SMWS February 2020 Outturn review

Posted 07 February 2020 by Matt / In Group Tastings
SMWS February 2020 Outturn review

SMWS’s second outturn for 2020 ‘Get in the mood’ offers up 24 single cask whiskies, 1 single cask gin and two new single cask rums - without much of a story to bind all of this together. It can’t be easy for the Society bods to keep coming up with new angles each month – February’s introductory article of ‘drams for every disposition’ captures the very essence of the Society’s offering – uniqueness and diversity. But in that regard how is this outturn in any way different to any other month? - they’re all unique and (largely diverse). But, regardless of the complications of trying to theme something which really can’t be themed, it’s fair to say that I was impressed with the overall quality on offer this month.

Old & Dignified and Heavily Peated are given a pass this month, but across the other 10 colour-coded profiles (which are now much better displayed on the new style bottle labels in that they don’t cut a swathe through the provided text), there’s a good balance between the different spirit styles. As such, ‘drams for every disposition’ does indeed feel a fairly apt opener. We’ve reviewed 10 of the new single cask whiskies, and Phil will ensure you’re well covered with his thoughts on notes on the remaining bottlings over at

My picks of the month are the perfectly composed full-term sherry Glenrothes (30.109 Strangely soothing) and the frankly bonkers in every way Ardmore (66.164 I like big butts). There’s a wide selection of bottlings vying for second place – but the one I’ll give the pre-Dramble highlight to is the Strathmill (100.21 Caramel, currants, coconut and carpentry), which combines high tastiness, impactful (and purposeful) cask selection and, great value as this month's joint cheapest bottling.

The Dramble reviews SMWS 113.29 Margherita jagerbomb

Bottle Name: 113.29 Margherita jagerbomb

ABV: 63.7%
Distillery: Braeval
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Young & spritely
Region: Speyside Age: 7

This month’s Young & Spritely offering comes in the form of a 7 year old Braeval drawn from 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.

View on SMWS

Nose: Peaches tinned in their own juice, glace cherries and preserved lemons sit with digestive and pink wafer biscuits and sunflower oil. Running throughout, cut grass, angelica and dry earthiness. The addition of water adds some creaminess with Chantilly piped buns and crème brulee as well as fabric notes of clean cotton sheets and sack cloth.

Taste: The arrival is sizable and impactful – with some prickle from both alcohol and chilli pepper. Apple syrup and citric acid are sweetened by brioche, toast and rolled pastry. Spices emerge in the mid-palate – pepperiness with nutmeg. Water reveals a softer, sweeter and more herbal complexion – chives and cayenne with freshly polished oak tables and bright jammy oranges.

Finish: Medium with shortcrust pastry and fading wood spice.

Whilst this Braeval could be considered as an opener to an evening, it would nevertheless be rather the punchy starter. There’s plenty of impact here – from defined fruitiness and patisserie notes, to the high ABV which (fortunately) takes reduction well. Lively, vivacious and with plenty of depth for its age. If you’re looking for a bottle from the Young & Spritely category, this has quite a lot to commend it.

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 6.35 Cherry cream cheese cupcakes

Bottle Name: 6.35 Cherry cream cheese cupcakes

ABV: 6.35%
Distillery: Macduff
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Sweet, fruity & mellow
Region: Speyside Age: 13

For the past few years, I’ve mainly seen STRs being used for quickly aging younger whiskies – but now we’re starting to see them as utilised for additional maturation. This Macduff has spent 12 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and then been re-racked into a 1st fill STR barrique.

View on SMWS

Nose: Gooey toffee and Caramac bars sit with banana skins, pancake batter and oat cakes. Cider apples and hedgerow berries are joined by whipped cream covered sponge cake whilst caramelised brulee is served with elderflower tea. Dilution expresses the underlying herbal quality of the distillate – lemongrass, thyme, buttercups and hay.

Taste: A softer outlook than the expressive nose suggested – apples and pear juice bring sweetness and then turn progressively sour, whilst lemon peels and barley water sit with hot vegetable stock, pine and fir cones and toasted cask staves. Water brings bright orchard fruits to the front palate whilst pushing pepperiness and crunchy cereal bars to the back.

Finish: Medium, with dried white fruits, berry sweetness, vanilla pods and a pleasant progressive dryness.

This Macduff mixes some thought-provoking sweet and savoury notes, whilst still managing to keep its short STR maturation well in check. The wood here is restrained and offers a subtle, but balanced addition of red wine berry sweetness, and a pleasant toastiness – just what an STR should do. Solid.

Score: 84/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 95.35 Herbal titillation

Bottle Name: 95.35 Herbal titillation

ABV: 66.3%
Distillery: Auchroisk
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Spicy & dry
Region: Speyside Age: 8

Youthful Auchroisk that’s been matured in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrel since September 2010.

View on SMWS

Nose: Sunflowers and rose hips sit with freshly pressed cotton sheets and doughy white bread. Crème caramel and Milky Bars are joined by clay and putty – not quite alluvial, but somewhat muddy nevertheless. Running throughout, typical ex-bourbon notes of vanilla and buttery cream. The addition of water expressed sun-dried crusty earth alongside pronounced clove spicing.

Taste: Despite the high ABV this has a surprisingly gentle delivery and development. Burnt toffee and charred cask ends are joined by an abundance of herbs and spices – pepper cloves, allspice – with mustard seeds, reeds, flax and mint leafiness. Water retains the overall shape of the whisky, but adds additional cask influence with split vanilla pods and breakfast oats alongside the spices and herbs.

Finish: Medium and with an unexpected wave of mentholated oakiness.

Well-named Auchroisk – this is indeed quite herbal. The composition is straight-forward and easy-drinking (despite the fulsome ABV) and whilst there not quite enough to truly get lost in, the strange and somewhat unfamiliar metholated finish is certainly both notable and sinus cleaning.

Score: 83/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 26.137 Chasing chameleons

Bottle Name: 26.137 Chasing chameleons

ABV: 58.6%
Distillery: Clynelish
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Spicy & dry
Region: Highlands Age: 8

An always popular #26 that’s been slumbering in 2nd fill ex-bourbon since September 2011.

View on SMWS

Nose: Quince and lime jellies, candied peels and tangy hard candy sit with fruit teas and white pepper. Coconut cream and sunflowers are joined by bung cloth and hessian. Dilution reveals Cream Crackers, kiwi and passionfruit compote and a dusting of earthy ginger.

Taste: A powerful arrival of fruit-forward flavours – Green apples, pineapple chunks and guava – this sits with crumbled dark chocolate, gingerbread men and cashew nuts. The mid-palate offers tangy herbalness with Turkish Delight (sweet rose water)  played against preserved lemons and limes. Dry oakiness gives way to vanilla-infused milk and underlying pepperiness. Water adds texture – not quite the waxiness one would expect with #26 (that tends to develop over longer maturation periods), but certainly with more viscosity in the body. The cask influence is increased with planed new oakiness alongside sticky tannins and pepperiness.

Finish: Medium in length and softly spoken with charred staves and tingling pepper.

As the name suggests – a bit of a shapeshifter – though not fully possessing the trademark cues one would expect from Clynelish. And that’s no bad thing – it’s nice to be surprised. There’s just a touch too much cask in the back-palate for my personal liking (particularly when diluted), but the expressive and defined fruitiness is quite excellent. Similarly there’s good depth here despite the relatively youth of the spirit. Not a slam-dunk, but much to admire.

Score: 85/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 30.109 Strangely soothing

Bottle Name: 30.109 Strangely soothing

ABV: 64.9%
Distillery: Glenrothes
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Deep, rich & dried fruits
Region: Speyside Age: 12

Over to Glenrothes for a full-term 1st full sherry butt maturation. Interestingly this has maintained a very high ABV despite its 12 years of age.

View on SMWS

Nose: Immediate and pronounced rich chocolate sauce alongside strawberry bootlaces and raspberry milkshakes. Sherry-forward notes of orange peels, raisins, brown sugars and wild honey are joined by a leafiness of hot house vines and well-caramelised honeycomb (Crunchie Bars!). Water expressed more orange with tangerines and old fashioned liqueurs alongside ginger and cinnamon spicing.

Taste: Rich and syrupy in texture. Reduced red and black berries – sticky and jammy sit alongside cinder toffee, spent coffee grounds and dark chocolate ganache. Ginger and cinnamon spicing joins cigar wrappers, whilst bon bons and molasses provide yet more additional sweetness. Reduction reveals gingerbread, dried fruit sponge and ground espresso beans.

Finish: Medium to long with jammy reduced fruits and fading baking spices.

On paper, a high-quality, full-term sherry matured Glenrothes should be a lovely thing indeed. Pleasingly (and unlike some of the many indy Rothes bottlings we’re seeing presently) this is exactly the case with this Society bottling. Note perfect for its 12 years of age and quite hard to pick fault with. Not rocket science complexity, just sherry maturation ‘done proper’. Joint pick of the month.

Score: 87/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 35.250 Bathing in brandy

Bottle Name: 35.250 Bathing in brandy

ABV: 53.4%
Distillery: Glen Moray
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Deep, rich & dried fruits
Region: Speyside Age: 23

This month’s oldest offering comes in the form of a Glen Moray draw from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. 23 years is quite the long time for a 1st fill.

View on SMWS

Nose: Sweet and herbal. Honey and golden syrup alongside lemon balm, nettled and mint leaves. Tropical fruitiness follows with pineapple and mango alongside nutmeg and clove spiced rice pudding. The addition of water reveals caramel biscuits (Twix!) together with orange zest and pink wafer biscuits.

Taste: Soft and fruit-forward with mango slices, guava and balled honeydew melon. Cinnamon and nutmeg sit alongside nougat and caramel (Mars Bars!) before fig rolls are joined by Happy Shopper cola and chopped almonds. Dilution pushes even further into fruitiness, offering – less depth, but more of a bright, fresh and juicy complexion.

Finish: Quite long with orange peels and perky cinnamon.

A solid core of well-matured fruit-forward notes keep this Glen Moray ticking over. There’s not really the expressive polished oak one would expected from over two-decades of maturation (which might be why this hasn’t made the Old & Dignified profile like other 35s before it), but there’s very successful expressive brightness here from start to finish. Recommended.

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 100.21 Caramel, currants, coconut and carpentry

Bottle Name: 100.21 Caramel, currants, coconut and carpentry

ABV: 59%
Distillery: Strathmill
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Deep, rich & dried fruits
Region: Speyside Age: 8

A very interesting composition here – 8 year old Strathmill that spent most of its life in ex-bourbon wood before being subjected to a quick re-rack into an ex-islay (so a peated precursor liquid) wine barrique.

View on SMWS

Nose: Peach cobbler and crème patisserie are joined even more crème – brulee and caramel. Nougat and Caramac sit with apricot jam whilst nutmeg and gentle pepperiness run throughout. Reduction introduces a coastal aspect with gentle salinity, alongside overt woodiness from cask char and pencil shavings.

Taste: Plenty of body here with an arrival that’s viscid and quite impactful. Dried peaches and apricots sit with a scattering of cranberries and redcurrants. The ex-islay cask adds a layer of gentle tarriness – felt roofing – as well as strawberry bootlaces and tangy balsamic from the wine precursor. Spices run throughout – cinnamon and nutmeg – both enveloped by milk chocolate. Water adds a lick of saltiness alongside honey and placid tarry smoke.

Finish: Quite long with wood smoke and fading jammy red berry fruit.

Despite being this month’s cheapest bottling (£44.80 and an ‘A dram’ in venues), this Strathmill should not be overlooked. It offers an excellent composition for its relatively youth, and similarly delivers a re-racking which feels both thought-provoking as well as impactful. The wine and the ex-peated spirit both play their parts and provide for an end result that is surprisingly layered and frankly just very tasty indeed. Recommended.

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 52.31 I dream of creamy

Bottle Name: 52.31 I dream of creamy

ABV: 58.7%
Distillery: Old Pulteney
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Juicy, oak & vanilla
Region: Highlands Age: 12

The maritime malt – 11 years in an ex-bourbon hogsheads and an additional year in a 1st fill Sauternes barrique.

View on SMWS

Nose: Cake mix, pancake batter, fried crepes and griddles waffles. Apricot reduction, maple and golden syrups sit with olive oil and pan fats whilst orchard fruits add a bright esteriness alongside preserved lemons. Dilution reveals a bolder cask influence with vanilla pods, toasted cereals and popcorn alongside ‘greenhouse’ viney savouriness and slight clay/beach mud.

Taste: The arrival is quite powerful and certainly oily in texture with fattiness and lubricants. Apples and citrus fruits sit with sponge cake, cupcakes and cream buns whilst vanilla and oats sit with slight chalkiness. Reduction adds lemon peels for an almost lemonade like zing.

Finish: Medium with creamy pastries and vanilla.

I’m in two-minds about this Pulteney. On the one hand, it’s completely fine for what it is – well-made, easy-going, and inoffensive. On the other, both the Sauternes, and the underlying distillate character seem completely lost at sea without a trace. This could be an 11 year old ex-bourbon SC from pretty much any distillery. Character is important, and this feels sadly rather generic and therefore a little uneventful.

Score: 80/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 93.125 Sugary espresso in a mechanic’s cup

Bottle Name: 93.125 Sugary espresso in a mechanic’s cup

ABV: 57.8%
Distillery: Glen Scotia
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Oily & coastal
Region: Campbeltown Age: 12

Continuing the current regular (and welcome) appearances from Glen Scotia comes this 12 year old, drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.

View on SMWS

Nose: Immediate grease, engine and machine oils. Dirty. Shale and beach single make for an alluvial quality that sits with wild honey, fireplace ashiness and toasted marshmallows. Water reveals sugar syrup and agave with notes of spent coffee and reduced savoury meat sauces.

Taste: Sweeter than the nose – icing sugar, candied lemon peels, grapes and gooseberry tartness alongside shaved chocolate and café latte. In the background, baked yeasty breast, axle grease and a mineralistic quartz-like smokiness. Water expresses reduced red berries and gentle liver salt tanginess.

Finish: Medium to long with souring berries, industrial lubricants and drying oakiness.

An intriguing Glen Scotia that pushes a particularly dirty spirit profile without also bringing with it an abundance of peatiness. A memorably excellent nose, slightly let down by an over-sweet palate, but nevertheless the overall composition is both thought provoking and  rather tasty for those that like the industrial side of things. Recommended.

Score: 86/100

The Dramble reviews SMWS 66.164 I like big butts

Bottle Name: 66.164 I like big butts

ABV: 61.8%
Distillery: Ardmore
Bottler: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Flavour Profile: Peated
Region: Highlands Age: 7

Another interesting wood selection this month with this 7 year old Ardmore – 5 years in an American oak ex-oloroso sherry butt, 2 more years in a European oak ex-oloroso sherry butt. I like transcontinental butts.

View on SMWS

Nose: Baristas and barbeques. Coffee beans and coffee grounds with dark chocolate shavings, raisins, air-dried meats and BBQ’d meats. Putty and wet soils sit with natural gas and smouldering wet leaves. Stagnant ponds and industrial grease are joined by bitumen and maple-smoked bacon. The addition of water reveals soot and ashiness – burning logs, flaming hay bales – alongside balsamic sharpness and reduced, jammy red berries.

Taste: No messing. Huge billowing ashiness and sweet tar. More coffee – freshly made espresso – with felt roofing, water-logged felled trees, forest moss and burning plant matter. Shingle and limestone run throughout adding a mineral tang, alongside ginger and cinnamon spiced pastries. Reduction expresses the sweetness of the butts – brown sugars, jammy fruits and overt smoked sherry.

Finish: Long, tarry, ashy and still packed full of juicy berry sweetness.

What this Ardmore loses in subtlety it makes up for with sheer power and density of flavour. Layers of richness and intense sherry flavours, which mingle highly successfully with a particularly smoky highland distillate (most 66’s rightly fall into the lightly peated category – this rightly does not, there's a bit more oompth). Sometimes there are simply joys to be found in silly whiskies and, I cannot lie - this most certainly is a silly whisky. Joint pick of the month.

Score: 87/100



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