An apology from the off, as I should have reviewed this release back in 2019. I cracked the seal almost a year ago, enjoyed briefly what I had, then put it aside for another day. This isn’t entirely unusual behaviour I’m sure amongst us all.
Last March, I decided to remind people about the joys of opening bottles and discovering what resided within. Even going so far as to #openyourbottles on Instagram to connect with the bling masses who see bottles as a phallus-like ornament to be stroked, photographed and worshipped. Complete madness, but that’s the way of Instagram and so much of social media nowadays. Throughout that month, I opened 24 bottles – an impressive number that then left me with a post-month problem. Namely, there’s too much to drink and too much to really appreciate. As always do read Adam’s utterly brilliant A Line in the Sand about how we must police ourselves responsibly.
So, bottles were put aside and given Malt continues daily, the work on other samples and tasting notes detracted me from many of the bottles that waited patiently. That’s not a reflection of their quality or a sense of disappointment. Rather, I’m taking a few nights off a week, despite the bright lights of an attractive bottle trying to capture my attention from the corner of the room. This will always be the case.
We should enjoy what bottles we own and the journey as such. We should share and swap more. Broaden our horizons and take delight in helping others on their whisky journey. It still doesn’t diminish the fact that I have far too much open and not enough time to truly appreciate each and every bottle. Again, I’m not alone in this regard. I remain shocked about how many bottles some individuals purchase: most I expect are not for personal consumption. Other than acquisitions for Malt, I buy a bottle on the principle it must have something of interest to me personally.
Time is always a factor. For instance, I know that this SMWS bottle is lauded by some and detested by others. I enjoyed my initial forays with it, but I wanted partially to give it more time to see what if anything was unlocked. The timing is particularly poignant as it was a special release with the classic old-style Scotch Malt Whisky Society labelling. The SMWS have as I write this, has just launched their new branding adopted from their sprit releases in the January 2020 outturn.
I’m not bothered whatsoever about the logo although I understand some lament the loss of the more traditional aspect. As always the contents are key and this is where the SMWS has struggled somewhat of late. The January outturn had some promise on paper although I’ve not yet been able to follow it up with an actual visit. Given how many bottles are being released nowadays, my spare cash will always be diverted towards more worthy and realistically priced releases. Leaving those releases that harbour a sense of doubt to wait in line and it is quite a queue living in Scotland.
Branding is a big thing nowadays and often is used to hide or camouflage the limitations of the actual contents. You’re not just purchasing a bottle of whisky; instead, it is a lifestyle and a place in society. The SMWS with their advertising and incoming Glasgow venue know their market and are accordingly targeting that. I hope it works out for them as so many I know are leaving the Society and for a variety of reasons. But I’ve talked about this before and like new branding, we don’t want to be distracted or fall prey to the classic trick of misdirection.
This isn’t the first revamp of the SMWS look as we’ve had a couple in recent times with the last being around the 35th anniversary of the Society. I’ve never agreed with the colour strands and forcing whiskies into silos for taste profiles. I guess it is to help those unfamiliar with whisky in general, although I always laughed at the darker colours that made reading the label difficult when they drove straight through the informative text.
You can read their blog for the spiel and the Borg-like sense that we are one when it comes to all spirits. I can visualise the corporate line and trying to upscale everything or shine the beacon of positivity, but the Gathering wasn’t a success and I’ll be interested in seeing what 2020 delivers. Also, the news focus is all wrong in this piece and whoever wrote it should be heralding that they’ve listened to members’ feedback on cask finishes. As part of the new look, the labels will now display the initial cask and secondary finishing cask – that’s big news and I don’t understand why it wasn’t even mentioned within this short proclamation.
You gain more respect and traction from onlookers by actually being candid. Realistically, I’d have liked to have seen the duration of the initial maturation and subsequent finish on the label without having the need to refer to the website or brochure. However, it is a step in the right direction and should be congratulated as such.
Moving on, you’ll be asking what the hell is distillery number 135? Well, it is more of a style of distillate rather than a distillery. A style that Adam and I have raved about previously and being heavily peated takes the fight to Islay. Produced at the Loch Lomond distillery this is Inchmoan, which is their heavily peated variant to a level of 50ppm. It is the gem within the widespread Loch Lomond portfolio.
I’d go so far as to say that the Inchmoan 1992 reserve is the best new release peated whisky I’ve had within the last 5 years. It is seriously that good and compared to what Islay and Highland Park is producing, it remains affordable and is generally overlooked. So it comes as no surprise that I have high expectations of this 135 release from the SMWS and while this one is long sold out, I do note they have some others available.
This release is 135.11 dubbed Paddle Steaming and comes from Inchmoan as part of the Loch Lomond distillery. Distilled on 18th March 2005, it was bottled in September 2018 at 13 years of age. The refill ex-bourbon hogshead delivered 309 bottles with a strength of 57.1%.
SMWS 135.11 Inchmoan – review
Colour: apple juice.
On the nose: the thrust of peat followed by an oily, saline quality. Apples, raw cauliflower and lemon juice. A fattyness is present alongside white pepper, lemongrass and a vibrant, clean, fresh vanilla. Some rubbed mint leaf, coconut ice and almonds. Water showcases pond water, pears, a smoky residue and grapefruit.
In the mouth: a pleasing oozing mouthfeel underlines the oiliness. Cracked black pepper, cask char, burnt brown toast and green olives. Vegetal in nature, tatties (potato to non-Scots) and an earthy peat on the finish. Dying flowers, engine oil with a diesel tarnish and the salt comes through on the finish. Green apples and more grapefruit. Adding water unleashes charcoal, yesterday’s scorched peat fire and a dirty vanilla.
Firstly, while I remember, water really exposes the limitations on the palate, but prior to its addition I was enjoying this Inchmoan. There’s a satisfaction knowing you can pick this sort of thing for a reasonable price whilst everyone else jumps on the ferry to Islay – so over crowed it makes those Indian trains look like the attendance at a Nigel Farage book signing.
And the bonus is this release is adorned with the best SMWS label style. As I say for most things in life: less is more. Let’s not overcomplicate things and keep the essence of what makes things tick. Change isn’t always necessarily good; you just need to compare many of today’s whiskies with their brethren from 20 or more years ago to reach that conclusion.
This article was written in early 2020, when the new look was revealed.