Tag Archives: SMWS

Scotchpocalypse in the New World

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A few of the bottles that made it to the ‘Scotchpocalypse’ table

The whisky community thrives in Victoria. In the short time since my arrival in Canada I have been invited to numerous whisky events. The best named event so far is ‘Scotchpocalypse’. This gathering of the faithful involved everyone bringing a bottle of single malt Scotch to the table. The bottles were lined up and sampled in turn, with a wee bit of discussion about each one. Of course, by the time you get to the fifth or sixth all the formalities are thrown out of the window and it descends into a house party.

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SMWS events – 8 whiskies for C$40 and always a good turnout/outturn!

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is present in town too. Held monthly at the Strathcona, every tasting I have been to so far has been sold out (approximately 50 seats). There is a palpable buzz around the room as each whisky is announced following a blind tasting. Demand is so high for the bottles that most are snapped up within minutes of being revealed. This is despite prices being far higher than what I am used to back in Scotland. A typical 10 year old will go for C$170 (£110) and older whiskies typically C$250 (£160) and beyond.

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The Sidney Chapter – Officially a member in good standing!

Even in sleepy Sidney there are some great whisky events to be had. I am now a ‘member in good standing’ with the Sidney chapter of the International Order of the Companions of the Quaich. The effort put in by Thom and Viola into the tastings is outstanding. A booklet is produced that details tasting notes, fun facts and distillery profiles. Last month we enjoyed a vertical tasting of Glen Garioch, including the rare Vintage 1995 which was the last to use peated malt. I am even more excited however by what is to come – a Supernumeracy Brora tasting. Brora distillery in north-east Scotland closed in 1983 and is a precious find in any whisky bar. The chance to try these rare whiskies 5,000 miles from their origin is an unusual privilege.

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The Grand Pacific Hotel – Venue of the Victoria Whisky Festival 2017

In January, Victoria will host its annual international whisky festival. Representatives from distilleries around the world will be present to show off there spirits and meet friends old and new. I have been asked to be part of one such event, representing Victoria Distillers at the tasting and discussion panel of BC distillers. I can’t wait to be a part of it. People will willingly queue at 2am in the morning to grab tickets for master classes when they are released next weekend. I am most impressed by the dedication and determination of whisky-mad Victorians to ensure a place at the official ‘Scotchpocalypse’!

http://www.victoriawhiskyfestival.com/

 

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10 (Empty) Green Bottles…

…Sitting on the Wall.

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10 empty green bottles that contained superb single cask whiskies

Each empty bottle reflects the passing of time and the true nature of impermanence. Every one of these green soldiers is gone forever. Each a single cask whisky and each like a snowflake – never to be repeated again. Most casks contain only 200-300 bottles and I am unlikely to acquire another. Like the passing of clouds, lightning and morning dew the only constant is change. I could mourn the loss of each of these marvelous drams, stuck in melancholy and attachment to the past. However, I rejoice in the fact that I was alive when mother nature and humankind combined to produce such exquisite, delectable spirits.

I compare the experience of drinking single cask whisky to the creation of a Mandala. Buddhist monks will spend days carefully painting with sand, producing detailed and intricate geometric shapes, only to wipe them away in an instant upon completion. Art is used as a metaphor to be mindful of the transient nature of life.

Every cask’s journey started in the fields and rivers. Water and barley subject to the climatic and environmental conditions of the time. Then, differing production techniques take over. Floor maltings, drum maltings, Saladin boxes, still shapes, fermentation times, heating sources, wooden washbacks, stainless steel washbacks to name but a few. Then, selection of the cask – Bourbon, Sherry, Port, Wine, Rum. The number of variables is limitless. Years pass in a changing world and then finally the spirit must pass its final test….. The Tasting Panel. Only then will it be bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and made available to members around the world. What an incredible journey, and what a wonderful privilege to experience malts so unique and rare. Single cask whisky rewards the serendipitous adventurer. The senses await in anticipation as to what organoleptic delights the next ten green bottles might bring!

The 10 whiskies were:

  1. 3.226 – Cigar Smoke and Newhaven Fish Boxes – 16 year old Bowmore in a refill butt ex-sherry cask, 1 of 615 bottles, 58.3%
  2. 27.105 – Too Cool for School – 13 year old Springbank in a refill hogshead ex-sherry cask, 1 of 288 bottles, 53.9%
  3. 29.132 – Hospitals and Japanese Restaurants – 21 year old Laphroaig in a refill butt ex-sherry, 1 of 543 bottles, 56.6%
  4. 31.26 – BBQ Smoke by a Rolling Sea – 24 year old Jura in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 262 bottles, 53.6%
  5. 36.65 – Apple Flavoured Tobacco in a Hookah – 15 year old Benrinnes in a refill barrel ex-bourbon, 1 of 208 bottles, 58.6%
  6. 42.13 – Picnic on a Puffer – 8 year old Tobermory (Ledaig) in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 328 bottles, 61.1%
  7. 53.202 – A Bracing Outdoors Loving Character – 17 year old Caol Ila in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 164 bottles, 56.4%
  8. 73.58 – Simple and Seductive – 21 year old Aultmore in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 253, 57.0%
  9. 121.61 – Maggie Thatcher at the Funfair – 14 year old Isle of Arran in a refill barrel ex-bourbon, 1 of 203 bottles, 54.5%
  10. 127.39 – Intensely Tasty – 11 year old Port Charlotte in a refill butt ex-sherry, 1 of 579 bottles, 66.7%

Solace in Society

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Glenturret, Highland Park, Macallan and Glen Moray all lined up in a row

The Collins dictionary defines solace as ‘comfort in misery or disappointment’. An example is then given of the word in context: it drove him to seek increasing solace in alcohol. So given the threat of ‘Monday Blues’, I took direct action and headed straight to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith to seek solace in fine whisky and great company. On arrival, I was pleased to see my brother Richard at the bar with his new membership pack in hand. Lydia, Crystal (SMWS Members Room Manager, Mike, Kat (www.whiskydiscovery.com) and Phoebe (SMWS Global Brand Ambassador) completed the table as we sat down to enjoy an evening of entertainment with Lucy Whitehall (Glenturret Brand Ambassador).

Lucy started the proceedings by introducing the ‘Glenturret Haka’. We stood up and participated in a range of movements inspired by the traditional whisky making techniques of the distillery. Think mashing, pitching yeast, cutting the spirit and bunging the cask – use your imagination! With the exercise out the way we then turned our focus to the whisky. Whiskies from Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan were introduced by Lucy, while Ryan introduced accompanying SMWS drams for comparison. This meant that there were eight drams in total for us to try which isn’t bad for a Monday! In my order of preference:

  1. Glen Moray – SMWS – Cask No. 35.131 – Cherries, Chocolate and Chai – 55.1% – £69.50
  2. Macallan – Black – 48% – $450
  3. Highland Park – SMWS – Cask No. 4.211 – Sun, Sand, Surf and Serenity – 52.2% – $190
  4. Highland Park – Dark Origins – 46.8% – £64
  5. Glenturret – NAS – Peat – 43% – £47
  6. Macallan – SMWS – Cask No. 24.37 – Fruit & Nuts – 59.3% – £?
  7. Glenturret – NAS – Sherry – 43% – £47
  8. Glenturret – NAS – Triple Wood – 43% – £47

All whiskies were drinkable and there were no dodgy disappointing drams. The one that stood out for me  was the SMWS Glen Moray, an exceptional whisky with lovely caramel notes and a long sweet finish. It was a challenge to decide between the Macallan Black (travel exclusive) and the SMWS Highland Park for second but the Macallan just pipped it with its superior balance. Highland Park rarely disappoints and today was no exception. The new 43% abv Glenturret expressions (Sherry, Triple Wood and Peat) were easy drinking but did not match the body and flavour intensity of the the higher abv, unchillfiltered whiskies in the tasting. The peated expression had the most character of the three and would be my top choice of the new Non Age Statement range. The society Macallan was an old bottling distilled in 1987. It was a wee bit flat on the nose but had a decent palate.

All in, a great Monday evening with plenty of laughs and memorable tastes. Solace in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society comes highly recommended!

Scenic Scotch No.8 – A Heavenly Caol Ila on the Isle of Harris

A 17 year old Coal Ila framed by a stunning view of Luskentyre beach, Harris and St Kilda on the horizon
A 17 year old Caol Ila framed by a stunning view of Luskentyre beach and St Kilda on the horizon

During a recent trip to Harris to view progress of the new Isle of Harris Distillery, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather to climb a wee hill overlooking the bay of Luskentyre. With such a clear day, St. Kilda was just visible on the horizon. A 17 year old single cask Caol Ila from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society weighed down the backpack but it was worth the effort upon reaching the summit. One of only 164 bottles, 53.202 ‘A bracing outdoors loving character’ is a great companion for any hike. Notes of Kendal Mint cake, salted crackers and blue cheese combine with a creamy, sweet smokiness. Moments like this are what we live for!

If you would like to contribute your own glorious scenic scotch moments, please send to scenicscotch@gmail.com

Japanese Delights

A wonderful winter scene at Yoichi distillery
A wonderful winter scene at Yoichi distillery

The wee coincidences in life never cease to amaze me. Recently, I asked the barman at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to pour me another ‘mystery’ dram. The mystery dram turned out to be a delightful 26-year-old from Yoichi distillery in Japan. A few days later I sat next to a Japanese fellow in the first MSc Brewing & Distilling lecture of 2015. He was a new arrival to the course so I introduced myself and we began to get to know each other. Then when I asked about his background he informed me that he is one of the distillers at Yoichi….. how awesome is that!

Direct-fired stills in the Yoichi still room
Direct-fired stills in the Yoichi still room

Yoichi (owned by Nikka) is Japan’s most northerly distillery on the island of Hokkaido and emulates the more rugged Scottish malts, with its rich and peaty character. The lovely, humble and pleasant Ken informed me that Yoichi’s peated malt is shipped from Scotland, being more cost-effective than producing it in Japan. Another stand out feature is that Yoichi is one of the few remaining distilleries in the world to heat its stills traditionally using a direct fired method with powdered coal, as opposed to in-direct heating (usually with steam-heated coils within the still). It was the second distillery to open in Japan, following Yamazaki, and was founded in 1934 by the legendary Japanese whisky pioneer, Masataka Taketsuru. Masataka fell in love with a Scottish girl from Kirkintilloch while learning the art of distilling at Longmorn and Hazelburn in Scotland. Jessie Cowan, or Rita as she became known, was swept off her feet and moved to Japan with Masataka following a marriage in Scotland. To help Rita feel at home in a new country Masataka found a location for his new Japanese distillery that closely resembled Scotland. Yoichi had the perfect combination of peat, barley and excellent water with a cool temperate climate.So with his love of Scotland, a Scottish lady and Scottish whisky, he built a traditional distillery to pay homage to all these delights. The result of which has surely become one of today’s greatest Japanese delights!

SMWS 116.20 - Fascinating Complexity and Finesse
SMWS 116.20 – Fascinating Complexity and Finesse

Tasting notes for SMWS 116.20 – Fascinating Complexity and Finesse

Age – 26 years old, ABV – 61.6%, Cask – Virgin Oak Puncheon, Distilled Nov 1987, Outturn 452

Colour – Crystal Malt

Without Water

Nose – Stewed, baked apple crumble in a rich vanilla custard, tea tree oil, refreshers, brown sugar and fudge

Palate – rhubarb custard bon bons, sweet and creamy then drier but with a long lingering finish. Definitely a meringue dessert dram!

With Water

Nose – Creamier like Werther’s Original sweets, honey and green apple, hint of pine

Palate – Juicy, silky, fruity and sweet like golden syrup

overall – A delicious delectable treat, rekindling boyhood memories of the sweet shop. A great dram to cheer up a cold winters day. Score – 85/100.

Happy Brew Year!

A very Happy Brew Year to you all!

My resolution for 2015 is to taste more whiskies blind. Without prior knowledge of age, distillery, cask or region there is no temptation to pre-judge a whisky. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has splendidly enabled such endeavours. I climbed the winding staircase of 28 Queen Street and asked the barman to pour any whisky from the green wall of delights. My back was turned as I listened to the pleasant sound of a popping cork. I took the mystery whisky to my seat and wrote my tasting notes:

Colour: Cider yellow

Nose: lemon sherbert, baked apple and vanilla pods. A hint of furniture polish and caramel.

Palate: Spicy aniseed fireballs, sweet then dry, apple pie and vanilla ice cream.

With water: The nose comes alive in a fruit cake explosion, fresh apple strudel infused with cinnamon. Palate of appletizer and a growing spicy peppery finish.

Overall: A decent dram fit for desert or easy all day drinking. 70/100!

This turned out to be 100.11 – A 15 year old Strathmill aged in a refill ex-Bourbon barrel, called ‘A Picnic Party Dram’.

A decent desert dram from a rare single cask Strathmill
A decent desert dram from a rare single cask Strathmill

Official tasting notes can be found here: http://www.smws.co.uk/whisky/100.11_Picnic_party_dram.html

Strathmill, a Speyside distillery owned by Diageo, was founded in 1891 and produces around 2 million litres of whisky per annum. Almost the entire production goes into blends such as J&B so to taste a single cask expression is a privilege due to the rarity of single malt expressions.

I look forward to a year of more exciting sensory discoveries and I hope you all find some gems too!