We are already more than 20 minutes late starting with no sign of beginning just yet, and it matters not one iota. The atmosphere upstairs at the SMWS, Greville Street on an unusually mild January evening is rather fabulous.
Tonight’s tasting is a semi-blind affair with a loose theme based around unusual things/oddities from the SMWS. After all, the SMWS is one of the most experimental independent bottlers – discuss. Some of the whiskies are from Phil’s private collection whilst some are from the manager’s shelf.
Phil isn’t wearing his infamous t-shirt. Instead, a prop is supplied. We begin.
I love the ‘old’ labels. Cult retro!
- N: Despite Phil reminding us that this isn’t a guessing game, we inevitably begin guessing. I’m convinced I know this, a frequent and often misguided view. I ponder whether it’s a fruity Benrinnes with its desirably dry, woody and chalky astringency. It’s fruity & woody overall. Also coming to the fore is Sherbet Dip, goji berries, wood shavings, lemon-y honey, raisin-y raspberry coulis, plastic-y melon,… The Foz wonders whether it’s a Balblair. I’m convinced enough to enquire but told it isn’t a Highlander. So not a Mannochmore either then. I calm down.
- T: To begin with, there’s a fleeting Brora-esque vibe before a dry-ish woody astringency that moves into fruity liquorice & honey with a phenol hint. The Foz spots cucumber and indeed I find lots of cucumber before light cocoa-chocolate on the turn.
- F: Oily and woody with short-crust pastry, but in the main, we’ve a tasty bitter refill woodiness which is certainly to my liking.
- C: Regardless that it’s a Rosebank [revealed] or otherwise, this is lovely vibrant refill-matured whisky that I could drink this all day long. I believe it cost no more than €85 euros a bottle at the time.
Scores 88 points
- N: This one is revealed to us straight away as Port Dundas. The legs stick to the side of the glass like glue. With a light fruitiness, it smells of glue too, enough that I can easily imagine myself in the middle of an Airfix modelling & craft festival. Settling down, it’s very creamy [thick & yellow] with old leather armchairs, black tea, dry-ash pineapple,….
- T: Rum & cognac-like, this is a cocktail-in-a-glass leaning closely towards a Painkiller – that’s a Pina Colada with a splash of orange juice, [sometimes] a measure of cognac and a dusting of ground nutmeg. In this case, I’d add it’s more like peach juice rather than OJ. I add water. It’s not as robust as I’d imagined it would be. Dilution, whilst bringing integration, simplifies things.
- F: It seems to appear hot without actually being hot and with a creamy woodiness into Golden Syrup [Phil]. Finishes dunnage-y with a soft plastic quality and chilli milk.
- C: Scores 85 with water, 87 neat.
Scores 87 points
With 27 of us upstairs using six glasses each, the bar downstairs is low and requires glasses pronto! We move along quickly, finishing each dram as we go, whisky down glasses out.
Phil tells us he recommended this to Billy who was keen to buy a bottle. Turns out Phil had bought all the remaining bottles, a fact Billy hasn’t forgotten [so the story goes]. “And now he’s blown off the tasting”, adds Phil who describes this as Scottish bourbon given this was matured in a new toasted oak hogshead.
- N: There’s heat without pepperiness alongside braised nuts. Unlike many actual bourbons, this is not medicinal but does offer the nose a herbal corn-like sweetness. With a little water, I’m transported to a DFS store before finding myself nearer a [Diamond] rum still than a Scotch whisky pot.
- T: Corn oiliness, subtle vanilla and popcorn. With water, candy string. Either way, I just don’t enjoy it.
- F: With column still distillation and new toasted oak hogshead maturation comes mildly stripping heat, finishing with a vanilla vodka-ish cream soda quality.
- C: A whisky crying out for a dessert to pour over.
Scores 83 points
Whereas many whisky bottlers & producers may release the occasional sauternes-led expression, the SMWS are happy to do it over and over. For this Glendullan, the SMWS re-utilised an ex-sauternes hogshead for the second time.
From the Manager’s shelf.
- N: A Sauternes fruitiness with cake decorating citrus fruit segments is all I noted. There was more chatting than writing at this point.
- T: Not a dram I’d call ‘silky and smooth’. More punchy with a green chilli hot-to-bitter flow. Bitter green chilli persists alongside a mouthfeel which sits awkwardly between a washing powder fizziness and a sweatiness, but not exactly either of those things.
- F: A fizzy citrus fruitiness makes a return as does the green bitter chilli to complete the picture.
- C: Not quite my bag but an interesting/curious whisky nevertheless, in keeping with tonight’s theme. An expression that might just inspire a new enthusiast or two. Maybe SMWS’s title is the ideal lure!
Scores 85 points
- N: Aged in a virgin oak hogshead, I likened this malt to artisanal cognac with murky herbal aromatic spices and putty.
- T: Best neat. It starts off as a stiff & simple shot-like spirit that takes off after a while. With water, I find little behind the fine veneer, save for a few orchard fruits towards baked apple strudel. Mouthfeel improves over time.
- F: A hint of phenol and honeyed barley sugar. The woodiness, and therefore balance, emerge over time.
- C: No way indicative of the Clynelish style, and therefore in keeping with tonight’s theme. The cask is now ready for round two.
Scores 86 points
Discussions with the Foz, tOMoH & JS lead from Coke Float Thursday to William Archibald Spooner.
We try this last one blind. Phil points out the large outturn size, indicating the whisky probably came from a sherry gorda, the largest widely-used cask permitted by the SWA. Further reading: SW
- N: Starts rancid with apricot liqueur over a roasted leg of lamb and a nail polish top coat. It soon reveals itself as a blatant heavy-creamy oloroso bomb [possibly madeira], with toffee, leather and orange oils,….. a shopping list in fact. I detect some phenols, albeit low.
- T: Extreme! Very much in keeping with the SMWS’s ‘Temptation to the Dark Side’ [WLP86 WLP87], this was best placed at the end of the flight as it could have easily corrupted palates early on.
- F: Boing! This is rather sulphury but in a good way.
- C: One you’d have to be in the mood for. Out of the 27 of us, only one guessed Bunna. As soon as he calls it however, it rings true.
Scores 82 points
We are done. The ‘six’ SMWS-recommended pours is a few less than Phil would have liked. He tells us he doesn’t like being told what he can or cannot do. As a result, Phil has provided two extra samples – G1.7 and 29.83 – for every one of us to take away. Generous man, fabulous tasting!
Inevitably many of us continue the drinks and chats downstairs. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about it.
Further reading: tOMoH