Our month’s membership-log kicks off with the annual dilemma that faces a growing proportion of members i.e. whether to renew for another year?
For the first time that I can remember, the Society sent out an early bird offer during July with the bonus of a 10% discount on the annual membership. The promise of another adventure-packed year honestly, isn’t enough on its own, nor a bonus bottle with renewing for just £89.10. Always taking that extra moment to sell you something else, those who did renew also had the option to purchase a 7 year old entitled, Lemon Odyssey, an exclusive mix of 1st fill and 2nd fill casks: not a deal maker.
The deal-breaker for many readers I’m sure is more of the same. However, to their credit, the Society in recent months seems to have finally accepted that there is an opportunity to change for the better. Mistakes have been made and are being made, but there seems an effort to interact more with members and talk about many of the issues that they have raised. So, I’m viewing this as a transitional period and in doing so, giving the Society the benefit of the doubt. The hardest task will be to produce more quality each month within their outturns. During our 2020 coverage, we haven’t been able to taste everything, but of what we have tried the majority fall in the realm of below-average – average to good.
My own renewal, or should I say, that of Malt, isn’t due until early September. An impetus to bring in some much-needed cash flow during these COVID-19 times and also plug the alleged dwindling UK membership. A friend pointed out during our May outturn article, buying or renewing a whisky membership isn’t a priority right now. And with the threat of a recession looming, disposable income purchases will become less. With the storm clouds on the horizon, or overhead for some, tough times are very much on the agenda.
Just missing out on our July article, was the news that ballots are in for the forthcoming SMWS.1 releases, of which, there are 2 on the horizon. A new online timer and basket feature will be tested during the next outturn, giving members 15 minutes to purchase their selection. On the flipping issue, the update featured some positive steps:
‘We fully appreciate how frustrating it is to see a bottle that could be opened and enjoyed, appearing on auction houses straight after release – we feel exactly the same way. With this in mind, we have already taken steps to avoid this happening, sadly having to cancel some memberships due to open flipping.
Now rest assured, we don’t want to create any divide amongst members, but this simply isn’t in the spirit of the Society and we want to do as much as possible to stop this.
We’re now investigating packaging options as a deterrent – this may mean numbering bottles and allocating the number to the member’s details or other means which will add to the deterrent or tracking.’
Good news and hopefully a more inclusive membership experience rather the haves and have nots approach we’ve seen in recent years.
Members also had the option to try for free at a venue, Cask 35.265: Meditation and medication and 7.246: Conversations and ruminations and bottles of these were made available online later in the month. A step forward, and taps into what I said last year regarding the 10 year old Ardbeg, which as a thank you to members was only available by the dram at venues. That thank you would cost £13.50 for a pour. I queried why not send members a wee thanks? Now, with this new offer, you’re able to take something away. Of course, encouraging you to brave social distancing and travel, but at least it is a step forward. I resisted either bottle, which came with an attractive member discount of £15, instead preferring to stick to the theme for this month and the promise of something else. Oh, and there was a ballot for 144.1 Searingly sweet purple smoke, with over 600 entries and a small allocation, chances were slim and it came to pass. As long as the ballot system is fair, then, there can be no complaints.
SMWS 23.7 – review
A Bruichladdich, distilled during February 1981, bottled during July 1991 at a strength of 58.6% and that’s yer lot for detail!
Colour: a light honey.
On the nose: sugary, almonds and fruit pastilles. A delicate cinnamon and spent tea leaves. Soft apples, vanilla and pears. A gentle caramel, which underlines the relaxed nature of this dram despite being 58.6% strength. Not a complex nose by any stretch, but there’s an enjoyable simplicity to it.
In the mouth: the vanilla takes a backwards step leaving a lovely resinous texture and prickly mouthfeel. Pine nuts, more almonds and the aforementioned fruit assortment. Oatcakes, ginger and some orange peel. The finish is a mix of rubber leaf and black pepper.
When the August preview email landed on the 16th of July, there were on paper, a couple of potential purchases. However, it felt like the right opportunity to engage with one of the Society’s tasting packs. These are a more recent side-dish on the Society menu. Where members and non-members can purchase a pack of five (25ml) sized drams in a handy Dram Team-inspired box. Then, you can sit down in the comfort of your own home and even drop in on a live tasting, if you’re feeling lonely and in need of company.
Given our post-COVID-19 landscape, this is a sensible option and more inclusive with non-members, who can pay £35 for the set and members dishing out £32. Indicative of recent Society moves to be more welcoming and encourage an online community. Our Patreons, supported our coverage by purchasing this sample pack and I tried these in my own time, but will be dropping in on a session to see what it is all about. As the UK tasting stream is set for the 13th August (and the pack arrived on 21st July), we’ll come back to the event itself in September’s update – subject to renewal. Although, the expectation was that the August tasting pack should feature whiskies arriving that month…
However, this aside, the advantages are tangible. The packs give you the option to try before you buy, which is something many haven’t been able to do easily if you weren’t near a venue. Not everyone wants to return to a fully-fledged normal existence currently either and who can blame them? And with money tight, it also offers a more affordable option and as not everyone can afford to buy a handful of bottles or make speculative purchases; especially when faced with varying quality. From my time at the SMWS bars, prices are only going 1 way and our opening dram would have devoured a large chunk of your £32 budget if you were looking to replicate this set in a venue.
The outturn itself featured 21 casks with an average age of 14.6 years. To many it looked good on paper, but in my mind, it just left me somewhat cold. I’m not going to pay £270 for an Auchentoshan, even if the tasting panel are raving about it. Which takes us back to the ability to try before buying, whether via packs or in venues.
SMWS 7.242 Magical fairy dust – review
Distilled on 20th May 1993 and bottled at 26 years of age. This Refill Ex-Bourbon Hogshead, produced 224 bottles at 52.1% strength and this release retailed for £185.
Colour: a light gold foil.
On the nose: surprisingly alive after 26 years with a real presence. The aromas are a classic Speyside melting pot of vanilla, white chocolate, wafters and a sweet pastry dough. There’s also orange segments, gooseberries, nutmeg and golden syrup.
In the mouth: the opposite of the nose in that this is very gentle, perhaps refined to some. Juicy fruits with pears and apples, wine gums, pancakes and a dusting of sugar. I’d like to tell you much more but in reality this is not a complex whisky.
SMWS 58.38 In a sunny lemon grove – review
Distilled on 10th September 2012 and bottled at 7 years of age. This 2nd fill Ex-Bourbon barrel, is an eye-watering 62.4% strength and this release has yet to appear.
Colour: light gold.
On the nose: punchy, very young. Memories of bobbing for apples, old newspapers and butterscotch. Sherbet, some diluted lemon elements and no, this doesn’t smell like the lemon groves I visited in Italy. Dried orange, banana skin and marzipan. Water is very beneficial. Providing some sweet cinnamon, pine nuts and more fruit.
In the mouth: light and bursts of sweetness alongside vanilla. There’s banana on the finish and it is grain-like in parts and woody as well. Feels unsettled. Water is again advisable with fresh natural yoghurt, lemongrass tea, digestives, pepper and a dark fruit that is reminicent of blueberries.
SMWS 112.54 Uncle Monty Goes Burgling – review
Distilled on 21st March 2001 and bottled at 18 years of age. This 1st fill ex-red wine barrique, at a pleasant 54.2% strength.
Colour: blushed gold.
On the nose: honey, cardamon and paint stripper. Apricot, walnut oil and a metallic note that kinda reminds me of excessive days spent rubbing brass. Damp wood, shoe polish, crackers and orange rind. Some floral elements as well, black caraway seeds, with the barrique taking a firm hold here. Water brings out more oils and especially orange.
In the mouth: honeycomb, red liquorice and golden syrup. Yeah, its gone all sweet. Marmalade, orange pips and a touch of rubber towards the finish. Water brings out ginger, but I felt overall it wasn’t hugely beneficial given how limited palate-wise this one is.
SMWS 122.31 Tarry tarry night – review
Distilled on 22nd April 2014 and bottled at 5 years of age. This 2nd fill ex-bourbonbarrel, bottled at a vigorous 62.1% strength.
Colour: apple juice.
On the nose: a dense vegetative peat with some fleeting coastal elements. Soya sauce, charred wood, bacon crisps and a wet woodland walk. Limes with apple and smashed porcelain. Some mint leaf and porridge oats. Water brings more order but the peat still dominates. Wet rope, cinnamon and freshly scraped sap.
In the mouth: all about the peat really, that’s all you’ll really taste here. Some BBQ and burnt aspects. Tarragon, bacon bits and, yes, some tar-like qualities. Adding water brings out more smoke, aniseed and dirty chip fat with plenty of peat still evident.
SMWS 135.23 A shape-shifting chimera – review
Distilled on 19th August 2009 and bottled at 10 years of age. This 1st fill Ex-Bourbon Hogshead, produced 228 bottles at a robust 60.8% strength and this release retails for £48.20.
Colour: light honey.
On the nose: sharp lemon, mustard seeds and wet flannel greet you initially. Some Pink Ladies and grapefruit following. A dram that needs time to let the alcohol settle. Vanilla custard, pinewood, freshly grated parmesan and dusty old curtains. Adding water unlocks a pleasing toffee aspect and varnish.
In the mouth: very creamy, some vanilla toffee and biscuits. A little ginger on the finish and some wood bitterness. Very limited portfolio. Doesn’t really go anywhere. Apples and sawdust, while adding water I felt wasn’t that beneficial; revealing its limitations.
7.242 (Longmorn) left me somewhat bemused. A big age statement and fancy exterior raised my expectations. The reality is, I’ve had better releases from this distillery in the teenage bracket. I don’t think the cask is the greatest and things have taken a great deal of time – too long in fact – to accumulate flavours and aromas. Still, an enjoyable, good dram, but nothing more. You’ll get more value in the SMWS outturn at half the price.
58.38 (Strathisla) is a solid dram with flashes of moments that sadly slip through. Lost building blocks, kicked over by being snatched too soon from the cask. You don’t see much Strathisla these days and I do prefer this over what Chivas is content to push out the door. Yet, you cannot shake off that sense of lost potential.
112.54 (Loch Lomond, Inchmurrin), is a rudimentary whisky, where the short-term finish has been brought in to bring turbo charge the experience. And it dominates proceedings, which is a shame, as I quite enjoy the distillery bottling of Inchmurrin 18 year old. By nature, Inchmurrin is a touch sweeter, but here that hand has been overplayed and whilst this is satisfying enough, it doesn’t venture outside of the realm of average.
122.31 (Loch Lomond, Croftengea), is all about the peat and as the most heavily peated of all Loch Lomond’s whiskies, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. At just 5 years of age, the peat dominates. Any complexity is yet to mature into proceedings. So, if you’re after a peat blast and refuse to pay ridiculous Islay prices and it is only peat that you’re wanting – this is for you.
135.23 (Loch Lomond, Inchmoan), doesn’t really change shape and one of the poorer Inchmoan’s that comes as a disappointment. It’s more of Ronseal whisky, or ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ if you weren’t around in the early 90s. Pretty inoffensive. I can also hear Mark saying there are millions of casks like this in Scotland right now, before talking about mud or something. But he’s right, for once. It’s ok, a little boring (hence 4) and one dimensional. You’ll already have a couple of whiskies like this in your home. Question is ladies and gentlemen, do you need another?
Something to consider overall, as August passes by and my inbox fills with renewal notices.
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