We’re unbelievably stoked to announce that The Malt Impostor will appear in the next issue of Unfiltered, the member magazine for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. We’re so stoked, in fact, that we’re inclined to start celebrating early. Toward that end, we’re publishing this review that is essentially our audition write-up for Unfiltered. This single cask bottling is long gone, we’re sorry to report, but we thought the writing was worthwhile (ok, we just wanted to make some use of it). We’re posting it au naturel–that is, sans links–as it would have appeared in print. And we collaborated more closely on this one than usual, thus the joint attribution. Enjoy, and look for us in the next issue of Unfiltered!
Tasting this Society bottling took the three of us back to our last corporate-sponsored vacation Malt Impostor Board retreat in Havana. We’d like to think it no more than a happy coincidence that the flavors and aromas of this expression just happened to line up perfectly with our own Cuban memories; but as a rule, we try not to underestimate the suggestive power of a name.
On the nose, there are the halved lemons, coconuts, and tangelos the hotel packed—by wrapping them in whole tobacco leaves—for us to take on our deep-sea fishing cruise. At first, the nose is powerful and a little intimidating, like Bill’s post-ICU recollections of leaning out over the gunwale, wearing the souvenir chum necklace his ex-wife thoughtfully gifted him, as the captain gaffed a Great White shark. (John hooked said shark, but forwent it once the first mate brought out the cerveza.) After a little time—and what is “time” in the Caribbean?—the burn fades and the nose effloresces, much like a seasonal ground fire clears out stultifying shoots, tendrils, and thistled briers.
On the mouth, this expression is as wonderfully intense as enjoying a good Cuban cigar when you’ve never smoked so much as a clove cigarette—or when you, as Stephen did at the Cohiba factory, mistake a complimentary Robusto for a giant, brown after-dinner mint. The heat builds in the mouth and is pleasantly prickly, like the xeriscaped gardens of our hotel, each plant rubbed carefully with cayenne pepper to discourage foraging muskrats.
The finish brings more tobacco, but also hints of marinated (or maybe even masticated) cherries and caramelized sugars. Of course, such flavors brought to mind our good fortune on the last night of our stay, when we chanced upon a crème brulée competition. There, we were allowed to eat the dishonorable mentions and, later at the after-party, to fire grain alcohol-soaked maraschino cherries out of a hollowed out Esplendido.
Add some water, and this dram is more like licking a Stradivarius (Stephen distracted the museum guards while Bill went for it). But like the Havana surf, that flavor soon washes away, leaving behind baby stingrays in shallow pools, silver coins corroded into conspicuous lumps, mermaid scales, and the slightest hint of peaches. This is a whisky that, like an island we know, takes a long time to appreciate in all of its complexity. And the length of its finish rivals that of some communist dictators, but with much more pleasant results for all involved.
The SMWS 39.75 “Cuban Memories” is Papa Hemingway—irascible, imposing, and utterly incomparable, he was more of a character than any of the characters he wrote. Living at Finca Vigìa brought out his very best. And when your very best wins you the Nobel Prize in Literature, you’re pretty damn good.