. Toasted marchmallow and banana. Vanilla, white chocolate and pepper. The depth of spice is the only thing here that really hints at the sherry influence. A slight eucapytus bite. It’s all quite soft and custardy though. I quite like this ‘simple’ profile. Softens beautifully by the 20 minute mark or so.
Palate: A very oaky malt. Slightly grassy, with green tea notes. Apple and dry grains. Underripe pear. Creamy, but with a woody undernote. Like the last licks of ice cream on a popsicle stick. A big cereal-rich back end. Not overly deep, but pleasant throughout. I like this style.
Thoughts: I’d guess third fill bourbon barrel. Honestly. I think this speaks to early wood policy in some of the less ‘single malt-driven’ distilleries. It simply wasn’t (isn’t?) a priority to ensure best-barreling for malts that were destined for obscurity; instead just a need for a vessel for at least three years. Thankfully a few – like this one – survived the blending abattoir.
– Images & Words: Curt