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.)

SMWS Outturn 255 - Orchestra of Flavour

SMWS 48.91 - Sweet, juicy and perfumedAn unusual outturn this month - with plenty of rum, cognac and our first gin! Maybe they put four peated drams in to try and placate the traditionalists?

Logistical issues continue, with two bottlings absent - 3.302 and R8.3. Hopefully they're not completely lost to us and will turn up eventually.

There are three excellent drinks on this list: the sweet, fruity Balmenach; the floral and delicate Glen Grant, and the delightful C4.1 cognac. A cognac as one of my picks of the list? That's unexpected, but well deserved!

There are lots of excellent drams too - the Glen Scotia, the Aberlour, the Dailuaine, the Craigellachie and the R10.1 all impressed enough to score a 4.

Standards didn't slip because of the other spirits, despite some people's fears. And I quite enjoyed trying all the cognacs and rums - it was an interesting change of scenery. I hope we manage to get more rums and cognacs in future.

SMWS Outturn 254 - Alluring Aromas

SMWS 4.230 - Sweet and salty, smoke and ashYet more logistical issues, albeit fewer than before. The Ardmore (66.104) wasn't available and the G15.1 is delayed.

This is an ideal July list - it's hot out there, and this list is packed with light and sweet drams.

And there are many excellent drams here. The best was the Highland Park, which is a peated joy and gets a full score. Oddly nothing scored 4.5, but there were plenty of drams scoring a solid and well-deserved 4: Cragganmore, Balblair, Glen Deveron (Macduff), Glenburgie, Glenlivet and the Mortlach all impressed.

I think this list really demonstrates the value of the Society's recent cask finishes. Some have disliked the use of virgin oak and other custom casks, but three of my picks were Virgin Oak or French Oak. I'm far more concerned about having a decent dram than having conformity to some nebulous idea of either tradition or purity. The end may not justify the means in many moral areas, but in whisky maturation I think some leeway can be allowed.



I simply like the composition of the tree in front of the fire escape, and then all that 1960's office block behind it.

This scene is now gone, as that block was torn down in 2014. Walking the highwalk on it was a good way to spend lunchtime, but nothing lasts forever...

SMWS Outturn 253 - Hearty Brunch

SMWS 10.113 - The crowd pleaserA very good list here, albeit with teething problems again...

The 7.168 is yet again delayed due to labelling issues, and the 37.91 was advertised as arriving mid-month and then failed to turn up. But to make up for it, there are three special Feis Ile 2017 bottlings.

There are also three mail-order exclusives - 44.80, 9.120 and 50.94. I have no issues with putting them in the outturn, but having spent a Friday evening at the bar sampling whiskies I can say that it's not done very well. There was a steady stream of people wandering up to the bar hoping to try them, and then being disappointed. I know there's a clear logo stating "mail order only" on each entry, but people do assume (not unreasonably) that the SMWS member's room will have the SMWS whiskies available at it. I'm not asking for them to appear at the bar here - although that would be lovely - but I think that the delayed and mail-order drams should probably go into their own section at the back, with a different coloured background and "Not at the member's rooms" prominently displayed. Having so many people be disappointed by when trying to buy a dram cannot be good in the long term...

That having been said, time to move on to the list itself. And it's a bit chalk and cheese for me this month. A lot of the drams I thought I'd like didn't score as high as I'd hoped, because they suddenly became dominated by spicy notes when I added water. I don't think I've written the word "cinnamon" so often! And yet there are three drams scoring 4.5 - the sherry monster that is the Glenrothes, the peaty joy that is the Bunnahabhain, and the younger of the two Highland Parks. If you had the light and sweet drams in the betting pool, I feel sorry for you!

There are also three drams that get a respectable score of 4. The younger Bowmore balances fruit with smoke delightfully. The Ardmore tastes like a Caol Ila, which is no bad thing! The Auchentoshan has a lovely light sherrying, very well handled.

Sherried and peated whiskies being my favourites? Are you sure you're still in the universe you woke up in this morning? ...

Estuaries of the sky

Estuaries of the sky

These clouds remind me of tidal estuaries on an aerial photograph, with little tributaries forming in the deeper channels as the tide is out.

A mirror in the sky of what happens on the ground.


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