Membership of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society offers the holder not just access to a regular outpouring of intriguing single cask spirits but also grants entry to any of their member rooms in Edinburgh, London and soon, much to the delight of this reviewer, Glasgow.
Since its foundation by Pip Hills in 1983, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has grown to include some 25,000 members worldwide, a number which is increasing all the time. Rather than rest on their laurels however, they continue to break new ground, branching out from their traditional single cask whisky background to release other spirits from Cognac to Armagnac to Rum and even Gin. Whilst some purists may have looked down their noses at such diversification, the Society’s recent success at the Whisky Magazine Independent Bottlers’ Challenge seems to suggest that their efforts are appreciated by a wider audience (they won overall Independent Bottler of the Year, as well as taking the regional awards for Lowlands, Islay, Speyside and American Whiskies).
One of the most recent developments in the Society’s output has been the arrival of blended malts, a category that seems to be enjoying enormous growth across the board at the minute.
December 11th 2019 saw the release of Big Swirl, the 8th blended malt to be released by the SMWS. Following on from the likes of Exotic Cargo, Peat Faerie and Beachcomber, it carries a 10 year age statement and has been bottled at 50% abv. Created by blending whisky matured in first-fill Spanish oak sherry casks with spirit aged in bourbon wood before a two year marrying period in American oak sherry casks, it will be available to members for just £47 a bottle.
Though some progress has been made with regards to the education of whisky drinkers, there are still some that sneer at the ‘b’ word. Where traditional blended scotch contains an element of mass-produced grain whisky however, blended malt is made up entirely of malt whisky but can’t be called a ‘single malt’ because the spirit is sourced from multiple distilleries. Let’s say you have a dram of Macallan in your glass and decide to put in a splash of Highland Park for fun. Congratulations, you’ve just created a blended malt.
The term itself, ‘blended malt’ is a relatively new invention. Previously these whiskies were referred to as ‘vatted malt’ or sometimes, a little misleadingly, as ‘pure malt’. Problems arose however as recently as 2003 when the success of the Cardhu single malt encouraged Diageo to pad it out with spirit from other distilleries. They released the new blend as Cardhu Pure Malt but complaints were made by rival companies who felt the practice could easily mislead consumers. As a result, the Scotch Whisky Regulations were updated in 2009 to standardise scotch into five categories… Single malt (made from malted barley and distilled at one location), blended malt (made from malted barley and distilled at more than one location), single grain (made from a recipe of other grains, distilled at one location), blended grain (made from a recipe of other grains and distilled at multiple locations) and finally, blended scotch (a combination of spirit made from malted barley with that made by other grains, from multiple distilleries).
Since the point of origin for each component of a blended malt is usually left undisclosed, the category can represent fantastic value for money should you be willing to give it a try and Big Swirl is no different…
*Full Disclosure: As part of an affiliate programme with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I can be paid commission should you choose to become a member or purchase Society products from links in my reviews. That said, I will always strive to give a fair and balanced review of the dram in question.
Smell: Warm sherry and oak. Winter spices. Touch of barbecue. Fruit jam. Stollen with almonds and marzipan. Coffee with brown sugar.
Taste: Woody but not overpoweringly so. Leather and strong tea. Raisins and sultanas. Glace cherries! Dark chocolate.
Value for Money: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society divide their releases into flavour categories and Big Swirl comes under ‘Deep, Rich and Dried Fruit’ which just happens to be one of the most popular – and expensive. Here though, is a ten year old malt whisky, bottled at 50% for just £47. Not bad at all.
Score: 44.5 / 50
A very pleasant dram with a perfect flavour profile for the festive season. Good depth of flavour and well balanced – just as you think one note is going to dominate, it shifts again. Water softens it and brings out more of the jammy note. Lovely stuff.
You can buy Big Swirl here.
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.
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