The thing about whisky is that there really is one for every taste. Your taste will invariably differ to mine and what appeals to me may very well not appeal to you.
So it is with Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) tastings. There are some bottlings that I love, others that make me wonder why anyone bothered.
But the thing about SMWS whiskies is not always the whiskies – it’s the descriptions the bottlings have that is so fascinating.
The label notes for most whiskies get quite effusive, but the writers of the labels for SMWS bottlings have thrown out any pretence to understatement!
Some totally random samples:
“The chewy, substantial palate gave us pomegranate syrup, blackcurrant and dried apricot, with a warming pink peppercorn and moist gingerbread finish.”
“A smouldering hay bail, and a hint of buttery marmite toast.”
“Finally, a return to more farmyard qualities with cow sheds, earth and wood embers.”
“Reduction produces notes of roasted pine cone, and frying bacon along with a meaty, fennel sausage note.”
“Hints of autumn trips to the milk bar.”
“A big old bag of kippers, wood smoke, grilled whelks, smoked mussels in brine, lemon juice, wood ash and fishing nets.”
“A dollop of mercurochrome and ash-rolled Goat’s cheese.“
All of which challenges me to up my game and produce better tasting notes – although competing with the Society notes might be a near-on impossible task!
Code 123.3. “A cheeky little number” 61.7% abv, a 9-year-old from Glengoyne.
Nose: Raspberries and the deep aroma of an old leather couch, reminiscent of the upholstery in from my old and leaky Wolseley. Dark chocolate and apricots.
Palette: the edgy sourness of the first-fill bourbon cask, hot pepper and chilli, a leatheriness, musty and creamy and orange peel.
Finish: long, with fruit, chocolate, and spice.
Comment: Glengoyne whisky is made in the Highlands, but it is sent to the Lowlands to mature.
While this may appear an unnecessary cost, the truth is that the imaginary line between the Highlands and the Lowlands regions passes through the distillery. The stillhouse is on the northern side of the line, and the warehouse is on the southern (lowlands) side.
Thus, although they are in different “regions”, the travelling distance between manufacture and maturation is measured only in feet. Still, it is a good story!
Code 136.2 “Paradise in a paradis” 60.4% abv, 3yo, Eden Mill
Nose: A first whiff of mayonnaise, then garden binder-twine string and hessian, old dress material, old leather, brown sugar and sherry.
Palette: Soft but strong in the mouth, with sacking, fruit, a slight sootiness, and cake fruit mix. The taste is a bit immature (it’s only three!) with a lot of oak. The end is chilli heat.
Finish: The finish is long, with the tannic mouth drying of stewed tea.
Comment: This is the first output from the new Eden Mill distillery. The dram is from a first fill oloroso hogshead and the strong flavour remains. Not at all a bad drop! It will be interesting to see what later products emerge.
Code: 52.23 “ice cream and gorse by the sea” 58.9% abv, 11 yo, colour 0.6. Old Poultney
Nose: There are sweet lollies, grapefruit peel and marmalade, with vanilla ice cream.
Palette: Sweet and spices, cloves, cinnamon, and arrowmint chewing gum. It is dry, with a hint of aniseed. Adding a little water smoothes it out. And the last taste remaining is chilli heat.
Finish: Mouth-numbing and dry.
Comment: 9 years in bourbon, followed by two in a second fill PX cask. Yum.
Code: 4.249 “The mermaid’s marmalade” 64.6% abv, 13yo, Highland Park (Orkneys)
Nose: There is fruit and slight smoke, with a slightly oily aroma.
Palette: Peat is present, but surprisingly sweet rather than an overriding bacon note. Charred salt and rye toast are also present. Reduction with water accentuates the heat.
Finish: It is a light peat finish and a hot tongue. Not drying. Medium long, and the heat stays.
Comment: Refill oloroso.
Code: PTB M01 “Peat Ferrie Batch 3”, 50% abv, colour 0.3, 10yo blended peat malt
Nose: The first nose is slight smoke, vanilla ice cream, licorice and sandsoap. The overall impression is delicate and slightly floral.
Palette: The floral stays in the taste, with peat. Water smooths the drink, and lowers the peatiness, but soot and coal remain.
Finish: The light peat flavour stays. And stays.
Comment: This brew was blended by the Society. Personally, they could have saved themselves the trouble.
Code: 29.253 “Drifting and dreaming” 57.1, colour 0.1, 19yo Laphroaig
Nose: Peated and very smoky.
Palette: There is too much peat that is over-riding whatever else there is to offer.
Finish: Quite drying.
Comment: From a refill ex-bourbon cask. The peat is very prominent.
Overall view for the evening? A variety of offerings, some of which I covet and others I happily leave to others to covet. But there is no uninteresting whisky tasting, and this one gets a sound score of 9.0 from me!