SMWS: January outturn [Awaken the senses]

I forgot to post this lot in January. Let’s jump back a month, or two! Where did February go?


Royal Brackla 2000 15yo SMWS 55.43 ex-sauternes hogshead [192 bts] 57.6% WB86.50[4]


  • N: The nose takes me through the mill house and on to the malting and brewing rooms, such is it’s production lucidity. It’s all nicely honeyed too and could well be sweet to taste. Furthermore there are notes of Shreddies, tomato Wheat Crunchies, a touch of Worcestershire sauce, plenty of honey comb and yeast flakes – so theres an ‘Honest John’ character to this.
  • T: It IS sweet, honey-sweet and leaning towards a sugary malt [a la Clynelish Boisdale WB]. The grainy-wort profile creeps out slowly yet surely to establish a firm cereal led, sweet, well aged/matured form.
  • F: Finishes with a honeyed/cereal body, though one that gets really peppery and with some chilli heat.
  • C: Certainly a decent session dram. The finish is intense.

Scores 83 points


Glen Grant 1992 23yo SMWS 9.114 ex-bourbon refill [138 bts] 50.6% WB0

  • N: This follows on perfectly from the Royal Brackla, both sharing a similar honeyed-cereal ‘Honest John’ character. So whats different? Firstly the mould/the dunnage/the fustiness, and the slow years of maturation that have softened the spirit suitably without it losing vibrancy – although the abv helps maintain that vibrancy no end. Additionally, its worth noting the consolidation of the constituent parts that lead to a concoction better than the sum of,.. The resulting brew is of a honey>porridge core where candied limes reside with a development [in the glass], on stewed plums & Farley’s Rusks and then onto [a touch of] varnished mahogany and sweet bread dough.
  • T: Another sweet one to taste, starting first on honeyed barley notes before an offering of chocolate confectionary – Kit Kat, tutti-fruity, Boost bars, Cadburys caramel, Wham bars,…. Having said all that, remarkably it’s not overly sweet which is down to it’s large savoury core with a slight bitter=sour touch. The honeyed note however is maintained throughout.
  • F: Finishes sweetly and neatly with more honeyed fustiness at the death.
  • C: Stupidly easy to drink this one, the years stripping the ethanol heat to leave a deliciously drinkable, sweet, soft and subtle, bourbon-oaked honey spirit. Great stuff, but journey seekers should look elsewhere.

Scores 86 points


Arran 2000 16yo SMWS 121.96 virgin oak hogshead [168] 53% WB90[4]


  • N: Another one that’s honeyed and sweet – so far the theme of the day. But wait, this is a different beast. We are also talking of burnt molasses and butterscotch, most indicative of virgin casks ones with a medium-to-heavy char especially. Theres also some cinnamon, ginger, aniseed, linseed oil, tan hide, soy, tomato, tamari, potting-shed pickle, mango & chilli pickle…… This isn’t however as pan-Asian as my descriptors may suggest, though its not obviously Scottish. And the descriptors keep coming. Namely windscreen wash, synthetic lemon flavour [from washing up liquid], grilled limes, synthetic plums & tropical fruit notes, mechanic oils, bready oils [culinary] – golly theres all-sorts here!
  • T: Lemonade-sweet – I wasn’t expecting that. It’s soft too, ethanol wise with an innocuous chew before dried confectionary fruits run into the finish.
  • F: Soft, malted sweets, sweet aniseed, silicone [the char really showing its worth at the end], and sweet aniseed that goes on and on. It’s refreshingly non-vanilled. It’s little dry at the end though equally soft throughout.
  • C: Though this was transferred [for finishing] to a virgin oak hogshead for a year [or thereabouts], it spent most of its life [15 years], in an ex-Bourbon hogshead. A fine cask finish. Only the mid-palate was a little lacking.

Scores 85 points


Laphroaig 1995 21yo SMWS 29.197 Refill [186 bts] 58.2% WB87[2]


  • N: I’ve very much been enjoying Caol Ila 25yo WB of late, to be found very reasonably priced in mainland Europe compared to the UK. It [CI] has a deep, smoky vegetal side – this vegetal disposition being it’s strength. The same is true of this Laphroaig. The smoke is secondary to the vegetal [a good thing in my opinion], that vegetal bringing complexities in the guise of column radiators [cast iron], seaweed, mussels, bread sauce, smoked back bacon, linseed-oil drizzled sweetcorn, spent matches, leather, shoe polish, [green] ice-pops, candied cigarettes, …. This Laphroaig would be ideal sprayed on fish using an atomiser. Later the sweeter vanilla ice-cream notes appear with some tutti-fruity, cardboard [often seen as a negative note but neither good nor bad here], dried fish, lime & samphire – and things i’ve not experienced in the edible food kingdom before!
  • T: Ah-ha, oh yes, we have vegetal-sweet-malty-smoke – that’s the ticket right there. It gives everything all at once. A fabulous multi-facetted arrival leads to a delightful fade, if only a little disappointing due to my expectation of further developments. Add water [as you go], and hold the juice in the mouth [one second for every year in the cask], for an improved, more viscose mouthfeel.
  • F: Keeps on the same track with a little cocoa butter, liquorice wood and burning newspaper. Honeyed-bourbon ash with vegetal vanilla-liquorice prevails.
  • C: I wanted more but it seemed to give all it had on the arrival. The nose is very good. It’s all really good, the best of the bunch so far.

Scores 88 points


Tomatin 1995/2016 8yo SMWS 11.32 [252 bts] 61.6% WB87[3]


  • N: Glycerine and [green] Silly String.
  • T: Comes in youthfully with a spirit giving off plenty of fruity esters – that’s fusel alcohols & organic acids formed from yeasts in the fermentation process, as i understand it.
  • F: It may be young but it comes with a competent finish.
  • C: I wonder why they bottled this after only 8 years? Was the cask beginning to overpower the spirit already? Maybe it was just right for picking at eight years. This Tomatin is good like Balblair can be at a young age, though both can be stella when much, much older.

Scores 85 points


Aultmore 2002/2016 14yo SMWS 73.80 [210 bts] 59.3% WB0

Like the Arran, this is another virgin oak finish, transferred after spending most of it’s life [13 years], in ex-bourbon.

  • N: Oily, malty and fruity.
  • T: Another honeyed malt that is now firmly the theme of today.
  • F: There’s a horseradish warning, but only if you take it neat – much like the Royal Brackla first up.
  • C: So so.

Scores 82 points


Glen Moray 2002 13yo SMWS 35.178 [294 bts] 58.3% WB83.42[14]


  • N: I never find the sound of gin casks that appealing, unlike rum casks that sound far more desirable. I’m definitely tasting the gin influence here. It’s like a whisky from a very new distillery making gin & whisky [barley-vodka of sorts], in Alembic stills – very natural and clean.
  • T: Clean and honeyed with very little gin influence at this stage.
  • F: Stays clean, honeyed and only a little oaky with a little boozy, Cadbury’s chocolate finish.
  • C: Rather a nice marriage.

Scores 83 points


Ardmore 2005/2016 11yo SMWS 66.94 ex-bourbon hogshead [150 bts] 60.2% WB0


  • N: Sewing machine oil, tarry ropes, an intense sweet-saltiness, salted-soft candy-string and rhubarb & lemon-lime & gooseberry crumble with some boozy custard-cream and cow-pats. Boy its salty and austere, neat that is. The SMWS roasted garlic note is inspirational given the sweetness. Adding water doesn’t change the profile a jot. Overall impression is of a salty & oily peat bomb with complexity to be had amongst the peatiness.
  • T: A creamy, salty, sweet and malty arrival neat with ‘intensity’ the key word, even with water. Malted chocolate notes develop before moving onto honeyed, husky & creamy [bourbon] oak. If you’re wondering how oak gets creamy – 11 years in ex-bourbon is how. It hints at a fruitiness with water but the salted, sweet maltiness remains stalwart – which is just fine. A little sour into the finish.
  • F: A continuity persists with the complimentary notes jostling for position throughout. The malty, cereal-sweet and oily-sour vegetal saltiness remain vibrant till the last. Hums at the death.
  • C: SMWS Ardmore is back up there again as one of the best peated malts in class, after a small dip in excellence. I reckon the Laphroaig pips this for depth of complexity and this becomes a tad tiring after a while, given its intensity – not un-reminiscent of Octomore in that respect. Still, it’s very good.

Scores 87 points


Before i left, I was presented with a wonderful ‘One for the road’ surprise dram by one of the members. This is what being part of the SMWS is all about.

Port Ellen 1978/2004 25yo DL OMC #657 [604 bts] 50% WB89.35[22] WF90 WM88[12]

port ellen 1978.jpg

  • N: In keeping with this very honeyed session, here we have a foosty-honeyed, lightly fruity-floral distillate with farmyard peat, woody-woodland mushrooms and yeast flakes – to name a few shades.
  • T: A soft-spirited, cloudy-honeyed, peaty and somewhat drying distillate. Water elongates the travel and helps considerably with the dryness. It has a thinnish distillate-led body overall yet it’s never lacking in breadth, given all those years in the cask.
  • F: Initially oaky/tannic with spirity prickles, it concludes with some of those understated sparkles of complexity that Port Ellen does best.
  • C: I think the bottle had been open for sometime but drinking Port Ellen is always a joy. Many thanks Phil.

Scores 87 points