Friday, 15 April 2016

My First SMWS Tasting

sLast Friday I had the chance to attend a special tasting of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).
The SMWS is an organisation that bottles single cask whiskies at their natural cask strength exclusively for their members. It all started in the late 70ies when a group of friends shared the cost to buy a cask from the Glenfarclas distillery. Over the time the group grew bigger and they purchased more casks. In 1983 they decided to open membership to a wider public and the society was born. Over the years the society has expanded and there are now branches all over the world. One of them is the Swiss branch who was founded by Scottish expats who were members of the SMWS. What's really special about the Society is that they don't put the name of the distillery on the bottle but a code. Each distillery has a certain number and the code is composed of this number and a second number which expresses the cask. So the 25th cask from Clynelish, which is distillery no. 26 would be called 26.50. Every bottling has also a quite unique nickname and some very wild tasting notes, you will see what I'm talking about later in this article.
The first time I learned about the society was a while back. It was my mothers birthday and I enjoyed a dram when my neighbour aproached me and told me that he is member of the SMWS. (read the full story here) Ever since he told me that I should come to a tasting in Zurich with him but most of the time he couldn't make it. A month ago, again on my moms birthday he asked me if I want to go with his friends instead of him. I didn't hesitate because I was really interested as I had only heard great things about the society so I was really eager to finally check out what all the hype was about. 
After I was done with working at the whisky shop I met up with Peters friends. I already knew two of them because I visited a whisky collector with them last year (you can read the whole story in the article I linked above). After grabbing a little snack and a beer we then headed to the location of the tasting which is only a 5 minutes walk of our shop
After entering we were seated by the host, Olaf Meier who is the SMWS brand ambassador and we took our seats. A really funny conicidence was that the persons opposite the table were teachers at my old highschool. They weren't teachers of one of my classes but I recognized them and we started talking about my old school and whisky. It was really funny and we all enjoyed this evening

Then the tasting started and we were served the first of a 5 whiskies. The bottle was 39.108 and had the nickname "Omelette Surprise" (The German names are different to the English ones. In UK that one is called "Baked Alaska"). This expression from the Linkwood distillery was distilled in 2004 and after maturing for 10 years in a refill barrel it was bottled at 61.3% ABV in 2015. This whisky was quite fruity and very palatable. A nice start indeed.

Next up was a grain whisky with the code G8.5. The nickname of this one was "Bodysurfing at Bondi Beach". This 25 years old Cambus was distilled 1989, matured in a refill hogshead and bottled at 59.6% ABV in 2015. The nose was a bit shy at first but with a few drops it opened up and as Olaf pointed out it wans't really far away from a malt whisky. From the palate however I coul immediately tell that it is a grain whisky. It was really nice and I have to say that the grain whisky category is really growing on me and one aim this year is to sample more of them.

We then continued with whisky 26.116 "Lakritze und Feuerräder" or as it is called in English "Liquorice Catherine Wheels". This whisky from the clynelish was put in  a first fill barrel to mature from 2004 to 2016 and has been bottled at 54%. This one was delicious with a fragrant nose and a variety of spices but also fruity notes - Delicious!

The fourth dram that we were served was 31.33 "Interessanter Onkel" or "Avuncular Intrigue" in English. This whisky was distilled at the Isle of Jura distillery in 1988 and was matured for 27 years in a refill hogshead. It was bottled in 2016 at its natural cask strength of 50% ABV. Some people at the table didn't quite like this one because it had some musty notes. But that was exactly what I found so interesting about this whisky although I understand that this isn't everyones cup of tea. 

The last of the five whiskies was 53.234 "Rauch ohne Feuer" or in English "Smoke without Fire". This 16 years old Caol Ila was distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2016 at a whopping 64.1% ABV and was matured in a refill hogshead. This one was delicious and had a typical Caol Ila nose. On the palate it was quite medicinal though but really good. One person at my table who was relatively new to Scotch whisky caused a lot of laughter because it was the first time that he  tried a peaty whisky and he started cursing. 

After the tasting we also had the chance to sample other whiskies from the current outturn for a fee of 5 Swiss Francs per dram which a great deal. As this article is already quite long and  because the evening didn't end right after the tasting I will make a stop here and you can read part 2 tomorrow. 

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