November for volume, December the showcase, and this December is the first December the society is under new ownership. So as expected, there are some big whiskies in this outturn, the whole thing is pretty awesome! There’s some big, sometimes shocking prices in here too unfortunately but sometimes it’s worth it – I’ll always regret not buying 124.5 this time last year, despite the price tag, and in any case the society’s business strategy isn’t, and shouldn’t be “to be cheap”.
As you probably know, the London SMWS bar has now undergone its refurbishment. Gone are the sofas and green walls, in come dark walls, wooden chairs, more seating space and a more serious “whisky bar” vibe. Fingers crossed the food and coffee also go soon, the smell of fish and chips is a tricky one to delete when you’re trying to write notes for a well balanced but mineral Arran.
All in all its been a great year with the society – more fantastic Arrans (including the first ever released 19 year old), a whole parade of important Bladnochs, mature, elegant Highland Parks galore, countless excellent refill bourbon Glenfarclas and loads of great, weird or big casks – Penderyn, Glencadam, a port Glenrothes, mature Glen Moray in first fill, designer and recharred oak, lots of white wine casks, the flight of Port Charlottes at the start of the year, the first Dumbarton, all of that Japanese gear, the return of society bourbons, big Springbanks (including “that” Springbank, so good I ended up buying four), the return of Laphroaig and associated controversy, Rosebanks, Kilchomans, big old Dailuaines, a Scapa, “that” Strathisla, three 26 year old Bowmores, big, old Caol Ilas every month, and of course 57 bloody whiskies in November!
Cheers! Here’s to next year. Oh, and here’s the first society Cognac…
SMWS C1 Nectar céleste, 48.4% A⊕
Fine Island Cognac. XO, 450 bottles, French oak barrel.
Nose - Burnt sweet oak, sweet wet hay, very cut grass. Meaty, but oddly fresh. There's a real red berry thing in here too, slightly stale strawberry laces and Demerara sugar - perhaps icing sugar. It's quite rum-like actually.
Body - Lovely, rich and appley, quite sour and toppy but then it's a Cognac not a whisky! Lots of orange squash - then grapefruit zest. Very juicy with a hint of lime after a while. Less interesting with water - not as fully flavoured as a whisky but rather good.
Finish - Quite short - a bit like Lockets with the intense boiled sweet outer and fruity syrup interior, finishing with tannic, sour fruit.
This is pretty good actually, not that I know anything about Cognac (I'll give it a score but only for my own amusement). Fancy a bottle of C1?
SMWS 125.72, Strawberry delight, Glenmorangie, 11 years old, 57.5% A⊕
24th February 2004, 186 bottles, first fill barrel. Apparently only 6 bottles in each UK venue and incomprehensibly priced – maybe this is a parting sentiment from LVMH?
Nose - Intensely sweet - strawberry chews, banana milkshake, Angel Delight. Marshmallow. This is how I expect that "Fluff" stuff to smell. Hazelnut cake too? Some cereal, some youth but overshadowed by the intense confectionary. With water, a touch of tomato and swimming pool, also nougat and still incredibly sweet.
Body - Incredibly sweet - musky and fruity and lots of wood and sour orange. Peanut butter and jelly. More gentle fruit with water, still firewater mind. With lots and lots of water, the wood musk comes through - you can see how this would work at 40%.
Finish - Quite long, but not overbalanced at all - a massive fruity smash but balanced by big wood tannin and a touch of sulphur. Nothing with lots of water though - standard Glenmo fare.
As much as I didn't really want to like this (not a massive Glenmorangie fan), this is fantastic cask of whisky (pity it leaked). Reminds me a bit of "As purple as Prince" in its juicy, fruity demeanour but definitely more accomplished.
BUY (but certainly not at that price, and not that there's any to buy).
SMWS 121.82, Expanding supernova of flavours, Arran, 15 years old, 57.6% A⊕
2nd December 1999, 269 bottles, refill bourbon… sweet, sweet Arran!
Nose - Very Arran. Sweet, bright orange liqueur, orange wax, cut plum and those pink wafer biscuit things. A lovely, springlike nose - fresh but complex and balanced. Elegant, delicious, not very wintery but save it 'til April.
Body - Big, bright, floral and biscuity. Quite a musky orange fruit delivery, a touch of sulphur. With water, a little more orange oil, balanced by dry chilli and black pepper, and absolutely delicious to drink. Complicated and interesting, this is the kind of whisky that makes you pleased to be a society member.
Finish - Black pepper and gunpowder. Lots of tannins and almost chewy. Long and musky, good orange wood at the end with chilli chocolate.
For some reason I wasn’t expecting this to be one of the standout drams of the outturn but it’s surprisingly good (even for a society Arran), highly recommended.
SMWS 50.73, Energizing, grounding and centring, Bladnoch, 25 years old, 59.7% A⊕+
26th January 1990, 162 bottles, 2nd fill Sauternes finish - previously "ex-bourbon"
Nose - Immediately I'm thinking of bacon sandwiches - I think it's brown sauce? Sweet, sour, spiced, stewed fruit. Complex, honeyed cask underneath too - very warming with a biscuity backing. Obviously old - there's a dark raisiny edge - old library, old cleaning products, erm… brown sauce? It's definitely got that authoritative edge to it that these Bladnochs usually seem to have. Even better with water, some of the Sauternes finish coming through - and very definitely roast lamb with lots of rosemary. With some time, marzipan/raspberry pound cake. What a whisky.
Body - Tobacco, toffee and old leather sofas. Big, beautiful tannins. With water, soft fruit, lots of orange, lots of Drumsticks (the sweets), perfect balancing wood structure
Finish - More bloody orange - lovely though. Soft toffee orange, more tannins and Marlboro light, a little mulled wine.
A fascinating whisky - playing that weird (but integrated) brown sauce against the mature orange and toffee, and winning. Tobacco, stewed fruit, complex and always delicious. Very compelling, one of the best whiskies I've had this year.
SMWS 1.199, The whole is greater than…, Glenfarclas, 21 years old, 55.6% A+
23rd September 1993, 211 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Beautifully warm and sweet, stewed plum and beautiful ripe melon. Raspberry? Oranges slices. Absolutely delicious. Damn the December outturn is hard work! Whipped cream, sponge fingers, raspberry jam and iced rings. Lovely Victoria sponge cake with time. With water, very clearly red braised pork (pork belly, star anise, sugar, soy, lots of time). Woof! It's a beautiful, complex, warm radiator nose, and the toffee cereal with time is delicious.
Body - Acrylic paint, liquorice torpedoes, more raspberry jam… it's delicious in the initial delivery but it's not quite living up to the nose later on, slightly flat as it progresses.
Finish - A little hot, more paint, some marzipan… it's a good, mature whisky but shown up slightly by the sheer excellence of those around it.
Still, in another outturn this'd be a strong BUY
SMWS 27.110, Horse harnesses and mescal 'worms', Springbank, 22 years old, 52.6% A⊕⊕
11th December 1992, 241 bottles, first fill sherry hogshead
Nose - Immediately Springbank (like coming home) but then obviously mescal. Toast, plums, roast pork with hoisin, roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce. Pipe tobacco, pulled pork. Closed but complicated, and challenging. With water, peppered roast beef (almost jerky), lovely waxed cask, ozone.
Body - Intensely Springbank - deep, lots of horseradish, lots of sherry engine oil. Very classy. Meaty too - lamb and rosemary again now, big bitter tannins, big sour fruit, dirty strawberries. Coffee, engine oil, toffee. Very ripe, absolutely fantastic. With water, less exciting but still lovely.
Finish - Long and tannic, sour strawberries and grapefruit, but soft and ripe with lingering permanent markers and wax candles.
It's big money but this is worth it. Meaty, messy, classy, important.
SMWS 85.34, Having arrived, Glen Elgin, 9 years old, 59.9% A+
22nd June 2006, 222 bottles, 1st fill bourbon
Nose - Fresh and acrylic, apple spirit and lime marmalade. Very fresh and quite musky, lots of marzipan. A lovely clean, spirity whisky. Juicy fruit chewing gum and the cleaning fluid that removes it. After tasting, whole nut chocolate bar. With water, stewed plum and lime - fresh, ripe, red plums. Lovely.
Body - Big, very sweet, extremely almondy - plum and cherry crumble. Delicious and perfumed. Even better with water, really getting the plum stones.
Finish - Long and cherried, balanced and competent.
A delicious, young, fruity whisky redolent of plum stones and lime.
SMWS 93.67, 'Wine like the wind is sweet', Glen Scotia, 13 years old, 58.1% A+
30th April 2002, 228 bottles, refill bourbon. Great name!
Nose - Sweet, light, lemonade and lemon juice. Lemon sherbets, a touch of honey, a touch of cask. Very un-glen scotia. Underneath, a little cask musk, a touch of gunpowder, candle wax, some MDF. We probably should have had this earlier, where's the peat? With water, vanilla ice cream and wafers.
Body - Sweet toffee, cut flower stalk, lemon curd, musky toffee. Intensely sweet - is this really refill bourbon Glen Scotia? Delicious though - ripe, floral and structured. Waffles? Maple?
Finish - A little fire, beautiful honey cereal, a touch of spice, milk chocolate, sweet popcorn and almost cloying (but not quite).
Another delicious whisky. Starting to lose the power to gush…
SMWS B3.3, Treacle buns in a sawmill, Rocktown, 2 years old, 54.3% A+
7th November 2012, 221 bottles, new charred oak barrel. Another B3 after one in November, but I saw a tweet from Rocktown distillery the other day that had a picture of a barrel with “SMWS B3.4” written on it so we have at least one more on its way.
Nose - Weak and woody. Blonde, planed oak, leather belt - new furniture, and a little red berry. Fresh and summery - weirdly austere, but with digging, oddly delicious. This is the kind of angular red fruit that I enjoy in single cask bourbon. Very interesting. Quite winey - like a Tokaji.
Body - Massive oak planks - almost completely wood! But oddly delicious with it - pear tart tatin, sugar work, sweet Moroccan tea. Marzipan again - almondy and clear.
Finish - Short but tannic, a touch of sulphur, new plastic and a big pastry finish. Burns the palate with new oak tannins.
This is one of the most "I've just spent two years in a load of wood" whiskies I've ever had, but it works.
SMWS 10.84, Grabs you by the goulies!, Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, 60.8% A
25th May 2005, 211 bottles, refill bourbon. Apparently this is an important date football-wise.
Nose - Young and muddy, a little coffee, some cinder toffee. Gunpowder, crushed granite, white pepper. It's fresh, with lemon salt, sea shells and a little bread, but not too complex. A typical, robust, young peated Bunnahabhain. With water, fresh cut rosemary and more gunpowder - with lots of water, quite a lot better with some of the (faint) cask coming through the spirit.
Body - Spicy, steak sauce, BBQ beef hula hoops. Good toffee musk with water, a touch of apple sauce?
Finish - Lemon zest, lots of black pepper and toasted buns. Grapefruit zest at the end. With the "lots" of water it takes to show some interest in the rest of the experience, it's a bitter finish
A young, competent bruiser. Zesty and coastal, quite thin in the delivery and not out of place, just not of massive interest to me (young, peated Bunnahabhain generally isn’t). I can't recommend this on its own, but as a means of obtaining the transcendent Ardbeg and Laphroaig, I'd go along with it.
SMWS 33.132, Beauty and the Beast, Ardbeg, 8 years old, 60.9% A⊕⊕
24th May 2007, 624 bottles, 2nd fill sherry butt
Nose - A lovely, dirty, sherried peat, a perfect Ardbeg nose. Country paté, charcoal, musky fruit - quite sexy. Red cherry lip salve, bay leaves. More BBQ than peat. Fabulous, complex, sweet. With water, plastic book coverings, more mackerel, chocolate cherries.
Finish - Perfumed and beautiful, just the right level of filth to make it perfect. Enormous pastry. Future echoes of alien Islay sweetshop.
I really didn't want to like this. How on earth do Ardbeg do this at 8? Dirty, fruity, cherried.
SMWS 29.171, Essence of Islay, Laphroaig, 20 years old, 58.4% A⊕+
4th April 1995, 216 bottles, refill bourbon
Body - Perfect. Rich, coastal cereal. Bandages, white wine and walnuts. Absolutely delicious.
Finish - Burnt toast, honey and figs. Massive tannins. Just a touch eggy?
A mature, perfectly balanced Laphroaig, perfectly made, fruity with old bandages. Awesome.
No Japanese, no totally crazy distilleries, but what an outturn – everything interesting, complex, thought provoking and delicious. If this is the new owners flexing their muscles we’re in for a great 2016. Happy Xmas!