SMWS at November brings the “big list”, with the Society offering a bumper crop of bottlings to meet the massive demand for Christmas drinking and present buying. After all, the casks can’t get any bigger (and given the current drought of sherry casks – there are none here again – they’re on average actually getting smaller), and they won’t blend more than one cask together to make a bigger release, so more individual casks must be released! This poses quite a problem for completists, cataloguers, archivists and obsessives like me and you, but as always I’ve got your back, or at least I’m planning to.
But first there’s a little list, and it’s a little early this month, October 31st rather than first Friday (November 6). This outturn has some really interesting whisky in it, with some beautiful noses in the “light or young” category, although I did find them a little disappointing in the delivery. The exception here is the 44, the first one, which is cracking. Then moving up the scale, there’s a couple of Arrans, both similar stats, both great. One is in the outturn, the other is on the bar only and takes the place of a Glen Grant which is online only (and I haven’t tried). Then there’s very little big old gear except for a Miltonduff, and a good bunch of Islays (especially the Laphroaig). The Glen Grant and Miltonduff are both reissues from previous outturns.
But no real unifying themes with this outturn, kind of the calm before the storm too. Be very afraid for mid-November, when the largest ever outturn will reveal its cards. I’m bloody terrified… happy Halloween!
SMWS 44.68, Tea time treat, Craigellachie, 12 years old, 61% A⊕
27 June 2003, refill bourbon, 274 bottles
Nose - Complex and enticing; sweet but sour barley, barley sugar, roasted lemon shells, fresh pipe tobacco and lovely, dusty, sweetshop fruit-salad fruits. Fruity, mouthwateringly sweet but still fresh. With water, slightly more meaty - hints of stew and carrots.
Body - Big, sharp and spicy. Lots of boiled sweets and massive alcohol burn. With water, more floral, significantly gentler; demerara sugar and a much fuller mouthfeel. Quite delicious but quite a bruiser still.
Finish - Long, with dusty sweets and hard barley.
The bright boiled-sweet balances the hard youth perfectly on this malt, it's a cracker and a fantastic 40-something quidder from this months' outturn.
SMWS 37.70, Fresh as a daisy, Cragganmore, 15 years old, 56.9% A-
22 August 2000, refill bourbon, 303 bottles
Nose - Bright and fresh with waxy mints, green melon, cheap vanilla ice cream and Edinburgh rock. Herbal notes include cut flower stalk, just washed coriander leaf and something just a little sexier, perhaps lip gloss? There's also a big, important old whisky in here which was looking forward to coming out but didn't quite make it. It's a really intriguing and balanced young nose again. It'd be a great dram for a really bracing spring day.
Body - Gentle, sweet, slightly spicy with a surprising lack of mid-range and a touch of Swarfega. Some cinnamon jawbreaker, which I don’t really like. Better integrated with more oils with water, but that disconcerting cinnamon heat is still there.
Finish - Long and hot (in a dusty cinnamon manner), also some chilli spice.
A fantastic nose on this whisky but I can't get my head round the cinnamon jawbreaker and chilli heat.
SMWS 39.113, An explosion of playfulness, Linkwood, 15 years old, 57% A
1 June 2000, refill bourbon, 300 bottles
Nose - Light, bright, waxy and quite girly. Strawberry laces (the plasticky hollow ones) and limoncello. Actually the longer I spend with it the more masculine it becomes; freshly dug potatoes, cardboard, earth. But then back with the fizzers and lemon toffees. Fascinating and balanced (I love the earthy ones). Come on delivery…. be good!
Body - Quite hard… and quite ordinary unfortunately. Unripe apple, fruit polos, quite a lot of spice and some apple pips. All quite muted against some bitterness. With water a lot better - softer with some marshmallow; odd elements though like Pritt Stick and liquorice root.
Finish - Medium, a little hollow. Spicy and numbing. At the end, unripe pear.
Quite a challenging whisky given the name; wonderful nose though.
SMWS 5.47, Floral perfumes in a Chinese restaurant, Auchentoshan, 14 years old, 59.8% A
11 October 2000, refill bourbon, 239 bottles. Given the name and the distillery, I have high hopes for this.
Nose - Another intriguing, balanced and fruity nose, with an interesting element of funk about it (that's the Chinese restaurant, with anise-doped pork fat and Asian fruits. I also love the funky ones, I wonder if I should mix the last two?). That intensely sweet but slightly held back Auchentoshan character is present too, with white lilies and old school permanent markers. Absolutely wonderful.
Body - Softly sweet, lots of hard oak and great funk, numbing though. Dusty at the sides of the tongue and spicy on the tip. Weirdly lacking in mid-range again, the feeling is quite watery with intense sweetness, floral funk and big tannins hanging out in their own corners but not really coming together.
Finish - Extremely drying tannins, very long and quite spicy in the overall delivery.
Another fabulous nose let down by heat and tannins in the late delivery. Bah.
SMWS 36.90, Happy, frivolous, smoochy dram, Benrinnes, 15 years old, 57.5% A+
14th September 1999, 1st fill bourbon, 217 bottles.
Nose - Slightly darker wood, red wine soaked, sweet with first fill bourbon goodness (lemon tart, royal icing and the dipper from a sherbet dib-dab). There's a lovely fist-full-of-roses floral element in here too; obvious, fresh and crushable. Behind that, good clean hard barley fun. With water significantly more vanilla icing - almost buttercream icing. And just a touch of petrol.
Body - Soft, round and warm, a latte and a mouthful of Marlboro light tobacco. With water, apple juice, cannoli (thanks Mari Ella) and retronasal almonds.
Finish - Simple and relatively short, clean and delicious. Some milk-tart now but with just a hint of funk. With a different panel this would have had a bakery in the title. Delicious.
SMWS 121.84, What goes around…, Arran, 15 years old, 56.2% A⊕
2nd December 1999, refill bourbon, 263 bottles.
Nose - oh hello… deep "new" plastic (new library book coverings, a new magazine), sweet sherry, box fresh tools (hard plastic packaging and sweet machine oil), and just… compelling. Most unlike a "modern Arran" but certainly with the same DNA (actually I'm sure there are some casks in the recent OB 18 that were like this). Fresh and interesting, fruity and a bit dirty, and a ghost of toast with marmite. Great nose. With water, even better potentially - a little more toast, baked plums.
Body - Big and sweet with cereal led spice and orchard fruit. Toffee apple actually, oak and a lovely tropical wax behind it.
Finish - Medium, toffeed and quite oily. Better integration with water.
This is a fantastic Arran and reminds me of the OB 18 (if not overall, certainly in part). Big fan.
SMWS 121.80, A curious and eccentric conundrum, Arran, 14 years old, 54.6% A⊕
20th April 2000, refill bourbon, 292 bottles. Danish release? On the bar in London right now (not in the outturn).
Nose - Sweet but balanced by reduced red wine. Dark and earthy, this reminds me of the Bere Barley which was [BIG HEART]. Also, big jewelled sweetshop stuff (but held in check by the earth).
Body - Sweet, spiced, crystal malt and puff pastry. Actually now I’ve tasted it the nose is all puff pastry. Lovely sulphur and fruit backboned toffee too. Clean fruit - ripe pear and orange juice.
Finish - Quite long, toffee and tannins. Long after the "official finish" ends there's red wine cask and good sulphur.
Another fantastic Arran, it's easy to forget (given how much of it there is) how good Arran can be. It's all in good proportion here; great spirit, good cask, fruit, meat and a touch of funk. Come and buy a dram!
SMWS 1.196, Sunshine, motherhood and apple pie, Glenfarclas, 13 years old, 57.2% A⊕
7th June 2002, refill bourbon, 235 bottles.
Nose - Bright leaves, preserved lemons, Mukhwas and honey. Lemsip even. Stewed bramley apples and dunnage warehouse - wet oak, damp soil. Very good.
Body - Oh yes… gentle but slightly burnt (burnt pastry, burnt toast) a touch of sulphur and a deep dirty wax. Quite spicy but ripe and interesting. A dirty cask come good. Softer, more toffeed with water. Delicious.
Finish - Quite long, lots of bitter lemon zest and almost grapefruit. "French brown" pastry - quite nutty at the end (hazelnut membrane).
This is a fantastic whisky; nutty and delicious. Pity I forgot to take a photo.
SMWS 48.63, Up all night editorial, Balmenach, 11 years old, 62.8% A+
7th August 2003, first fill bourbon, 211 bottles.
Nose - Loving the magazines and dawn thing. The magazines are bright, sweet and plasticky. Dawn is cold, fresh and ozoney but with a bit of inner city petrol. Also: frost blown cheap ice cream, foam bananas and (weirdly) leeks. E45 cream! Don't shoot the messenger. I love it though. With water, wedding cake: marzipan and royal icing.
Body - Sweet, spicy and most clearly aniseed balls. Deliciously fruity with water, balancing bitterness.
Finish - More ice cream. More frost. Clean though, a winter whisky, with a really insistent toffeed fruit to it.
SMWS 28.26, Pile-driver punch whisky, Tullibardine, 10 years old, 61.4% A+
24th March 2005, refill bourbon, 192 bottles.
Body - Middy, spicy, candied orange, soft fruit toffees and lovely cask. With water, even fruitier but perhaps the orange is dried and a bit more xmassy?
Finish - Medium, big oils, and lots of grapefruit bitterness.
A good one this, some hot radiator fruit, lots of orange and a balanced citrus bitterness.
SMWS 72.28, What a wonderful world, Miltonduff, 30 years old, 51.2% A⊕
17th November 1982, refill bourbon, 144 bottles. This is a reissue from May 2014, but I hadn’t tried it before.
Nose - After all this infanticide, a 30 year old! Quite a change of gears. Deep and jewelled, slow cooked lemon wax, and very clearly lime marmalade. Obviously delicious and quite citrussy, almost key lime pie. A touch of cloudy lemonade perhaps?
Body - Ripe, gentle, dark lemon curd. Perfect wood balance too but a touch too wooded.
Finish - Quite short, almost watery but delicious and easy drinking. This is the kind of old, gluggable drammer that would impress your boss. Probably get one in stock just in case.
SMWS 4.213, A regency Pomander, Highland Park, 15 years old, 56.6% A⊕
15th October 1999, first fill bourbon, 213 bottles.
Nose - Very whisky warehouse: sweet, beautiful spirit, fresh cask, clean air . Baked apple (fluffed up but still sour) with raisins. And here's the blessedly relief of a few PPM of peat! It's manifesting as more lovely earthy tones and ryvita (so quite cereal too). As for Pomander, I get a dried orange slice, perhaps some tobacco and some old honey. With water, more nuts, more hot radiator, sweeter wine lovely. A great, ordinary HP that reminds me happily of Edrington's bottling hall.
Body - Sweet but bitter, and here's the cloves from the Pomander as top dressing. Underneath there's classic deep HP toffee, wine, old wood and acrylic.
Finish - Long, quite bitter and almost cloying but rescued by floral coffee notes. Very nutty at the end.
This is quite a confused HP, and hardly well integrated but very tasty. With water it really works and at £60 this is a big, wine led, beautiful HP which I have no hesitation in recommending.
SMWS 3.254, Sweet and salty seaweed, Bowmore, 19 years old, 58.1% A+
27th March 1996, refill bourbon, 274 bottles.
Nose - Sharp and floral, lots of salt and ozone, quite citric acid led too. But with that "fish and chips" note that makes good (young, bourbon) Bowmore so satisfying. It's very toppy to be honest (malt vinegar) and quite young on the nose, but balanced and interesting (and in the same way S&V Chipsticks are, if we're all honest, absolutely awesome, this is delicious).
Body - Fresh, juicy, intense lemon and seaside peat. Pear and toffee. This isn't the progression I'd expect from Bowmore and there's no way I'd call this as a 19 year old. However if you were offered this was a 5 year old Kilchoman for this money you'd probably bite the offerer's arm off.
Finish - Long and citric, dusty and bitter. On message.
This is a tough call. It's young for a 19yo Bowmore, and off balance with the citric bitterness, but it has a lot of interesting elements and quite drammable. Up to you dude.
SMWS 29.175, The day's catch, Laphroaig, 16 years old, 52.6% A⊕+
1st July 1999, refill bourbon, 289 bottles.
Nose - Fabulous. Meaty, peaty and salty, with old bandages, burnt pine needles and smoked mussels. It has a level of meaty savour I kind of assumed was reserved for refill sherry casks. Funkier with water too. Pink peppercorns and juniper, Sauternes and hubba bubba, but most importantly funky, medical Laphroaig. Delicious.
Body - White wine and perfect pepper. Dank peat and a little wet, even. Funky and juicy but strangely drying.
Finish - Medium, quite fresh and bandage led. But so drying.
Bandages, white wine, quite dirty and very medical, I have no hesitation in recommending this to you as a frequent SMWS flyer. This is an excellent Laphroaig and very far from (now) mainstream Laphroaig.
SMWS 53.229, Life is a beach, Caol Ila, 19 years old, 55.3% A⊕
16th January 1996, refill bourbon, 303 bottles.
Nose - Gentle and ripe, fruit and S&V. Grapes? An absolute classic SMWS Caol Ila, with salt & vinegar peanuts, it’s musky and citric. Love hearts too, very distinctly. Maybe some Tokaji? I am a bit awash with SMWS Caol Ila at home but this is still turning my head.
Body - Clean and yes, it's got a real peat backing but mainly it's a pillow of marshmallow. Big, blousey artificial sweetness… it works surprisingly well. Some floral sourness too, like almost overripe raspberry.
Finish - Long, balanced, fruity and winey.
This is actually quite a weird Caol Ila and it took me a while to decide that I really like it. But then I did.
But don’t get too excited yet, there’s a lot more between now and December to spend your xmas money on! Cheers all.