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What the Fake is Going On?

I was quite happy to see a bottle from distillery 105, in the latest SMWS outturn, having purchased a few other expressions when up at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Leith Vaults, some 18 months ago – how time flies. As a regular drinker of number 105, I’m forever actively seeking out older expressions from other markets and outlets.

But to be totally frank, I was somewhat disturbed by the bottle description ITALIAN FAKE! With the accompanying notes on the label: the Distillery goes undercover, incognito and in disguise. Dodgy Mediterranean accents; shady herbal sunglasses; malty moustaches twitching. What!! What the Fake is going on more like? I would love to know the thinking behind this, it’s an absolute insult to the distillery in my opinion. Did anyone at the SMWS actually try the whisky before coming up with such a ridiculous description? In reality, it tells you nothing about the contents whatsoever.

Yes, its Tormore, if you didn’t recognise, which distillery is 105 behind the SMWS numbering system. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful distilleries on Speyside.

The title of this release, ITALIAN FAKE!, will to anyone in the whisky industry, send shivers down the spine, as it brought me out in a cold sweat. I still get PTSD from when I purchased 2 bottles at auction, only to be told a couple of years later that they were fake and 5 grand was at stake. It’s a fakein disgrace, how dare they call my beloved Tormore a FAKE!!

Built in 1958, Tormore is a fairly young distillery, but where age is lacking, architecturally it is a masterpiece. Underlined by the fact that in 1986, the distillery was granted listed building status, despite at the time, being only 30 years old.

Designed by Sir Albert Richardson, he was noted for his neoclassicism approach, mixed with modernism. For his work at Tormore, he was awarded a gold medal. The current custodians of this design marvel are Pernod Ricard and I have to say, they are doing a splendid job in maintaining its splendour. As the first distillery that many pass venturing into the Speyside region, or even the last you see depending on your direction, Tormore is a memorable representative for the region. It doesn’t for instance, hide under a hillside. It is a proud and one-off feat of design and distilling. And we’re not just talking about the distillery, but the cottages, outer buildings and ornate grounds that surround it.

On a personal note, I’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed at the Tormore cottages on a number of occasions, especially with the Tormore 4. And I never tire of the beautifully designed gardens around the distillery with manicured lawns and the stream running alongside, makes for an atmospheric place of peace and tranquillity with a dram in hand and a time to reflect. For me, it’s the perfect gateway to speyside.

So, back to the actual bottle that prompted this return to Tormore in the form of ITALIAN FAKE! My hand trembles just typing those words with annoyance. This is society cask number 105.27, with an outturn of 205 from a single cask, bottled at a robust 63.7% strength. Distilled in 2012, fully matured in a second fill ex-bourbon cask and bottled at 7 years old with an asking price of £44.80. Let’s see what this delivers.

SMWS 105.27 Italian Fake! – review

Colour: Very light amber.

On the nose: Vanilla, hints of pepper mint green grapes, oat cakes, a little earthy Herbal, but not giving a lot away really despite some effort and a few drams. I did wonder if I should be getting spaghetti and meat balls, or even a calzone, or maybe tiramisu, but this is about as Italian as haggis, neeps and tatties washed down with a can of Irn Bru.

In the mouth: Firstly, far too much ABV for me at 63.7%. Beyond this, there is citrus, fiery it must be said and a little oil. Slightly bitter stewed dark fruits, but I’m not really enjoying this expression. Adding water via a pipette makes things a little easier to drink, but it just doesn’t give a lot more in terms of flavour. I do struggle to see what the point of bottling this 7-year-old in second fill bourbon, as its barely touched the side of the cask.

Conclusions

Where do I start with this? As you’ll understand already, the name is an insult. When the distillery goes undercover, it doesn’t taste like Tormore. Incognito and in disguise, it doesn’t taste like Tormore. Dodgy Mediterranean accents, it doesn’t talk Tormore to me. Shady Herbal Sunglasses, yeah, I didn’t see this coming. Malty Moustaches Twitching, yeah, its got mine going.

Overall, dreadful, if I had spent more on this release, I would really have a meltdown. It smacks of scrapping the barrel and a bottler that doesn’t have much inventory.

Score: 2/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    ThomasMcCrory says:

    I personally would have passed on a 7 yo refill Speysider from SMWS in under a second.
    Maybe guest reviewers should have a number and their reviews a name like the society. How about Salty Balls.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Thomas

      You don’t know till you try a release and if someone likes a certain distillery, then you can understand why they might complete that purchase. Bourbon casks comprise the majority of casks in the industry and the outturn. I’ve had some excellent 3rd fill casks, so anything is possible.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Mark P says:

        I would have snapped this up in a heartbeat hoping for something analogous to Tormore’s excellent, under appreciated (under discussed?) cask strength range.

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi Mark

          Yes exactly, and I made that purchase as well being a fan of the distillery. Unfortunately, my expectations (if you’ve seen my SMWS May outturn article) were not met. It won’t stop me from trying again though.

          Cheers, Jason,

    1. Avatar
      Kay says:

      There is a constant theme in this where you regularly bash the smws while remaining a member, and I have to question the logic in it. It comes off really mean spirited, and I have to disagree with a load of the review content as a result. It feels very much like an older age statement is all you seek out and everything else gets bashed as a result. The world of whisky is a gorgeous explosion of flavour and expertise, and while not every single bottling can realistically be to your taste everytime, the disparaging manner that younger whisky is written off feels beneath the industry and yourself as whisky lovers.

      1. John
        John says:

        In my case, I’m very new to being a SMWS. As I said in my review, it’s very new to the Philippines. It’s also not that easy to find around Asia. So I’m still eagerly going through whatever I can find.

        If the whisky isn’t good then it isn’t good. Why should we praise a disappointing product just because it’s from an esteemed brand?

      2. Jason
        Jason says:

        Hi Kay

        See the above link for the SMWS Miltonduff last year, which was excellent and young. There’s some excellent young whisky out there from Scotland, England, Europe and beyond, which we cover. When it is good, it is scored and accordingly, and when it’s not, or finished poorly, then it is judged as such.

        Cheers, Jason.

        1. Avatar
          Kay says:

          It’s all got a horrid tone which I really feel is clouding the judgement, you even took the gesture of them donating towards the production of hand sanitizer, and the used a narrative to try and make it look like an empty gesture which is diabolical in my opinion. (Again only my opinion which in these parts seems to mean you can say anything you like however mean spirited!) There just seems to be a very harsh undertone when mentioning the smws and as a member I feel the actual reviewing has long gone out of the window and a need to diss them has taken centre stage.

          1. Jason
            Jason says:

            Hi Kay

            Thanks for commenting again, apologies for the delay in replying.

            I respect your opinion, but nothing could be further from the truth. I remain hopeful that one month we can bring some good scores and news to the monthly outturn. It is overdue. However, we must not paint roses when only weeds reside in the flowerbeds. This is the reality of the membership for many and several did have input into that article and agreed with it. Whisky can be expensive and not all of us can afford to randomly make purchases. That’s why we need to be candid and honest with every article, every single day.

            I acknowledged it was a kind gesture, but when a member contacted me to spotlight the connection it does raise questions; even if only being transparent. A better gesture, I’m sure we both agree, would have been a donation to a charity with no links whatsoever. There are plenty of options right now.

            Reviewing is central to every review. I buy these things and Malt also chips in. We could spend our money elsewhere, or on better whisky, given 2020 to date. However, I’m keen to find those hidden gems and I’ll have no problem scoring or reviewing them when they are unearthed.

            Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    Stephan says:

    My problem: What about the consistency of the reviews?
    Of course you are right if you say “If the whisky isn’t good then it isn’t good. Why should we praise a disappointing product just because it’s from an esteemed brand?”
    But who knows about the expertise of an unnamed guest writer?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Stephan

      The clue to the identity of this person is within the review. Others have already made the connection. He’s someone very passionate and knowledgeable about whisky and has been so for longer than you or I, decades in fact and is a notable collector.

      The guest option is there for those than want to use it. Of course, I’d rather have names etc. at the bottom of each review, but we are openminded and work with everyone to reach the best solution.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Kay says:

        I’m not the only one noticing that the thing, your reviews are being met with the same comments I am making more and more frequently, and no you are wrong in the point I dont tend to take part in point scoring or review people on their charity work either. Especially when helping the production of a life saving item during a pandemic. So no I wouldn’t pull that apart for some kind of other way to bash them maybe we just have a completely different mindset, but personally I would refrain from adding something with such a negative tone in future as it leaves an awful lingering tone.

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Kay, you are in the minority. Very much so. I know how many people have looked at these articles, as I have the figures. I do like it when someone wishes to comment – some publicly, others getting in touch directly. Messages of support and thanks. I’m happy to answer anything you post, but it is very much the minority.

          I wasn’t point-scoring, the only points are on the whiskies. I had hoped you’d answer the simple question – do you think it would have been better to give that donation to a charity with no links whatsoever? Or if making that donation expressively state the link?

          You might not have noticed through the weeds, that we’ve updated our April outturn article with another reviewers thoughts on the whiskies. The May article will follow. These are his thoughts and completely independent from my own. And I’m quite happy to add a 3rd and 4th to judge the whisky on its own merits. I hope that’s a nice lingering tone to end upon, until next month?

          Cheers, Jason

    2. John
      John says:

      Stephan,

      I don’t think reviews on Malt are going or supposed to be consistent. We are all different writers. I think it’s a problem if we all agree in everything as variety will become an issue. But it should also be a good thing when/if we all agree on something as it really says something about the product.

      1. Jeremy
        Jeremy says:

        To me there’s a difference between a regular username and a complete “guest” name. For sure there will be inconsistency between different people, depending on their taste preference and whisky journey. But as you get to know each person you know if their taste matches yours – so for future reviews will you place emphasis on their review, or know your taste doesn’t match theirs? With a complete guest this is impossible.

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Jeremy,

          What if we this guest writer is designated as Guest Writer A and a future guest writer gets designated as Guest Writer B? Or something along those lines

      2. Avatar
        Stephan says:

        John,

        do you write about quality or about taste? Writing about taste doesn`t need any consistency but writing about quality should imho.

        1. John
          John says:

          Hi Stephan,

          Since everyone’s senses aren’t the same shouldn’t that already create inconsistency? Perception of quality will also be different depending on how one is experienced in a category.

  3. Graham
    Graham says:

    I was a member of SMWS for a number of years and enjoyed some delicious whiskies. I think when it changed hands I began to see the quality of drams increase whilst the magazine kept banging on about their global growth into new markets (using my membership money)!

    I didn’t renew my membership, nor have I when offered it half price at the highland show, or 60% on groupon. But I yearn for a return to the good times. I’m sure Malt will be one of the first places to acknowledge that change when it (hopefully) comes.

    In the mean time I’ve discovered a heap of excellent clubs so it pays to shop around.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Graham

      A fair comment, things have changed in recent times. Whether for the better or worse is down to each of us individually.

      We’ll certainly highlight any good whiskies and reasons to join as and when they present themselves.

      Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    Aaron says:

    The reviewer should be blind to the age and origin of the dram. If such tasting and reviews are good enough for wine then for whisky too. I think blend / single malt different barrel type / single malt same barrel type / single barrel should be disclosed though as these are essentially different products. I dont believe single malt different barrel types is truly a sungle malt.

  5. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Well, I rather enjoyed this review and can see no reason why anyone should get so uptight about it. The guest is intriguing and I can only think of two possibilities but I’m narrowing it down one. A man with a great deal of experience and service to the industry. If it’s who I think it is then I’m all ears. I have to say I’m not bothered about the name of the bottle as it’s just as meaningless as the rest of SMWS names. The price isn’t bad considering the strength but why the big strength?

    This is happening rather a lot with Independent bottlings these days. 7 years in a second fill bourbon barrel does not bode well in my experience. I know young whisky can be good but it needs some extra help to be so. Peat can help but if you’re not going that way you better have decent casks and a well made spirit. Banging up the abv is to give a lot of dodgy whisky something to talk about but in reality you just can’t get away with it as our reviewer concludes. Independent whisky can be great and I’ve always enjoyed the gamble you take with them but of late the odds seem to be stacked against us. Crappy ages and casks in addition to ridiculously inflated prices. They might have a large abv but they don’t taste any good. Chris Goodrum has just done a fine review of a range of Duncan Taylor bottlings which is well worth a view on his The Good Dram Show on YouTube. It touches on this.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT

      It certainly has been a stimulating review and then the comments as well.

      You’re correct in your assumption, this person is probably more knowledgeable than most who work at the SMWS for instance, or other bottlers. A real gent, so it takes something for him to become upset by a release. The youthfulness and strength are what we’re seeing mostly each month. At times it can work, but it is a big ask across a whole monthly outturn.

      There’s a great deal of single casks releases in general right now, that don’t achieve anything from a wide range of bottlers. They aren’t great, nor terrible, but they don’t excite or really showcase the distillery. We seem to have an addiction to single casks, but we’re unable to look at these things objectively. A bit like some of the SMWS membership, who by association, belonging to an exclusive club wear it like a badge or honour and psychologically defend it no matter what. Fortunately, some of us can step back, ask questions and put things into context minus any bias.

      Chris is always a good watch. He seems to ride alone from the other YouTube community and his knowledge is excellent.

      Cheers, Jason.

  6. Avatar
    Darren says:

    I have been drinking SMWS whisky for decades without being a member and their recent bottlings of undermatured whisky is not a match for their output from decades ago. I still have some fantastic Glenugie, Brora, Longmorn and Bowmore bottles that are some of the finest whisky I have ever tasted. However their business model does not work for me particularly when I do not have easy access to the Vaults. I have to pay to join a club to buy premium priced whisky that in most cases does not live up to the price but which I am told has been handpicked by an esteemed panel .

    I will leave it to American Youtubers to eulogize about SMWS and stick to independent bottlers that are still able to bring consistent and well priced whiskies such as Cadenheads, Signatory and Adelphi. Jason is not being bias about SMWS. He is being honest with his opinions and that is surely why we come to sites like this.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Darren

      Thanks for commenting and that’s the main point in a nutshell.

      The market is so competitive in the UK right now. We’re seeking value with quality and the current SMWS offering isn’t holding its own right now.

      The tasting panel has been cut down in size from what I understand. I agree with the author on this piece that the notes are complete and utter gobbledegook. There’s no relation to the contents – I’d even question whether it made it to a panel and what was really said.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Welsh Toro says:

        Yes the notes for this bottling were ridiculous but I think “umami pasta water” has to be at the pinnacle of up it’s own arse pretentiousness in a very crowded field of ludicrous whisky descriptions.

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