By Richard Thomas
My first crack at the 2016 Single Cask line from Wemyss Malts is a doozy: a Bunnahabhain from a hogshead, distilled in 1997 (bottled 2015). For those of you not hip to the Scotch talk, a hogshead is the origin point for the 53-gallon American standardized bourbon barrel. Hogsheads are slightly larger, and these days it is not uncommon to use American bourbon barrel staves and re-cooper them into hogsheads, creating bigger ex-bourbon barrels.
This particular hogshead yielded 216 bottles of Islay whisky, bottled at the customary 46% abv. Wemyss named it Sizzling Charcoal, and for good reason.
This whisky has two flavorful and particularly well-balanced sides. The “sizzle” comes from the spicy character, and the “charcoal” from the Islay smokiness. However, you would get none of that to just look at the whisky in the glass. The coloring is of a yellow so pale as to be very nearly clear. There is nothing in the appearance to suggest that this is a 18 year old single malt, or that it is so flavorful.
The nose is more in tune with what awaits in the glass: predominately oily and ashy, with notes of ginger cookie spices. The flavor is charred and woody, with an oily feel to it, very much like a resiny spin on charcoal. Yet in almost equal measure, it is also honeyed and seasoned with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. A dash of pepper rounds the picture, and the balance, out nicely.
The finish packs just as much currency, with it’s ashy, spicy aftertaste and long, warm conclusion. Sizzling Charcoal is brimming with character, yet also very approachable and an easy sipper.
This one is listed in the UK for about £75, taxes included.