SMWS July 2018 Mid-Month Releases

SMWS G4.17 - Exquisite whisky dessertThe mid-month releases are upon us!

The star of the show is the Cameronbridge, which has sultanas, profiteroles and other joyful notes. I tried it with the staff at the bar, and even the non-grain fans were impressed!

The Balmenach is an alcopop whisky - so fruity and easy to drink! And the Dailuaine is a great whisky that just didn't quite do it for me - but you should try it and make up your own mind! Finally, there's also a Glen Scotia - which is a lovely coastal dram.

Tasting notes for the others in the mid-month releases can be found over at The Dramble's review

SMWS Outturn 267 - Distinguished Characters

SMWS 27.112 - A broadside cannon barrageJuly is a slightly smaller list than usual, with just 18 drams and one of those is mail-order exclusive. And yet there are also venue exclusive bottles and the usual mid-month top-up... So over the whole month it evens out!

The quality's high - lead by the superb Caol Ila which I think has depth we don't normally see from this distillery.

But why should we stick to scores? Let's look at everything else by using the new scoring system! In "I'd like more than one bottle" there's the Auchentoshan which is delightfully fruity with floral hints. Very tempting. The sweet, gingery Mannochmore is something that probably wouldn't last long when opened! As is the Springbank, despite being the polar opposite - a superb sherry casked dram with a hint of sulphur. Finally, how about the wonderful Ledaig? It's maple and bonfire smoke, and wonderful.

"I'd like a bottle" scooped up quite a few too! There's the Linkwood with its floral, fruity and oak notes, the Dalmore with fruit and cinnamon. The Glen Grant also has plenty of fruit and a little cinnamon, but is quite different. The Strathisla and the Ardmore are both very good, and when's the last time you saw a Speyburn from the Society?

SMWS June 2018 Mid-Month Releases

SMWS 3.310 - A marooned wordsmithThe June mid-month release is an opportunity to restock on the peated drams... As seems to be the new normal the preview tastings were divided between myself and Matt at The Dramble, and this time I seem to have drawn a somewhat peated hand! Although there are only six previews, we both got to produce tasting notes for the Bruichladdich - I'm looking forward to comparing them, as I can assure you we don't see each other's notes ahead of publishing!

Before we get to the peat, there's a good Bushmills that delivers plenty of fruit and roses.

A rather less peated Bruichladdich is in the oily and coastal category, probably because the peat comes out as dry dusty earthiness. But there's plenty of fruit and vinegar in there too, making it a true chimera and a joy to drink.

If the Bruichladdich is light in is peating, so is the first of the peated whiskies - an excellent Ardmore that has glazed ham, cough medicine and hints of smoke. But the real gem is the Bowmore, which balances pink wafers and lavender with earthiness.

These are true summer peatings - lighter and sweeter, and quite enticing in the warm weather.

There's nothing here that plumbs the depths of peat, and I'm sure some will complain about that. But not me. I'm wondering which beach I can drink these on...

SMWS Outturn 266 - Emerald Gems

SMWS 64.100 - An old wine cellar by candle-lightThe return of Bushmills to the Society! And a new distillery! Truly, we're spoiled...

Top technical scores go to the well aged and complex Mannochmore, the superb younger Bushmills and the Inchmoan for a fruit so delightful I didn't want to add water...

The older Bushmills bottling was a lovely, sweet and fruity delight. I also very much enjoyed the Loch Lomond Rosdhu grain, where the real surprise for many will be that it's a mere eight years old. In a market full of aged grain, this shows that you don't need years - just good wood. And speaking of good wood, the reracking of the Glen Grant really worked, bringing big flavours that were also well integrated. Then there's the Laphroaig - another finished whisky, but again it works very well - albeit a bit ashen. Finally, how about an unpeated Bunnahabhain that was matured in an ex-port Barrique? It's a sweet treat! All these whiskies have well deserved scores of 4.5.

Scoring 4 was the Aberlour, another light and sweet dram. For heavier notes, try the superb Benrinnes - I may not like the somewhat heavy father's day marketing, but the whisky is a good one. It also demonstrated that a score of 4 isn't the end of the world - I'd like multiple bottles!

I'm really looking forward to trying the rest of the list - the port finished Bunnahabhain sounds intriguing, and the word is that the Laphroaig is very good. I'll find out later today, and will hopefully have full tasting notes up on Sunday...

On Lomond Stills

One of my whisky reviews for this month's SMWS Outturn is for a whisky from a Lomond still.

I get excited about whiskies from Lomond stills. When they get it right, they tend to get it really right. They often have a wonderful velvety smooth mouthfeel, as well as lots of flavours.

Of course, not everything from a Lomond still works. But when it does... wow!

So what the heck is a Lomond still?

SMWS Outturn 265 - Festival Fever

SMWS 64.101 - Freshly squeezed sugar cane and kumquat juiceMay has a solid list - plenty to be excited about here!

The theme is Islay versus Speyside, and both regions put in solid appearances.

Speyside won for me - I preferred the cracking Mannochmore, which gets a deserved 5 out of 5. Sadly it's one bottle per member, so I can't have the number of bottles I'd like! Scoring 4.5 there's the cracking Glenburgie, which I very much enjoyed.

There's also the excellent Miltonduff, the Benrinnes, the Linkwood, the very drinkable Glen Grant and the Glenrothes all scoring 4.

Islay makes an appearance with a solid Bowmore, scoring a 4.5. The other good Islay is one of the Bunnahabhains, which scored a 4. I did, however, think I'd like another dram...

Outside the region fight, you should also definitely try the Croftengea, which was the other dram to score 5 on the list. With velvety smoothness and a wonderful set of flavours, this whisky is superb. It also gave me an excuse to write about Lomond stills, which I'd been intending to do for ages... There's also a superb Auchentoshan that really should be tried.

That brings me to a quick note about scoring. I've grown concerned that people are getting obsessed with numbers. The score has always been a complex thing, but is intended to be more of a guideline. And it's based on (mostly) technical aspects of the whisky. But I do wonder if people aren't skipping some of the very drinkable 3's and 3.5's that I find. So from this month onwards, I'm adding a new second score - "Personal Preference". It's designed to say how much I preferred it, rather than what I thought about it.

We've all had drams that were technical masterpieces - perhaps heavily influenced by cask or cereal - but that we could happily live the rest of our lives without ever drinking again. Just because something gets a full score, it doesn't mean I want a bottle.

I struggled with how to express this, before falling back on the scoring system a friend uses, which goes like this: "Do I like it? Do I want a dram? Do I want another dram? Do I want a bottle? Do I want more than one bottle?"

Based on that, I'm now adding whether I'm happy with just a dram, or whether I'd want another dram, a bottle, or... you get the picture.

I don't think there's such a thing as a perfect scoring system - ultimately they all show some kind of bias - but the technical score tries hard to avoid it, whereas the personal preference is all about my taste. So witness the difference between the Benrinnes and the Linkwood this month - both scored 4, but I only want a bottle of one of them. The other, I'm happy to have another dram of but no more. I don't think you'd get that from the tasting notes - I wrote a lot more about the Benrinnes than the Linkwood.

Here's hoping that helps people look beyond the numbers, and get a better idea of the spirit...

SMWS Outturn 264 - Flavour Parade

SMWS 53.251 - Peat fire magicWHAT A LIST!

Nothing scores the maximum of five, but there's a whopping seven drams that get a 4.5 and a further five drams that get a four. That's a lot of superb drams, and means that over half the list is excellent.

Let's start with two drams for the whisky geeks - a Dalmore that packs in flavours like it's a car park at a clown convention, and a Laphroiag that's made for demonstrating how water changes a whisky.

Then there's the ones for less involved drinking - the light, sweet Glenlossie, the rich and fully sherried Glenlivet, the elegant and fruit-filled Longmorn, and the sweet and spritely Glen Moray.

Finally, there's my pick of the evening - the delightful Caol Ila, which is just a superb example of Islay magic.

And now we look at those that scored four. Don't overlook the wonderful Aberlour, the cracking Glendronach, the flavour-packed Tormore, the masses of fruit in the Cragganmore or the sweet and peaty Bowmore.

It's rare to have a list that has such consistent excellence - get to the Society and taste them before they're gone!

SMWS Outturn 263 - Girl Power

SMWS 5.62 - Crumbled sweets in a leather satchelThe sudden onset of snow across the UK made deliveries a little difficult, so there was no whisky to preview this month! Fortunately 15 of the bottles arrived in time for the First Friday and the Saturday New List tasting, so here's a delayed preview. The other 11 whiskies will hopefully be along next week!

Not that this seems to matter, as there's some excellent whiskies here. There may not be a whisky that scored 5, but there's a whopping four that got a score of 4.5. And three that got a 4. That's a pretty good showing by any standard...

The stars of the show are a varied bunch - the wonderfully sweet and fruity Auchentoshan, the delicate and delicious Cameronbridge, the tropical fruits of the Linkwood and the sweet meaty smokey delights of the Glen Scotia. That selection is a great night's drinking no matter what your poison is!

There's also the three drams that scored four, if you need further dramming. The chewy, gingerish Glenlivet. The bubblegum joy of the Balmenach. The sweet yet ashen Bunnahabhain. Don't be fooled - a four's not a bad score at all, and these are all great drams.

And there's eleven more to find out about next week! Hurrah!

(Note: sadly, due to delays in delivery and work commitments, I never did manage to finish my notes for this list. By the time I did get to the SMWS, many of them were gone - and I had to move on to the next list!)

SMWS Outturn 262 - Cupid drams

SMWS 3.306 - Summer on IslayThe February outturn is somewhat of a belter... A great selection of drams which is reflected in the great scores - a 5, four 4.5s, and three 4s!

The highest score goes to the remarkable and memorable joy that was the Bowmore. Its combination of fruits, smoke and honeycomb is fantastic. I initially vacillated on the score, and chose to play it safe with a 4.5 - but over the twenty minutes that followed I found the memory of the dram haunted me, and that alone merits the increase to a 5.

The Cameronbridge demonstrates both why it's a great base for blends, but also why you should investigate further. It's sweet and light yet avoids being simple or uninteresting. A dram not to be missed. The Mortlach gets a 4.5 for a different reason - its toasted oak cask delivers an incredible combination of fruits, yet doesn't slack on the darker flavours of oak, caramel and dark chocolate. The habit of cask finishing by the SMWS has drawn some criticism in some quarters, but this dram this showcases just how good it can be! The Dailuaine has magnificent balance and plenty of flavour. It's sure to sell out fast! And finally, the Laphroaig is a subtle, TCP-free dram that has delicacy yet a big presence - a Laphroaig for those who don't like Laphroaig! If that's not worth a high score of 4.5, I don't know what is...

The Glenrothes was a solid, full-flavoured sherried dram that I can barely believe was from a refill cask - the original fill must have lasted mere minutes! Also scoring a very good 4 is the Longmorn, which takes its title ("Mature way beyond its years") seriously. That first fill sherry cask that did a marvellous job in a mere 8 years. And if you want a dram that's not sherried, Aultmore provides sweet, fruity notes that also gained a creditable score of 4.

Scores aren't everything, and I'd like to point out that you shouldn't overlook the rather tasty Craigellachie, nor the curiously citric Glengoyne. Both are worthy of attention, and I'll probably be drinking them again - just to check my notes are accurate, you understand!

As ever, I write my tasting notes primarily for myself - I've added a little explanation of a couple of scores, but that's all. The very best thing you can do is get yourself to a Society venue and try them yourself - but if you can't do that, then I hope these notes help.

SMWS Outturn 261 - A Dram's A Dram For A' That

SMWS 9.141 - An artist paints in a gardenThe January list is a strong one - a great start to 2018!

There are three drams that score 4.5, and four that score 4. What's more, there's two sherried drams and three peated ones, plus an oily and coastal. Not a bad spread of whiskies!

The highlights were the floral, fruity Glen Grant, the honeycomb, bread and ginger of the Strathclyde, and the ash and lemon of the Ledaig. I'm looking forward to drinking all of those again (and again, and again)!

Also worth a try are the deep, fruity, bready Glentauchers and the sweet, oily, lemony and moreish Bunnahabhain, the lemon and oak of the Tormore and the crisp smoke and lemon sherbet of the Caol Ila.

(I didn't read the outturn list until after I'd reviewed the whiskies, so had no idea the Bunnahabhain was exclusive to offers - and paired with the Glentauchers! What a combination!)

There are quite a few spicy drams on the list - and yet I feel I should note that the wonderfully named "Charge of the spice brigade" still scored a 3.5 and has a great set of accompanying flavours that help temper the spice. The Cragganmore and the Laphroaig were also pretty decent drams that I think are worth investigating. And sherry fans will adore the extremes of the Ben Nevis!

Sadly the Ardmore (66.112) and the Balblair (70.23) are arriving late - so there will be one more update. I've enabled versioning on this page - you can see the initial summary from the preview here.

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