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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was founded in 1983 by Pip Hills. Based out of the famous Vaults in the historic Port of Leith, the organisation has since grown to include more than 25,000 members worldwide.
Membership to the Society not only grants the holder access to members rooms in Edinburgh and London but also to a monthly outturn of exclusive single cask bottlings that can’t be acquired anywhere else.
As an affiliate of the Society, I was recently sent a sample pack of some of the drams soon to be released as part of their December outturn. To clarify, each one of the whiskies I’ve reviewed below will launch on the SMWS website tomorrow, Friday December 6th. In the world of single cask whisky, the very best drams tend not to hang about for long so this is a rare chance to preview some interesting bottles immediately before they come onto the market.
*Full Disclosure: As part of an affiliate programme with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I can be paid commission should any of my readers choose to become members or purchase Society products from links in my reviews. That said, I will always strive to give a fair and balanced review.
Cask No. 6.34 ‘Boundless intemperance’ (Macduff)
Macduff is a relatively modern distillery, built in 1960 by a group of Glasgow-based whisky brokers led by Brodie Hepburn. In 1972 the distillery was bought by William Lawson, distilling arm of Martini & Rossi who oversaw considerable expansion increasing the stills from two to five. In 1992, Martini merged with Bacardi and Macduff brought under their Dewar’s stable. Since then the malt has been relaunched as simply ‘The Deveron’ named after the River that flows past the distillery.
Cask no. 6.34 ‘Boundless intemperance’ was matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead for 12 years and bottled at 58.6%. It will retail at £54.20 a bottle.
Smell: Vanilla bourbon nose with buttered rum. Honey. Breakfast cereal. Biscuit. Pencil shavings. Oak char.
Taste: Weetabix and honey. Pepper. Dark chocolate. Vanilla and oak. Lime juice. Fruit scones.
Thoughts: A dram of high quality that easily justifies its relatively low price.
A bit of a slow starter though. Even seemed a little pedestrian at first encounter but over time it revealed itself to be endowed with impressive depth of flavour. Developed into a very satisfying dram for the money.
Cask No. 77.60 ‘A feather bed in a gentleman’s study’ (Glen Ord)
The Glen Ord distillery was founded in 1838 by Robert Johnstone and Donald MacLennan, who leased the land from Thomas MacKenzie of Ord. MacKenzie had encouraged the cultivation of Barley on his land and saw a distillery as a way to provide all-year round employment for the local men. In 1930, the distillery was purchased by the Distillers Company Ltd who later merged with Guinness and Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo. The distillery remains under this distilling giant’s ownership today and provides malt for their ‘Singleton’ label, along with Dufftown and Glendullan.
Cask No. 77.60 ‘A feather bed in a gentleman’s study’ was matured in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead for 10 years and bottled at 59.6%. Will retail at a cost of £52.00 a bottle.
Smell: Almond marzipan, coconut, apple juice. Vanilla. Pepper. Oak. Butterscotch hard boiled sweets. Pencil shavings.
Taste: Caramel & butterscotch. Vanilla. Chocolate. Chilli peppers. Almond and dry roasted peanuts. Woody with honey.
Thoughts: Strikes me as a whisky that could so easily have been bland were it not for the cask strength, un-chill-filtered bottling style. As it stands it’s a pleasing mouthful that comes at a decent price.
It may be a little ‘whisky-by-numbers’ but still a relatively good example of a refill bourbon matured Highlander.
Cask No. 44.116 ‘Pirate ship in a storm’ (Craigellachie)
Craigellachie distillery was founded by Alexander Edward, a man famed for successfully exploiting the Victorian-era tourism boom in his native Scotland. As well as being involved with five distilleries, Edward bought and rejuvenated a brickworks and constructed a hotel to accommodate the wealthy travellers making their way north. Craigellachie meanwhile eventually came under the ownership of John Dewar & Sons in 1998 and in 2014 a new range of odd-numbered single malts were released, including 13, 17, 19 and 23 year old expressions.
Cask no. 44.116 ‘Pirate ship in a storm’ was matured in a second fill ex-oloroso butt for 8 years and bottled at 68.2%. Retails at £48.00 a bottle.
Smell: Craigellachie turned up to 11! The famous meatiness comes right upfront. Struck matches. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Dried fruits – raisins & prunes. Buttered rum.
Taste: Brown sugar and warm winter spices. Dry oak and dark chocolate. Cinnamon sticks and roast beef. Slightly egged. Black pepper. Occasional flashes of raspberry and blackcurrant.
Thoughts: It’s young but well priced at just £48. Won’t be for everyone but those who like big sulphury sherry casks will lap it up.
Some will love this and some will absolutely hate it. Personally I come down somewhere in the middle. I don’t suffer from the sensitivity to sulphur that some seem to endure, but this is a little much even for me. Benefits from the addition of water but that sulphur isn’t easily forgotten. If you like your dram to challenge you and offer something of an experience, this will not let you down. Just be prepared.
Cask no. 29.266 ‘Converting vegetarians’ (Laphroaig)
Laphroaig was founded in 1815 by Johnston brothers Donald and Alexander and stayed in their family until Ian Hunter passed away childless in 1954, leaving the distillery to his manager Bessie Williamson. Bessie was among the first in the industry to identify the trend for single malts and travelled regularly to the US in order to champion her product to the emerging market. She later sold a third of her shares in the company and in 1967 the balance of ownership was released to Long John International. Long John was then sold in 1975 to Allied Domecq and Laphroaig eventually came under the ownership of Beam Inc, who themselves were bought by Suntory in 2014, bringing Laphroaig under the same umbrella as fellow Islay distillery, Bowmore.
Cask no. 29.266 ‘Converting vegetarians’ was matured in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel for 8 years and bottled at 60.9%. Will retail at £75.00 a bottle.
Smell: Peat smoke and tar. Creosote. Smokey bacon and barbecued meats. Lemon and pineapple. Honey. Charcoal.
Taste: Dark & rich honey, grilled meats. Acrid peat smoke. Liquorice. Black pepper and dry wood. Brine and sea salt.
Thoughts: Noticeably more expensive than the other drams in the pack but such is the appeal of Islay and in particular, Laphroaig that increased cost is the norm these days.
Young, cask strength Laphroaig is a surefire winner. I doubt it’s going to convert anyone but those with a love for the smokey side of scotch will be absolutely delighted with this.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a unique members only whisky club which releases an array of new single cask bottlings each month. Members not only gain access to this monthly out-turn, but also to the purpose built members rooms in Society venues in Edinburgh and London.
For more information on joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, click here.