When the latest Scotch Malt Whisky Society outturn line-up was revealed, I was optimistic. Dubbed the “Wonder of Wood,” this would finally give us some gems from their sizeable inventory. You know: the one we keep hearing about after all this investment, and yet each month, members receive the same old, same old on a regular basis.
Friends will know my preference for an ex-bourbon-cask-matured whisky, but even my patience was being tested with similar outturns that tasted repetitive over a prolonged period. I joked that since re-joining the SMWS, I’ve yet to give out an 8 or above score. That’s the naked truth, and a reflection of the current state of play.
I appreciate that the former owners may have ram-raided the inventory and released a large proportion of the best and most interesting casks. I also appreciate that to turn this around will take sizeable investment, and more elusively, time. Whisky cannot be rushed. Nor can a maturating inventory that I presume consists mainly of ex-bourbon casks. After all, this is the bread and butter of the industry. Anything that deviates from this recipe is in high demand currently and comes at a higher cost.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we’re seeing short-term finishes utilised over a period of one, two or three years. This is what the Wonder of Wood consisted of, with seven short-term finishes, and the remainder, ex-bourbon casks. In essence, this wasn’t a Wonder of Wood, but a Wonder of Finishing. I know I’m having a grumble here, yet I hear the same from fellow Society members.
I ask myself: will things change, and hopefully improve? That old saying “time is a healer” certainly applies go whisky! We’re in turbulent waters right now, and you can see it on a monthly basis. When I browse an outturn, I really do want to make a handful to purchases that take me on a journey—and not the well-trodden road that I’ve previously taken with the Society, or that of an independent. I can see the reactions from friends when I take them to an Edinburgh venue and they enjoy the surroundings and company, but the showstoppers that should come from the glass are sadly lacking. I can listen to the staff and take a punt on their recommendation and leave somewhat nonplussed. I’m stubborn as well; I’ll keep dropping by and searching for that special something that underlines the value of being a member.
My membership renewal is on the horizon. I remain somewhat undecided as to its fate overall. I could continue and bring you some coverage here at MALT, or switch to another independent and hope for a better outcome. Like Brexit, I’ll keep kicking that can down the road for a wee while yet. What’s worth reflecting upon is that the SMWS isn’t alone with the problem of casks. Just because something is a single-cask single malt doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worthwhile or suitable for release. We’re seeing more tired casks, more youthful whiskies and more choice than ever before. Such a staple seems to mirror the more youthful drinker that the Society is aiming for nowadays. Yet when I visit a venue, it is populated by the older and long term member crowd. Those that have more money than the millennials to spend on whisky; don’t forget about them.
Personally, I’m finding myself walking away from more whiskies than I can remember. There is a glut on the MALT scale of 4-5-6 scoring whiskies, which are solid overall, but our money isn’t limitless and neither is yours. When I’m seeing small scale independents like Chorlton Whiskies or Dornoch, sourcing good casks and interesting releases, then I have to ask myself: why are others going so wrong? Content to bottle too soon, and charging more than you would normally anticipate?
Faced with a disappointing outturn and limited options, there were only two points of interest for me: the Red Diesel 93.106, a Glen Scotia, finished in a fresh Port hogshead for a year, or what I decided to purchase in the end. We’re sitting down with this 7.221, 16-year-old from Longmorn, entitled Hop Scotch. Bottled at 50.3% and distilled on the 4th June 2002, it has been finished for a year in a bespoke IPA cask.
I’ve had mixed experiences with the IPA approach, with the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment proving little more than a botched primary school attempt. Then there was the more rugged and determined Chichibu IPA cask that showcased what is possible – my justification for seeing how an IPA finished Longmorn might fare in comparison. The cask outturn was 171 bottles in total, and just 41 of these hit the website for the UK membership at £75. I was fortunate to make/complete the purchase; hopefully, this leads to a new experience.
SMWS 7.221 Hop Scotch – review
Colour: Olive Oil.
On the nose: Honeysuckle followed by a fresh pine that resonates throughout the arrival. There are hops but towards the end with a hint of wax. A citrus dynamic with pineapple, lemon and apricots. Some sweetness as well with fudge and buttery caramel. Hickory, then honeycomb before the oddity of white button mushrooms (unwashed) and a pleasant kindling ending with marzipan. Water I felt disrupted the experience with only pine nuts being noticeable.
In the mouth: Green mangoes, pineapple and again towards the end we have more hops. There’s wax and a little bitterness midway. There is a sense of marriage and harmony. Apples, a green tartness with a pleasing drying quality making this an easy drinker. Water turns the dram more woody with pine and resin.
I do like this whisky, but I don’t love it. I’d have hoped for a more funky IPA influence and instead, there’s a sense of playing it safe. Fun nevertheless, it is quite drinkable, but I’m here for new experiences.
As for keeping the membership alive? The musical chairs act will continue for now, but unlike our woeful politicians, I’ll make a decision by the summer. As much as I do enjoy providing some SMWS coverage on MALT there are plenty of other opportunities out there waiting to be discovered.