How do you kill free time in Edinburgh before another meeting? If you’re a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, then the answer is easy enough, as you can head over to Queen Street or the Vaults, to check out what’s new. This is what I did on Monday when faced with a little downtime; I took the opportunity to check out a couple new releases that had just landed the previous week.
We should do more of this on a regular basis. I’m in and around Edinburgh and Justine lives just around the corner from the Vaults itself for goodness sake. However, whisky means our lives are busy enough and that’s not just chasing whisky or unicorn bottles – if only – rather organising tastings, festivals and the humble online abode you’re now visiting.
On paper, the 2020 releases from the SMWS have shown some promise and a little more variety than what we’ve seen during 2019. Early days I know, but even with the whiskytoil hangover, we have to remain positive. We also have the new branding and bottle look that I’ve touched upon during another incoming article. The Queen Street venue itself is about to undergo a major facelift and even the plastic bags have received a branding makeover. Exciting times then on paper, or plastic, for those involved in the Society. And even the website has received a makeover, although that experienced a few, let’s say, teething issues earlier this week.
Faced with an empty member’s room, I had the run of the place to myself and plenty of time to consider the mid-month releases. Included within this small assortment is the 66.164 Ardmore, also known as I Like Big Butts, a 7-year-old that has been doubled dipped in sherry. Starting life in an ex-Oloroso butt before being finished in a 2nd fill ex-sherry butt, it sold out rapidly online as a preview release, but I was able to have a wee taste and there’s enough here to warrant further exploration, which I’ll do a later date. However, the concept of double-dipping in sherry is interesting and applies to the 63.60 Glentauchers that we are reviewing below.
I picked out another 2 new arrivals at random, skipping the 12-year-old Glenrothes (30.109, Strangely Soothing), as after all, who needs another sherried Glenrothes review? Another popular preview release, confirming sherry sells and when bottles are released under £70, members are quite interested in taking a punt. Also included is the new Battle Axe concept, which is made up of ex-bourbon casks from Islay.
SMWS Battle Axe – review
Distilled on 27th April 2011 and bottled at 8 years of age, 1957 bottles were released at 50% strength and an asking price of £47.
Colour: a faded tan.
On the nose: salt, cauliflower, olive oil, a gentle peat and cream soda. Rockpools suggestive of Islay but inoffensive. Boiled cabbage, saline, green apples and meringues.
In the mouth: a little flat for all the bravado of a battle warrior. A gentle peat, creamy, soda water, dying embers and a touch of salt. Pretty dull and cheap generic Islay with smoke on the finish.
SMWS 108.22 Cold Cure – review
Distilled on 10th November 2011, bottled at 7 years of age, this 2nd Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel produced 249 bottles at 63.3% strength.
Colour: a light haze.
On the nose: pine sap and a chalky nature. Green apples, pear drops, a twist of lemon and vanilla. Almost grain-like in places followed by a diluted orange and spent tea leaves. Adding water unlocks cotton sheets, an oiliness, limescale and tonic water.
In the mouth: better than expected albeit somewhat limited with tinges of alcohol. It is light and fruity, hinting again at grain and more apples alongside white pepper, mace and cardboard. Adding water brings out a minty freshness and autumnal notes. A little mezcal in places.
SMWS 63.60 Archaeopteryx Paella – review
Distilled on 20th September 2012, this resided in a ex-Oloroso butt for 5 years before moving into a 2nd fill ex-Pedro Ximenez butt for the remainder of its maturation. This produced 559 bottles at a mighty 66.5% strength.
On the nose: toffee, red grapes, chocolate, ginger nuts, honey and raspberries. There are wood chips, cola cubes and dried reeds. Water reveals orange zest, bark, kindling and mustard seeds.
In the mouth: a nice mouthfeel, leathery and jammy. Some black peppercorns, coarse on the finish and a little youthful and under developed. A chewy toffee, cardamon and aniseed. Water unlocks a silky caramel and ginger root.
SMWS 6.36 The Hills are alive with the sound of museli – review
Distilled on 29th January 2009, this resided in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel until being bottled at 10 years of age. 237 bottles were harvested at a strength of 56.7%.
Colour: almost clear.
On the nose: creamy, rice pudding and vanilla. Some lime zest but overall quite shy. Nougat, porridge oats and water doesn’t have a dramatic impact on the experience revealing some After Eight mints.
In the mouth: a pleasant oily mouthfeel and texture. Green apples, vanilla, white pepper and icing sugar. In other words pretty by the numbers and an inoffensive cask with water failing to shake things up.
The Battle Axe looked somewhat flawed and out of place sitting at the bar. A lazy name that is suggestive of a rejected Highland Park concept (who will bottle everything it seems) with a design and label that was knocked up by a 12-year-old on a school day visit. Actually, I’m doing the kid a disservice.
Surprisingly, Islay seems a difficult concept to bottle and advertise without naming a distillery. Take the Atom Brands attempt in Aerolite Lyndsay, which Mark thought was confused at best and had its thunder stolen by the superior Scarabus from Hunter Laing that was better presented and, well, just better on every level.
The Battle Axe is Islay in the glass, but nothing to grab and captivate or stimulate your soul. In essence, it seems a bunch of lacklustre casks were brought together and hey presto you have this Islay thing that tastes a bit peaty, salty, coastal and whala job done. The fact that you could maybe spend £5-£10 more and purchase a single cask from a named Islay distillery sums up the offering as very forgettable.
The Cold Cure is pretty rudimentary. A typical 2nd fill cask that needed longer and hasn’t been granted permission. What you receive is a slightly limited and inoffensive whisky that has bursts of promise but feels rather inept on the whole. Again, one of those drams that could have with the time taken us somewhere rather than struggling to get out of second gear on the road to Applecross.
The Hills are alive with the sound of punters moaning about another poor cask choice! That’s what I think regarding 6.36, which just fails to really go anywhere. The best thing about the experience is the mouthfeel but the privilege of being granted a single cask release is being abused here. This isn’t anything special, memorable or worthwhile and is scored appropriately.
Archaeopteryx is one of those bonkers names you often see on a SMWS label. You’ll be asking what this has to do with a bird-like extinct species and paella? I really don’t have any answers for you whatsoever. However, it is an interesting double-dip sherry experience. An attempt to combine the nutty features of Oloroso and the dried fruits of Pedro Ximénez. Possibly the initial cask was too forceful and it was tamed by the second vessel, or the SMWS are jumpstarting with some aggressive casks and now repairing the damage. Again, no answers, but the Ardmore from this outturn has a similar DNA.
I felt the Ardmore stood up to the sherry casks rather well whereas Archaeopteryx, or Glentauchers as we truly know it, was somewhat obliterated. It is a dram that I expect will reward further exploration, so I bought a bottle for that opportunity. As for this selection of whiskies, the same demons seem to haunt the SMWS for now, but we’ll keep on trying.