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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a unique members club for lovers of single malt and other quality spirits. Founded in the early 80’s by Pip Hills and an array of his friends and associates, the organisation had a profound effect on the way malt whisky was perceived. Few distillers had seen the potential in single cask, cask strength whisky but word of mouth and positive press coverage saw the Scotch Malt Whisky Society enjoy steady success by specialising in that very thing.
Today the Society is the largest of its kind with more than 25,000 members and partner bars in cities all over the world. The annual membership fee of £65 provides access to their monthly out-turn of single cask bottlings as well as granting entry to members rooms in Edinburgh, London and Glasgow.
2019 saw the first ever Gathering event take place with a series of tastings, meetings and other whisky-themed attractions held with the intention of bringing Society members together in celebration. A similar series of events has been scheduled for this time around, albeit with certain restrictions in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
A series of special bottles have been made available in the September out-turn (online from today September 4th). Those who wish to try a selection of them can do so by acquiring a “Discovery Tasting Pack” containing five samples, each of which I have reviewed below.
Four of the five bottles reviewed below are available now.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample pack free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest and impartial opinion in the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Cask no. 7.243 “Twinning” (Longmorn)
This Speyside malt was matured for 15 years in a pair of second fill bourbon barrels before being combined for a further 12 months in a first fill Pedro Ximenez sherry butt. Bottled at 59.8%, it retails at £82.50.
Smell: Lots of Bourbon-y vanilla with rum and raisin. Currants too. Orange marmalade. Cinnamon and ginger. Maple syrup. Nice earthy quality that reminds me of mushroom.
Taste: The PX influence seems more prominent on arrival. Notes of sultanas and dark chocolate. Christmas cake. Buttered rum. Dark honey and walnut. Full of winter-y spices with an excellent, mouth-coating texture.
Value for Money: An asking price just over £80 seems relatively reasonable having tasted it. I’d be interested in getting a bottle myself – and I don’t know what better praise I can give it than that.
A big statement of intent to kick things off. This is a wonderfully rich whisky, full of warming character – released with perfect timing as we enter the Autumn months here in Glasgow. Excellent.
Buy Cask no 7.243 here
Cask no. 10.195 “Shiver me timbers” (Bunnahabhain)
Exclusive to France, this Islay single malt matured for four years in a bourbon hogshead before being transferred to a heavily toasted, medium charred hogshead. Bottled at 59.8%.
Smell: A nose full of brine and coastal smoke. Meaty but with fresh ozone too. Seaweed and black pepper. Lemon and grilled pineapple. Liquorice. Leather. Tablet. Oak.
Taste: That condensed milk / tablet note again. Vanilla and mouthwatering oak. Peppery spice. Aniseed. Salty, smoky finish.
*I haven’t scored this one because I had no access to price information at the time of writing and value for money has always been central to my reviews. I was advised by the SMWS that it will be announced and made available to the French market around the 17th of September.
Nothing too outlandish where flavour profile is concerned but nevertheless a decent example of a young Islay whisky with some additional depth from those re-processed hogsheads.
Cask no 26.145 “Mood-lifting sanctuary” (Clynelish)
An 8 year old Highland malt, matured in a second fill ex-bourbon barrel and bottled at 58%. Retails for £56.
Smell: A bit of spirit heat on this one. Vanilla, sawdust and timber. Gentle spice. Heather honey. Lemon sherbet. Pepper. Candlewax.
Taste: Buttery fudge with prickly spice. With water some apple and white grapes. Orange zest. Hard boiled sweets. Honey and lemon throat lozenges. More juicy fruits and a wee touch of drying oak on the lengthy finish.
Value for Money: About as affordable as it gets from the SMWS. Not a flashy whisky but one that I suspect would reward frequent visits. Good value.
A more subtle affair than the previous two drams and required a splash of water to reach its full potential. Very much led by the wonderfully fruity spirit with only the gentlest of touches from the cask. Good depth of flavour for an eight year old malt. There aren’t too many malts that can perform so well after a relatively short time in a refill cask. But then Clynelish is no ordinary whisky.
Buy cask no. 26.145 here
Cask no. 35.259 “Rumtopf, birnenbrot and stollen” (Glen Moray)
A 24 year old Speyside malt, matured in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel before bottling at 53.5%. Retails at £138.
Smell: A pleasant balance between bourbon oak and a fruity Speyside character. Vanilla. Honey. Coconut. Marzipan. Apple juice. Pineapple. Some cereal notes – impressive for a 24 year old. Even the oak character has a youth and a vibrancy to it.
Taste: Big complex arrival with lots to unpack. Honey. Orange juice. Peach. Dark chocolate and toffee – Riesen chewy sweets. Shows its age much more definitively than on the nose. Lots of musty oak and old leather.
Value for Money: £138 is no small amount to pay for a bottle of whisky but it’s fairly reasonable for something 24 years in the making. It also compares quite favourably with other similarly aged malts.
A fascinating contrast between that remarkably fresh nose and an obviously mature flavour profile. Complex and fully flavoured with a satisfying development as it evolves on the palate. Again nothing flashy, just well produced, mature whisky.
Buy Cask no 35.259 here
Cask no. 53.332 “Storm-tossed kelp on an Islay beach” (Caol Ila)
An Islay malt matured for 11 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead before bottling at 58.8%. Retailed at £65.
Smell: One sniff and there’s no question as to the geographical location of this distillery. Seaweed and stony beaches. Brine. Medicinal smoke. TCP. Barley malt and vanilla. Ash and tar. Lemon. Straw.
Taste: Does exactly what it says on the tin. Salty and coastal. Medicinal smoke from a damp bonfire on an Islay beach. Vanilla and olive oil. Dark chocolate. Crispy bacon. Dry woody smoke on the finish.
Value for Money: Sad though it may be, cask strength Islay comes at a premium these days. All things considered £65 is fairly reasonable for an 11 year old.
Another example of doing the simple things well. I confess that the concept of a cask strength Caol Ila doesn’t often excite me these days, but that’s only because there’s so much of it around. An abundance of the stuff doesn’t seem like such a problem when you taste it though, and this is another fine example of this workhorse distillery’s many qualities.
Buy cask no 53.332 here
Buy your own tasting pack here.
Join the SMWS here.