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On Monday the 24th of September 2018, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society marked it’s 35th anniversary with a virtual tasting, broadcast from their Facebook page via an online stream and viewed by whisky fans all around the world. All one needed to take part was an internet connection and a sample pack (available to society members for £35) which contained 5 drams of single cask scotch whisky especially selected for the occasion.
Presented by Master Brand Ambassador John McCheyne, the evening was a great success and, but for a few buffering incidents at my end, I thoroughly enjoyed the event and would like to see the Society do more of the same in future.
Five rather exceptional drams were chosen, from Speyside to Campbeltown and from the Highlands to Islay. Each brought something unique to the table and offered a snapshot of the variety and excitement inherent in the world of single cask spirits.
Full disclosure: this anniversary tasting pack was sent to me, free of charge, for review purposes.
Cask No. 35.214 – Without Pretence (Glen Moray)
Kicking off this evening of fine whisky was a well aged, well rounded Speyside malt hailing from the town of Elgin. Founded in 1897 on what was once the site of the local gallows, Glen Moray is owned by French distillers La Martiniquaise and has gained something of a reputation for maturing it’s malt in ex-wine casks. Here however, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society have gone for a more traditional approach, aging the spirit for a whopping 22 years in a 1st fill bourbon barrel and bottling at 55.7% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Apple & Pear, Vanilla and Lemon, Pineapple Pastries, Fudge and Custard Creams.
Taste: Vanilla, Butter Pastry, Custard, Spicy Pepper & Nutmeg, Orange Cream and a touch of Oak.
Thoughts: Available to members for £97 a bottle, a fairly reasonable price for a dram of such age.
This Glen Moray hinted at its age rather than flaunting it. Pleasant texture on the palate with a warming spice that never overpowered and the subtlest touch of oak. An excellent start to proceedings.
Cask No. 63.49 – In the Dark of the Abyss (Glentauchers)
Taking the prize for ‘best named dram in the box‘ was an 11 year old Glentauchers, matured in an ex-oloroso sherry butt and bottled at 60.6% alcohol by volume. Perhaps one of the lesser known Speyside distilleries, Glentauchers was founded in 1897 by James Buchanan and W. P. Lowrie. Following the impacts of the Pattison Crash of 1898 however, Lowrie retired, prompting a run of consolidations and mergers which would eventually lead to the creation of Diageo. Now owned by Pernod Ricard, official bottlings are few and far between, though the Glentauchers spirit has become popular with independent bottlers over the last few years.
Smell: Oloroso makes it’s presence known immediately with Raisins, Sultanas and Prunes. There’s Dark Chocolate, worn Leather, Burnt Matches, Orange, Cinnamon and Almond.
Taste: Spicy Nutmeg and Cinnamon, juicy Raisins and Sultanas, Salted Caramel and Maple Syrup.
Thoughts: At between £50 – £60 a bottle, this rather delicious dram would have made for a genuine bargain buy, but alas, it appears to be sold out.
An early favourite in the running for dram of the night. A little touch of Sulphur on the nose though not unpleasantly so. Just the right amount of spice to compliment the sweetness of the sherry. Delicious.
Bottlers notes here.
Cask No. 135.6 – Cones versus Crones (Loch Lomond)
Distillery no 135 is the latest addition to the long list of plants from whence the Society sources casks. Though rather oddly, this particular site has been allocated multiple codes already. Situated at Alexandria, just over the highland line, is Loch Lomond distillery, unique in it’s incredible ability to produce up to 11 different spirits using a combination of multiple still designs. Such is the difference between each distillate, it was felt that this new variety, produced in traditional pot stills, warranted a code of it’s own. Matured for 10 years in an ex-bourbon barrel, the malt was bottled at 57.1% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Vanilla and Honey, fresh Bread, light Floral touches, Ginger Biscuits and Sawdust.
Taste: Biscuit-y Barley, Orange, Lemon & zesty Lime. Honey and Caramel with Pepper, Chilli and Oak.
Thoughts: An interesting little dram that I suspect would become more rewarding the more time one spent with it. I often find unusual drams such as this can prove themselves the most worthy purchases.
A wise decision on the part of John McCheyne to place this intriguing little number in the middle of the line-up. A little unusual and a bit of a head scratcher if I’m honest. The dram showed relative youth for its ten years but in a fresh and vibrant rather than raw and untamed way. Definitely warrants further investigation.
Cask No. 93.94 – The Final Trawl (Glen Scotia)
As something of a fan of Campbeltown whisky, I was delighted to see that the penultimate dram of the evening came from the Glen Scotia distillery – rather a favourite of mine it has to be said. Scotia is one of the few distilleries to survive the almost total collapse of Campbeltown’s once vast whisky industry. Revitalised after a change of ownership in 2014, the brand has significantly grown in strength with the release of some rather wonderful drams. The official 15 year old bottling has been a favourite over the last year or two so the prospect of trying this single cask of similar age was an enticing one. Matured in an ex-bourbon barrel, it was bottled at 56.8% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Vanilla, Cream, Custard, Biscuit and Lemon with that famous Campbeltown coastal nature of Brine and Seaweed with gentle Smoke.
Taste: Smoke and Tar, Sea Salt and Pepper with Brine and a touch of Menthol and Eucalyptus.
Thoughts: Though now sold out, The Final Trawl would have made for an excellent buy, priced between £70 & £80 a bottle.
All of a sudden, ‘In the Dark of the Abyss’ had a challenger for dram of the evening. I’m a sucker for the ‘oily and coastal’ profile and this Glen Scotia ticked all the boxes. Great texture, great taste, wonderful nose. Everything great about Campbeltown in one dram.
Bottlers notes here.
Cask No. 29.249 – Sweet Black Tea in the Surgery (Laphroaig)
Ending the evening in spectacular style was this 21 year old single malt distilled at Laphroaig on the south coast of Islay. Founded in 1815, Laphroaig is a distillery which splits opinion more than any other. However, where many seem to find it’s malt practically undrinkable, I’ve always been something of a fan and found myself rather impatient to crack open this particular dram. Matured for 19 years in a bourbon hogshead before it’s transfer to a 2nd fill Pedro Ximenez sherry cask for an additional 2 years. Bottled at 48.6% alcohol by volume.
Smell: Earthy, full-bodied Peat Smoke, Tar, Charcoal and Sticking Plasters. There’s also Liquorice, Treacle, Salted Caramel and Oak.
Taste: Acrid Smoke and Ash, Liquorice again, Pepper, Sherry / Dried Fruits, Maple Syrup and bitter Oak.
Thoughts: Previously available (now seemingly sold out) at £160 a bottle to society members. Certainly not a bargain purchase, but perhaps not too extreme for a dram 21 years in the making, especially one from a distillery as ‘on trend’ as Laphroaig.
I really hate to be predictable, but I love an Islay and in the end, this Laphroaig took the title of best dram for me. The sherry finish provided just enough influence to compliment the deep layers of smoke rather than battle against them and the relatively low bottling strength made it frighteningly drinkable. A really exceptional dram to end the night on.
Bottlers notes here.
What a night. What a selection of drams. After 35 years the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is still one of the finest independent bottlers on the scene but they are also so much more than that. This members club, this community, is utterly united around a love for single cask whisky and long may it’s success continue. Here’s to the next 35 years! #SMWSat35