SMWS C.5 Blood Orange Sorbet

Can you still remember some of the first great experiences that rocked you to your core? The kinds that you considered life-changing? Moments when you felt your brain adjust in your skull as if there were gears inside moving, as though you could feel a new part of your brain unlocking?

I can.

I can still remember the first time I heard and tried to sing along with the opening part of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While having little musical talent, I can still remember how my fingers and right foot moved on their own as my cousins made me listen to “Stairway to Heaven.” Despite usually being aloof, the hair on my back still stands up when I hear John Williams’ theme for Star Wars at the beginning of A New Hope. And I still feel the soul-jarring sensation every time I re-watch Studio Ghibli movies like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.

It’s amazing how memories work. In my case, a bottle of cognac can make all of these memories come rushing back. It also makes me think of the day I visited the Ghibli Museum and Whisky House Vision in Tokyo in December of 2018. You might know Studio Ghibli as the anime studio that gave us masterpieces such as My Neighbor Totoro. It’s also been compared to Disney, though I think Studio Ghibli is way better; Whisky House Vision is one of SMWS’ partner bars in Japan. The cognac I had that day was the SMWS C4.1 (A Tantalizing Tightrope). SMWS was still very new to the Philippines in 2018, so I’ve only had their single malt Scotches. Funnily enough, I’d never had a cask strength cognac before, much less single cask. It was an auspicious opportunity to cross some things out of my bucket list, and it made my day extra memorable after touring the Ghibli Museum.

C4.1 is from the Distillery D’Aumagne in the Grand Champagne region. This is a distillery I didn’t know existed, and it really opened my eyes to how good cognac can be if left untouched. What makes Ghibli films so memorable is that they’re so complete and full of detail. Coincidently, I still consider C4.1 the best and most memorable Cognac I’ve had to date. If I were reviewing it now, I’d give it a score of 9. It was just so rich and full of flavors.

Unfortunately, I can’t find a bottle of it now, so I bought what became available in the local market. I had to “settle” for this SMWS C5.3 (Blood Orange Sorbet). C5 is Tiffon Distillery in the Grand Champagne region, a distillery I’ve heard of before but never tried. It was available here for around $120 and is bottled at 42.6% ABV.

SMWS C5.3 Blood Orange Sorbet – review

Color: Blood orange peel.

On the nose: Intense scents of dried apricots, orange meringue, marzipan and blood orange sorbet (duh). These last for a few seconds, and then the other scents emerge, but they’re incoherent. I get medium flashes of cream, figs, vanilla, cinnamon; something like a dark syrup with slices of orange peel; and there’s that orange meringue again, alongside apple mango.

In the mouth: I get light and brief tastes of vanilla, cinnamon and dried apricots as a greeting. Then the heat gets more intense. The following tastes of orange meringue, blood orange sorbet and apple mango get more intense along with it. After that are lighter tastes of key lime pie crusts, dried apricots, date syrup and fresh figs. At the end is a large burst of San Pellegrino Blood Orange soda and orange jam.


It’s a shame SMWS doesn’t mention when this was bottled. They give us a teaser that it’s from 1995 but no closer indication as to how old this is. The earliest references of SMWS C5.1 I see online, though, are in 2017. If we assume this was also bottled in 2017, then this would make the Cognac 21 or 22 years old. If we assume this was bottled the year I bought it, which was 2020, then that would make it 24 or 25 years old.

This packs a larger punch than what the 42.6% ABV would make you assume. There are no dull parts when enjoying this cognac, and it’s packed with flavor from beginning to end. The only thing I don’t like is how some flavors grow enigmatic in parts. Either the unexpected heat obscures some of the flavors, or some of the flavors end up being too short.

SMWS’ Scotch single malt has not been popular on MALT lately. Plenty of our contributors and readers agree that their output isn’t what they used to be. Even so, my experience with SMWS’ malternatives has been pretty good. Aside from their cognacs and my review of their Nicaraguan rum bottling, I’ve also had samples from Worthy Park and Diamond Distillery. Perhaps it’s time for them to give more focus on alternatives?

Score: 7/10


John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Elliott says:

    John, I agree — I have this bottle, and while I am not used to Cognac, it really grows on me over time, and it seems like a fantastic product.

    1. John says:

      Hi Elliot, thanks for the comment. Nice to see someone agree on this. With a single cask only allowing so much to be bottled, I’m glad someone else who owns this bottle re-affirms my opinions.


  2. Alan says:

    It most certainly is not the time for the SMWS to focus on alternatives, it’s the time for them to take stock of where they are going wrong and get back to how they once were with their single cask malt whisky offerings!!!

    They still have some good ones, but I can’t help thinking that someone there needs a good talking to – the amount of “odd” recasking they are doing is unbelievable, and add that to snatching too many from the cask a bit too young and they are lurching around – certainly for those that have been with them for decades.

    I was supplied (free of charge) a miniature of an SMWS Armangnac to taste, and it was ok, but not a patch on Scotch so I’ll pass on any more. I joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society after all – and that’s what I want!!!!!

    Sorry to rant 🙂

    1. John says:

      Hi Alan, you’re entitled to your opinion and you certainly provide valid reasons. So there’s no need to apologize for the rant. I’m sure others share your opinion. But how much of their current issues are under their control and how much of it aren’t? I am not too familiar with how they acquire casks but with the severely increasing demand of Scotch single malt, I’m sure their access to casks aren’t what they used to be. Demand for rum and brandy aren’t as huge as Scotch yet, so I see it as an avenue for them to look at to decrease the quality of their single malt releases while increasing the chances of quality single malt releases while not hurting them as much

      1. Alan says:

        Hi John, I’m hoping you meant “decrease the quantity of their single malt releases” and not the quality!!

        Well, they (SMWS) claim to warehouse their own casks, and have lots of choice, and have been in the game quite a few years now and will be familiar to all the distillerys for acquiring it, not a new start up. I don’t completely get the lack of casks available, maybe for Sherry, but not Bourbon.
        They are also solely responsible for vatting the last few releases of Highland Park, and Caperdonich, not leaving them as single casks, and they have just had Inchgower back, they have never bottled a lot of it, but I had some good bottles 20 odd years ago from them, but they decided to recask them – why? They just seem to be tinkering, I can’t believe all those casks were dogs. Recasking Oleroso casks at 5yrs old into PX casks for 2 years and then bottlng again why? They are also solely responsible for bottling at 6-7years when leaving a couple of more would probably benefit the whisky.
        Whilst I can see that bottling young helps keep an affordable image I’m not sure it is always a wise choice, not that I want everything to be 20+years aged, far from it. There is a reason 10-14 years is very common for aging.

        I don’t mind a few other spirits on the list, but as I said before, I joined the Scotch malt whisky society so want that, and the ethos when I joined was single cask – straight from the distillery into the bottle with no mucking about with it!


        1. John says:

          Hi Alan,

          Yes! I meant decrease quantity. My bad.

          I’m not in the position to write a long rant or critique on SMWS as I’ve only known about them for a few years and I haven’t been an attentive follower. But I think there’s too much focus on casks and not enough focus on the distillate. If certain distilleries changed their yeast, fermentation time and how wide their cuts are, then it will affect the whisky.

          Have you also considered that your palate has changed and it’s time to move on to other brands or spirits?

          1. Alan says:

            Hi John,

            Fair comment on the SMWS if you haven’t been a follower, and totally agree there is far too much focus on the cask which sometimes distracts from the distillate. If some distilleries have changed things over the years then that’s all part of it. That’s why I joined the SMWS.

            I totally understand this piece is about other spirits from SMWS and as I say that’s ok to offer some but not at the expense of Whisky. I did used to drink Rum (never tried a single cask I admit) and I have tried Cognac/Armangnac but it’s not completely to my taste. I have also tried Gin, but come to the conclusion I’m a cheap Gin person – I like the petrol heavy Juniper taste from cheap ones! The expensive ones mask it and it’s not Gin to me. With a limited amount to spend (and a limited amount I can drink!) I have settled upon Whisky as my tipple of choice as there is a vast choice of distilleries and style so I am getting variations, and only from a few trusted independents mostly, that way my disappointment levels at spending a lot are generally contained, and I hope I’m getting the distillery character.

            Luckily I don’t have to write for a drinks review site and taste lots of things maybe not to my palate 😉

  3. Tony says:

    Studio Ghibli? Interesting…never heard of it, or their media. Thanks for that lead, John.

    As for cognac, I have some fond memories of enjoying that spirit with my fellow airmen back in my military days. Wouldn’t mind traveling down that road again at some point.

    1. John says:

      Hi Tony,
      Thanks for the comment. They’re an amazing studio who doesn’t spare any detail.

      I think Cognac is still misunderstood despite being one of the best known spirits in the world. It’s worth getting into!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *