Our stepping in the July outturn, begins with the news that Scotland’s bars and restaurants would have to wait a little longer before opening for business once again. There seemed to be the general belief that Nicola would be green lighting establishments to open their doors again with restrictions in place. Unfortunately, wherever that rumour took hold, disappointment prevailed with her statement on the 17th of June.
For the SMWS Vaults venue in Edinburgh, they had gone to the trouble to prepare a series of events including Lockdown Outturn tastings with burgers and staggered times, which could only be pre-booked. While England would be able to open up sooner with restrictions in place, Scotland had to wait a wee while longer until the 6th of July for outdoor spaces. As for the wisdom of opening up English bars again on a Saturday of all days – it’ll be interesting to observe. At least branches north of the border will be able to learn from London’s experiences.
Members kissed goodbye to June with the release of 2 bottles from the premium Vaults Collection. This exclusive range plays host to whiskies that are deemed special. Arguably, why we’ve been bumming around of late, giving out mainly 4-6 scores to the more general releases.
Unfortunately, we won’t be bringing you a review of the 30 year old Benriach, or another 24 from The Macallan. But the email did offer a sign of things to come, namely:
*We’re currently putting the finishing touches on our packaging and carefully checking each bottle, so we expect these to start shipping around w/c 20 July
**Please note, due to member feedback surrounding our rare releases, these bottles are limited to one per member. Any duplicate orders will be cancelled and refunded. If you’re lucky enough to get one, please open and enjoy it with loved ones, we don’t want to see them on auction sites or have to cancel any memberships. Many thanks for you (r) understanding.
After listening to members, there is set to be a crackdown on what we generally refer to as the flipping of bottles. Reading this note, suggests a change in the packaging (or threat of) to reflect the voice of the membership i.e. numbered bottles. Otherwise how else can they be tracked and the culprits identified? The release photos themselves seemed to be stock examples from the range as it exists currently. What I found intriguing, is if many of the buyers at 2pm picked up on this possibility?
Neither bottle prompted the immediate scramble as we’ve seen previously when a 24 is released. I could still log on 90 minutes later and drop £1495 on The Macallan, or £385 on the Benriach. So, a welcome and brave move from the Society, as the route to the secondary market and profit is what is selling many bottles nowadays. And this isn’t a specific Society problem, unfortunately, but they are amongst the first to take action and this should be recognised and applauded. I’ll be interested to see when either of these releases are seen in the wild, if the above speculation is correct.
Let’s kick off things in the time-honoured tradition of a sample provided by a whisky friend. This time around The Whisky Barrista tried to prompt an opinion on Braeval: thanks, James. Let’s see how this goes despite the bottle name.
SMWS 113.20 A Choc Ice Melting on Rhubarb Crumble – review
This Braeval is bottled at 63.1% from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel and bottled at 9 years of age. An outturn of 215 bottles which originally retailed for £48.
Colour: golden syrup.
On the nose: young and vibrant, but far from uncouth. Vanilla without question, caramel wafers, oats, butterscotch and pulped apples. Patience allows rhubarb and lemon to step forward.
In the mouth: quite pleasant at this strength, if slightly safe. A bourbon-feel to proceedings with the vanilla and caramel interplay. Easy drinking with little taxing development, but a nice sweetness to it. More lemon and apricots with a juicy texture. And then I ran out of whisky!
We’ll kick off this month’s selection with a purchase from the preview outturn. From the handful of bottles released on 25th June, there was only 1 contender in the form of a Miltonduff. Regular readers will know that we highlighted just how good a previous bottling was from this distillery as SMWS 72.73 The Epitome of Enjoyment a year ago. That’s been the highlight of our recent Society experiences by some margin. And it didn’t hang around long once we started spreading the word.
They say lightning never strikes twice, but in this case, we hope that the Miltonduff delivers as we’re in need of a revitalising bottle from the SMWS and who can deny the track record of this overlooked Speyside distillery? At least we have another crap bottle name in Hot Lego! – who purchases a bottle looking for the taste or aromas of melted plastic? And on that topic, I’m finding the tasting notes less reliable than ever and with the names themselves pure window dressing and fanciful marketing. What do you, as the everyday consumer, have left to base your decision upon? Something that sparked an online conversation with Angus, who is on the tasting panel.
We continued, but let’s move on, the conversation itself can be found on Twitter from 3rd July 2020. So, it’s good to have this interaction and insight with a panel member and I thank Angus for reaching out with his own viewpoint: always welcome and hopefully indicative of a new level of interaction from the Society with its members. Refreshingly, he did agree that the notes for SMWS 7.238 were not the best, which was a shame as with more clarity I would have purchased a bottle. Time then, for the release that sparked the debate…
SMWS 72.87 Hot Lego! – review
This Miltonduff is bottled at 56.9% from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel and bottled at 8 years of age. An outturn of 240 bottles at £44.80.
Colour: diluted apple juice.
On the nose: flour dust, jelly sweeties and freshly sliced apples. Vanilla, almonds and star anise and some all-spice. Time brings out a creaminess and faint peach vibe on the fringes. It also revives memories of a freshly made apple strudel I enjoyed on a warm day in Spain with the aromas of apple, various spices and icing sugar mingling with the warm pastry. Adding water brings out freshly grated nutmeg, oatcakes and caramel.
In the mouth: a burst of sweetness gives way to a pleasing viscous texture. More apples, pear drops, honey, sweet cinnamon, mango and green peppercorns. The finish is a pleasing mixture of liquorice and green bananas. Water revels lemon sherbet and a creamy white chocolate.
The outturn comprised of 22 single casks (excluding the gin) and an average age of 13.5 years. It’s amazing how things ramp up with a bit of grain and a focus on ex-bourbon casks given the prominence of the 4th of July. A variety of names on paper – good to see and again some grain, but as a consumer and even with some Patreon Malt backing, we cannot buy everything.
Tying in with our conversation above, was how we pick bottles here to review? I’ve mentioned this on a couple of articles depending on the theme. Unfortunately, as we’re buying these bottles and we make purchases based on many of the factors that you, the reader, have to rely upon as well.
In total, we bought 4 bottles this month. I’d have liked to have purchased a couple more, as there were some enticing contenders on what was a mainly bourbon matured outturn. But I have other bottles from indies to purchase and shops to support during lockdown. I know you appreciate the independent stance we take and that we’ve continued to purchase SMWS bottles throughout 2020.
High up the hit-list was the heavily peated Bunnahabhain, however, this sold out within 3 minutes. The prospect of a cask strength Fettercairn was too good to ignore. A real rarity and arguably the only time you’ll see a one bottle per person limit on a whisky from this distillery! Then, as a few comments this year have referred to the packs and practice of exclusive bottles; we purchased the Shout-out The Ex-(bourbon cask) Pair, which meant we would receive the Clynelish only available via this format. This meant taking a Glenburgie, which is never a bad thing in my book. I’m always happy to sit down with a dram from this distillery that remains a key component of the Ballantine’s blend, plus fond memories of Glencraig. So, after too much talking, let’s begin.
SMWS 26.143 Sandals and candles – review
This Clynelish is bottled at 58.6% from a Second Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel, distilled 19th September 2011 and bottled at 8 years of age. An outturn of 251 bottles and this was a package exclusive only.
Colour: white gold.
On the nose: porcelain, crushed Polo’s and a touch of fairy washing up liquid. New crepe paper, singed fabric, dull vanilla and Frosties. That’s quite an assortment for an initial foray, returning, there are some waxiness and fruit scones. I’m filled with the sense that this has been bottled before it could bloom. Water reveals pine cones, fresh varnish and a more vibrant vanilla.
In the mouth: a slightly waxy texture it must be said, but fairly muted. Artificial vanilla and a creaminess, some cask charr and I’m thinking mum’s rice pudding from the oven. There’s also lemon pips and jellied sugar sweeties. Green apples try to muscle in. Water reduces this to a fruity, resinous, freshly grated nutmeg dram.
SMWS 71.74 Skinny dipping in Scotch Broth – review
This Glenburgie is bottled at 59.9% from a Second Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel, distilled on 22nd March 2006 and bottled at 13 years of age. An outturn of 171 bottles at £55.80.
Colour: apple flesh.
On the nose: caramel, some chocolate and rubber plant. Oatcakes, a twist of lime, warmed raisins and maple syrup. Mace, resin and a puff of butane gas, fudge, figs and after resting some bubblegum memories. Adding water brings out more familiar qualities such as straw, white pepper and more lime.
In the mouth: ashy, pepper and wholemeal bread. Toffee, prunes and chocolate digestives. A lingering fruity sweetness, used tea leaves, candied lemon and expired cinnamon. Water isn’t beneficial in unlocking any new features.
SMWS 94.8 From Cornwall to Madagascar – review
This Fettercairn is bottled at 62.4% from a Second Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel, distilled on 1st March 2011 and bottled at 8 years of age. An outturn of 233 bottles at £48.
Colour: gentle haze.
On the nose: scrubbed vanilla, white bread and a clean sense with a rocket salad, liquorice allsorts and a tea-like aspect. There’s some lime, caramel and Kendal mint cake. Adding water delivers grape juice, wet wool and white chocolate.
In the mouth: doesn’t come across as harsh for its bottling strength, instead, there’s a degree of softness and style. Cotton sheets and pleasing texture that lingers like glue and won’t let go. Returning, apples, green mangoes and more of that minty aspect on the nose. Poached pears with vanilla. It’s not rich in detail, but it has a simple elegance about it. Water unlocks pine sap, but I actually preferred it straight without any dilution because of the enjoyable simplicity of it all.
The Braeval (113.20) is fine. A solid enough whisky and well-crafted and drinkable at 9 years of age. I wouldn’t run out to buy it, or even stagger, however, it is well-priced and drinkable. Both redeeming qualities as an SMWS member.
The Miltonduff (72.87) is exactly the sort of affordable and satisfying dram the Society built their reputation upon. However, this is well priced and very enjoyable for what it is. No, it isn’t quite the standard of the lovely SMWS 72.73 The Eptimone of Enjoyment from 2019, but I’d gladly take a case. 2020 has been a year of slim pickings so far, so a thumbs up is a welcome addition to this ongoing membership diary.
I approached the Clynelish (26.143) with a degree of caution. My experience has shown the more youthful side of Clynelish can be initially disappointing. The whisky itself rewards a more patient approach to showcase its potential. The first couple of pours were ok, but nothing more. The whiskies in this article had a least 5 days of tastings, so that’s more than enough time to showcase their potential – the Miltonduff had even longer. The quality of the Clynelish distillate pokes through yet the overall sense is of wasted youth. I wish the Society would give a few years to truly maximise the potential, rather than another 26 that feels lobotomized.
The other half of the package, in the form of Glenburgie (71.74), does have a ridiculous name, but I do like Scotch Broth. But this isn’t a great homemade over the stove Scotch Broth. It’s more from a dusty tin, found at the back of a local branch of Nisa. It does the job as a filler yet for 13 years, I was expecting a little more character. A pretty inoffensive and forgettable dram.
Last up, is the wildcard of the bunch, in the form of the Fettercairn (94.8), which is a rarely seen bottling. Having recently reviewed the revamped range, I know there is some promise within the distillate, but it is often abused and over-coaxed by the owners. Leaving us with a rather tepid and inoffensive whisky. In it’s natural state there is more to enjoy and appreciate. Again, lacking the vibrancy of alcohol and flavours I may have hoped for, there still remains a reasonable whisky that reminds us of the beauty of the single cask format.
Hopefully, Angus comes through on our offer, either next month or thereafter, with a couple of choice picks based on his tasting panel experiences. As long as they aren’t from the Vaults Collection, then, we’ll do our best to pick these up and bring you another slant to our ongoing SMWS coverage. And I don’t think we can be any fairer than that.
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