We’re back with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society once again and journeying through time with an iconic example from their original styled bottle series. Devoid of colour coding, frivolous names or embossed touches, these whiskies offer a gateway to an era when aged stocks were more plentiful and thus affordable.
Commonly referred to as the good old days by anyone over 50, there is a certain degree of rose-tinted vision effect going on. Take these SMWS releases that showcase distilleries captured in a point in time. Frozen in a bottle. There are only a few ranges that allow us to do this. The most notable is the Connoisseurs Choice range from Gordon & MacPhail, which celebrated it’s 50th Anniversary only to be radically changed with a new bling style and higher price tag. Is this progress? Potentially not, as I’ve heard several mutterings from enthusiasts about the new range and the price hike. Even retailers I’m friends with have commented on the scope of the packaging and smaller labels. Perhaps, fondly remembering when the Connoisseurs Choice range was more humble and simplistic.
Things change. Remarkably all change is not good. The land is lost to development, natural scrubland and forests levelled for the next housing development. Once the earth is scorched these things are only kept in our memories or photographs. Whisky is fortunate as we can go that step further and experience the production and style that has been lost to time. Mere memories or books are enhanced by sitting down with a dram from one of the fallen such as Imperial, Convalmore or Brora. Try it when you have the opportunity. Look at the photographs, scroll through the text and enhance your whisky experience.
Sorry to return to Gordon & MacPhail again in what is an SMWS review, but it seems apt. Comments around a change in their sales approach, inflexible distribution model and an alleged lack of respect for the smaller retailers who have supported the company for decades and through thick and thin. Then, the historically favoured approach of refusing to sell a case of a particular distillery release without the buyer taking something a little more unsavoury that’s been lingering in the company warehouse gathering dust. Normally MALT stores these stories individually, but these complaints have emerged from different sources. As more money propels into the whisky industry, it is difficult not to be swept up and away. Eartha Kitt summed it up by saying greed is so destructive. It destroys everything. Let us hope that these are mere teething issues than the new way of things.
In the case of this particular SMWS release, we’re not dealing with a closed or lost distillery. Instead, we’re firmly in the grounds of the Speyburn, shrouded by trees that cover this tranquil glen. A beautiful distillery, that towers into the sky, it harbours a reputation for producing a frustrating whisky. Not open to the public, this hasn’t stopped us on occasion from venturing into its grounds when we’ve passed through or visited Glen Grant nearby. The location itself is worth the walk or even the opportunity to gaze upwards at Charles Doig’s wonderful 1897 design.
Greatness has always been within Speyburn’s grasp yet it often languishes into mediocrity and the relentless pursuit of production. The Speyburn 15 year old hinted at promise yet withered and other releases from the distillery on MALT have not found a welcome home. Born of frustration. When faced with such a stiff challenge from the official bottles what must you do? Yes, exactly. You venture into the shadowy realm of the independents.
This SMWS 88.6 release comes via the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar who have it on sale for £15 a dram, which is a good price by any standards. Distilled in November 1975 before being bottled in October 2001. This was bottled at a ridiculous 63.4% strength suggesting even at 25 years maturation, this was deposited into the cask at full strength. This should be very interesting indeed…
SMWS 88.6 Speyburn 1975 – review
Colour: golden honey
On the nose: a spicy and fruity arrival. Promising. Marzipan, green peppercorn and soft sugary apples move in, followed by pineapples and green mangoes. Olive oil, scorched vanilla, almonds and an aged cinnamon. Enough interest here and symmetry between the cask and the spirit with balance displayed.
In the mouth: not a huge detailed whisky, but the texture is softly silky and enchanting. A sweet vanilla but not overly powering, subtle and refined. More pineapple and mango flourishes. More flavours of olives, green tea, caramel and toasted brown bread with a hint of ginger and a maltiness.
This Speyburn is an interesting whisky and isn’t this exactly what the Scotch Malt Whisky Society should be all about? The opportunity to explore and discover new points of reference in an evolving series. Time is relentless, but at least here in our whisky realm, we still have that option still to go back and explore these lost generations. Do hurry before it becomes too expensive and only viable for the wealthy. By doing so you can appreciate the past and put the current into context.