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.

SMWS Outturn 280 - Serving Summer

SMWS G3.10 - The lady varnishesAnother month, and the year seems to be going so quickly! Fortunately, we have some good whisky to help it go by pleasantly...

The July outturn from the SMWS isn’t celebrating a festival, or anniversary, or any other special theme. It’s just a collection of good whiskies. Also, many of them are lighter and sweeter, which in the current heatwave is very welcome.

My pick of the list is the Caledonian, which is a superb example of aged grain, and for a closed and sought after distillery is also something of a bargain! The varnish and fruits combine very nicely, with a hint of spice in there too. I want more than one bottle! Following hot on its heels is the slightly spicy Glenlossie, which has a divine nose that made me want a bottle despite the warm finish. And finally I’d also like a bottle of the Ardmore, as it’s the right balance of peat and sweetness for this heat.

In terms of things worth a dram or two, the Inchmurrin must be mentioned. It’s an unusual cask and will therefore inspire love and hate in equal measure. The superbly floral Longmorn is worth trying, and the Glen Ord adds fruits to the Longmorn’s floral theme.

As always Matt has done his own tasting notes over at The Dramble which are well worth reading.

SMWS Outturn 279 - Beautifully Balanced

SMWS 88.18 - All-purpose wasp repellentThe June list is a quiet one. Which, after the festival season in Scotland, is probably better for our wallets!

Myself and Matt managed to do these tastings together, which is a pleasant change. As such, I’ve got an impression of the whole list – but not full notes for the other half, which as always are available over at The Dramble.

The name “Beautifully balanced” fits nicely – there’s a number of flavour packed drams that are balanced themselves, and across the whole list there’s also some oddball drams that balance each other out nicely.

I doubt that this list will make many that excited, despite having some unusual and less common distilleries on it. But as the weather grows warmer and we all begin to gear up for summer, it’s nice to have a rest with a good bargain, and there’s quite a few of them here due to the lack of big names!

The highest scoring drams I tasted were the lovely lemon-filled Speyburn, and the smokey-sweet Ardmore. Both scored 4.5, and I’d like a bottle of the Speyburn.

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/.


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