SMWS Charlie MacLean 35th Anniverary Whiskies

SMWS 35th Charlie MacLean

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Justine and I meeting up at the historical Scotch Malt Whisky Society Vaults venue in Leith. Picking out some of Charlie MacLean’s selections for the 35th anniversary of the iconic bottler. Who knows, if we were suitably impressed then we could leave with a memento?

A gorgeous sunny day across Edinburgh meant that the venue was fairly quiet and restrained. Leaving us plenty of time to engage with the whiskies at hand and catch up. A widespread selection of bottles may have tempted lesser driven enthusiasts but we had a mission and this came first. After all, a 35th anniversary should herald some liquid treasures? Except this didn’t turn out to be the case for whatever reason and we ventured further afield as you’ll see. Maybe going forward Justine and I will go through a recent SMWS outturn on a regular rolling basis. Just this time very little captivated our attention.

We’ll do these whiskies in order of our tasting. For the record, we tried to keep an obvious progression through Charlie’s choices that were available at the bar. And once these were exhausted we moved onto a release from the latest outturn before checking out a 38 year old grain that was on special at the bar for £10 and finishing up with a rum. The tasting notes are a joint composite of our thoughts benchmarked by our own individual scores. As for our scoring system if you’re new to MALT then we suggest you check it out first to put our thoughts in context. Basically, the way we operate 5 means average and there’s nothing wrong with being average!

Speyburn 88.10 Complete Sweet Treat – review

Distilled on 5th March 2009 and bottled at 8 years of age at 53.5%. A release of 224 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. This will set you back £49.

Colour: a golden pastry

On the nose: a slight smokiness almost spent petrol according to Justine. Marzipan, more vanilla with Crème brûlée and buttery. A twist of lemon and a floral aspect that delivers a light aspect. Creamed sweetcorn, a herbal edge and some banana chews.

In the mouth: timid overall with memories of confectionary such as those Drumstick chewy lollies and a buttery caramel. Vanilla custard and it finishes abruptly thereafter. Water improves matters with white peppercorn, almonds but it still feels youthful and lacking.

Jason’s score: 4/10

Justine’s score: 4/10

SMWS 88.10

Mannochmore 64.103 All Sweetness & Light Wood – review

Distilled on 28th October 2006 and bottled at 11 years of age at 58.9%. A release of 222 bottles from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. This will set you back £55.60.

Colour: lemon peel

On the nose: cream soda, a sweet caramel and love heart sweeties. Cookie dough, an old dusty aspect and a touch of solvent. A sweet cinnamon dusting and cream crackers. With water sugar cubes and Caramac.

In the mouth: very spicy and burny according to Justine. Far from developed and this whisky just lands, refuses to do anything and vanishes on a short finish. Dominated by the wood spice, water showcases lettuce and some digestives.

Jason’s score: 3/10

Justine’s score: 3/10

Blair Athol 68.16 Pleasingly Precocious – review

Distilled on 19th October 2009 and bottled at 8 years of age at 59.4%. A release of 314 bottles from a re-charred hogshead. This will set you back £50.

Colour: copper

On the nose: toffee and resin, oaky with strong tannins. Orange chocolate, honeycomb and cinnamon. Justine also noted cats pee and went on a long explanation that we’ll avoid here. In summary, a certain sharp freshness. Water reveals more of a fruit loaf and a sponge dynamic.

In the mouth: Christmas cake, chocolate, rum ice cream, fudge, carrot cake and another short finish. Water reveals a bitterness and drying quality but not much else.

Jason’s score: 5/10

Justine’s score: 5/10

SMWS 64.103

Ledaig 42.44 Winter Warmer – review

Distilled on 21st February 2008 and bottled at 9 years of age at 58.5%. A release of 232 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. This will set you back £59.40.

Colour: a white wine

On the nose: lemon, a noticeable brine quality that Justine suggested was from opening a tin of tuna. Coastal, certainly. Salty, yes. Candyfloss, green olives and an oily character are pleasingly present in what is a solid Ledaig presentation.

In the mouth: very thin and it falls short. White peppercorn, seaweed, sea salt, smoked apples and little else with a short finish.

Jason’s score: 5/10

Justine’s score: 5/10

Having run out of choices from Charlie’s selection we moved onto the outturn itself and threw out the question whilst on Instagram live as to what bottle should be next? The audience picked out this…

Allt-a-Bhainne 108.13 Green Fingers, Nougat & Ginger – review

Distilled on 1st February 2007 and bottled at 10 years of age at 59.5%. A release of 244 bottles from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel. This will set you back £55.

Colour: washed out pine

On the nose: lemon sponge, pine cones and a twist of citrus this whisky feels like it has something to say. Cottage cheese, icing sugar, white wine vinegar and a sense of freshness.

In the mouth: palm sugar, lemon, poppy seed and a surprising oily texture. It isn’t hugely defined and water helps matters. Becoming thicker and a prolonged finish. Meringues and a vanilla nougat round off a fun Speyside romp.

Jason’s score: 6/10

Justine’s score: 6/10

SMWS society

Tempted by a special offer at the bar we decided it was time for a bit of age and why not some grain? Let’s check out those 1977 vibes…

Strathclyde G10.10 Busy Buzzing Bees – review

Distilled on 23rd November 1977 and bottled at 38 years of age at 49.6%. A release of just 72 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. This will set you back £278.40.

Colour: thoroughly bashed copper

On the nose: caramel flapjacks, banana loaf, burnt filo pastry followed by melted butter and a stewed black tea. Pleasant but more cask than anything. Don’t bother with water.

In the mouth: a lovely mouthfeel, almonds, creamy, caramel, honey and all that cask influence but little development from the initial burst. Again, avoid water. One to sip and enjoy rather than spend hours peeling apart.

Jason’s score: 7/10

Justine’s score: 6/10

Reaching the end of our afternoon in the Vaults we decided it was time for Tormore and a recent bottling seemed an apt choice before we moved onto a rum and then the journey home.

Tormore 105.22 Gentle, charming and delightful – review

Distilled on 19th May 2008 and bottled at 9 years of age at 57.5%. A release of 252 bottles from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. This will set you back £52.20.

Colour: lime juice

On the nose: lemon icing with golden syrup, pine resin, lime peelings and the gum from sealing an envelope. Limescale, mint leaf and with water more summer fruits, especially pears.

In the mouth: enjoyable in its freshness with sliced green apples, limes, icing sugar, wood sap, a light marzipan, caramel and cold white wine. Water unleashes wine gums, pepper and white flour.

Jason’s score: 5/10

Justine’s score: 5/10

Nicaragua R8.4 Autumn camp fire in Nicaragua – review

Distilled on 31st December 2004 and bottled at 12 years of age at 57.5%. A release of 321 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. This will set you back £68.50. According to the excellent RumShopBoy this is likely to be from the Compañía Licorera de Nicaragua distillery.

Colour: a blitzed copper pan

On the nose: cinder toffee with chocolate, resin, burnt toffee, brown sugar, a light solvent aspect, beeswax and fennel.

In the mouth: best texture of the afternoon and herbal qualities with basil, fennel, aniseed, treacle and a brown Hovis loaf. More brown sugar, black pepper, dark chocolate and cola cubes.

Jason’s score: 6/10

Justine’s score: 5/10


Overall an enjoyable afternoon in a wonderful whisky environment with Justine and our Instagram followers. Sadly the whisky didn’t really turn up to the party. Perhaps some poor choices on our part, or a reflection that the much-needed investment in the SMWS cask portfolio will take years to pay dividends. However, we’re not put off and we’ll look to repeat the experience in the coming months and check out further outturns from the Society.

  1. The Whisky Loving Pianist says:

    A good read Jason. I share similar sentiments [check my post entitled SMWS 35th Anniversary: Charlie’s Choice]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *