I’m going to sound like a spoiled and ungrateful brat by saying this. But to be honest, I was pretty jaded with whisky from the start of 2017 and into 2019. Whisky talk was starting to become stale for me. My palate for some reason started to become more sensitive to the sulfur in sherry influenced whisky. I did not enjoy the fact that a lot of age statements were being discontinued. The official bottlings I loved, started to not taste as good but kept on getting expensive. My moving on to Malternatives was a result of this. I’ve drifted back into whisky now thanks to SMWS, but not in the same tenacity as before.
The contents of online whisky discussions have not progressed as much as I would have wanted. It was mainly about casks, aging and “terroir” when I got into single malt around 2012. It hasn’t really progressed from that aside from a few things. For instance, independent bottlers being more well-known and resorted to is one. More whisky drinkers have developed cynical (or realistic?) views and opinions towards the big brands.
A lot of what I thought was gospel, in the beginning, turned out to be false. The Islay terroir aging magic has been since then debunked. Raw material and fermentation actually make a huge difference. Casks and aging will not fix everything. Sherry casks are no longer what they’re said to be. Single malt is no longer the best spirit in the world.
I did not learn these illusion shattering views from the whisky scene. Much of the supposedly knowledgeable figures like brand ambassadors are sometimes not very geeky. They either fed you scripted fairy tale answers made up by their employers. Or, they couldn’t tell you the answer because they might get in trouble.
Online discussions in brandy and rum groups delve much more in the mind jarring realm of geekdom. These fellow minded spirits are either mostly learned enthusiasts, or brand owners, who are transparent and love to educate. They have helped me learn grown in knowledge and appreciation. The new perspectives I gained helped me see through the smoke and mirrors of the industry. People in those groups aren’t afraid to correct those who share wrong info. They are usually civilized when debating. It’s a great group to be part of if one is willing to learn, which is unlike most Facebook whisky forums, where disagreeing with someone is instantly taken as bashing someone.
I know SMWS has not been seen in the best of light by most of the Malt team lately. But SMWS is still very new in the Philippines. Its reputation and exclusivity were something the small whisky geek crowd in Manila counted on to bring a breath of fresh air into, what I think, is a stagnant and bullshit filled scene dominated by big brands.
My interest in single malt was renewed when I joined a Whisky Live Manila masterclass held by Hong Kong SMWS Brand Ambassador Kelvin Tam. He discussed Loch Lomond and its different stills. The Loch Lomond we tried wasn’t mind-blowing. But it was very interesting to learn that Loch Lomond is a bit like Nikka and Suntory distilleries in the way that different kinds of still designs are housed in one distillery.
It made me realize that there is still much more to learn about whisky. The mostly complacent drinkers I know only talk about the same thing. It got boring. It made me think I knew everything. But now I know that IB’s and smaller brands are surely the way to go. I realized I needed to look harder and further in order to learn of better questions to ask and answers to digest.
Sadly, I won’t be reviewing a Loch Lomond from SMWS. I do agree that, despite their fame, a lot of the newer SMWS releases are just okay. Luckily, I found a pair of rare and expensive SMWS releases that have left a good impression on me.
First up is a Longrow I bought in Singapore for about $230 USD in 2019. This uncommon 500ml Longrow is a 13-year-old distilled in March 1990, bottled in Feb 2004 at 54.5% strength. It also doesn’t have the usual creative description SMWS is known for. According to Whiskyfun, it was bottled for the opening of the new Edinburgh society venue on Queen Street.
The Caperdonich was more of a gamble and a lucky find. Prior to this, I don’t remember ever having any whisky from this closed distillery. I was strolling through the streets of Taipei when I walked by an eye-catching whisky store. Other than knowing this was a Caperdonich and named Princess Street Gardens in Summer, I didn’t know anything else about this bottle. I still took the chance to buy this for around $400 USD for a 26-year-old bottled at 51.2% strength.
SMWS 114.3 Longrow – review
On the nose: A balanced and everlasting storm of brine, smoke, peat, bacon, BBQ and lemons. Some follow up hints of apples, peaches and bananas.
In the mouth: This tastes like a perfect seasoning for a BBQ. A perfectly clean and balanced sensation of dried seaweed, nori, peat, bacon, hints of smoke, thyme and lemon. Followed by a second layer of sugar crystal syrup, apples, peaches, hints of strawberries and hints of oak.
SMWS 38.24 Caperdonich – review
Color: pale ale.
On the nose:Slightly rough scents of mouthwatering tropical fruits and other floral scents. I get something like a puree of honey, peaches, Fuji apples and apricots. Followed by cinnamon, strawberries, banana liqueur, persimmon honey and brandied cherries. Another layer of melons, honeydew, this time saba bananas, cereals and mountain dew.
In the mouth: A few unpleasant notes of sawdust and hints of sulfur. But it makes up for it with an oily mouthfeel. My eyes rolled back in pleasure with this taste of caramelized apples dipped in what I imagine to be honey seasoned with bananas, peaches and apples. Followed by hints of vanilla, marzipan and glue. Some papayas, pears, thyme, rosemary, basil and cucumber peel. A last-minute flavor of almonds, hazelnuts and hints of oak.
The Longrow is just WONDERFUL. There is a clean feel to it on both the nose and mouth that I haven’t experienced tasted from the official Longrows. It’s not very complex but it just goes on and on and on. This is one of the few whiskies I’ve had where what you smell is exactly what you taste. It delivers its promise. A very memorable whisky. This is a great whisky to have on a special occasion with great company. One of the few whiskeys one can enjoy easily while having deep conversations.
This Caperdonich is very impressive. It’s a great first to have, in my case at least. The nose was the absolute winner in this. Smelling this was just a treat. If someone could make a scent out of this for a humidifier, I’d be very happy. The fruitiness and floral notes just sort of drop off in the mouth though. It’s still there but they’re not as pronounced.
My main gripe about SMWS is most, if not all, of the descriptions, are things I can barely relate to. I’ve never been to Europe. I most likely haven’t tasted what they are describing. If they really want to expand to Asia, shouldn’t they make more descriptions relatable to Asians? Do they have someone on the panel who has spent a lot of time in Asia?
I have probably 5 other SMWS bottles in my collection. None of them come close to the quality of these two I reviewed. With that small sample size, does that mean I have to painfully spend more on the much more rare and expensive releases? In this respect, I can see what Jason and the others are talking about.