SMWS Outturn 286 - Christmas Parcels

SMWS G6.9 - Listening to the frog chorusThe Society has previously put out a big list in November, followed by a much smaller Christmas Parcels list that’s mostly, um, parcels.

But this year, they’ve changed that and gone for a big - but still slightly smaller than November - list of 30 whiskies. And this doesn’t include some mid-month whiskies that will be coming out, including the traditional young Ardbeg bottling - a treat that no other bottler in the industry can get hold of. Unfortunately, a late delivery means I just didn’t have time to taste that - but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t remind you it’s coming!

This list has a lot of Christmas spices. For a short while I thought that there may be something wrong with my palate - but swapping drams with Matt confirmed that this was the case.

The star of the list is the Port Dundas, which gently delivers fruits, leather and caramel from its toasted oak cask. This is the bottle that won the Society an award earlier this year, and it’s easy to see why.

At the other end of the spectrum comes the Glenturret - a return to the young peated ones we’ve had recently, which means dry earthy smoke and caramel, but this one is enhanced with pork crackling and floral notes. It’s the good kind of madness, and will no doubt sell out quickly.

I’d also like a bottle of the Glenlossie - which is a treat. Hazelnut, maple syrup, cherries and fruits of the forest hang in perfect balance. This dram really is brilliantly poised, with the port influence being so minimal that I didn’t even realise it at first.

An honourable mention should go to the Glen Deveron, which has fruits, dry earthiness and cinnamon in a very pleasing arrangement - a competent session dram.

The abundance of peat, sherry, port and toasted oak would be something of an embarrassment if the November list hadn’t primed us for it. Something for everyone here, but do remember that yet more will be arriving before Christmas!

As usual, Matt has the other half of the list over at The Dramble.

Season’s greetings - I hope you spend the time with those that matter to you, and a glass or two of something that makes the memories even better!

SMWS Outturn 285 - Big Party Animals

28.43 - Muscle-toned heft and punchIt’s the big one.

And size doesn’t mean compromising quality. Oh no.

Only two drams didn’t arrive in London - the Ardmore and the Glen Scotia. Of the 39 that did arrive, 9 of them are ones I’d like a bottle or more of, which is a remarkable ratio.

At the top of the list is the Tullibardine. Be honest, you weren’t expecting to read that, were you? Yet the delivery is perfect and the flavours complementary: dried fruits, Madeira, cinder toffee, dark chocolate and coffee grounds. It’s superb.

Next on the “more than one bottle” list is the Tomintoul. Another sherry monster, and only 7 years old. If the cask had been left longer, it would be far too much. It may have a little spirit on the nose, but everything else is superb. A lighter take on sherry, with peach, strawberry, apricot, dried apple - brilliant.

And the last on the podium is Rosdhu. Balsa wood and fruits - blackcurrant, pear, green apple, kiwi fruit, banana... It’s a sweet delight that shows grain doesn’t need to be old to be good.

There’s plenty in the “I’d like a bottle” category, too. For many the star will be the slightly bonkers Bunnahabhain, whose red wine cask brings a combination of pipe tobacco, soot, red berries and plums. It’s quite the combination! The Benrinnes is a steal, being perfectly matured at its age. It delivers peach, sponge cake, green apples and young oak. The Old Pulteney has rock pools, candle wax, pear, coconut and liniment - it’ll sell quickly. The Caol Ila is seafood barbecues, lemon, driftwood barbecues and ash. A familiar Coal Ila, yet lovely all the same. The Glentauchers is the other end of the spectrum - fresh cut grass, rosewater, pears, sponge cake. Brilliantly balanced and delightfully light. And finally the Glendronach has caramel, créme brûlée, cinder toffee and oranges. Softer and sweeter without water, bigger and heavier with it, it’s the best of both sherried worlds.

Honourable mentions? The unusual peated Allt-a-Bhainne, the elegant Glenfarclas, the first unpeated Glenturret for a while, and the Auchentoshan should all be investigated. There’s a lot of good whisky to go around... And we're not even at the end of the year yet!

Matt's reviews are available over at The Dramble, as per usual. The list was divided up randomly, but I think that worked in my favour this time - hence going back the next day to taste the other half! That having been said, he still got some of his favourite distilleries, so it all worked out well.

EU Flag

EU Flag (backlit)

An EU flag, backlit by sun in a cloudy sky. Taken at the October 2018 March for a People's Vote, and it seems somehow both poignant and defiant.

SMWS Outturn 284 - Gather in Happiness

SMWS 36.167 - Nuts in velvetIt often seems like I’m saying “this is a great list”.

So the bad news is that the SMWS have plainly been holding out on us – they’ve saved a lot of good casks for the end of the year!

My only possible complaint could be that two of the whiskies didn’t turn up in time for the preview tasting – neither the Linkwood (39) nor the North British (G1) were around. You might expect that not having the North British would colour my perceptions, but there were so many good whiskies that it’s hard to hold that grudge.

With six of the Deep Rich & Dried Fruits category and five bottles in the various peated categories, they’re really spoiling us.

The star of the list for me was the Benrinnes, which is a superb example of what happens when good spirit sits in a good cask. Plenty of fruit with a little vanilla and fudge, I want more than one bottle! And at the other end of the spectrum sits the Glenturret, with farmyard notes and maple syrup joined by lemon and toffee. Another one that would clog up my shelves with multiple bottles if I could...

Moving down to the ones I’d be happy with a bottle of, let’s start with the Glenfarclas – oranges, old oak, leather, with more fruit and dark chocolate. That sherry finish worked brilliantly for this whisky. Then there’s the Glendronach, which is another sherry bomb from a PX finish. Dried apricots, sultanas, caramel and pineapple with hints of leather make this a very attractive dram. Moving to peat, the Ardmore is superb – beach bonfires, apples, peach and ash. Then there’s a great Caol Ila, which has black bun, bonfire smoke, toffee and hints of lemon. Finally, there’s a St George’s that provides bonfire smoke, pencil shavings, toffee and calamine lotion.

It seems that I’ve gone for the big extremes, but they really are good. That having been said, the scores were well above average and there’s plenty to enjoy. If I had to pick some “runners up” they’d be the Clynelish and the Craigellachie. The Clynelish has is all of the lemon, pineapple and wax what you’d expect from a Clynelish of its age; the Craigellachie has a rich balance of honeycomb, vanilla and cinnamon.

I managed to try everything that had arrived in London, knowing that we’ve got a bigger list coming out soon. If it can keep up this level of quality, then we’d best all get ourselves bankruptcy lawyers…

I was fortunate enough to try meet up with Matt from The Dramble for this tasting, which has no doubt improved my notes. His notes can be found here, and are excellent as usual. (Judging by Matt's reaction on the day he'd be especially grateful if none of you bought the Glenturret. It's his precious...)

SMWS Outturn 283 - Founder Favourites

SMWS 137.3 - Smouldering EnglishnessThe October list is definitely above average - plenty to recommend!

The star is the English Whisky Company’s peated expression, which has a great balance of sweet fruit and smoke. I’d like more than one bottle of it, and it scores a full five.

There are two others I’d be happy to have more than one bottle of. The superb Inchmurrin delivers tropical fruits, and is only marred by a slight acetal note. Fortunately, that goes with water. The North British is from a curious cask that offers leather and deep wood that’s more like a Speyside than a grain, so has the attraction of being an oddity as well as a superb dram.

Finally, I’d like a bottle of the Clynelish. It has banana, pineapple and waxed lemons and is what I want from a young bourbon Clynelish.

An honourable mention must go to the Glenfarclas, which is a superb sherry finish but just a bit too spicy for me.

As always, Matt has the other half of the list over at The Dramble.

SMWS Outturn 282 - Colourful Exploration

SMWS 54.77 - A Spanish spice whackSeptember’s list has some great whiskies on it. There are four that I want bottles of...

The star of the list is the Aberlour - a superb sherried dram that has a magnificent balance of flavours. I didn’t just want a bottle, but I also gave it the top technical score of 5 - the first 5 for a while! On the other end of the flavour scale is the superb lemon-fest Glenlivet, which is a sweet and succulent dram. In a similar mould is the banana, pineapple and pepprmint of the Glendullan. And finally, there’s cinder toffee, sultanas, leather and fresh oak in the peated Glenturret.

Frankly, the four of them make for a pretty stunning tasting that covers most bases.

As always, the other half of the list has been tasted by Matt at The Dramble, so if it’s not in the list below then head on over there for it.

33.137 - Campfire marshmallows on singed sticks

10 years old, distilled 27th November 2008, 59.9% abv, First Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel, 231 bottles, dram price F

This whisky was released just for The Gathering events in September 2019, and is only available at SMWS venues and associated events.

SMWS 33.137 - Campfire marshmallows on singed sticksThe nose has lemon and lime chew sweets in a perfect balance, with a hint of smoke. The mouthfeel is thin with no cling. The body leads with lemon, has less lime, then toffee and finally the smoke appears towards the end of the dram. The finish has lemon and soft smoke that builds as your tongue dries.

Water brings out thin, rapidly expanding whorling that settles into lingering mottling. The nose gains toffee but loses the lime. The body gains lemon and loses the lime, also gaining burnt cardboard towards the finish. The finish has more smoke and loses a little of the lemon, gaining ash.

I wish I hadn’t added water. It didn’t ruin it - it was still perfectly acceptable - but it was so much better before water.

One for summer evenings.

Technical score: 4.5/5

Personal preference: I’d like more than one bottle.

This whisky was provided by the SMWS in a preview session - thanks to them for that. Full editorial control has been retained in the tasting process.

SMWS Outturn 281 - Whisky Chasers

SMWS 26.128 - A wildcat did purrIt’s a spicy list this month, which makes it a little difficult for me.

This is where having two scores helps. For example, the Glen Moray gets a high technical score, but its horseradish finish means I find it hard to recommend. Horseradish is for beef, not whisky! So I’ll just have the one dram, thanks.

Much more up my street was the Clynelish - fruity, then waxy with water. It may not be complex, but it’s delicious and I want more than one bottle.

Also easy to recommend is the Cameronbridge, which has fruit and wood in a decent mix. I’d be happy with a bottle of that. I’d also take one of the fruity and grassy Speyburn, and of the herbal Glenlossie. There are two Glenlossies on this list, and I tried the younger one - so take care when ordering!

Much of the rest of the outturn was too spicy for me, but fortunately Matt doesn’t have the same impairment to his palate - as always, his tasting notes are over at The Dramble.

A new distillery at the SMWS - 139

SMWS 139.1 - Chomping a herbal cigarThere’s a new distillery at the SMWS, and it’s Kavalan.

Rumours of this have been circulating for months now, so it’s not a surprise to regulars at the rooms. As usual, there’s a ballot for the .1 bottling, and there will be a couple of other bottles available for those who don’t win in the ballot.

I only got to try three of the whiskies. One of them (139.3) may have gone abroad - a canny move to try to widen the number of people who get to try some - and another (139.5) looks like it’ll be mail order only. But I do have notes for 139.1, 139.2 and 139.4.

For those who don’t know, Kavalan has a superb reputation in the whisky industry, winning a lot of awards. They were the first distillery to make whisky in Taiwan, and took it very seriously - taking meticulous care to ensure that what they made was excellent.

There is one thing that we do need to address though - all the Kavalans are No Age Statement (NAS).

NAS is a controversial thing for some people. Personally, whilst I like to see as many details as possible about a whisky, I can’t always get what I want. Life’s like that. What’s in the bottle is more important than what’s on the label, so NAS is a pretty minor thing for me. But someone, somewhere, is going to decide to complain about this. If there’s one thing that seems constant in SMWS membership, it’s complaints. When they first bottled Irish whiskey, they got complaints. When they first bottled Japanese whisky, they got complaints. And the same with grain, and rum, and so on.

I did ask about the releases all being NAS, and the answer I got was that it’s how Kavalan operate. They don’t disclose the age - they’re all about flavour profiles. This is consistent with their own range of whiskies, which are distinguished by their cask finishes or other details - but not by age. The SMWS isn’t withholding an age statement, because they didn’t get one when they bought the casks. As this is how Kavalan do business, we have a simple choice - NAS Kavalans, or No Kavalans.

I think the Society would be foolish to pick No Kavalans in these circumstances.

What’s in the bottles is good. That’s what matters. We have precious little time on this earth - if you want to spend some of it complaining about what is or isn’t on a label, that’s your choice. If you need me, I’ll be enjoying the whiskies, not obsessing over labels.

SMWS July 2019 Mid-Month Releases

SMWS 50.109 - Mangroves and marshmallowsThe July mid-month releases are here!

If you’re feeling flush, there’s a superb Bladnoch that has plenty of the tropical fruit we’ve come to expect of older drams from this distillery. At the other end of the scale, there’s a delightful Glen Scotia that combines bacon, sea salt, soy sauce and lemon.

For the sherry-heads, there’s a PX-finished Cragganmore that will tick many boxes, as it’s a potent little blighter that walks with a lot of swagger...

Bringing up the rear there’s a Royal Brackla with some floral notes, tobacco & lemon; and there’s a Glen Deveron with fruits, grass and cinnamon.


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