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 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?