December’s outturn is usually where you get the big guns, after the volume outturn in November and everyone’s bought their presents, they buy something for themselves. That whole setup is becoming very expensive for me! Also, getting this one in the can is something of a relief as having reviewed 96 SMWS whiskies in the last 6 weeks I’m starting to yearn for some more gentle whisky in front of the telly out of a tumbler with no laptop… or maybe being able to talk to people while drinking!
Not that I’m complaining of course – there are over 170 single cask whiskies behind the bar in Greville street, all unique, all with their own interesting things to discover, atoms of distillery character, cask and finishing foibles, ages and styles. There’s a lot to explore, discover and understand, and that’s why I love SMWS.
November and December went off in Greville street like a bomb, the place really isn’t quite set up to hold that much stock, there’s whisky everywhere. And now they’ve done away with paper outturns they’re even more confused. 22 different casks arrived in time for the outturn and we were working off a packing slip until the outturn was published yesterday. I’ve tried them all*, notes are below, and marked as to which are in the outturn (on sale at 9am today!) and which are bar only. A few (all of which are worth getting) are small outturn and\or will go quickly, so you should be quick if you want them.
* actually not quite all, a 16 year old Caol Ila finished in virgin oak was a step too far, and negotiating with Phil over text message to get a photo of the label (with him several hours into drinking with Andreas) so I could find out what the damn thing was or was even called took too long. I’ll come back to that next week! It’s bar only anyway. [EDIT: this is done now, I’ve snuck it inbetween the others]
SMWS 54.43, Aberlour, Fresh and fruity frolics, 9 years old, 59.5% A⊕
4th April 2007, 228 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Quite appealing this. Initially quite dry and wooded (splints, not quite fences) and you fear youth, but then a grown up and quite deliciously balanced sweetness comes - refreshers, beeswax and honey, digestive biscuits, earth, pencils. With time that earth comes through even more, with a touch of tobacco and some cocoa powder. Even better with water, more of that earthy chocolate, more orange.
Body - Lemon sherbets, crayon wax and fennel seeds, candied orange peel. More fruit with water, more orange waxes.
Finish - Long but quite astringent. Some toffee at the end.
Surprisingly delicious this, I hadn't meant to open with such a good one, I just went for the youngest! That is a particularly lovely nose, with old school cask and chocolate, not too sweet on the bourbon, and a delicious but considered delivery, just the kind of bourbon cask I enjoy. Highly recommended!
SMWS 7.157, Longmorn, Cleopatra meets Robin Hood, 12 years old, 60.9% B+
22nd September 2003, 186 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Slightly warmer, muskier, a little meatier than the 54 - a bit less exciting, a little simpler but has more cheap milk chocolate and a little washable kids paint. Much more interesting with water; new carpet, new gloss paint.
Body - Delicious in the initial delivery, with big, bright lacquered fruit - very FF bourbon. Then it degrades a little - sharp, sour woods. The simplicity of this isn't holding up to the earthy complexity of the Aberlour. A touch of overripe fruit and tobacco with water.
Finish - Long and slightly sour. Hints of fruity, musky cask coming through, perhaps pulled a little young. Hot alcohol at the end. Better with water but lacking midrange.
A decent dram, a little simplistic perhaps but nothing terribly wrong with it. A little more interesting with water but I would have left it in cask another decade.
SMWS 64.87, Mannochmore, Rays of Sunshine, 12 years old, 59.2% A-
26th May 2004, 222 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - A big difference here, this is all pink marshmallows, women's perfume and strawberry jam on wholemeal toast (my typical breakfast). On exhale there's this hint of very old refill bourbon cask. More fruit but simpler with water.
Body - Very sweet with apricot jam in the initial delivery, turning into toast with honey. Better with water, that sugar is more balanced with fruit and wood.
Finish - Medium long, with more apricot, rose water, a little almond and candy cigarettes. Quite astringent and a little tougher than I'm making out, although very drinkable.
Intense, fruity sweetness and purple marshmallows makes me think of that Penderyn that I'm having trouble finishing the bottle of, so I can't recommend this as a bottle buy, but worth a go at the bar.
SMWS 36.105, Benrinnes, Herbal delights, 13 years old, 55.8% A
14th August 2002, 198 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Bright but earthy, chalky bonbons, fresh flowers (I'll say lilies because it's the only one I know), herbal (dried bay and oregano) and underneath all that, toffee chocolate sweetness. Lovely and floral. More chocolate toffee with water, more fruit (cut oranges), and a touch of swimming pool.
Body - Quite a gentle delivery, like sweet melting chocolate on the tongue. Toffee pennies and chocolate orange perhaps. There's an interesting balance of fruit, chocolate and tannins in here that's quite compelling. Better with water, more obviously delicious with a musky retronasal note.
Finish - Long but astringent, back into the florist rather than the sweetshop. Matchmakers (mint) at the end though.
Very drinkable, well balanced but probably not one you'd come back to during a whole bottle. Worth a go at the bar.
SMWS 48.79, Balmenach, 'Caught Red Handed', 11 years old, 56.8% A+
29th March 2005, 168 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Intense, naughty sugars (gummy sweets, the white bit in liquorice allsorts, foam bananas), but well balanced - minerality, ozone, limoncello, candle wax, cask musk. Floral again but sweeter and fresher. A really compelling nose.
Body - Big fruit sweetness at the front, then toast and sesame, then a ripe, waxy funk, and a light feeling of peat. Cigarettes feature briefly (both unlit and then a touch of ashtray). An even better fruit, cask, petrol balance with water.
Finish - Medium with pickled chillies and sweets brought back from holiday (a bit weird, a bit well-travelled). Good bright spices and fruit/wood balance make it very drinkable.
A complex, interesting and well put together drinking whisky. Good tannins and lemon sour make it balance and bring you back for more.
SMWS 41.87, Dailuaine, Punchy perfumed peach and plum, 11 years old, 59.3% B+
4th March 2005, 192 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Sweet, grapey and mineral - bright, fizzing and green. Back on the cheap icing here but with a juicy agave feel to it… but there's something more, like dissolving vitamin C tablets. I do like these young, mineral whiskies that are interesting and complete, and the wax, chalk and grape thing is compelling. More chalky with water, but more pronounced chocolate.
Body - Arrestingly sweet and sharp, with great minerality and waxes. Unripe pear and whistle pops, lots of spicy toffee. Sour apple with water.
Finish - Long, very sweet, quite sour and very spicy. Sour wood at the end. No… more hot chocolate at the end.
A really interesting, curious nose on this, and a very ordinary delivery.
SMWS 85.44, Glen Elgin, Have your cake and eat it, 10 years old, 59.4% B
22nd June 2006, 234 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Really interesting again, my initial impression was one of that deep, winey sweetness you get in beef stew, but sourer, like you've just deglazed a pan with vinegar. With time, nuttier, charred raisins, pencil cases, angelica - perhaps fruit cake then. More freshly fruited with water.
Body - Extremely sweet at first, pure sweetshop (the denser, sweeter foam bananas) and fake cappuccino drink (from a packet), then stewed tea. Astringent and a slightly fake sweetness with water. Even more fizzing.
Finish - Then toffee at the end, Sechuan peppercorns on the tip of the tongue, fizzing tannins at the side of the tongue.
Ordinary first fill bourbon padding. This could have done with a trip through the virginoakinator.
SMWS 76.130, Mortlach, Forever Young!, 28 years old, 53% A⊕+
24th September 1987, 186 bottles, refill bourbon – BAR ONLY
Nose - Old and rich, like a big old white Burgundy. Blusteringly old actually, this feels more like 35 with old leather chairs, well-polished wood, orange buttercream icing, and a dark, almost dank backnote of coffee beans in dark chocolate, drying sherry vinegar and old cask. The fruit here is good but it's all about the old wood, neat. With water, it opens up even more. It now reminds me, weirdly, of old Glenfiddich.
Body - Extremely old.. Just give me a minute. Enormous waxed cask, with dried bitter orange peel, petrol station, strawberry laces and apricot and almond tart. A really satisfying floral, waxy, fruity character. So gentle - old fruit and tobacco. I really can't stop drinking this. Even better with water, into old Tomatin territory with the fruit.
Finish - Dandelion stalks, cigar tobacco, baked apple, and effortless cask right to the end, outpacing the fruit. This reminds me of the finish on a 40 year old calvados. Quite zesty with repeated sips, I was waiting for this youth! It's a footnote.
This is old school amazing whisky. Intense, balanced, well matured (any longer might have been pushing it). Highly recommended, I will be getting this.
SMWS 72.50, Miltonduff, A Nomad's tent, 31 years old, 54.4% A⊕
27th November 1984, 210 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Where the Mortlach was blustering, this is fresh, important, bright. Starfruit, unripe green apple, Coconut Ice, royal icing and sugar crusted pistachios. A little fabric softener, some warm white wine, some flaked almonds. It's all a little austere though, I think this should have come before the Mortlach and really you need to take your time with it.
Body - Sweet but extremely elegant on the delivery, no austerity anymore. Soft, green fruit, softened homemade ice cream, raspberry jam, glossy chocolate icing. It's delicious.
Finish - Long and perfectly balanced, that "posh dessert" thing goes right to the end. Finally, waxes.
This is a big, fruity, delicious whisky which you would smash, but it's not as good as the Mortlach in my opinion. Popular view at the time was the other way round though so… well I can only tell you what I thought!
SMWS 35.147, Glen Moray, Spicy sweet sensation, 21 years old, 55.3% A-
11th November 1994, 270 bottles, first fill toasted oak hogshead
Nose - Red, hard berries, jammy dodgers, a little Sangria and good hard/sour rye oak note. Cakey with time, but the American feeling of this whisky on the nose is quite exciting after the old stuff and presumably a good lead in to what's next. It gets better with time too, mellowing and integrating… to a point. Better with water, the parts come together more readily.
Body - Very interesting - playing a line right down the middle of spicy rye, middle-aged Scotch, black fruits and coffee. It's a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none though. I really like the sweetness and fruit but then… it's kind of arrested by one dimensional wood.
Finish - Unexpectedly extremely sweet and rich in the finish, Victoria sponge and buttercream. Delicious.
A schizophrenic whisky. Some of it is very delicious but it hasn't come together with the charred oak yet. Maybe it never would have, who knows! Definitely a good pick for the bar but there have been so many funky, fun Glen Morays this year that do this kind of thing better that I can't recommend it for a bottle. Certainly try it at the bar. Darren loved it.
SMWS 44.75, Craigellachie, Sticky blossom and spice, 12 years old, 55.9% B⊕
9th June 2004, 210 bottles, virgin oak hogshead, heavy toast medium char.
Nose - Much more classical on the nose, with sweet tobacco, planed oak, ripe Victoria plums and frost blown raspberries out of the freezer. There is a disconcerting youth nudging in here, with hollow cereal and yellow wood, but it's pushed back by fruit and wham bars. Sweeter and fruitier with water.
Body - Sharp, bright, very toasted and richly sweet with honey, beeswax, raspberry juice and orange oil. Mexican chocolate with water.
Finish - Long, very fruity and very oily, with cigarette tobacco and red chilli. Toffee pennies near the end, followed by chewed pencils. Very spicy with water.
Very interesting this one, quite a ride with all that fighting between the fruit, wood and spice. Definitely worth a dram at the bar.
SMWS 7.154, Longmorn, Stylish & Vibrant!, 30 years old, 44.4% A?
24th September 1985, 72 bottles, virgin oak hogshead, heavy toast medium char – BAR ONLY
Nose - Very strange. Like you took a big old whisky and splashed vinegar on your hands before smelling it. There's waxy tropical fruit bubbling away underneath very clear cigar tobacco, fence panel next to candle wax, new gardening compost with baked, nearly mouldy apples. It's more rotten on exhale than inhale, that cigar on inhale is very special, but the wax, fruit and wood are all at odds. Better fruits and integration with water, the apple is less rotten too. Reminds me of floor boards being stained, or balsa wood. It’s also very strangely formic.
Body - Very interesting - more of the same though really, baked apples, cigars, toffee oak, camp coffee plus cold red wine and milliput. With time, peach sweets and red apple skin. With water, skin on rice pudding and stewed tea.
Finish - Medium, hot and musky, with lots of spongey wood.
I invented a new mark for this. It's an enormous car crash but quite interesting and really drinkable nonetheless. I like the fruit, I like the old Longmorn, I actually quite like the virgin oak but it doesn't belong with the first two. And hats off to Euan for having the stones to do this: "30 year old, refill bourbon Longmorn, 72 bottles… finished in Virgin Oak".
I wouldn't recommend buying it though.
SMWS C2.1, Exquisitely polished, XO, 67%
Cognac Petite Champagne, 492 bottles, Cognac barrel. I don't know anything about Cognac! – BAR ONLY
Body - Intensely polished, actually knocking on fly spray (if you can remember what that smells like), quite sharp and weird, quite chemical. Although, what do I know… better with wood but it's outclassed by everything else today.
Finish - Medium-short, medicinal. Hints of wax near the end but nothing to write home about.
I've little interest in this, it isn't whisky and it isn't worth the units. Unlike the next one…
SMWS C3.1, A fragrant ramble, Extra Old, 50.9%
Cognac Grande Champagne, 558 bottles, Cognac barrel.
Nose - Much more interesting, sour and volatile like marker pens, but far bigger, fruitier and better integrated. This is more like November's Cognac (C1.2), with stewed apples and libraries galore. There's a lovely herbal element to this; slightly cooked with pastry, green olives, cut grass. Better with water, more pastry, absolutely delicious.
Body - Bright, then waxy, rich, and fruity (like an olive oil is fruity), extraordinarily tasty - I could quite get into this Cognac thing. There's a really beautiful balance here between citrus zest, sour wood and sweet apples that's really delicious to drink.
Finish - Really expressive, right through the finish, really green, herbal and sweet with lightly charred raisins, bamboo and green apple skin. Apple pips with water, right at the end.
This is phenomenal.
SMWS B4.3, FEW distillery, Full flavour behaviour, 3 years old, 63.4% A⊕
8th February 2013, 108 bottles, new charred oak
Nose - You can just picture the tiny oak casks here. Initially this is pure hollow oak (the colour is fabulous by the way). Start digging, there's charred pineapple, UHU glue… wood glue? I want to say cake but its more meaty, like sausage meat goes after long smoking with really fruity BBQ sauce. With time this really grows on you, delicious.
Body - Big, apply, fruity oak. Chocolate covered raisins, cherry tunes, cheap raspberry jam. The vivid fruit in here is a real surprise, seriously delicious.
Finish - Medium and very juicy, cherry pipe tobacco, cheap cherry pie and liquorice. Mouth wateringly fruity.
This is extraordinary. How? Tiny casks and extreme weather conditions I guess.
SMWS RW1.1, Rye from FEW Distillery?, Simply supermassive, 3 years old, 61.8% A
4th April 2013, 96 bottles, new charred oak. Rye whisky! I am (quite reliably I think) led to believe that this is Rye whiskey from FEW distillery but don’t know for sure.
Nose - Pure milk chocolate on the nose, quite rich and creamy, the wood is much softer here, better integrated. Ripe pear, rose petals and almost overripe peach, some cask wax with digging, amazing to get that after 3 years. Coffee, blackcurrants, dark chocolate with time.
Body - Sharper, but richer than the B4.3, there is a really deep creamy note to this with that rye. Cherry chocolate cake with double cream, blackcurrant sorbet. Quite spicy too, like a black pepper, chilli glaze.
Finish - White wine, tobacco, lemon sorbet.
Again, this is delicious. Not as remarkable as the B4.3 but really chuggable, I could drink more of this in an evening than the bourbon.
SMWS 4.223, Highland Park, Angel's delight, 20 years old, 52.1% A⊕+
30th November 1995, 210 bottles, 1st fill PX hogshead (previously ex-bourbon) – BAR ONLY (sorry)
Nose - Restrained sweetness, a little wax, a faint, faint peating. Give it time… there's a delightful, almost Japanese austerity here with light cigarettes, green apple skin and sealing wax. It's a metal workshop, with engine oil, burnt and wiped away. It's really compelling to smell but it's quite light, fingers crossed.
Body - Certainly less restrained, burnt candles and wicks, ancient waxy cask, cut cherries and then the toasty peat. There's a herbal quality here too, with cucumber, washing chives, pea pods. For some reason I could see this in the HP Fire bottle.
Finish - Big, rich, complete, red.
It is delicious. It's a bit restrained on the nose but the delivery (waxy, intense peat and oak, red fruit) is so remarkable I can forgive it. And it's the wax and red fruits that really make it stand out. Recommended - bar and bottle.
Two Bowmores next, only the first of which is in the outturn. The outturn one was distilled and bottled a year before the bar only one, and they’re completely different. Both are excellent to be honest, one’s shy but elegant, the other’s bigger, sweeter but more obviously delicious.
SMWS 3.274, Bowmore, Crab sticks and foam shrimps, 20 years old, 53.1% A+'
6th April 1995, 216 bottles, refill bourbon
Body - Sweet, rich and complete, with refreshers, green apple and apple jelly. Delicious - quite edible actually. Even better with water, more earthy.
Finish - Slightly funky, very long with seafood and (very clearly) Marie Rose sauce. It gets sweeter as the finish develops, fruit salad chews at the end.
Quite a restrained Bowmore, but well-judged and delicious to drink.
SMWS 3.295, Bowmore, Bouquets and spades, 20 years old, 54.6% A⊕
5th April 1996, 228 bottles, refill bourbon (a year minus one day after the previous one) – BAR ONLY
Nose - Much riper, more waxes, more refreshers, maybe even a touch of blessed parmas? Icing sugar and chalk take the edge off a bit. The 274 is more waxy and austere than this, which more obviously "old Bowmore" and a lot classier for it.
Body - Ripe and delicious, like Haribo dunked in white wine, but with a surprisingly floral edge, and fruity too (star fruit and pineapple). The delivery on the 274 is more restrained but this is a mature blockbuster (and even better with water).
Finish - Long and deliciously sweet, great balance of gentle peat and fruit and very long oils.
More fruits, oils and just bigger in every way than the 274, this is very different indeed and also well recommended. Bar only so get some while you can.
SMWS 53.240, Caol Ila, A Gathering Dinner Party, 16 years old, 64.2% C
16th March 2000, 276 bottles, virgin oak hogshead, heavy toast medium char.
Nose - Oddly light, biscuity, slightly herbal like, well, twigs. There's a faint red berry note too, which with the balsawood apparently almost completely obscures the Caol Ila. Real digging is required to find some Islay sweetness. Slightly better with water but there's suntan cream, red wine and wet cigarettes.
Body - Hot, spicy, peppery, slightly mucky and earthy (and not in a good way). The second sip is a lot better, much more jammy fruit, but I can't get my head round this very young balsa, cigar, biscuit thing. Hints of the dreaded Adnams whisky here, although slightly better sweetness.
Finish - Medium, most of that is sour cereal and sour hard sweets. Very hot.
A clumsy, sour and hard to drink whisky. Not recommended!
SMWS 33.134, Ardbeg, Peat roasted pig Hawaiian style, 8 years old, 60.9% A⊕
24th May 2007, 648 bottles, 2nd fill sherry butt
Nose - Quite ordinary sweet cereal on inhale, oddly meaty and floral on exhale. Maybe I'm being influenced by the title, but there's cold pork fat in there somewhere. Gets better with time - bright, medicinal raspberry jam, hundreds and thousands and a touch of Ribena. There's a really lovely alien dusty element here with, weirdly, French Fancies and Lemsip powder (as a powder) behind it. WTF.
Body - Mineral, primarily. Then quite significant charred wood, redcurrant jelly and pineapple juice. It really is delicious to drink, unexpectedly tropical. More fruit with water.
Finish - Long and really sweet, that pineapple really gelling with the peat. Aspirin at the end, omnipresent charred oak.
Delicious stuff, really fruity. Took a while to get going though.
SMWS 29.204, Laphroaig, A day at the beach, 18 years old, 53.6% A+
3rd December 1997, 276 bottles, refill bourbon – BAR ONLY
Nose - Unexpectedly sweet and bright, like a fresh Christmas cake - royal icing, marzipan and fruitcake, but still moist and vibrant. Sauvignon blanc, fizzers and limestone… and melon flesh… and swimming pool up the nose. Part of this is disappointingly light, part is excitingly bright.
Body - At first, gentle with light cereal and then, enormously, extraordinarily peated! Then back to lemon and lime pastry and a touch of bandage, with tiny chorizo sausages and lots of black pepper. Sweeter, fruitier with water, and just a hint of sulphur.
Finish - Slightly fetid, a touch of bandage, and quite a lot of lemon juice. Lots of lemon and peat at the end - the finish seems to die off quickly but with repeated sips there's that intense, lingering peat and even some TCP.
More intensely peaty that TCP'y, it's great to get an intense Laphroaig although this more brutal than classical.
Still, certainly worth a go at the bar.