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!

The Vaults Collection

SMWS 25.70 - In a perfumed gardenThe SMWS has a super-premium range called the Vaults Collection. These whiskies are rare, well packaged, and accordingly priced.

Some members have disliked this new tier of whiskies - although it should be noted that the bottles sold well. And the Society did decide to allow members to buy 10ml samples at the venues for reasonable prices, which takes a lot of the sting out of it - you may not be able to buy a bottle, but you can at least try some.

Naturally, even though these bottles are out of my reach, I still write tasting notes for them!

SMWS Outturn 257 - Feel-Good Flavours

SMWS 50.95 - Magical momentsIt's been a busy time for the SMWS recently, with the launch of the Vaults Collection topping a few changes that have caused concern amongst members. I commented on this over at Malt Review, so will simply note that the Vaults Collection isn't part of the normal Outturn and therefore will be reviewed separately.

Regardless of the perception of the SMWS, there are some cracking whiskies on this list. We have score of 5 with the Bladnoch, which is a superb and succulent dram. Then there's a remarkable four (FOUR!) drams that scored 4.5 - the fruit-laden Miltonduff, the beautifully balanced Highland Park, the slightly waxy Glen Grant and the tropical fruit of the Glenrothes.

As if those high scores weren't enough, we then see four scoring 4! The deliciously sweet Glentauchers, the fruity and floral Glenburgie, and finally the the fruity Dailuaine and Linkwood.

It's not all moments of wonder and joy - I did find the Tullibardine and the Strathmill were both on the wrong side of spiciness for me.

Some housekeeping - the Bladnoch is the first bottle with the new black label style for bottles priced G and above. An interesting change, but I'm not really a packaging person so couldn't quite care! Also, the Laphroaig wasn't available due to labelling issues, and the Cragganmore is mail order only so didn't arrive in London. But it wouldn't be a true SMWS list without something being missing!

SMWS Outturn 256 - Exotic Cargo

SMWS 5.58 - Contrapuntal harmonyAnother month, another outturn. It's the same old story. Some interesting cask finishes, a good range of flavour profiles, and some excellent whiskies.

Oh, and the SMWS's second ever blended malt.

And boy, did that ever cause some fuss amongst the traditionalists!

So let's get it out of the way - I have no problem with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society creating a blended malt. We've bottled Irish, Japanese, American and Welsh whiskies. We've bottled grain whiskies. We've bottle Armagnac, cognac, rum, gin, cider brandy. For those who are complaining that this is "not what the Society is about" - these casks were Scottish Malt Whisky when they were blended. It's not a Single Malt Whisky Society.

I've long believed that the SMWS should do interesting things that help whisky drinkers broaden their experiences and challenge their preconceptions. So I'm a fairly happy bunny.

If you're not a sherried whisky fan, you're going to hate it. For the rest of us, it's a good whisky. In a blind tasting, nobody would be complaining that it's a blended malt. (I suspect it would do quite well.)

So, way from the hubbub and drama - how were the other drams?

Lots of spice on this list. My favourite was the Auchentoshan, followed by the Linkwood and the Exotic Cargo itself.

There were plenty of decent whiskies, but nothing else really stood out for me. Not all lists can be packed with brilliance, but this one's certainly got plenty of decent whiskies to drink.

I'm hoping that the Society will follow up the Exotic Cargo with a bourbon-cask based blend. But I think that will take a while!

(Oh, I said that it was their second ever blended whisky... Technically their first was a dram called The Last Drop. It was made by combining the dregs of many open bottles into a blend. The result was... something that happened, and which nobody is in a rush to repeat. Not terrible. Not brilliant. Not worth repeating.)


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