SMWS Outturn 278 - Whisky with Character

SMWS 72.73 - The epitome of enjoymentIt’s festival season, so we’ve got a list tilted towards the Speyside and Peated flavours...

Getting straight into it, let’s look at the Miltonduff - it’s a sweet delight, and I want more than one bottle. At 9 years old, it’s nice to find a top-scoring bottle of joy that doesn’t make the bank account weep...

For the drams I’d like a bottle of, we have an even split. For the fruity Speyside fans, take the Glentauchers. Fruit, fruit and more fruit! And for the Peat-freaks? The Caol Ila delivers crisp smoke and barbecues. Very drinkable.

An honourable mention should go to the quite bonkers Glenrothes which left me wondering whether it was from an Oloroso or PX cask. It turned out to be both! And the Benrinnes needs a little time in the glass to really hit its stride - but when it does, it seems much older than its 18 years. Well worth exploring.

I’m looking forward to trying the other half of the list. As always, head over to The Dramble for Matt’s take on those drams...

In memory of Martyn Jenkins

Martyn JenkinsMartyn Jenkins, whisky cyclist, has been gone for a year.

That’s still hard to accept for most people who knew him in the whisky world. His jovial, kind presence are as memorable as his red - or often faded to pink - shirts.

He was always doing things for others. His Whisky Cyclist website has plenty of tips on how to cycle around Scotland visiting distilleries. He was deeply involved in his workplace union, fighting for the rights of others. Through everything he was amiable, jolly and generous.

Many of my abiding memories of Martyn are of that generosity. For Martyn, whisky was a wonderful thing to discover and learn about - but the true joy lay in sharing it.

Martyn often had a hipflask or a sample bottle with him. He was the kind of person who, when queuing for a whisky show, would magically have a glass and some whisky with him. For many that’s like bringing coals to Newcastle, but for Martyn it was the obvious thing to do. He knew that the show was as much about the people going to it as it was about the whisky.

Sometimes the whisky he brought was old, sometimes it was rare, sometimes it was new, sometimes it was just something he’d found recently and liked. But it was never only his.

The sight of Martyn cleaning a previously used glass, filling it from a sample bottle and then handing around an improbably large measure is one I miss immensely.

We cannot bring Martyn back. But those of us who miss him can take up his mantle. We can make sure that nobody near us ever wants for an interesting dram.

Stirring though such action is, it merely fills the void he has left. We need to go further to celebrate his life.

Martyn passed on whilst still having hundreds of bottles of whisky that he’d accumulated, but not yet opened. Like many of us, he had “special bottles”.

You probably have some yourself. Treasured, but reserved. They sit on a shelf for years. Always waiting for a special occasion, but the last time you thought about it, you weren’t convinced the occasion was special enough. So it will sit on the shelf for another year.

To celebrate Martyn’s life, we should start opening those bottles. Start sharing them. Stop them gathering dust, and use them to create memories.

To reassure you all that this will work, I actually started opening special bottles and sharing them last year. Nobody seems to have minded yet. If anybody asks why, I mention Martyn. More often than not, we share memories and lament our loss.

My only regret is that I should have opened these things when I could have shared them with him. But we cannot change the past - so let us celebrate his life by indulging in the same generosity he would show us, if he were still here.


Martyn Jenkins. 5th August 1955 - 9th April 2018.


You can donate to a charity in Martyn’s name here (for the British Heart Foundation) or here (for Diabetes UK).

SMWS Outturn 277 - Embrace the Extraordinary

SMWS 35.224 - Fata MorganaIt’s April, so we should all have a spring in our step! As we start to come out of hibernation we need to smile and spread joy. And the SMWS has just the bottles to help you do this...

Let’s start with the magnificent Glen Moray, which is practically flawless in the delivery of its many superb flavours. That’s why it scored 5, and I want a bottle.

Now let’s go to the extraordinary - the Longmorn from an IPA cask. Lime and hops are the dominant flavours. The joyless will say that you should just have a beer, and the rest of us will enjoy the experience. It scored 4.5, but I don’t think I want a bottle. Certainly one to try, and perhaps a good candidate for bottle share schemes?

Up next is the fruit, brine and salted caramel of the Ledaig. It’s joined by the redcurrants, raspberries, lavender and ash of the Glen Scotia. Both are superb, both scored 4.5, and I want bottles of both.

And now two honourable mentions. The Glen Grant has tropical fruits, rye - and white pepper. It’s beautifully balanced and scores 4.5, but I’m happy with just a dram. It’s a personal preference. You should definitely check it out though! For contrast, there’s the Glenlossie. It has a plethora of flavours, and delivers them superbly. But it’s quiet. As though the volume knob is stuck on a low setting. As a dram by itself it’s great, but if you’re drinking anything else you’re going to want to have this first. It scored 4 but I’d happily have another dram.

That’s it for the highlights, at least until I finish the list sometime next week.

One word of warning - there might be a lot coming out later this month. I turned up and did tasting notes for fifteen whiskies, but it turned out that only five of those are in this initial release. So if you were thinking your wallet is finally seeing a nice quiet month, you may be wrong...

As always, further reviews are available at The Dramble, so do check them out...

SMWS Outturn 276 - Strikingly Different

SMWS G14.5 - Butterscotch crumpetsA very good outturn this month, which resists the temptation to go “Full St. Patrick’s Day” on us all. But there’s still some Irish whisky – two in fact. So that we can explore the differences between them. Which is the theme of this outturn – differences between spirits from the same distillery. To that end there are two Bushmills, two Glen Grants and two Craigellachies.

When dividing up the previews the SMWS made sure to split those three pairings between myself and Matt. But I managed a crafty end-run around that and tasted the other halves of the pairs at the ticketed preview tasting, and I’m reassured that this is more than a mere gimmick – it’s well worth comparing the two of each, as they’re significantly and delightfully different.

So let’s get on to the usual list of bottles, ordered by their impact on my impulses…

I’d like more than one bottle of the gorgeous fudge and butterscotch in the Dumbarton. It’s a superb whisky.

There’s four bottlings I’d like a bottle of – the crazy 9.160 Glen Grant, with its exuberant delivery of flavours; the deliciously fruity and flinty Glen Elgin; the stunningly balanced 44.100 Craigellachie; and the fruit and tar of the peated Glenturret.

And now we’re into honourable mentions – the part where I admit that I found it not to my palate (usually due to spiciness), but it’s gained a high technical score because it showed integration and balance. And here we see the Bladnoch and the 51.16 Bushmills. Each scored a deserved 4.5. If you’re buying me drams of those then I’m not turning them down!

I can’t wait to finish this list, because although there are a couple of lows there’s a lot of great scores – two 5’s, four 4.5’s, and six 4’s so far.

Go and check out Matt’s tasting notes to see what he thought of the rest of the drams…

SMWS Outturn 275 - A Sensory Revelation

SMWS 29.258 - Remembrance of fruits pastIt's February, and even colder than January. Which, of course explains the delicate and fruity Laphroaig and the completely unpeated Bunnahabhain...

And funnily enough, those seasonably unsuitable drams are also amongst the best.

But first, I'd like more than one bottle of the fruity, oaky Glenlivet - which is a great demonstration of how delivery is as important as the flavours. It's a delight to drink, and is bound to go quickly.

I'd like a bottle of the fruity, liniment-laden Laphroaig. It's delicate sweetness really does hark back to a different age for that distillery... The Bunnahabhain combines fruit and herbal notes with aplomb, also making me wish I had a bottle.

There are a couple of technical scores that are worth noticing. The obvious one is the Macallan, which I felt fell apart after water. It's delightful beforehand though, showing exactly why this distillery is so highly regarded. I'd also like to point out the Tullibardine, which is a nice dram with some odd flavour combinations, and the Glen Moray - which was almost too spicy for me, but that can't disguise it's superb flavours.

As always, for the other half of the outturn head on over to The Dramble.

SMWS Outturn 274 - Tak aff your dram

SMWS G8.9 - Butter, Scotch and butterscotchHappy new year, everyone!

Or at least it will be, as soon as we get ourselves some new whisky... And the SMWS is here to help.

The star of my previews was the magnificent Cambus. Toffee, vanilla, lavender, butterscotch - it was superb, and I want more than one bottle.

In the "I'd like a bottle" category, I was impressed by the fruity and grassy Benriach, and the sweet fruits of the Mannochmore.

Then we hit an unusual problem. Lots of great drams, but two stand out as worth investigating because I found them too spicy - yet still gave them a high technical score. The Longmorn has cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and white pepper. It's clearly a superb dram, and clearly not a dram for me. I'd also like to highlight the Glen Grant which had nutmeg, ginger, rye whisky and peppercorns. Another miss, but again more because of the flavours I don't like than anything in the whisky's construction or presentation. If you like spicy flavours, definitely check those two out.

Overall, a curious list - lots of nice sweet drams. It's January, and it felt like the wrong time of the year for many of them. I wonder if their scores would be better in July?

Sadly, I had only one of the peated options, so have to wait to taste everything else before I can be sure. But I hear that Matt at The Dramble seems to think highly of the Caol Ila, so go and check his notes out: https://www.thedramble.com/.

SMWS Outturn 273

SMWS G6.8 - Soothing the mindIt's the last list of the year, and it arrives a week early...

Whilst there's a fair few expensive bottles, the good news is that there's some superb drams across all price ranges. I found four bottlings I wanted bottles of, and there's plenty of good drinking with almost everything else being something I'd not turn away.

But before we get to the bottle wishlist, let's have a look at a rather special dram - the Port Dundas. It's superb, and despite being a big grain fan I had difficulty spotting that it was grain whisky. It has caramel, fruits and sherry and delivers them wonderfully. As I was doing my preview tastings an SMWS Ambassador happened to be at the bar, and I know he's not a man who loves grain whisky. So I cheekily decided to get a second opinion, in case I was biased - and he also didn't spot the provenance! This is a wonderful dram, and I want more than one bottle.

Which is not to take away from my bottle picks. Moving to the other end of the flavour spectrum we the rather excellent Laphroaig, which dials back the medicinal in favour of smoke and floral notes. Another heavily peated delight is the Highland Park, which mixes butterscotch, caramel and wood smoke delightfully. Then there's the Glen Grant, packed with dried fruits and cinnamon. Me? Recommending cinnamon? Yes, this is that good... And my final bottle pick is the Strathisla, which has lemon, foamy bananas and marzipan - it's simple yet delicious.

It's a busy time of year, so the remaining list may take me a little while to finish - please bear with me. Hopefully I'll have it all done by the end of next week...

SMWS November 2018 Mid-Month Releases

SMWS 35.226 - Nocturne du Elgin en B flat minorIt's the mid-month releases! Small but perfectly formed, there are some very interesting whiskies...

Of the nine whiskies, I'd like a bottle of more than half! The fruity, charming Glen Grant, the apples and kiwi fruit of the Balmenach, the lemon and fresh cut grass of the Clynelish, the lime and peat of the Croftengea and the crisp peat and lemon of the St George's.

The rest? All pretty good, actually - I'd have another dram of them, and they all scored well. It's purely a personal preference at play - I really don't think any of these drams will disappoint anyone...

SMWS Outturn 272 - Made for Sharing

SMWS 42.37 - Steamie Turkish bathIt's probably the biggest list of the year, with a whopping 40 spirits to choose from. 37 are whiskies, and the staff at the Greville Street venue deserve our thanks for doing a great job of getting such a large amount of drams in front of myself and Matt, whose reviews are here.

Sadly, the Benrinnes (36.147) didn't arrive in Greville Street, and the Highland Park had been drained by the time I got to the bar on Saturday to do my tastings, so you'll have to rely on Matt's notes for that one.

There's a few red wine finishes here, but fear not - they worked well. Some people don't like finishes or distrust them, but my view is that so long as the whisky's good, I'm happy with it. "But Philip", someone says, "what if it was rubbish before the cask change?". Well, more whisky is better than less whisky, so "rescued" casks are fine by me!

There three whiskies that that made me want more than one bottle. The fruity, floral and ginger Bladnoch was simply a delight. The light, sweet notes of apples and acetone in the Strathclyde won me over, and as a contrast we also have the sherried excellence that is the North British - not out first SMWS sherried grain, and hopefully not our last!

There's quite a list of drams I'd like a bottle of: the fruit and ash combination that the Ledaig delivered, the fruit and caramel of the ridiculously named Arran, the citrus and honey of the Linkwood, the tobacco and fruits of the Miltonduff, the honey mango and lime of the Glen Scotia, the fruity and lightly peated Highland Park, the sultanas and smoke of the Caol Ila and the delightfully fully atypical Laphroaig.

It's a big list, and 20 of the drams were ones I would have another dram of - I'm definitely not listing them all here, as that's going to get in the way of enjoying whisky! And we have another couple of lists coming out during this month, so get to the rooms and enjoy these while they last.

Good luck finding your favourites, and I hope you have as much fun with these whiskies as I did...

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