A worldwide club
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a members club devoted to bottling single casks of whisky. The Society is UK based and has two members rooms in Edinburgh and London. There are also now offices spreading around the world and these currently include America, Australia, Japan and throughout Europe. Their collection of whiskies is extensive and ever growing. A panel of members select the whiskies from exclusive casks and these are then bottled and released at regular intervals throughout the year. You can join the club and check out their exclusive range of whisky at www.smws.co.uk.
The Society has a unique label system that uses numbers rather than naming the distillery. For example, something labelled as 24.108 has 24 being the Society's number ID for the distillery and 108 being the number of casks bottled by the Society from that distillery. They do this to prevent any positive or negative prejudice that a consumer may have against a certain distillery. They provide comprehensive tasting notes and these are compiled by a tasting committee that discuss the merits of each bottling. The notes can often be curious and very creative! We were lucky to be invited to a tasting evening at the Society's London offices this week, where we sampled some of the whiskies from the new February releases. Thank you to Darren Rook for an excellent evening.
Our tasting notes
Cask 99.11 (Glenugie 29 years old)
Whisky from this distillery is scarce and the SMWS has not released any Glenugie for years, so to get the opportunity to taste some was a rare treat. Glenugie (pronounced glen-oogee) was located in the coastal Highland town of Peterhead, to the north of Aberdeen, and was closed in 1983. The colour is golden yellow and the nose is full of cereal grains and vanilla. These are joined by floral (think of heather) and herbal notes (imagine dried grasses and straw). The palate is very grainy and buttery and is reminiscent of Scottish oatcakes (this characteristic increases the longer the whisky is in the glass). Also present are vanilla, dried grasses and spice (think of nutmeg). The initial sweetness turns drier with a bitter edge. The finish is short, dry and light. An acquired taste but one that grew on us with time. 43.4% ABV/192 bottles/£78
Cask 119.12 (Yamazaki 16 years old)
This cask has only been released to the American, Australian and Japanese Society members. Yamazaki is Japan's oldest whisky distillery and was founded in 1923. The colour is rich golden amber and the nose is promising but has a distinct acetone note (think of nail varnish remover). There are a number of sweet notes present - caramel, raisins, dried peaches, dark sugar. The palate is note as sweet and offers a complex mix of flavours - candied orange, raisins, prunes, hints of liquorice and nutmeg - and is reminiscent to fruit cake and brandy. the finish is long, dry and slightly astringent and is full of spices and tannin. The addition of water softens this. A lovely dram. 54% ABV/262 bottles/no UK price available
Cask 22.28 (Glenkinchie 21 years old)
Glenkinchie is a Lowland single malt and the nearest distillery to Edinburgh. The colour is pale gold and the nose is light and fresh. There is distinct grassy notes (think of dried grass or hay) and these join with vanilla and fresh green apple aromas. On the palate, this whisky is light and inoffensive and offers an initial hot alcoholic burn. When this fades, other notes come through - vanilla, cereal grains, butterscotch and citrus (imagine lemon zest). The finish is short and crisp. The addition of water brought out some citrus on the nose (that lemon zest again) and more grains and dried grass on the palate. 54% ABV/223 bottles/£63.50
Cask 7.55 (Longmorn 40 years old)
Longmorn is a little known but well renowned distillery that lies close to the city of Elgin in the Speyside region. We don't get the chance to sample 40 years old whiskies often, so this was a real treat. The colour is orange amber and the nose is rich and sumptuous. There are plenty of aromas here - dark sugar, treacle, dried fruits, orange peel, cocoa, espresso coffee, waxy furniture polish and a hint of leather. WOW! The palate does not disappoint and is silky smooth, intense and rich. First comes orange marmalade and dried fruits and is followed by leather, cocoa and coffee. There are also minty, eucalyptus and liquorice notes. The finish is long and gorgeous. This has a dessert wine/Cognac feel and is a lovely complex whisky. 54.9% ABV/451 bottles/£186 (a great price for a 40 years old whisky!)
Cask 53.139 (Caol Ila 27 years old)
Caol Ila is located on the famous whisky island of Islay and they produce whiskies in the smoky style. The colour of this whisky is golden yellow and the nose is smoky, sweet and fresh. There is a delightful combination of aromas - sweet earthy peat, vanilla, candy floss, salty brine and something fishy (others in the group suggested anchovy). On the palate, this has a complex mix of notes - sweet vanilla, cereal grains, dried grasses, damp moss, slightly acrid bonfire smoke, salty brine, lemon zest and spicy chilli peppers. The finish is long with the peat smoke lingering for ages. It is light and fresh for something of this age and drinks well without water, despite its ABV strength. With water, more vanilla, grass and burning bonfire come out. An absolute cracker of a dram. 55.5% ABV/256 bottles/£82
Cask 33.80 (Ardbeg 11 years old)
Ardbeg is also located on the western island of Islay and the current insatiable thirst for their whiskies has seen this bottling sell out in just three days! Therefore, the only place to try it is at the SMWS rooms in Edinburgh or London. The colour is golden yellow and the nose is pungent and fresh. There is plenty of smoke here (a combo between bonfire ember and damp soil) and some citrus (think of lemon zest), salt, seaweed and vanilla. On the palate, this feels even smokier (especially the peaty/soil element) and feels oily and buttry in the mouth. Other notes include vanilla, caramel, grass and bitter iodine. The finish is very long and peaty. Water brings out more sweetness and this is balanced by more salt and iodine. 56.6% ABV/242 bottles/£55.50
Dram of the night > a difficult choice but the Caol Ila 27 years old.