This month sees the launch of SMWS’s “other” spirits range, including a gin (why! Actually this first one has spent half a year in a cask), plus cognac and rum. Of course they had released cognac and rum before (the rum output certainly predates my time in the society), and bourbon and rye whisky, and Japanese and grain whisky for that matter, but the new branding and focus shows intent to focus on these non-whisky spirits a little bit more.
Some old timers/reactionaries are probably already so dismayed by the multitude of short finishes and crazy casking that this split focus will be seen as final proof that the society has completely lost its way. Personally I was ambivalent until I tasted them – now I’m quite excited. The cognacs and rums in this outturn have haunted me ever since trying them, I can’t wait to have more.
It is slightly ironic that I no longer expect unadulterated Scotch whisky from SMWS but I do now expect great, pure cognacs and rums. And that I will finally be forced to learn something about these spirits by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society
- Distilled wine, primarily made with Ugni Blanc grapes, matured in oak casks
- All cognac is brandy (distilled fermented fruit juice), but only brandy from the Cognac region of France is called cognac, and brandy from the Armagnac region of Gascony is called armagnac.
- XO on bottle means at least 10 years old but you can’t say exactly how old (C3.1 was over 30). There is a lot of funny business with the ages.
- The appellations are given as regions within Cognac, France, with the central region called “Grande Champagne” which is where all the cognacs in this outturn are from
Finally, this is 1 of 2 for the August outturn because the majority of the whisky wasn’t available when I went to try these, but they have come into the bars now. Some of the missing ones from July (G15.1 and 66.104) never made it to the bar at all!
Unfortunately two of the best spirits in this outturn aren’t freely available – R6.1 is only available at the bar and R7.2 as part of a trio (with the gin and C4.1, which to be fair is quite a compelling proposition). R8.3 wasn’t available to try and is advertised with a three week wait if you buy it now, more labelling difficulties no doubt.
SMWS GN1.1, The Glasgow Distillery, Glasgow, Gee-Whiz, 50.1%
2nd fill bourbon barrel (6 months)
Nose - Sweet, very zesty and quite mineral, but with some depth - like a cross between limoncello and a hot toddy. Very definitely lemon sherbets. There's a noticeable wood influence in here, maybe it's in the macerated herbs and barks and stuff, maybe it's from the cask. Lip salve with water, maybe a little clove (and juniper, of course).
Body - Quite dry and oily, still with that deep seam of lemon sherbets (for all I know they actually put lemon sherbets in the neutral grain spirit before rectifying it). A little spicy near the end of the arrival. More obviously juniper with water, and over sweetened. Are they allowed to actually put a load of sugar in gin?
Finish - Long with dusty lemons and lots of sugar, fizzing with lemon at the end.
I actually quite like this. A lot better neat though so I wonder how it'd perform in the (already very sugary) tonic.
I'm not going to recommend gin to anyone but that doesn't mean you shouldn't BUY it.
SMWS 11.34, Tomatin, Magical mystery, 16 years old, 53.9% A⊖
9th October 2000, 179 bottles, 1st fill Spanish PX hogshead (previously in an Oloroso butt).
Nose - Warming but restrained, faint fruit and nut bar in a lacquered wooden box, some ghostly but quite rich PX in here - lovely integration, like a 20 year old PX Glendronach. Which is impressive if, as I assume, this is just a brief finish after a short spell in the Oloroso butt. There is a definite butyric note here but it turns into refreshers and cigarettes with time. Slightly herbal (cut hedges) and zestier with water (maybe I'm just still tasting the gin though).
Body - Rich and sweet, coffee and oranges. Quite hot and one dimensional but not the worse for it. A lick of sulphur adds seasoning. Simpler with water, but slightly more floral and waxy.
Finish - Quite short with good orange oils and toffee pennies. Quite hot at the end, with faint waxes. Red chilli with water, eventually cinnamon hot.
Good sherry bomb nose on this (good and restrained sherry, but intense character), but the chilli heat, sulphur and butyric notes ultimately don't add up here.
SMWS 73.86, Aultmore, Work of art, 14 years old, 59.2% C+
23rd September 2002, 580 bottles, refill sherry butt
Nose - Now we're talking; fresh and floral, but also old furniture and tropical fruit (tinned pineapple and peach). There's a light cheese note that makes me think of older society bottlings, but also a more recent bright, sour virgin oak note. Even better with water (a touch more mineral), although the virgin oak comes through a little more.
Body - Oh dear, hard and yellow, tannic oak and licked joss sticks, mouth tarring wood oils. It burns the side of the tongue with lemon oils and oak planks. Much improved with rather a lot of water, some toffee and fruit salad chews. My mouth is on fire though.
Finish - Long and bitter, lots of wood.
A bitter, harsh virgin oak experiment hiding in a sherry cask. But with a lovely nose. A little bit alarming.
SMWS 93.77, Glen Scotia, A classic rally, 9 years old, 58.8% A+
29th February 2008, 225 bottles, first fill bourbon
Nose - Heavenly, please let this work on the delivery! That Campbeltown light, coastal peat, with well balanced sweetness and that slightly fetid but enticing character that Campbelltown's doppelganger distillery can have (when it's getting it right). This is hot and dusty, with refreshers, old bandages and very old bibles. Ground cloves and asafoetida, and a tasting on the distillery tour.
Body - Perfect (I should try not to gush too much, it's perhaps to do with what came before) - the sweets, coastal funk and clear plastic book covers are perfect. There's something here I'm struggling to put my finger on, it might be goldfish flakes/food?
Finish - Dirty water. But I like it. Liquorice and chilli chocolate. Lots of cloves with water. Chlorine at the end.
Big fan of this, although it is pretty challenging in the round. A big, dirty slug of first fill bourbon Campbeltown.
SMWS 10.118, Bunnahabhain, Enthralling pink and peat intensity, 10 years old, 60.6% A⊕
Nose - Rich, bright, floral and intensely peated, the port cask has done to this Bunna what those bruising sherry cask Laphroaigs had (on the nose at least). Fizzing, slightly nutty, medicinal and alluring. Fingers crossed.
Body - Very sweet, slightly dirty, a definitive port presence with waves of fruit and peat, and drying, nutty wine cask. Peppercorns (let's say they're pink just to go with the flow) and TCP.
Finish - Long and elegantly fruited against the bandages and Germolene. Fizzers and nuts at the end…and then more TCP.
An inspired finish, very well executed. Highly recommended.
SMWS 29.223, Laphroaig, Relax, refresh, rejuvenate, 17 years old, 58.3% A+
1st July 1999, 228 bottles, refill bourbon
Nose - Very gentle after the 10, restrained sweetness, light wax and wood glue, with ripe peach, grilled pineapple and cut mango. Obviously more mature than the Bunnahabhain. Dirtier with water, more cigars, more wood glue.
Body - Dusty with a robust bitterness and a very deep sweetness (like neat orange barley squash). Moist cigar tobacco and Seville oranges. Oilier with water.
Finish - Long and intense, waves of medicinal peat, cut oak staves and orange zest, very juicy, very first fill.
A classy nose and a crushing delivery.
Here’s the cognacs. These are all XO which means over 10 years old but some of these are clearly a lot older.
SMWS C5.1, A tapestry of flavours, XO, 44.9% A⊕+
Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 483 bottles, Cognac Barrel
Nose - Elegant, balanced sweetness but this is a really lovely sweet old cask. Apple chews and acrylic varnish, strawberry laces and liquorice allsorts. I’m struggling to place the wax; emergency power cut candles I think (perhaps crayons, but it might be the old drawer with its fuse wire I'm really thinking of).
Body - Again great restraint with the sugar, off dry I'd say. It really does have a tapestry of flavours (although I would have gone with "mosaic"), this has balanced sugar, wax, mineral, tannins, wood and herbal notes.
Finish - Short with spiky courgette off the plant, and its flowers (yes, really). That herbal, green against the rich wood and fruit is really compelling, I can't stop sipping this.
SMWS C5.2, Herby goes bananas, XO, 47.1% A+'
Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 478 bottles, Cognac Barrel
Nose - Much more herbal, not quite so perfectly poised as the .1. Cut dandelion stalks, cut hedge, then banana cake with walnuts and a milky instant coffee, and some American chocolate. But there's that bright, alien sweetness that you get in French spirit.
Body - Much more obviously a Cognac, this is again showing some of that elegant restraint the .1 had. Toffee, vanilla sponge cake and a watery rum drizzle. Apple wood chunks and cheap apple juice.
Finish - Short and herbal again, with UHU glue and a touch of rich funk, apple pips.
Another excellent spirit but eclipsed by the sheer elegance of the C5.1
SMWS C3.2, Strolling through bliss, XO, 60.9% A+
Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 554 bottles, Cognac Barrel
Nose - It smells younger, but looks a lot darker. Light fruit, acrylic paint, dried hibiscus flowers and crushed rocks. This is like one of those honest, light whiskies, with a really clean fresh wood character that are really rewarding to drink (I hope). Richer and fruity wood, but dustier with water. It has the dusty smell of a freshly opened packet of dried chillies with time.
Body - Very different to the C5s (I'm assuming Cognac distilleries have a distinctive character, or maybe it all comes from the soil and elevation, into the grapes). Sweet, rich and oily with a dusty, zesty toppy citric delivery. I think it needs water. Water does bring out more fruit and more "Cognac" but also tomato leaves and green olives.
Finish - Hot and short neat. More wood glue with water, still very hot. A developing fruitiness with lots more water.
This is the first time I've tried two different Cognac distilleries side by side and I definitely prefer the character of C5, whatever it is. But this is a rather lovely drinker in its own right, and a particularly good nose.
SMWS C4.1, A tantalising tightrope, XO, 57.5% A-
Appellation Cognac Grande Champagne Controlee, 478 bottles, Cognac Barrel
Nose - Sweeter, a little more wine led with Asian notes (ginger, fried rice), pear drops, lemon sherbets and Sudocrem. It took me ages to dig this one out because it's been more than a decade since I've thought of it, let alone tasted it I think but: Bhel Puri. Waxier and fruitier with water, almost malty (? Go figure).
Body - A lot more glue led than the others, brighter (almost overripe) apples too. Vanilla and wax, then lots of red chilli - a flaw here. There's more of that tamarind and popped rice with water.
Finish - Hot, tannic, burning but intensely sweet. Much more balanced with water and time
A great nose but a really delicious delivery under a flaw. That Asian feel, the slight funk and sourness, is really compelling. I'm torn in the scoring but I have to acknowledge the flaw.
Now the rums. I’d been warned to leave these until last and I was thinking about the old R5.2 or whatever it was, 80% ABV. These are a lot gentler than that was (I still have the heel of a bottle of that somewhere).
SMWS R6.1, Barbados, Spice at the races, 14 years old, 57.3% A⊕
31st October 2002, 210 bottles, refill barrel. BAR ONLY.
Nose - Clean, ripe fruit first off, well casked and balanced, this could easily be a whisky. Then the rum, there's something deeply wrong about rum in a whisky context. Overripe fruit, flowers on the turn, love hearts, I don't have the muscle memory for these smells…. It reminds me of being a mucky child with a bag of sweets and squeezable bubble gum in a tube (yikes). But it is very, very Scotchy. More medicinal, waxy cask with water. I'm really hopeful…
Body - Plastic, leatherette and very definitely that squeezable tube of filthy bubble gum. It's really rich, fruity and plasticky. Like the Star Trek replicator's first attempt at generating a glass of Scotch whisky.
Finish – Oily, with worn leather and horse blanket. Dirty fruit, cheap sweets and I've only just noticed how spicy and tannic it is.
So much fruit in the nose, so much mucky fun in the delivery. A big hit.
SMWS R7.2, Jamaica, Jamaica me crazy, 16 years old, 52.8% A⊕+
30th September 2000, 199 bottles, refill barrel
Nose - Slightly hysterical (not funny, panicked). Bright, fruity, slightly sour, a very obviously excellent cask and lots of funky, rotten fruit, gloss paint, BBQ sauce and blackberries. And a big roast shoulder of pork with apple sauce.
Body - Unexpectedly amazing. Rich, mouthfilling fruit and cane, on point sweetness with rum babas and banana fritters in custard (I used to love those at the Pepper Tree in Clapham). Spicy, sweet and complete and really weird.
Finish - Very long, full of coffee, custard cream biscuits, and mouth coating oils.
I'd've given extra points for the excellent punning in the name but this didn't need them. It's making me crazy too.
SMWS R10.1, Trinidad, Carnival concerto, 25 years old, 63.4% A+
31st December 1991, 228 bottles, refill barrel
Body - A completely different experience, I knew I should have done this first. Much more like a first fill, big and delicious Balmenach than a rum. Rich mint toffee, buttercream icing and cough candy.
Finish - Medium, numbing cloves and more cough candy.
A rich and interesting spirit but none of the fireworks from the others. Back into the whisky end of the spectrum. Scotch does that better.
I should be able to get the notes for the majority of the actual whisky in this outturn over the next week or so. Plenty to go for in this lot though!