SMWS “The Gathering” 2023

A Toast to Pip and SMWS!

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of attending the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s “The Gathering” event at Jack Rose. I was not prepared for what I walked into.

Running a tad late, I checked in and made my way over to the bar. There was limited seating that was already occupied and no barstools. Odd compared to my past experiences, but I enjoy standing at the bar anyway, so this was nice. No glassware set up, just two sets of bottles ready to pour.

After a quick rundown of the bottles on offer, I set the order in my mind in which I would taste them. The 19-year-old Glen Garioch seemed like the best starting point and I left the peaty Caol Ila for last. I was unaware of the cask types for each but also wanted to ease into the sherried expressions after hearing the Glen Scotia was also peated.

I like this setup and it gave me the freedom and time to sample at my leisure while chatting with friends both new and old.

Glen Garioch 2003 SMWS 19.83 “Finer Class of Travel”

Nose: The nose would not lead you to believe this is in fact ex-bourbon. It’s a stewed fruit compote in a glass. Raisin bread and raw dough. Yeasty and fruited bread notes come to mind. Adding water gave it a floral bouquet reminding me of fancy vanilla potpourri or hand soap.

Palate: A faint and light smoky flavor with an equally delicate roasted barley. Dried grass and edible flowers. Not heavily floral but enough there for you to notice it. Barrel char notes come through in a bold way giving you a drying sensation as you taste this whisky. A textile flavor of cotton sheets, possibly remnants of the floral notes, and a silk fabric flavor that’s difficult to describe.

Finish: The finish comes through to alleviate most problems I had with the palate with a huge influx of fruit and wood. Smoldering campfire cook station with a Dutch oven cobbler bubbling away. Fatty, flavorful almonds and cashews. Adding a touch of water seemed to fade those flavors a bit too much and brought out the dry tannins of the oak.

I wish I got more of the salinity and espresso flavors of the official tasting notes. I think it would make up for the dry tannic quality and would have paired well with the fruity compote this whisky ended up becoming.

Macduff 2009 SMWS 6.71 “Twin Notes of a Family Favourite”

Nose: Dirty, absolutely filthy sherry. Insoles and medicinal Chloraseptic spray. I cannot describe how repulsive this is initially on the nose. It is the dankest of dank sherry casks. I very nearly moved past this glass in favor of another whisky but gave it a bit more to open up while I sampled the Glen Garioch again instead. I am very glad that I did because this whisky opens up like nothing I’ve experienced before. Bright cherry and blackberries. My good friend and tasting partner for the night compared it to a Hungarian Bianca dessert wine. For me, it was the pairing of salted butter and blackcurrant jam on toast.

Palate: Dense, syrupy, sherry bomb. The nose gave away zero secrets and I expected to be drinking essentially a heavily fortified sherry from the nose. Toasted cloves, cardamom, and ceylon cinnamon. Slightly floral at times with a dash of marigolds in the mix. What I didn’t expect was the cured meat salinity that came next. Salted ham hock and cranberry dressing.

Finish: Drying finish that slowly grows on you. It’s so wildly different from the initial aroma that it’s hard to imagine it was the same whisky I started with 20-30 minutes prior. Sweet oak with vanilla and burnt sugars. The syrupy nature comes through on the finish lingering for a long while after you placed your glass down.

Meat and feet. What a bizarre combo that just goes way too far into that “unique but not a great whisky” box for me. This is one to experience for sure but not a bottle I want to purchase. It’s both disgusting and also delicious at the same time. I cannot quite sugarcoat my thoughts on this one. I would love more time with this whisky, and I in fact went back a few times to try it again. It’s captivating, to say the least.

Mortlach 1991 SMWS 76.150 “Glory Be to the Pâtisserie”

Nose: Imagine the most decadent birthday cake you’ve had. Luxurious cream cheese frosting. Vanilla bean, almond extract, lemon peel, and fresh berries. That’s what this Mortlach immediately reminded me of. It smelled heavenly and as close as I can recall a 27-year-old Macallan I had from Dramfool. With a bit more time and just a couple drops of water, some lactic or lambic notes popped up along with a melon rind aroma. A fermented familiar sourness that I rather enjoy.

Palate: Oaky and decadent. On the dry side of things considering the age, but with an abundance of fruit. Truly a cigar malt. Honey syrup and rhubarb pie. A light grass element that started to turn funky over time. As the fruits faded from the glass it began to taste like an egg white frittata. Slight chili powder and sumac. It was interesting to see how this evolved.

Finish: Stuck on those final palate notes, meat pie imagery came to mind. I also might have started to get a little hungry at this point in the night! Dried fruits, buttered pie crust, and hot water pastry. Water brightened the finish and brought with it the note I had been searching for, tobacco. Luxurious wet pipe tobacco and old leather. Wonderful finish.

If Pip had not been in attendance, this would have been the star of the show. Wonderfully complex whisky with a wide breadth of flavors imaginable. Something that certainly needs an evening all to itself over the course of an hour or more. I’m not even a cigar smoker but I felt the desire to pair this whisky immediately.

Glen Scotia 2014 SMWS 93.202 “Coastal Cruising”

Nose: Plasticine and play-doh. Rubber ducky or the scent of new shoes. Honesty was uninteresting upon the first sniff. Mild seaweed but maybe that was the namesake peaking through. Sunflower and sesame seeds. Raw potato.

Palate: This one changed drastically from nose to palate. Lemon drizzle cake and vanilla royal icing. The smoke came through on the palate and filled my nose with a tremendous peaty aroma. You have my attention Scotia.

Finish: Very specific note here but fish oil burps? Those of you who know will get it! Orange zest and beautiful charred oak. Perfectly tannic. Perfectly peated. Fresh vanilla bean in a creme brulee.

Not too many notes unfortunately as I had just a small glass of this Glen Scotia. I put my phone down and just started to enjoy the moment with this whisky instead. I will say, however, that I immediately purchased a bottle of this one. Full tasting notes will come in the future for sure.

Caol Ila 2012 SMWS 53.454 “Friends and a Fall Bonfire on a Pacific Beach”

Nose: Lime zest and a smoking vanilla bean pod garnish. The barrel char is even noticeable on the nose with a robust oak and charcoal aroma. I’ve gotten citrus notes in many Caol Ila bottles but this time was certainly more bitter and tart. It was like chewing on a dehydrated lime.

Palate: Youthful ex-bourbon peatyness. A small touch of saline started to build on my palate. Rice vinegar, nori, and sesame oil.

Finish: Again a bright youthful peat but unfortunately one dimensional in flavor. A bit of sea air fills your nose and that nagging bitterness sticks to the back of your tongue. Lime peel continues to come to mind as I describe this whisky. Highly recommend adding a touch of water to this one.

I have a fair few bottles of Caol Ila including some from SMWS even. I think for me this one is ‘safe’. It doesn’t go far enough into a unique category and instead dives more right down the line of what you’d expect from this age and cask. I did enjoy the flavor but there are many more Caol Ila expressions I’d rather drink over this one. Great execution but too simple for me to add to the collection.