SMWS Mystery Malt Bottle

It goes without saying that we’re all in need of a break right now. The prospect of foreign travel remains dubious for 2021 and many of us will be discovering previously unseen areas of the United Kingdom. I love to visit areas of Scotland with my family, so we’re busting at the gut to break the shackles of the home office and nursery. To embark on new adventures when the green light appears and lockdown is relaxed.

In many ways, there are similarities with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The opportunity to explore, a sense of mystery and unfortunately some frustration with the current situation. Our own experiences with the SMWS are well documented. A break was in order, so we took 6 months off to engage with new independent bottlers and remind ourselves of what else is out there when you’re not paying an annual subscription. This holiday in the competitive realm of the UK independent bottling scene, confirmed the wealth of choice between bottlers and their wares. It’s a tough market when everyone is nowadays bottling at cask strength and a natural presentation; previously core strengths of the SMWS.

Of course, you hear things about the latest shenanigans in the SMWS world. The recent 17 year old Laphroaig for instance; just shy of £200 and some disgruntled customers contacting customer service about the fill level looking wrong. These enquiries were informed that everything was as it should be. Only for the SMWS to do an about-turn and admit that the bottles were short-filled by roughly a measure each. I’ve never heard the like of this before? So, it’s a first in my book. Eventually, members affected were offered a £30 voucher or the option to return the bottle. Mistakes do happen and we’re only human…

When you have to option to renew your membership, you’re often greeted with the option to purchase a mystery bottle. This is at a discounted price and one specially selected by the team. A cynic might argue that this is merely clearing out a bottle that didn’t really sell well. You’re only paying £34 for the mystery, so this should inject some sense of realism; it’s not as if a bottle of the Vaults Collection is suddenly going to appear on your doorstep. This time around there was also the option to buy some Lemon-themed exclusive SMWS creation, but going on past form, that option was body swerved. In comparison, American SMWS members receive a $20 voucher to use within 30 days of renewal, which doesn’t cover postage costs on a bottle purchase. It depends on your point of view, but I’m happy to shell out for a bit of mystery.

You can tell I’m avoiding telling you what this February mystery was until the end of this review. The eagle-eyed readership might have already recognised the SMWS code from the lead image, and if you have, then all credit to you.

I’m a fan of such renewal rewards having done it a few times myself now. It gives you a sense of being valued and receiving something of value to entice you into another 12 months of an emotional rollercoaster. And that’s needed right now. Feedback from fellow enthusiasts is varied, what with the new online purchasing system prompting some exchanges, others highlighting that cask choice has improved since the SMWS mixed things up more by purchasing from brokers rather as well as the traditional routes via distilleries. Whether that’s true or not we’ll see over the course of the year. There’s also a need for SMWS coverage online in some shape or form. Lockdown has hampered online efforts and I’m forever imbedded with that sense of discovery, putting my money where my mouth is; so let’s open the box and see what we have…

Hold on for a moment, how about some guesses? And these are written before the order has been even dispatched! I’d expect a youngster, under 10 years old and bourbon matured. Speyside in origin and a very unfashionable distillery. Let’s hope for a Glenburgie or Craigellachie; a distillate with character.


Ok, it is distillery number 9, which is Glen Grant for those not in the know. So that’s a solid start in my book at least, I’ve always enjoyed the older styles of Glen Grant so checking out more modern bottlings is of interest. Distilled on 11th March 2008, this was bottled at 12 years of age from an ex-bourbon barrel. 223 bottles were produced with a strength of 54.5%, I cannot find a price anywhere for this, so it might just be a renewal exclusive at £34. On paper and for the price paid; that’s a good return. The name is pish tho’, but let’s dive in…

SMWS 9.196 The Endless Shrubberies of Darkness – review

Colour: tablet.

On the nose: light honey greets us with some wine gums and vanilla. Barley, limescale and popcorn. Some yeast, castor sugar, tablet. Cotton sheets, white wine vinegar, marshmallows and adding water brings back memories of bobbing for apples and more fresh vanilla.

In the mouth: your staple vanilla, caramel and popcorn elements and green apples. Sappy, Rich Tea Biscuits, cereals, cornflakes and some texture. Water and a patient approach are more beneficial. Pears show themselves and some lime peel.


Solid is probably all I need to type here. This is indicative of the many single casks we’re now seeing reaching the market in this era. A technically proficient whisky, drinkable with a sprinkling of character, but nothing to rock you, repel or excite. Does this do a good job of showcasing Glen Grant? Does it encourage us to explore the distillery more?

This did improve over the week or so I had it open, time in the glass also paid dividends. Now does this whisky lead me to think of shrubs or Lowestoft’s finest rock band export to the world? No, in summary, it’s just another Speyside ex-bourbon cask that ticks a few boxes.

Take into account the price being under £40, there’s nothing to complain about and if I was scoring this as a normal SMWS release in an outturn it would receive 5/10, however as a member-exclusive at a good price, it deserves a wee bump.

Score: 6/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Pablo says:

    Hi Jason,

    here’s a question from a non-native speaker’s perspective: Could you elaborate on what you are referring to when using the word “tablet”? I’ve seen it used a few times on Malt now and I’m not aware of any translation which makes sense in the contexts it is used in.

    Also, while I’m at it, “a worn shammy” is another expression I’ve read numerous times. I guess that “cleaning cloth” is not the appropriate translation for “shammy” in this case, since it can be found in tasting notes with a positive tone.

    If you could please clarify, that would be much appreciated.


  2. Jason says:

    Hi Pablo

    Sure, these are Scottish things so quite native to here.

    Tablet is a sugary confectionery. Very traditional and simple recipe that involves boiling down a pot of sugar with some flavouring. The trick is to catch it before it turns into toffee and then let it set.

    A shammy is a leathery towel, very absorbent and can have a waxy, leathery character.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers, Jason.

    1. Pablo says:


      That was really helpful, thanks for clarifying. I had a feeling that a shammy could point to something like a leathery character. Regarding the tablet however, I had no clue.

      Thanks again and cheers

      1. Mark P says:

        Probably better that you’d never heard of tablet Pablo.

        Nasty business altogether, unless compacted sugar is your thing

  3. Alan says:

    Glad to see a few SMWS reviews creeping back in, love them or hate them they are a force in the independent world. Under £40 for that bottle is pretty good, would probably be up around the £60 bracket if they had it on the normal listing, so a good £20 – £25 off.
    Interesting you mention fill levels, they do vary a bit, and some have looked a tad low on occasion, but sometimes you get some super-filled ones! I would be choked spending £200 and getting a short measure though.

    And surely Chamois non?

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Alan

      Chamois, yes that’s bang on.

      Thanks, there’s a lack of SMWS coverage. I didn’t pick up anything in the latest out-turn (too many finishes), but I did check out the queueing system and it worked fine for me. Hopefully, I can secure something of interest for all of us in the coming months.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Alan says:

        Hi Jason,

        Hopefully when you do want to order something you don’t end up down at number 1000 and take 30 mins + to get onto the site! You will end up getting annoyed as most of the best stuff will be gone.

        I agree, too many finishes going on, but I did pick up a few.

        I’m looking forward to your reviews 🙂

        1. Jason says:

          I’m thinking nowadays I don’t see the point in chasing. Leave them for the flippers. You know what will sell out. Hopefully, a few overlooked will be worthwhile.

  4. Gordon Homer says:

    Thanks for another great review Jason , I do enjoy your writings , I was disappointed that there was no Python Reference though ! LOL !!!
    At the time of my departure from the SMWS (Under LVMH ownership ) there were no renewal deals like this (which was actually a complaint at the time as ‘New Members’ were getting deals through certain blogs !) , another complaint was not replying to complaints and rectifying them , which they certainly seem to eventually get around to with the fill level matter !
    It’s been ten years now since I departed the SMWS for a myriad of reasons but the main one was the excessive bottling of Sulphured whiskies at the time and the response from their representative in their inhouse magazine . I don’t miss the SMWS but for a long time we did miss the weekend trips we had to The Vaults……

    1. Alan says:

      I stopped buying No4 (Highland Park) in sherried variety about 15-16 years ago as they always seemed sulphurous. Never understood how people were waxing lyrical about it!

      Luckily I prefer Bourbon wood, always have done, I’m not the greatest Sherry fan apart from some dabbling. In 29 years with SMWS I can count only 3 great Sherried whiskies I’ve bought, a Springbank, a Glenlivet and a Ben Nevis, all from over 15 years ago! However my sample size is probably smaller than most as I generally don’t buy it as I learnt to avoid Sherry many years back.

    2. Jason says:

      Hi G

      Thanks, I doubt we’re on their Christmas card list either.

      I’m hopeful we can find some value this year! At least, some overlooked distilleries. Maybe the odd surprise, which would be most welcome. Getting harder to find single casks of interest.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Gordon says:

        Hi Jason ,
        There are quite a few Christmas card lists I won’t be on !
        When I think how much the Society has changed since 2000 when I finally joined , it gave me a chance to discover malts I would never have went anywhere near , it was excellent value , we didn’t mind paying £100+ for ‘Old’ drams ( Glenfarclas and Longmorn 38-40yo’s , bargains now ! ) as you knew they were something special ! You could get special casks ( not finished ) , Casks that contained the spirit that went into the likes of Glenmo Signet (still got a bottle of that , the SMWS one not the Signet !) .
        Oh Happy Memories !

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