As longer term readers of this blog will know I’m a big fan of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. However since my move of employment Out West my ability to visit on a regular basis has been curtailed – it’s no longer an even vaguely legitimate excuse to say “it’s on the way home”, seeing as it’s over 10 miles away from my office and in the opposite direction to my flat. However, I do make it down from time to time and am lucky enough to get an occasional invite to pop down for a launch or special event. One of those opportunities appeared the other week with the launch of the Society’s members magazine, Unfiltered, as an interactive iOS app.
It’s available on the app-store now and is available to members and non-members alike. It’s a free app with a sampler built in and is then £3.99 an issue or £7.49 for 6 months worth, which should be 3 issues all going to plan. They aren’t the same issues as the print magazine, which is free for members, but feature a mix of both new material and expanded versions of articles from the regular magazine. It’s quite shiny, with great photography (as usual), interesting text, a few videos and some interesting use of more interactive elements. Annoyingly, but understandably, it’s iPad only which means that I can’t play with it.
However, as with most SMWS events, the star of the night was the whisky, which after our initial dram was served up alongside a meal at the Bleeding Heart Bistro, just around the corner from the Society rooms. It was a great dinner of Tuna Tartare, Scallops, Filet Mignon (with Architects Chips), cheese and a dessert menu that included an excellent banana parfait with salted caramel ice cream.
The first dram of the night was 35.63 – Stylish and Aristocratic from Glen Moray, a 38 year old whisky distilled back in the February of 1974. On the nose it was very herbal, almost absinthe-like, with mint, liquorice, lemon peel, clove, Fruit Salad chews, dried banana and old wood. To taste it was oily and spicy, with rich fruit, old polished wood, gummi sweets, and some smoke from freshly charred wood. It finished sweet with more gummi, clove, liquorice and sweet dark wood.
We then moved down to the restaurant and kicked off a flight of five drams with 26.83 – Cosmo with Perfume Samples from Clynelish, a comparative youngster at only 11 years old. On the nose it had cornflakes (with creamy milk but no sugar), a meaty sherried note, baked beans, lemon peel, salted butter and a hint of vinegar. It was quite closed and needed a few drops of water to open it up, which revealed some of the stereotypical Clynelish wax and tropical fruit. To taste it had black liquorice, blackberry, menthol, tannic leafiness, vanilla cream and both a hint of sulphur and some wax, likea recently blown out candle. It was quite hot neat and water took the edge off that, amplifying the liquorice and fruity notes to give something a bit like a blackcurrant and liquorice blackcurrant boiled sweet. It finished long with sweet fruit, tingling spice and liquorice. This was a whisky that worked better with food, with Karen from Whisky For Everyone‘s veggie main course of pea and asparagus risotto cutting through the heavily sherried notes to reveal a much more typical, and very nice, waxy and fruity Clynelish underneath.
Next was 76.91 – Caballero in an Orange Grove from Mortlach, distilled back in 1989 and matured in a refill butt. This was an even more sherried dram, with a nose of musky pine, liquorice, struck match sulphur, rich fruit and a mineral edge. To taste it was rich and spicy, with raisins, sweet tobacco, leather and green leaves, finishing with berries, more leather and brown sugar. Water opened up the whisky, revealing Fruit ‘n’ Nut chocolate and rum ‘n’ raisin fudge on the nose, and made the palate something rather different, with brown sugar, green herbs, polished wood and something not unlike celeriac. At first most of us paired this up with the beef, due to its robustness, but it came into its own when tasted alongside the banana parfait – the fat of the parfait cut through the spice to reveal a pure oloroso sherry note.
I’d already tried the next dram but was keen to have it again. I was recommended it on a recent visit to the Society as ‘A very good Cardhu’, words that I’ve not heard before. Cardhu is a perfectly decent whisky, the heart of a number of decent blends and very popular in Spain as a single malt, but it’s not a show-stopper – easy drinking and tasting of ‘whisky’. This one is something a bit different: 106.18 – Bottled Essence of Summer, a 28 year old that hasn’t as yet gone up on the website and seems to be selling well at the members rooms by word of mouth alone. On the nose it has milk chocolate, waxed fruit, pine, pineapple and mango. To taste it had candle wax, Turkish Delight, spiced apple and light fresh leather. It finished with big fruity pineapple, some more leather and dark chocolate with a hint of mint. The palate was a little hot so I added a drop of water, which changed things – sweet cream, spiced apple puree and a sweet floral note, how I imagine sugared violets would be. My favourite whisky of the night.
The next was another I’d already tried, 129.1 – A Smoky, Peaty, Yoghurt of Loveliness from Kilchoman. This one sold out in an unprecedented 14 minutes on the Society website, thanks to the combination of it being the first cask the SMWS have bottled from the distillery and one of the very few independent bottlings of their whisky. On the nose it was like an old school Christmas morning, with christmas cake, pine needles and log fire smoke. It also had a noticeable antiseptic edge (“scraped knees after falling off a Christmas bike”, my not very well hidden whimsical side suggests). On the palate it led with big pine and leather, backed up by fiery sweet spices, TCP and burnt pine needles. It needed a drop of water to moderate the heat and calm the tannins, and it also added in damp straw and lemon cake with creamy icing. It finished with a heavy minerality, sour green grass, damp green wood and a heavy dry peat smoke.
The final dram of the night was another Islay native, 53.168 – Elastoplast on a Roasted Tongue from Caol Ila, aged for 18 years in a refill sherry butt. It had a nose of big sweet fruit, pine-heavy smoke, brown sugar, salted caramel, bandages and a big medicinal hit. To taste it started sweet, leading to a sour and grassy middle with tobacco, tarred rope and heavily charred oak. It finished big and woody, tempered by wet grass and gravel. A Caol Ila dialled up to 11, with all of the usual notes maxed out, maybe too maxed out for me despite my normal love of whiskies from the distillery.
Many thanks to Helen and Joe from the SMWS for inviting me along, and to the folks of Whisky For Everyone, Dramatic Whisky, and The Mash for being great dinner company. And to Jason for being good at tidying up after a few beers, even when almost bleeding from the eyes after trying some naga chilli vodka.