I started this year with a resolution to explore the world of whiskies, and one of the first groups to help out was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), so there is no better way to end the year than another whisky tasting with the SMWS!
The society has recently opened a new venue for whisky lovers in London’s Battersea and they invited me along to chat about the latest Outturn (their monthly whisky release), sample some whiskies and try the chef’s creations at 78 Northcote Road. Very exciting!
How does it work?
The SMWS is a whisky lover’s dream. Their whiskies are truly unique and exciting, and they come with outrageous, bizarre and funky names, such as ‘Pedro packs a punch’ and ‘Naked in the forest’. The society releases around 30 new bottles every month, with all the whiskies bottled at cask strength without chill filtration, allowing you to enjoy the ‘raw’ whisky. They have bought casks from most distilleries in Scotland, and you can even find the odd cask from distilleries no longer in operation as well as the occasional whisky from Ireland, Japan or the US.
They have a very helpful categorisation system which splits the whiskies into 12 tasting groups:
Young & Spritely
Sweet, Fruity & Mellow
Spicy & Dry
Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits
Old & Dignified
Light & Delicate
Juicy, Oak & Vanilla
Oily & Coastal
Spicy & Sweet
In creating these categories, they wanted to make it easier for you to find the right whiskies, whether you are buying for yourself or getting a bottle as a gift. I had always assumed I’d like whiskies in the sweet and fruity group and wanted to put that to the test. After having tasted several SMWS bottlings, my taste buds have surprised me: it turns out I am much more of a Lightly Peated and Juicy, Oak & Vanilla kinda girl!
To find out more about the SMWS or their memberships, head over to my previous article The World’s Best Club for True Single Malt Whisky Lovers!? where I have covered more about the bottling process and why I think the membership is such a tremendous deal!
The Tasting at 78 Northcote Road
I was greeted with a cocktail of my choice, and the chef kindly made some delicious snacks for me (from perfectly cooked fried chicken with blue cheese dip to mackerel paté). Before eating myself into a food coma, we blind-tasted four whiskies so I could better explore the flavours and really taste the difference before learning more about each dram. I can’t recommend this way of tasting enough!
The first one was called Is this a lemon I see before me… (told you the names were funky) and it was my favourite out of the four. Looking back at my notes, I described it as light lemon cake with notes of honey and barley. This 11-year-old whisky has aged in refill ex-bourbon barrels (Technical note: ‘refill’ confusingly means third fill).
The second whisky, Sweet memories of autumn, was my least favourite as it was VERY dry and earthy, almost mushroomy. I might have said it tasted like a smelly old leather shoe… I was very excited to try this as my host described it as his favourite style of whisky! But this is why I think exploring whiskies is so much fun and can be so surprising – there are so many flavours, and one woman’s treat is another’s poison.
The third one was called The inner light and it was oaky and subtly spicy with a tartness that reminded me of red or blackcurrants. Not bad at all. This 25-year-old was aged in refill ex-bourbon hogshead. The bottling was slightly lower in ABV at 53.9%.
The last one, Enticing and beguiling, had strong sherry notes as it has spent two years in first-fill ex-PX hogshead (after being aged 13 years in ex-bourbon). Beyond that, you could almost taste a doughy brioche bun with cinnamon and raisins. Slightly dry but an enjoyable dram nevertheless.
If you are a member already (or thinking of joining) and want to buy exceptional bottles for Christmas, there are a few other bottlings in the latest Outturn that popped out for me. Firemen in Fishnets comes highly recommended, and the name alone should certainly get your attention (just what were they thinking when they named that one? too funny!). This 7-year-old heavily peated whisky is a unique bottling from Islay.
There are two choices from closed distilleries (also known as ‘silent’ distilleries), Soothing the mind and Kissing a pear. The first has Christmassy notes of rum and raisin, candied orange and hazelnuts. After 35 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead it spent two more years in a first-fill oloroso hogshead. The second bottling is a 26-year-old from Speyside. Expect a creamy feel, notes of ripe pineapple and mandarin with cinnamon spice and a touch of fizziness from peach sorbet.
I could go on and on as one of the great attractions of this membership is that you can access a range of totally unique whiskies in flavours that you simply cannot find anywhere else. Head over to the SMWS website to browse more and find the best styles for your palate.
The new venue is only a 10-minute walk from Clapham Junction. They offer a seasonal menu throughout the day as well as whisky flights and cocktails. The staff are very knowledgeable and there are no pretentious whisky snobs – it’s all very welcoming whether you are an experienced whisky drinker or simply just wanting to try something new. The venue is fairly small, so I recommend booking ahead, especially during this festive season.
A very pleasant experience as yet again I learned more about my developing personal whisky palate. The SMWS has so much variety it’s easy to find new tasting experiences, and they get me hooked on whisky jargon. I’m already planning my next visit…
If you know someone who likes their whiskies or wants to learn more, I cannot recommend the Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership enough. It really makes an excellent Christmas gift! The cost of membership is only £65 a year! And you can create a personalised membership by adding tasting sessions, drams or bottles.
UPDATE: SMWS has given me a new code INKA10, which can be used for a 10% discount on all membership packages until 31st December 2020!
What is your favourite Christmas dram?
This post has been created in collaboration with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As always, all words and opinions are my own.