Each year brings a slew of festival bottlings, mostly unleashed during a relentless May. As distilleries seek to reward those who make the effort to reach their doorstep and line the pocket of auctioneers. This year I’m pleased to say we’ve totally failed to cover any of these releases, and we’re delighted.
Much like the Game of Thrones assortment, these bottles haven’t been created with whisky in mind. Oh, and we didn’t purchase or review any Thrones releases either and perhaps the same will apply to the Diageo Special Releases featuring a 29-year-old Pittyvaich. Nowadays there are new markets and individuals to snare with such fancy exteriors, tie-ins and the prospect of making some cold hard cash. We could chase such releases and then throw our arms up in delight when we’re the first to publish. The stampede for traffic is a relentless relationship and a vicious circle that only the brave will break and step away from to say “let’s do our own thing.” So here we are then; I’m tempted to say “entertain us!”
Personally, I used to enjoy the festival releases, as it offered you an opportunity to explore a different side to a distillery—the chance for the creators to do something different, and to flex their creative muscles. Nowadays some distillery staff, I’m sure, see these bottlings as a nuisance and want to be shot of things as soon as possible to return to normality. Then the added realisation that a large chunk of these festival bottlings have slipped in quality and are excessively priced.
I do question: what’s the point of reviewing a festival release in most cases, as these will exist in another realm? How many of these bottles sold on an open day are destined to be opened and explored? Is there any point in doing so here?
A booming market now surrounds almost every festival release, fuelled not by the ability to try something different, but by the potential profit that can be made—an unfortunate situation. Type “whisky” into any search engine, and the majority of new articles consist around investment proclamations and company XYZ heralding fantastic returns. Lost somewhere in-between is the question as to what the whisky actually tastes like.
I’ve been out of whisky action for all of May and the surrounding weeks. This has cost me attending various festivals and catching up with friends. It’s been difficult and challenging to sit on the side-lines, but it has reminded me on what it is like to miss out and the nature of these festivals. I haven’t kicked myself for missing a tour or tasting, or even a bottling. The big miss has been the people and the interaction. The other realisation is that we have too many festival releases, with everyone joining in, from official bottlings to independent bottlers and shops, with some offering multiple options. Are all of these releases justified, or even worthwhile? How will you ever know without being in that queue and making what is essentially a blind purchase on day one?
You might turn to sites out there that do tend to review these things in the stampede. Then, if the bottle is still available at retail price (very unlikely nowadays unless it is a Jura), swoop in to make the purchase. That is, if they offer it online and ship to where ever you are located. A great deal of effort, expenditure and risk for what is just a bottle of whisky.
For you, we’re going to cover a festival release from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, who really jumped into the market this year and tried to bring an international availability to it all. However, we will be going one step further soon and offering something more tangible. Thanks to the generosity of those friends whom I sadly missed this year, we have a selection of festival bottlings acquired at retail price. We’re going to open these and explore. This tasting will be held in Edinburgh when the details are finalised and will feature bottles from all the festivals in 2019 except Speyside. A slight bias toward Islay will be noted, and hopefully enjoyed. There might even be a review, and I’ll certainly ask attendees for their opinions on whether the bottles are worth their retail price and secondary market value.
After all, whisky should be opened and enjoyed.
This Glen Scotia sold out pretty promptly thanks to the festival branding. Originally priced at £64 the emphasis was on value. Distilled on 13th June 2008, the 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel resulted in 222 bottles at a strength of 58%.
SMWS 93.108 Earthy and masculine – review
Colour: white gold.
On the nose: quite an assault on the senses! Sea salt, crackers, whipped cream and a dirty rag. Sooty and that distinctive aroma of sand in your shoe after a beach walk. Prunes, pink peppercorns, Danish oil, almonds and white chocolate. Dried seaweed, vanilla, ripe apples, pumpkin pie spice and pencil shavings.
In the mouth: an oily texture and flavour awaits. Washed sea shells, driftwood and smoked lemon, pine sap, burnt vanilla custard, more lemon and lime jelly. A real saltiness reminiscent of salt baked cod, or bacalhau, throws itself out there alongside engine oil and poached pears.
Quite a coastal trip on an old fishing boat. That’s how I’d picture much of this Glen Scotia with the maritime and coastal notes alongside the more industrial characteristics of engine oil. A fitting choice from the SMWS for a festival release, and not an immediately accessible whisky.
During 2019, there have been several 93’s released, to mixed effect. At worst average, a few have risen above the standard fare that I’ve come to associate with the majority of SMWS releases. This 93.108 is more to my liking: challenging and layered, it requires work to appreciate fully. A fitting send-off?