The Single Malt Whisky Society has seen more change in 2017 than in any other year since its creation. At the start of 2017 came a complete brand overhaul, then, over the summer, new single cask spirits (gin, cognac and rum) were released, widening the Society’s brief into what they describe as ‘the finer things in life’. Then there was whisky ice-cream – it’s delicious you should try it. Now, the SMWS has decided to risk cries of sacrilege by introducing their first blended malt – Exotic Cargo.
Exotic Cargo is a 10 year old blended malt (not a blend, there’s no grain here) that was distilled in 2006. It spent its entire maturation in first fill ex-Spanish oak hogsheads and is the product of whiskies from four (not revealed) distilleries. It is non-chill filtered, naturally coloured and bottled at 50% - notably, the first time the Society have ever decided to reduce the natural strength of one of their bottlings. Released today with 1937 bottles available, it represents quite a departure for a Society that has spent the last 30 years releasing only single cask bottlings. At a preview tasting last night I jumped in on the “sherry-soaked cruise into paradise” with Exotic Cargo.
Nose: Immediate and pronounced sherry notes. Chocolate, cocoa-nibs and a punnet full of dried and rich red fruits. Toffee and caramel provide some quite marked sweetness (more than I was expecting from the outset) and sit alongside some strong nutty notes, fresh tobacco leaves and a hint of dusty old libraries.
Taste: Good translation from nose to mouth with dried red fruits and rich chocolate very much in the driving seat. These are complemented by raisins, honeycomb and some slightly more topical fruit notes (I can see where the ‘Exotic’ name has come from). Our dustiness has now translated into wet earth – quite dunnage with a very bready and yeasty undertone. I will note here that the flavour development is exceedingly quick once the initial delivery is over – there are probably more exciting notes to discern here, but they’ve passed all too fleetingly. I found the addition of water to be of no benefit here – it merely dulled some of the more prominent notes.
Finish: Incredibly short I’m afraid. Oak spicing comes out to play with black pepper and a fair level of astringency. The bready note is the one which persists the longest.
Ack. I really wanted to like Exotic Cargo more than I actually do. Whilst the nose delivers an enticing sherry-bombesque experience, the taste suffers from hollowness and the finish rather falls off a cliff. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot to like (and to admire) with what the Society is trying to do here. Firstly the price point of £45 is extremely fair for this offering. Secondly, and importantly, whilst Exotic Cargo is a different type of journey, to my mind, the Society should be congratulated on its experimentation and continued exploration of high quality spirits. This type of experimental approach has been at the heart of the SMWS since its founding in 1983, and will be what keeps it relevant as it moves towards its 40th anniversary and beyond.