SMWS 123.32 Tropical fireworks

We all have skeletons in our whisky closet. Such traits prove that we are human after all and do deviate from the norm. Mark is partial to a Dalmore, complete with fake tan, and positively laps it up in his tweed jacket, and Noortje can often be found hiding at the Whiskybase Gathering so that she can enjoy a dram of Grant’s Blended Scotch. Personally, I do like a bourbon-cask Glenfarclas or Bowmore and the getaway nature they both provide.


he same applies to Mortlach, which is often all savoury funk, wrapped up in a bordering-on-sulphur sherry cask. Flipping to an ex-bourbon expression often underlines the subtle nature of a distillate and possibly raises the question as to why we don’t see more of it. The same applies to today’s whisky, which comes from a Highland distillery with a reputation for sherry maturation and not being peated.

I’m trying not to reveal the distillery name right now, as we’ll get to it later on. However, I did attend an invitation event at this distillery earlier in 2019 for the launch of a new whisky. This release was all about the sherry influence and many attendees were transfixed by the colour. The event also included the opportunity to visit a dunnage warehouse and try some whiskies straight from the cask with their master blender. A fun experience was had by all during this segment. The opening cask was an ex-bourbon, and this went down well with the group, but you could tell the majority were eager to move on to the sherry butts at the bottom of the warehouse.

I was disappointed by this although it does confirm our fascination and desire for sherry influenced whisky. To me, the dram of the moment in that warehouse, was the initial sample. Clean, fresh, vibrant and married to an excellent cask, it had much to say if we granted it the opportunity. This begged the question: why doesn’t the distillery actually release such a thing?

In a recent article, I’ve stated that we’ve become disillusioned with the humble bourbon cask. This is a crying shame, and whilst the quality isn’t as rock solid as it was several years ago, the same applies to sherry casks, and there are still moments of brilliance to be had. Unfortunately, the majority of the market seems to turn up their noses and prefer to take that sherry hit. We are very much influenced by colour, reputation, age statements, influencers and so on. I myself have fought against being labelled an influencer because of the bad habits that many display online. It has become an almost repulsive label to place upon someone, and it often says more about their character and lack of morals than any whisky they were raving about.

Then came a slow acceptance that there are good and bad examples. If someone looks to you for recommendations and advice, then you can suggest that you are influencing them. As I sit here at my dining room table in a calm and tranquil environment that allows me to contemplate such behaviours, there is a realisation that it can be a force for good. The whole subject shows how we can be swayed by simple things, including a herd mentality.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society tries to break the sphere of influence by not showing the distillery name on any of their information. This not only keeps George Grant from their door, but also allows the whisky to be judged on its own merits. In essence, it is a commercial way of blind tasting, if you so wish it. Whenever I visit a SMWS venue, it is fun to see members consulting their cheat sheets to see what the distillery is, often prior to making a selection.

A fun game to play is to look at the names of the releases and tasting notes and base your selection solely on these features. I’ve always felt that the SMWS should remove even the cask details, age and strength at the bar, thereby giving you only the tasting notes. Then, as you should always, let your palate and senses guide you. If there’s anything you should know when it comes to whisky, then it is your own palate and preferences. For instance, if I was at the bar and a title included “tropical,” the whisky would be an immediate consideration.

There is always a caveat to this approach, and that’s the tasting notes themselves. I find the SMWS examples very haphazard. There is a tendency to drift towards the flamboyant end of the description scale, to provide a hook, or a unique perspective. At times it feels like the nightmare scenario of bloggers sitting around a table coming up with more ridiculous tasting notes to outdo one another. From what I understand, the SMWS notes are compiled online, and thereby remove this potential risk factor. However, if your notes are truly way out of what was expected, then you won’t be asked to participate again. If so, this is a disappointing approach, as our palates are very much individual to us. We should be embracing the variety and joy of different experiences—speaking of which, it’s time for the bottle details and my own.

This release will set you back £52 via the SMWS (that’s a commission-free link) if you are a member. Distilled on 29th August 2009, the 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel resulted in an outturn of 209 bottles at a robust 61.7% strength.

SMWS 123.32 Tropical fireworks – review

Colour: golden sand.

On the nose: woody, very woody in fact. That translates into woody feature and plenty of vanilla, with a fresh lick of varnish. Some tablet, green mango and all-spice follow. Propped up by butterscotch, Kiwi Fruit and pulped pear. Water reveals more sugar, marshmallows, caramels and a nutty topping.

In the mouth: buttery shortbread, white pepper with a little honey. A fair degree of roughness around the edges hinting this whisky isn’t quite fully merged with the vessel. Some apples, white chocolate and almonds. Water brings about a stewed tea, dried fruits and a very dominant wood flavour – almost bourbon-like.


An average whisky plucked from the cask too soon. I think that should be the motto for the SMWS, or at least on their report card so far for 2019.

The Glengoyne spirit is well-made and I do believe the cask here is very good, but time ladies and gentlemen. Patience is a wonderful commodity and the flaw with any subscription to a monthly outturn format is that you have to fill the gaps.

Another 5 years in the cask here and we’d have a more complete marriage between the vessel and the spirit. As it stands, average, is the best description and another 5 years or thereabouts, would have given us a Glengoyne with a real enjoyment factor and proper banging fireworks.

Score: 5/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Jay says:

    Give me a refill bourbon cask any day from Bowmore or Caol Ila… other than some gems, the vast majority of sherry cask whiskies turn out a mess.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Jay

      I think more are coming around to your point of view. Sherry casks are not what they once were, hence more dubious finishes.



  2. Thropplenoggin says:

    I’m curious now to try some bourbon-only whiskies. What’s a good example of what they can give over time? And does it not depend on the distillate going in? My current dram is the latest Longrow 18 – wonderful complexity but a mix of sherry (75%) and bourbon (25%). Was there ever a bourbon only Longrow 18? I’d be curious to try one and compare.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Thropplenoggin

      It’s a marriage between the cask and distillate. So can be hit and miss. Miltonduff fares well, as does Dailuaine and Aultmore at a young age – they spring to mind and the new generation of distilleries such as Dornoch will deliver. Clynelish needs double figures I’d say. With some casks there are no guarantees.

      A well made spirit is key and the industry has been more focused on the wood and giving us that message. Rather than more flavoursome barley, longer fermentations and yeast that does more than just tick the boxes.



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