I’m amazed at the conduit whisky can represent. From all corners of the world, complete strangers can come together over a dram, regardless of their ages and backgrounds. Whisky is a great leveller.
A perfect example is when I met up with friends for a few hours out in Edinburgh. Without whisky or Instagram, I’d have never met Ian, Noortje or the downside in Justine. These individuals had flown in from Ireland and the Netherlands to spend little more than 24 hours in the capital with the emphasis on whisky. Arguably Justine had the hardest journey of all thanks to her recent foot operation. After a bar lunch in her Leith region, we managed to persuade her to head into the city centre for more whisky and conversation. I can be very persuasive when I want to be.
Recently I re-joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to provide some coverage of their releases. We’ll never manage to cover them all – much like any independent bottler these days – however, the fun is in exploring whiskies of interest. Looking back over 2018, I believe we’ve managed to do this to a certain extent. An added bonus of the membership is access to various venues and living just north of Edinburgh in the distilling hotbed of Fife, it’s just a short trip.
After a quick couple of drams in the Edinburgh Vaults venue and sampling their exclusive living cask option, the Queen Street venue was our next destination. More plush and luxurious, it offers a refuge from the bustle of the shops and the opportunity to try some releases. And we certainly drank our way through a sizeable assortment of whiskies and ran up a lovely bar bill. The emphasis was on fun and letting our own conversations drive what dram would be next.
Good company can transform a whisky. At least that’s what I believed until we had a dram that’s reviewed below which met with unanimous horror. Funnily enough, it is the most collectable and prized of the trio. Just goes to show you that a number or in this case a .1 release doesn’t guarantee greatness. If anything, it underlines that many distilleries are bottling too young and using some rather aggressive cask maturation. We’ve all heard that old chestnut about the cask creating 80% or thereabouts of flavour. I won’t dwell on it here but do go read Mark’s Cotswolds Distillery Founders review or Adam’s frankly brilliant Benromach Château Cissac Bordeaux Wood Finish 2010 piece. Go read them and return…
All set? Good, let us continue on our journey. This trio unconnected by any realistic means other than the bottler offers us a chance to experience the good, the young and the ugly. We had far more whisky than the trio reviewed here, but extra drams and decisions were made as what to review. The outcome is a sense that the outturn can hold treasures as well as bitter disappointments. How do you guide your way through these without a members room near you? A very difficult task I admit but at least this visit repaired some of the sizeable damage Justine and I experienced during our last Scotch Malt Whisky Society foray.
SMWS 72.67 Daffodils captured in honey – review
Distilled on 10th October 2008 and bottled at 9 years of age at 56.3% strength. This resided in 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel that produced 226 bottles. This is available for £46.50 online.
Colour: Melted butter.
In the mouth: Tinned fruit salad, dried orange and a raw cake mixture. Freshly sanded pine wood and Jacob’s cream crackers. This is young and unsure of itself. A squirt of perfume. With water more wood spices and wood sap, a light vanilla and a healthy tea vibe.
On the nose: A tinge of unpleasant alcohol. Apple skin, a pleasant creaminess midway with a white chocolate finish. Almonds, buttery but a sense of the void. Well made but just too young. Water only reveals more cask char.
SMWS 122.25 Not for the faint-hearted – review
Distilled on 11th February 2011, bottled at 7 years of age from a 2nd fill ex-bourbon hogshead. An outturn of 291 bottles at 57.9% strength. This will set you back £48 online.
Colour: A cloudy lemonade.
In the mouth: Apple juice, no make that smoky apple juice if there’s such a thing? Salted peanuts, pine cones and smoked lemons with a hint of a hard cheese. Grapefruit provides some refreshment along with cream soda and oddly potato scones. Compost it goes without saying, limescale and a fresh and vibrant feel.
On the nose: An oozing texture which personally I adore. Oily and dense it heralds an arrival. A sweet peat, pine nuts and a warming sense but not overly powerful. Lacks coastal features and instead brings us more citrus with grapefruit, key lime pie and a touch of cardboard – a tasty feature, unlike Laphroaig.
SMWS 136.1 Effervescence and enlightenment – review
Distilled on 12th January 2015 and bottled at 3 years of age from a 1st fill Ex-Oloroso Sherry Hogshead. This resulted in an outturn of 297 bottles at a robust 61.2% strength. This has sold out being a .1 release but originally cost £65 via member ballot..
Colour: Irn Bru lite.
In the mouth: A flat alcoholic ginger beer. Wood, lots of aggressive wood and permeated with a botanical flourish. Cheap varnish somewhat withered by the Scottish climate. Molten caramel, cherries, red liquorice, fenugreek leaves and a burnt treacle aroma. Water dampens down proceedings leaving a very youthful spirit.
On the nose: A thick oozing texture that harbours rusted metal, dark chocolate, honeycomb and burnt oranges. Very bitter, herbal with fennel and fenugreek leaves that linger into the finish. Water reveals milk chocolate, butter and tangerine.
The Miltonduff is a cradle-snatcher whisky. Plucked far too young and not given time to truly develop the stylish apparel that we know the ‘Duff can deliver. That’s the underlining issue with any monthly outturn and membership programme. You have to bottle no matter what. A bottling pyramid scheme? You need to fill those spaces even if some casks are sacrificed for the greater profit. That’s how the Miltonduff fared at our table. A shame really, as Noortje and I are big fans of this overlooked Speyside distillery.
The Croftengea shows the big names don’t deserve all the plaudits. I can recall enthusiasts going bonkers for Ledaig claiming it was a poor mans Ardbeg at a fraction of the cost. Perhaps, and I’d put this Croftengea above many young Ledaig’s I’ve had of late and for under £50 who can argue?
What about that Eden Mill? Memories of their experimental hip flask series was revived. Yet here the sherry cask has gone too far for me personally. An obnoxious sherry beast. In this case, 3 years was poor judgement and poor cask management. Several of our group also felt there was an odd taste to the whisky as well. But as it is a .1 release you’ll rarely see it opened, as this is the domain of the collector.
No surprise it was bottled at 3 years to minimise the damage although this would have been a candidate for reverse cask maturation i.e. moving the contents into an ex-bourbon cask. It’ll be interesting to see what the 136.2 offers when it is revealed.
A great afternoon and evening, fuelled partially by a love of whisky. Exchanging stories, entertaining onlookers and exploring whisky with some mixed results. We’ll be back in 2019, as a group and in the meantime expect a few more Malt reviews of the Society releases.