Nose: The nose is very light. My advice is don’t wear aftershave on the day you intend to savour this one, as anything sprayed near you in the last twelve hours will totally over power it. So apologies if there is contamination in these notes from last Father’s Day’s Marks and Sparks general dad’s aftershave. Once you manage to capture the nose, you will find it full of toffees and christmassy fruits. Caramels, but not burnt. Maple syrup on hot pancakes, maybe. A lovely warm spice. I’m taking in a deep breath right now, and I’m thinking about a lovely warm cinnamon bun for breakfast, sticky on the top and sides, covering your fingers in gooey syrup, and then breaking open to release steam filled with cinnamon spice and raisins. But there’s something further. It’s taken me a few sniffs to get to the bottom of it, but the combination of warm orange colour in the glass, sweetness and spice, and, for me anyway, a slightly metallic whiff of tin cans, (as if it’s been left beside a bottle of tin cup bourbon in the cupboard) produce a whiff of aroma that I’ve only smelt in one other place. And that’s in the precious seconds when you tear open an ice cold can of Irn Bru. I’m taking this with a wee splash of water, but I suspect some ice or whisky stones might just tease out a wee bit more of yer other national drink. The oak is there too, but subtle, you have to search for it. Indeed, there’s something about the nose that is reminiscent of a very lightly oaked bourbon, not Old Red Eye by any measure, but more akin to remnants of a wee glass of Wild Turkey that’s been watered down with the left over ice. I’m sitting here as an atlantic storm batters the study window, and thinking of Christmas and mince pies, but I suspect this malt could weather an outing on the warmer summer nights, and stand it’s ground against the finer bourbons. Overall, the nose is light, very refined and very sophisticated, once you find it. 4.5/5
Palate: The fruity nose solidifies into something a bit more straightforwardly apple and orange. It’s like the marinade that you soak the christmas turkey in. A bucket of cold water, with a pile of shredded apples and sliced oranges and few sticks of cinnamon thrown in. The toffee, caramel, maple goodness promised by the nose just doesn’t seem to be there. The metallic tones are however, and it’s more like a bourbon than a Speyside should be or than the nose suggests. Now, I like a good bourbon, but the nose had promised something sweeter and more refined. But maybe I’m expecting more than 12 years in a barrel can deliver. I might just have to expand the collection to include the 19 year old cask strength, because I suspect that a few more years in the wood would develop that caramel into a more refined, sweeter, taste, and give a smoother, deeper whisky, and also move those tannins more towards a robust oaky tone rather than the tin cup bourbon. Sorry, but the nose made promises the palate didn’t deliver, 3/5 from me.
Finish: The warm cinnamon bun flavours definitely return when you let this slip away down your throat. The harsher metallic tones that hinted of the rougher bourbons are gone completely. Instead it lingers with a lovely christmassy warmth. I’m not sure I can think of another Speyside that lingers just as long as this. The trick then, with this one, is to savour that nose for a long time, and then neck it as quick as you can. This isn’t one for swilling leisurely round the mouth. Get it down you, and then savour that finish, perhaps having another wee sniff into that nose. This is a log fire and christmas tree lights finish, a lingering mixed spice and mulled wine. If you could find a wee piece of christmas cake to accompany this, I think you might just be on to a winner. The finish, then, redeems some of the faults of the palate, and will leave you with a lasting impression that you need to have at least one bottle of this in the Christmas store cupboard, so a reasonable 4/5.
Overall: Let’s be honest, I’m not generally a Speyside fan. I am however a fan of a rough red neck bourbon on a hot summers night, and I’m definitely a fan of an ice-cold can of Irn-Bru (with bacon rolls) the morning after the night before. So maybe it’s these flaws that actually appeal to me a wee bit. A Speyside should be refined and tranquil, and in the finish it does deliver this. Finishing off this large domestic measure here, I’m finding that neat wee sips, swiftly swallowed, are producing the right result. I suspect, as I’ve said above, that the sweetness will be drawn out better in older Strathislas, so maybe this is a necessary education, in order to appreciate its elder siblings. I certainly think there’s enough promise in the 12 year old to make a project of pursuing some older bottlings worthwhile. As a collector, I’m not sure that this 12 year old holds out too much hope. Speculation elsewhere is that this 12 year old features heavily in the Chivas blends, and if that’s the case, then it’s likely that stocks will far outstretch demand. However it’s definitely worth having a bottle around for those Christmassy evenings, and maybe even worth trying on a sweltering summer’s night too. It’s a good malt. It has it’s flaws. If you can acquire it for under £30 it’s probably worth having in the collection, but I don’t think that one hidden away in the attic will pay for the grandkid’s education. Overall, I’m afraid I’m going to drop it down to 3.5/5.