When a club as illustrious and rich in tradition as The Scotch Malt Whisky Society turns 35, they don’t just bring a box of chocolate to the office and tell their colleagues “Help yourselves.” They celebrate with a whole lotta hoo-ha! Consequently, The SMWS has not only released all kinds of limited editions and special bottlings throughout the year, but also invited their members and friends to participate in fun festivities across the globe. One such festivity was the 35th Anniversary Tasting in their partner bar The Rabbithole in Hamburg.
The event was hosted by Chris Rickert of Hansemalt, who is our local SMWS ambassador here in Northern Germany. While I have already attended several of his tastings before, I don’t think I have ever seen him put on such a show! As always, his whisky knowledge was nothing short of impressive and his moderating style both sympathetic and entertaining. But this time he also spiced up his presentation with a number of playful interludes, such as games and raffles. Chris was as much a showmaster that evening as he was a whisky expert! And since I managed to yell The Society’s founding year 1983 a millisecond earlier than the rest of the audience, I even ended up getting a 10cl bottle of a Glen Ord 23yo called “Mouth-numbing handbags” (77.24). Many of my fellow drammers were lucky as well, winning either vouchers for the SMWS shop or other whisky samples.
To get our palates warmed up, we started with a welcome drink that was not a whisky, but an armagnac. Monickered “Fresh as a daisy”, the once-distilled brandy clocked in at 51 per cent, which rendered it slightly less powerful than the five cask strength whiskies that followed afterwards. Smooth in character and spicy in taste, it marked a great starting sip. As I have only tried a few scattered armagnacs and cognacs here and there, I cannot base my appraisal on a whole lot of experience. But still I must say that I enjoyed A4.2 a lot.
The same goes for the first malt on the menu. Untypical for the Alness-based Highlands distillery, the young Dalmore with the name “A fumble in the glen” has never had any contact with a sherry cask. Instead, it spent its comparatively short maturation time exclusively in an ex-bourbon barrel. This brought forth a lot of tropcial fruit notes (pineapple, peach, melon) that harmonized mighty fine with the “covibrating” herby and earthy nuances. The youth and the strength were also noticable in the nose and on the palate. If this is not to your liking, you will be pleased to hear that a few splashes of water made the dram a lot smoother and softer. “Waxy for shore” came next. A mere 7 years of age, this Clynelish was even younger than the Dalmore before. But don’t let the juvenility fool you. With bubblegum and elderflower in the nose as well as overripe banana and salted caramel on the palate, it had a ton to offer! The mouth feel was thick, the finish was long and the overall quality was impressive. For quite a few attendees, the youngest whisky in the line-up was also one of the best!
The 13-year-old- Glenfarclas that came up fourth left quite an impression on me. Before he filled our glasses, Chris told us that Glenfarclas often uses re-fill sherry casks because they do not want the fortified wine to drown out their whisky. “Powerful, warming delight” – which is the name of the pour we come to speak about now – was a fine example of this. In the nose, I made out rose water, raisin and balsamico, while on the tongue there appeared milk chocolate, plum and burnt pastry. The finish had dates and other dried fruits as well as spices. I found the whisky to be extremely round, palatable and well-matured. The distillate and the wood were in close-to-perfect equilibrium.
You might have recognized that all of the selected bottlings were comparatively young so far. But that changed when Chris treated us to a dram of “Admiring art from an old leather armchair”. No less than three decades had this awe-inspiring Cragganmore slept amidst staves. While the bulk of these years (29 to be precise) were spent in an ex-bourbon barrel, the last 12 months were passed in a 1st fill PX cask. The sherry gave the old-age liquid a special kick, promoting an intriguing bouqet (balsamico, salted popcorn, coffee beans, dusty books, etc.) as well as a sublime palate (chocolate, purple wine gums, wild strawberries, colored pepper, etc.). Some of the attendees found this Cragganmore to be a bit alcoholic at first, but I cannot say I shared that notion.
When you look the savored drams up on the website of The SMWS, you will see that each whisky was from a different flavour category. We started with “Juicy, oak & vanilla”, continued with “Young & spirity” as well as “Spicy & sweet” and ended at “Old & dignified”. But one must-have has not yet been featured, namely “Heavily peated”! We got that from the last sip of the evening, which was an 11-year-old Islay malt by Caol Ila. Its name “Sweet smoky juggernaut” turned out to be a spot-on description of its character. The oily liquid brimmed with bacon, citrus, rosemary, trefoil, cake, mint and, of course, thick smoke. Given how good this complex peat reeker was, I am not surprised that it is already completely sold out – despite the fact that it only went on sale a day ago! Though I would love to share more anecdotes, stories and insights from this super-cool 35th Anniversary Tasting with you, the length of this post urges me to better come to a halt now. So let me just say this: Thanks a million to everyone at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, The Rabbithole and Hansemalt for a wonderful evening with outstanding drams and amazing people!
Armagnac 2005 (A4.2) (Armagnac / France / 51% / 504 bottles / 60 GBP)
Dalmore 9yo (13.60) (Single Malt / Highlands / 61.8% / 210 bottles / 53.20 GBP)
Clynelish 7yo (26.122) (Single Malt / Speyside / 59.3% / 235 bottles / 55 GBP)
Glenfarclas 13yo (1.207) (Single Malt / Speyside / 57.8% / 265 bottles / 58.20 GBP)
Cragganmore 30yo (37.104) (Single Malt / Speyside / 30yo / 55.9% / 155 bottles / 195 GBP)
Caol Ila 11yo (53.261) (Single Malt / Islay / 11yo / 57.1% / 303 bottles / 66 GBP)