Category Archives: Scotch Malt Whisky Society

SMWS – 93.47 Seaweed, Sushi and Arbroath Smokies (59.7%)

SMWS-93-47I belong to a couple members-only whisky clubs, now, and my one barbed criticism of them overall has to be the shipping. I’ve bought bottles from public storefronts in England that made it to my door in four days without expediting the package, yet a bottle from a member’s-only club in the US can take up to a month.

At the risk of inciting a debate about Federalism, part of the problem lies with individual state’s rights. The repeal of prohibition saw some states choose to require extra licenses, moderate the quantity that can be sold, or place other restrictions on how and if alcohol can be delivered within their borders. It’s no easy task to navigate the labyrinth of individual regulations, three-tier distribution systems, and Alcoholic Beverage Control boards. Here, the SMWS has a wholesaler mail the whisky to a retailer when you order, and then you wait for that retailer to mail the bottle to you. Bureaucracy, saving us from the terror of economical shipping.

Slow shipping times are not entirely a state induced problem, though. Clubs like these tend to be staffed by very small teams of people. You might find yourself waiting ten days or more for the next batch of orders to come together before your bottle ever makes it into the first box. Even the package of three 100mL samples that the SMWS sends you when you join is preceded by a welcome letter, a week after joining, warning you it might take another four to six weeks for the samples to arrive. If there are small hold-ups over the many legs of the journey, they’ll quickly add up, so they give themselves a wide window. That can really take some of the luxury shine off of it, especially if you’re planning to buy a bottle for a special occasion and expect it to arrive before 11% of the entire year has passed. Understandably, they don’t advertise this detail before you join, either.

Charles Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” in six weeks. You can grow radishes from seed in six weeks. You could sleep for 14 hours a day and and still walk from New Orleans to New York City in six weeks. There are few things more delicious than a muffaletta and the idea someone could deliver one from Central Grocery to New York on foot before a world famous club can deliver a single bottle to Connecticut makes me feel bad for myself. Thankfully, the first order took just under three weeks to arrive (the muffaletta would have only made it to Virginia), but my third order took almost seven.

Keep Calm and Wait Four to Six WeeksNow, is it worth the wait?  Let me say that this whisky right here is freaking awesome! In food, flavor rules. The best tasting preparation shouldn’t be determined by the length of time it takes to execute, it should be determined by the end result, and that tenet could easily be translated over to mail order whisky. Quality matters and there are few other operations selling stuff this good.

This 9 year old Glen Scotia from a refill barrel is top tier stuff. Plainly put, it doesn’t get much better than this. My love for the whisky juxtaposed with the excruciating delivery times has certainly put in me in a quandary and made me spend more time than I’d like to, wondering if it’s all really worth. It is, but I still wish I lived in the UK where it only takes two weeks.

Nose: Sultry iodine and calamari coddle the sweet and tangy peat. Clean but with heaps of kiwi fruit over sun-baked asphalt and a few, melted chocolate chips. Minerally, like ice cubes that have been sitting in your freezer for a little too long. Gentle, pecan and cherry wood smoke, clean-burning, deep and inexplicably rich like it was lit and maintained by a true pit-master with an affinity for chewing mint sprigs as they patiently waited, thanking their lucky stars that great barbecue doesn’t take 6 weeks. It’s a bit like the reclaimed rafters in an ocean side barbecue hall filled with lemon candy wrappers.

Palate: Well-mannered and exceptionally sweet at first. Words can’t describe the balancing act that unfolds; it changes and politely slips around your senses as you indulge. Despite the reserved demeanor, the sweetness still gives the peat the fight of its life for control of the palate. Ocean detritus and sweet berry tarts with creme anglaise duke it out before letting mild pepper and subtle oak quietly clean up the finish.

Rating: Highly RecommendAnother stunning expression. Kudos to the tasting panel! I feel extremely privileged drinking whisky like this; like I’m a member of some sort of exclusive club of whisky drinkers privy to special bottles which very few other people get to enjoy… oh, wait. Yea.

Thank you, Gabrielle Shayne and the US branch of the SMWS, for the sample!

SMWS – 39.83 Yummy and Mouth-Watering (53.9%)

SMWS 39.83Buying clubs like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society aren’t for everyone. Amateur whisky drinkers may not get the most out of a membership. It can be challenging to appreciate a unique cask or grapple with cask strength spirits in general if you don’t have at least a little experience with them. If you’re used to drinking blends at 40% abv, a malt whisky with a more focused character screaming in at 54% may seem like an unexpected kick to the face.

The price can be prohibitive for casual consumers, as well. Right now, it costs $260 after tax and shipping to join. The yearly renewal fees are around $70 before tax, too, which is $15 less than the least expensive bottle you can buy there. When I asked why they charge membership and renewal fees, the answer I received was “Because we are a private membership club and our whiskies are extremely limited in availability.” They certainly don’t beg for membership, and judging by the slim volume of samples I’ve tasted so far, they really don’t need to.

Fledgling competitors over at the Single Cask Nation use membership fees the way a CSA does; as a cash advance to purchase casks. While you get most of your money back in whisky immediately if you bought a full priced membership, they only run about 6 whiskies at a time and they don’t have the volume yet to add to their line-up more than once or twice a year. Compared to that, the half-dozen that the SMWS adds to their catalog twice a month seems like an extreme variety.

There are also a bunch of small indie bottlers, like the Exclusive Malts, A.D. Rattray, Master of Malt, or Blackadder, to name a few, available to consumers without a membership at all, though the marketing and information about those casks exists in varying degrees of completeness. Looking around at the state of these indie bottlers, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think the SMWS membership fees are really there to help weed out the uninitiated and qualify their members as active consumers of luxury goods.

It’s also possible that the SMWS uses the high cost of membership to encourage members to buy more whisky in order to get their money’s worth. Judging by the well thought out marketing and tasting notes, I wouldn’t rule out that possibility, either.

Nose: A little minerally at first sniff, with some  small cask wood, like a cobblestone path through the forest. Patches of heather. Lots of honey, some Jordan almond. Dry grass brings me memories of trespassing on the chaparral hills around San Luis Obispo. Steamed edamame, slight musk and cleanly fermenting mash. A plate of cubed melon and a freshly opened pack of Marlboro Lights over an early summer breakfast round it out.

Palate: The palate is very congruent with the nose, with few additions. It’s cooling with a medium, coconut shaving finish that sticks with the tongue. The honey washes in followed by steamed edamame skins, heathery sweetness, artificial sweetener and Marlboro/melon breakfast. Traces of fennel seed and soppressata. 

Rating: RecommendedThis 28 year old Linkwood aged very nicely in a refill hogshead. Hogshead usually means that the cask was rebuilt from ex-Bourbon barrel staves, into a slightly larger vessel. Usually, a barrel is about 53 gallons (200 liters) while a hogshead is 10 gallons larger (~240 liters). Refill hogsheads are nice for long term maturation and add a sweetness not polluted with excess spice or resiny notes.

Thanks to Gabrielle Shayne and the US branch of the SMWS for the sample!

SMWS – 48.29 Satisfyingly Sweet (61%)

SMWS-48-29The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a member’s-only indie bottler.

One of the first things you’ll notice about their bottles is the strange number/title denomination. To explain, let’s consider 48.29 – Satisfyingly Sweet. The first part of the numerical id is the distillery number and the second part is the cask number. In this convention, 48.29 would be the 29th cask they bottled from the 48th distillery, which in this case, happens to be a 12 year old first-fill barrel. The worded part of the title is meant to describe the whisky and can manifest anywhere between pragmatic to over-enthusiastically whimsical. This one’s title is pretty straightforward, but trying to guess what a Continuous Snowfall of Curiosities tastes like could easily befuddled the unimaginative. Either way, I really dig the style.

The sterile, numerical designation and fun titles focus on the atypical nature of single casks and distracts you, temporarily, from thinking about the official house-style associated with the distillery. It’s not completely anonymous though; for those who can’t stand not-knowing, Google can provide you with a quick list of their distillery codes. According to those sources, this one is from Balmenach.

To an astute whisky drinker the detailed labels and cask pedigree can reveal a lot about what one might expect, but the SMWS goes the extra mile and provides extremely lavish tasting notes to accompany their bottles. Like the titles, the notes can range from romantic vignettes about the contents, to simple stream-of-consciousness flavors and aromas. I enjoyed reading their take on the samples almost as much as I enjoyed drinking them.

Unfortunately, that dreamy fugue quickly turned to anxiety. What could I write that, by comparison, wouldn’t make it painfully obvious I’m a total hack? The official notes are mouth watering! Thankfully, the whisky was so distracting that I quickly forgot there were notes at all.


scotch doge whisky reviews gives it an orange “wow”

Nose: Such sweet. So satisfy. Cherry cheese danish, spearmint leaf jelly candies and watermelon. Chicken fried steak plated over a handful of crystal malt. Like laying in a grassy field as a cool breeze drifts by. Perfume department mannequin. Dusty for moments in between tumultuous, molasses-glazed fruits. Sugar toast and passion fruit.

Palate: It’s peppery, but there’s more than enough sweetness to balance it out. Tangy malic acid. Tingly and cooling like the mint leaf jelly candies from the nose. Mouthwatering with Splenda and Juicy Fruit gum. Pear, pineapple, and kiwi. The Splenda pushes through to the sweet, peppery finish. The finish does most of its work in the mouth and very gently makes it down into the chest.

Rating: Highly RecommendThis is a delicious single cask offering that absolutely lives up to its name, plus, the pseudo-anonymous numbering system sings to my latent, neurotic desire to systematically collect sequential numbers of things.

Thank you, Gabrielle Shayne and the US branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, for the sample.