weeks months ago (I’m late again to publish an article, what a surprise!), the Scotch Malt Whisky Society released a few single malts not as single casks, for once, but as small batches, small vattings of a few casks, for the different whisky festivals of the first half of 2022. For each region of Scotland, in a whisky sense, they released one or several bottlings, all of course with a higher outturn than usual. I ordered a tasting pack containing five out of the six releases, and I also bought a bottle of the sixth one, a Bowmore, so now, let’s review them all. And whilst previously it was Ainulindale reviewing SMWS bottlings, this time it’s my turn!
Auchentoshan 2003 Lime And Thyme SMWS Review
This Auchentoshan is named Lime and Thyme. There seem to have been a different release for America, of the same age, named Around the Clock. Since they’re both the same age, distilled the same month and with the same type of casks and the same number of bottles, SMWS may have split their casks into two separate vattings, or split the allocation and released it under two different names? Anyway, what we all have is an 18-year-old Auchentoshan distilled in January 2003 and filled into first fill ex-bourbon casks, with an outturn of 930 bottles at 55.8%. RRP is £90 in the UK and €120.90 in Europe. At the time of writing and publishing, it’s sold out in the UK but they have two bottles left on the SMWS Europe shop. Check the Swiss and Denmark shops as well as they may have some left too.
Sauternes. Big beads, fat legs
Neat: Minty hay, tropical fruits (pineapple) and orchard fruits (apricot, peach), orange marmalade, with a spicy kick of pepper and ginger. Some herbal notes as well, pine needles and fresh mint. Lemon juice and fruit salad syrup.
With water: more citrusy notes, less peppery ones. Careful not to add too much water as a bit too much shuts the nose down.
Neat: Syrupy mouthfeel on a sweet and spicy arrival. Grassy and slightly bitter notes, but quickly fruity notes come through, with pineapple, grapefruit, apple, orange marmalade again. A bit of pepper heat at first, but this tones down over time.
After reduction, the mouthfeel is even creamier. Lots of slightly sour apricot, passion fruit, green apple, with less pepper. Lovely. Chocolate coated nuts.
Chocolate coated nuts again, lingering sourness from the passion fruits and lemon, still a lingering peppery heat in the back of the throat as well.
Really nice to start things out. Lovely fruity and spicy character both on the nose and palate, with a nice herbal freshness of pine needles and mint on the nose, but that I didn’t get on the palate. What this shows is that when you don’t drown your whisky with water to 40 or 43% before bottling (like the official bottlings), Auchentoshan can show really interesting flavours and deliver pleasure. Really nice.
Benrinnes 2011 A Reward For Patience SMWS Review
This Benrinnes, named ‘A reward for patience’, has been distilled on the 4th of May 2011 and filled initially in American oak bourbon hogsheads. For the finish, they moved the whisky for a short period of time into first fill ex-oloroso quarter casks supplied by their Jerez partner José y Miguel Martin, and then put back and married the whisky in 2nd fill ex bourbon barrels that they recently emptied, giving it time to relax and marry before bottling. At 10 years of age, it was bottled at 57.6% abv and sold for £55 / €77.90. Sold out in both the UK and Europe shops, but the Swiss and Denmark SMWS shops still seem to have some.
Tawny port coloured. Small heads turn to quick thin legs.
Neat: the nose is intense, immediately on wood and sherry notes. Cinnamon, dark and light fruits, quite typical oloroso cask notes. There’s a spiciness as well as nutty notes, and the ABV is quite noticeable as it’s a bit prickly when nosing it neat.
With water, the oloroso finish influence takes the back seat, as more malty notes appear as well as honey and hints of vanilla.
Neat: Oomph, the arrival is sweet and bitter and slightly dry, really feels like a 1st fill oloroso cask full maturation even though it was just a finish here (but in quarter casks, so lots of wood contact). A bit of rancio, cedar wood, dried dark fruits, cinnamon, pepper and ginger. Prunes and sultanas. There’s a slight salty note as well as some herbal ones, like dried herbs for seasoning food. Some treacle too, and a citrusy note bringing some freshness.
Reduction brings more citrusy sour notes, quite refreshing. A bit of chocolate, the wood notes move from cedar to oak.
Long, on treacle, rancio, dried dark fruits and that citrusy freshness.
This is a fun whisky, a Doctor Jekyll & Mister Hyde one. Neat, it’s kind of a typical Oloroso finished one with its dark fruits and rancio and nutty notes. Add water, and the oloroso influence takes the back seat to the initial bourbon cask maturation, with more citrusy and honey fresh notes. Each of its personalities in itself is classic, but the fact that water makes it changes from one to the other is the really fun and original trait of this whisky. Very nice. By the way, my own tasting notes couldn’t be more different than the official SMWS ones but well, every palate is different, and mine really is (and limited)!
Glen Scotia 2013 Changes Faster Than A Chameleon SMWS Review
Third whisky from the SMWS Festivals tasting pack was this 2013 Glen Scotia bottled for the Campbeltown Malt Festival. Named ‘Changes faster than a chameleon’, it was distilled on the 9 September 2013, then filled in first-fill bourbon barrels. 1460 bottles were released at 59.7% ABV at a price of £58 in the UK, €77.90 in Europe. Out of stock on those two SMWS shops but still available for CHF94 in Switzerland and DKK755 in Denmark (about €104).
White burgundy. Big heads form on the side of the glass, that quickly fall down as fat legs.
Neat: The first nose is a bit intense, prickly, as the high ABV makes its presence known, playing with your nostrils. Honey and vanilla from the first fill bourbon barrels appear immediately. Drying hay, and soft orchard fruits, the fruity side is a bit restrained. Light salty note. Going back to it 15-20 minutes later, the fruits are getting stronger, with orchard fruits but also pineapple and a bit of mango.
With water: the first couple drops don’t change things much.A few additional ones center the nose on the fruits with pear added to the list.
Neat: Fruity and spicy arrival, with a salty sourness and bitterness. Nori seaweed, apple, orange, peach, pineapple, then it moves to a slightly woody and espresso bitterness. The spicy side makes me think of green curry sauce and tabasco. Something maritime too, like big prawns and small grey shrimp. Some slightly sour sweetness too, a bit citrusy.
With water: the first couple drops give out a more fruity side, mostly more tropical fruits. Yum. With a few additional drops, ginger appear for an additional soft kick, and a bit of pepper as well.
The citrusy sourness stays with the prawns and a light bitterness, leaving the feeling of having eaten grapefruit but without as much sourness. Medium to long.
Whilst the youth of this Glen Scotia is still noticeable, I have to admit this is a nice summery dram. It’s fruity and fresh, a bit spicy, with a restrained maritime side on the palate so that it can accompany both seafood or not-seafood-at-all. This won’t replace my favourite Victoriana, but this is a nice change when you want to preserve that bottle a bit and you fancy a Glen Scotia. I can relate to that.
Glen Garioch 2003 Hazelnut Bubble Gum SMWS Review
Fourth whisky was released for the Highland whisky festival, and we have on this occasion a 2003 18-year-old Glen Garioch, matured here again in first fill bourbon barrels. Those barrels filled with whisky distilled on the 11 February 2003 gave 1128 bottles at 55.6% ABV. It was released at £90 in the UK, no idea on the EU shop (can’t find the bottle), and it’s still available in Denmark for about €134.
Gold. A crown of medium-sized heads at first, taking a few seconds before becoming medium-sized legs, before some of them merge together.
Neat: yep, the hazelnut part of the name of this release is there, no doubt. The nutty side is quite pronounced: raw hazelnut, sliced almonds, nougat… Quite some heat from the alcohol, don’t inspire too strongly. Soft notes of orchard fruits but not extremely clear for now. Wood polish, chamois leather, and some spices.
With water: light notes of oak, walnut shell,
Neat: sweeter and spicier than the nose led to expect. The nutty notes are carried through, but there is sweet and fruity confectionary side, like arlequin candy, some vanilla and honey. Nasturtium flower, pepper, this is both spicy and also a bit herbal, with traces of eucalyptus, mint and juniper. Malty notes as well, and barley water.
With water: more citrus, soft white pepper, tea leaves, light empyreumatic notes, red apple peel.
Medium length with a nice warmth on the throat. Lemon peel, eucalyptus, arlequin candy, vanilla, a slight oaky bitterness, and those hazelnuts again.
I’m slightly disappointed with this one. I think the nutty notes cover a bit too much the rest, and I needed some time on the nose for example to be able to pass through those notes and get other smells. On the palate, same idea. It’s nice but I’d wouldn’t immediately reach for the bottle after I’ve finished my dram. Too much nuts, not enough fruits for me.
Caol Ila 2013 Throw the cork away SMWS Review
The fifth dram is the first of two Islay whiskies, the only region this year they bottled two whiskies from for the festivals. We have here a 2013 Caol Ila, distilled on the first of April 2013, which spent its initial maturation in ex-bourbon hogsheads before a 2 year long finish in first fill American oak ex-oloroso sherry hogsheads coming from Tevasa cooperage in Jerez. It was released as an 8-year-old at £65 / €87.30 with an huge outturn of 2,677 bottles at 58.4%. As for the others it’s sold out in the UK and in the Europe shop, but you can still find some on the Swiss and Danish shops (respectively CHF104 and DKK825 – about €110).
Burnished. The heads on the crown start medium-sized then merge and become undefined, before fat legs form, going down slowly against the glass sides.
Neat: intense at first, on rancio and rubber. Sesame oil, salted soy sauce, camphor, engine oil, rubber boots, this is quite dirty. Crushed seashells, sea spray, and earthy peat.
With water: the dirty notes are less present, leaving mostly the smoke and maritime notes.
Neat: Slightly spicy arrival, a bit drying, then the heat turns up with a peppery / chili bite on the tip of the tongue. Strong smoke notes, you’re in front of the fireplace where slightly wet oak logs are burning. Black olives stuffed with chili peppers, anchovies, smoked bacon and tar.
With water: a bit citrusy now, but not much change. Maybe a bit fruitier when you add more water.
Smoke, unsweetened lemonade, and then nothing, as the finish is quite short.
Neat, the nose had some potential but I find that the palate wasn’t on par. I was not convinced by the palate, this lacks finesse. I didn’t find any noticeable change, that I hoped for the best, when adding water. It’s not bad but it’s a bit basic and disappointing. A dram I’m happy to have just a sample of, I’m not sure the bottle would go down quickly.
Bowmore 2004 Fruity Time Travel SMWS Review
Last but not least, this one I bought a bottle immediately as they were released, expecting it would sell out quickly. I did well, as it did sell out quickly. We have here a 17-year-old Bowmore distilled on the 16th of February 2004 and filled into second-fill ex-bourbon hogsheads. The outturn was 1,326 bottles at 57% ABV. RRP was £130 / €174.70. There’s a shop having some stock in the UK but with a huge markup so I won’t disclose their name, and there are some bottles left at SMWS USA for a hefty $270. Sold out everywhere else.
Ripe corn. Medium beads change to thin and very slow legs.
Neat: Intense, you start smelling the whisky whilst the glass is still far from your nose. Strong notes of exotic fruits: passion fruit, but mostly pineapple. Quite a number of citrus fruits as well, lemon, blood orange, grapefruit, giving out a sour freshness. The smoke is present but soft and wispy, it’s there to enhance the fruits, without hiding them. Maritime notes of seawater, crushed empty shells, pebble beach and sea spray.
With water, the nose becomes more mineral: wet pebble and cobble, and a touch of camphor ointment.
Neat: Slightly drying, smoky and peppery at first. The sweetness of roasted pineapple, stewed apple, mango is balanced with the sourness of grapefruit. The peat is here again well integrated, soft, herbal and maritime and medicinal, with new gaze, antiseptic, seawater and boiled aromatic herbs. There is also some menthol freshness in the back.
With water, the grapefruit is now dusted with vanilla sugar, it becomes a bit salty as well, and some light bitter woody notes appear.
Long, smoky, grapefruit juice, driftwood, salted soy sauce, and seawater again.
Beautiful Bowmore. There is a very nice balance between all the smells and flavours. The sweetness is balanced with sourness, the peatiness and smokiness is there to highlight the fruits. As the phenols disappear with time, after seventeen years in casks the peaty notes soften and integrated very well with the spirit character, this is very good. With a bit more exotic fruits it would have reached 90 or more but… it’ll have to do with an 89. That’s quite good already anyway.
Lead photo: Inka Larissa / On The Sauce Again (thank you!)