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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a unique organisation that combines the role of independent bottler with members club. For an annual fee of £65, members gain entry to any of the four members rooms in Edinburgh, London and Glasgow as well as securing access to a monthly out-turn of singe cask bottlings that cannot be purchased anywhere else.
I first came across the SMWS through their annual stall at Glasgow’s Whisky Festival. At that time I had no intention of joining up but I was impressed by the quality of the whisky on show. Even when sampling something I would never have chosen under normal circumstances, I found myself raising an eyebrow to the fullness of flavour. The stall became a must-visit each year and it wasn’t long before I began to think of a membership.
As sometimes happens life got in the way and years passed without my joining but then I was approached by a marketing company asking if I would like to enter the SMWS affiliate program. For those that don’t know, affiliate marketing basically means I can be paid a small commission on any sales I help to create for the Society. Sometimes I’ll even be sent samples to review and recommend to my readers. Of course this also gave me the motivation to finally sign up as a member, as I wouldn’t have felt right promoting a service I didn’t use myself. Working in this way with a brand you don’t believe in could, I’m sure, be a very tricky business. I’m glad to say that my experience with the SMWS has been largely positive though. It’s rare that I encounter an SMWS-bottled whisky that I simply can’t get along with.
That being said, I will always give you an honest opinion on value for money for where each bottle is concerned.
The latest samples to have crossed my path came in the April Tasting Pack. This monthly parcel of drams is a great way to try-before-you-buy, something which has become much more complicated with the Covid-inspired closure of members rooms and whisky bars.
For information on SMWS bottling codes, visit here.
*Please be aware that the links provided after my reviews are affiliate links and as such, I can be paid commission on any purchases you make.
Cask no 26.160 “Fruit market candy store”
A Highland single malt matured for 9 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. Bottled at 56.7%.
Smell: Orange and lemon. Peach. Apple and pear. Buttery malt. Vanilla. Coconut. Butterscotch. Fizzy sweets.
Taste: Creamy malt. Vanilla. Honey. Peppery spice. Good weight on the palate. With water it becomes fruity with orange, apple and grapes. Biscuit-like malt remains into the finish with more oaky spice.
Thoughts: This one retails for £56 and while it isn’t perhaps the most exciting of drams, it’s solid enough to make a decent purchase.
Nothing fancy, just honest single malt whisky matured for a decent amount of time. Almost a textbook Highland dram.
Buy Cask No. 26.160 “Fruit market – candy store” here.
Cask no 42.52 “Wood smoke through a porthole”
A Highland (island really) single malt matured for 13 years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. Bottled at 58.3%.
Smell: Nice coastal character with lots of brine and tarry old rope. Seaweed and wet sandy beaches. Pungent smoke and creosote. Also vanilla, apple and pear and Scottish tablet.
Taste: Big salty arrival. Peat smoke and peppery spice. Lemon and pineapple. Vanilla. Touch of liquorice going into the smoky finish.
Thoughts: At 13 years old, this single cask version of this always-interesting single malt seems decent value at £68 a bottle.
This malt is arguably the most distinctive peated dram outside Islay. It’s also a great demonstration of what’s meant when we describe a whisky as coastal. A good example of an excellent spirit that carries a reasonable price tag.
Buy Cask No 42.52 “Wood smoke through a porthole” here.
Cask no. 48.118 “Trekking in the jungle”
Speyside single malt matured for seven years in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel. Bottled at 60.6%.
Smell: Lots of vanilla ice cream. Maybe with some milk chocolate flakes over the top. Some crumbly shortbread. Water turns the experience into something of a fruit cocktail.
Taste: Butterscotch and chewy toffee. Vanilla. Honey. Apple. Pear. Wee touch of citrus. Baking spices. Pepper. Fresh oak.
Thoughts: A cask strength dose of a classic Speyside flavour profile for less than £50.
There’s some really nice interaction here between the vibrant young Speyside malt and the first fill bourbon barrel. Nothing too complicated but a pleasant, satisfying sip. Especially for warmer days.
Cask No 48.118 “Trekking in the jungle” is SOLD OUT.
Cask no. 82.31 “Give free reign to the imagination”
A Highland malt matured for 9 years in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. Bottled at 61.9%.
Smell: Lots of apple. Pear too. Even a bit of lemon. Nice honeyed malt note. Sponge cake and a little bit of candlewax.
Taste: Big toffee arrival. Chewy caramel and chocolate. Grapes. Lemon… There’s a nice oiliness to the spirit. Big sprinkling of spicy pepper. Wee bit of oak on the finish with lingering spices.
Thoughts: Another Highland malt of decent quality but the £82 price tag seems a little weighty.
A decent dram from an interesting distillery. Lots of youthful vigour and nicely balanced – but that price point would be an issue for me.
Buy Cask No 82.31 “Give free rein to the imagination” here.
Cask no. G8.17 “Candles, kumquats and polished oak”
A well-aged Lowland single grain, matured for 31 long years in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead.
Smell: Toffee, caramel, creme brulee. Custard tarts. Little bit of apple and pear. Vanilla. Coconut. Honey. Wee bit of dark chocolate and old oak.
Taste: Lots of honey upfront. Orange zest. 31 years spent in the cask begins to tell as the experience turns toward drying oak. A burst of fresh fruit comes through on the finish.
Thoughts: I’m trying to remain positive about grain whisky because I do think it can be an enjoyable drink. There’s just so much of the older stuff around and there can often be little variety in the experience from one to another. Having said that, any well stocked cabinet should have some grain whisky in it and £115 for a single cask of any 31 year old spirit is extremely good value.
In fairness, there is a complexity in the dram that perhaps sets it a notch above the average single grain. A lot of the usual flavour notes are there but it’s also pleasantly fruity. It actually surprised me how much I liked it. If you don’t have a single grain at home this would be a good buy. If you already have some and enjoy it, this would give you more of the same with enough of a difference to be interesting.
Buy Cask No G8.17 “Candles, kumquats and polished oak” here.
Buy the full tasting pack here.
If you would like to become a member of the SMWS, please visit here.