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.

SMWS Outturn 260 - Share The Love

SMWS 125.74 - Caribbean semi-freddoIt's the Christmas Parcels List!

Annoyingly, some of the best drams are in the parcels. But 'twas ever thus with Christmas Parcels, so we shouldn't be surprised. The delicious citrus and spice Tullibardine and the fruity joy of the Glengoyne are superb, and if you like the rest of their parcels then they're well worth it! Otherwise, get to a bar and enjoy a dram or two!

Outside the parcels, two drams jumped above the rest - the delightfully tropical Glenmorangie and the wonderfully rich Highland Park. Quite different in their styles, but both exemplary.

There are, for the second list in a row, too many drams that scored four to list. A whopping sixteen! If you add those to the four mentioned above, that's 20 out of 29 with four or above - a highly respectable amount!

I suspect a lot of people are going to be buying themselves a little present or two...

SMWS Outturn 259 - Magical Moments

SMWS 5.57 - Strawberry summer flanIt's a big list.

No, bigger than that.


OK, now you're just being silly.

But it's very big. 43 whiskies big. And all of them manage to get to the London Rooms, which I'm pretty impressed by - well done whoever was doing the logistics!

Of course, size doesn't automatically mean quality - but you don't have to worry there. The SMWS has evidently been keeping a number of these hiding for a while! In terms of scores, there were TWENTY 4s, EIGHT 4.5s and a well deserved 5. That's more than half the list getting a great score!

There's also some distilleries that we don't see very often at the SMWS, but I'd like to remind members that we should focus on the flavour not the provenance!

The highest score of 5 went to the Auchentoshan - a wonderfully fruity, strawberry burst of flavour. Sadly, there really wasn't much available in the UK - congratulations if you got a bottle! (I almost feel guilty giving a top score to something so hard to find, but the score is what it is. Rarity isn't a factor in scoring!)

In the 4.5s, we have a superb floral and fruity Glen Moray, a finely balanced Mannochmore, an elegantly fruity Glenlivet, a sweet (in both senses!) Linkwood, a citric Aultmore, a wonderfully floral Glen Grant, a superbly smoky Highland Park and a heavily peated Bunnahabhain.

I am not listing all twenty of the fours. I have a life to live. My recommendation is to get yourself to an SMWS bar, and start drinking. Many of these won't last long!

SMWS Outturn 258 - Rich Realm

SMWS 9.131 - A cheery treatIt's that time of year again - the slog through the SMWS glut of whiskies before Christmas!

This list is small - just twelve whiskies - but has a surprisingly high average score. In fact, nothing got below 3.5. Not even the spicy whiskies!

Conversely, nothing got a 5 either. If we were hoping for the giddy heights of Outturn 257's Bladnoch, we're a little out of luck. But the Glen Grant, the Benrinnes and the Bunnahabhain all got a score of 4.5. If I had to pick between them, I'd plump for the Glen Grant - its floral, fruity sweetness is very much my kind of dram. But the fruit and ginger of the Benrinnes is charmingly disarming, and the Bunnahabhain has a curious combination of citrus, ginger, smoke and pickled onion that can be filed under "shouldn't work but does".

I can also recommend the Dailuaine, Aberlour, Linkwood, Laphroaig and Highland Park, as each scored 4. The Dailuaine and Aberlour are classic young refill bourbon casks, which will please many. The Linkwood is a fruity sherried bomb of flavour, and I suspect will be much in demand. The Laphroaig was nowhere near as TCP dominated as I'd feared, delivering a clean coastal hit of sweetness. And the Highland Park is very peated - not what I'm looking for really, but it holds it all together very well to produce a fruit and smoke mix that will drive some people crazy.

When looking to summarise this list I recalled reading recently that some Port producers have started returning a portion of their production to older, less efficient methods. The changes made over the years had created consistently high quality Port but there were fewer of the truly stellar, mind blowing casks. Someone finally realised that by removing the variance that created poorer casks, they'd also removed the possibility of the brilliant ones.

This list feels like that. It's an excellent list - of very high quality. But there were fewer highs and lows than usual.

It's not bad. It's just different. And unexpected! I'm sure we'll be back to the rollercoaster of scores soon enough...

SMWS Paul John Releases

SMWS 134.1 - Exotic rainforest fruitsA new distillery is a big event at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. There's usually a mad scramble to get hold of bottles of the first release (.1), and much guessing at what the distillery is.

This time is a little different. The release isn't part of a normal outturn, but was done mid-October by email and website. It seems an open secret that the distillery is Paul John, making this the SMWS's first Indian whisky. Bottles of the .1 release are available only by a ballot, which you enter by email. They've also put out a 134.2 release at the same time, and for the same price - so if you just want to try a bottling from the distillery and aren't fussed about nabbing the first one, you have a chance to do so.

I can't see what more the SMWS could have done to try and make this fair - I like this way of working, and I hope it works well for them.

But what about the whiskies?

Well, they're both good. That's no surprise - Paul John is an excellent distillery. Personally I think I preferred the 134.2, but it's a close run thing. Both score a very solid 4, and I was nudging up against a 4.5 score for each - but they lacked that certain something that's hard to define. They were very spirituous, rewarding the patient drinker who's willing to let the whisky sit. And let's be clear - a 4 is not a bad score.

Get to the rooms and try these bottles before they're gone!


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