I’m a man of habit. I wake up at the same time every day, go to bed about the same time, walk the same route when I go wandering around town, and almost every Saturday I go out for a whisky or two at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
Today, my schedule has been disrupted by various booze related activities (of which more tomorrow), but I have a brief trip to the SMWS planned shortly – hello Phil, Martyn and the gang, I’m on my way now. In the meantime, here are some notes about a dram from their latest outturn that they sent me a sample of – 33.132 Beauty and the Beast. Eight-year-old whisky from Ardbeg.
I’ve been a member of the SMWS for coming on a decade – I can’t remember the exact date that I joined, but my membership is sub-80,000 and I remember the old style bottles, so it’s been a while. It’s safe to say that I remain a fan.
As a quick introduction for anyone who doesn’t know the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, they’re a members club for whisky fans. They release single cask bottlings of whisky – as well as occasional other spirits, including rum and, as of this month, Cognac – which are available to buy online and at their three UK bars by members of the society. They also have international branches and a community of whisky lovers that stretches around the globe.
There’s been some changes recently, with the company now being independent after a management/investors/members buyout from previous owners Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. From what I can see, there haven’t been many staff changes, so it looks like business as usual, but with more flexibility than in their previous incarnation. The whiskies remain excellent and plentiful at the moment, with the main challenge that I see ahead of them being to maintain that quality and supply now that they don’t have a powerful corporate overlord to back them.
Anyways, the whisky.
The SMWS give their bottles a code and a name rather than having the distillery on the bottle – the first number is actually the distillery and the second is the cask number from that distillery. So, 33.132 is the 132nd cask that they’ve had from distillery 33, Ardbeg, and they’ve named it Beauty and the Beast. In their usual fashion, the SMWS have told us pretty much all they can about the whisky – it was distilled on 24 May 2007 and was matured in a second fill ex-sherry butt.
Nose: Creosote, sappy planks, pine needles, rock pools, seaweed and sea spray. It starts out quite dry, but there’s sweetness trying to get out – warm leather car seats, burnt fruit cake and sultanas. Underneath it all is a strongly medicinal note – a cross between a dentists waiting room and an old first aid kit: iodine, freshly unwrapped bandages and a touch of antiseptic
Palate: Intense and smoky – abandoned beach bonfires, old cast-iron stoves and some burning tires. Behind the smoke there’s the medicinal notes from the nose, stacks of minerality and layers of fruit: blackcurrant jam, baked apples and red-wine poached pears. Once you get past the fruit, it’s all spice, with chilli and cinnamon heat, and then the tires return. Water knocks everything down a notch, leaving a softly medicinal dram with lots of red fruit and lashings of smoke. However, the society tasters and I agree – as they also say in the drinking tip on SMWS website: I prefer it neat.
Finish: Gravel, liquorice, blackcurrant jam and lots of smoke – burning pine needles and briny driftwood. Menthol, anise and blackcurrants linger – Tunes, Fisherman’s Friends and liquorice sticks.
Getting smoky whisky is hard, and I’m glad to see that the SMWS still have some good Ardbeg casks in their stocks after the buyout – this is certainly one of them. If I hadn’t looked up the SMWS distillery number, I would have called this is an over the top refill-sherry Ledaig – it has the burnt tires and weight I’d expect from one of those, rather than the more mineral-heavy profile I expect from a young Ardbeg. I’m a big Ledaig fan, so that’s praise, in case you were wondering. It’s pricy at £120 for an 8-year-old whisky, but independently bottled Ardbegs aren’t common and ones from sherry casks even less so. There’s still some left on their website as I write,
SMWS 33.132 Beauty and the Beast.
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 60.9%. £120