Review: SMWS Fall Releases I. (Ardbeg 1996, Bowmore 1994, Port Charlotte 2003, Mortlach 1995)

Today I received the fall releases of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (thanks, Ralf). As the good drams sell out very quickly, I am going to review the most sought-after distilleries right away, speaking of Ardbeg, Port Charlotte, Bowmore and Mortlach. The others will follow on a later occasion.

Mortlach SMWS 76.78 ‚Foamy bananas dipped in cayenne pepper‘, 15 y.o., July 1995, first fill Sherry Butt, 625 bottles, 55,8%

Nose: Quite alcoholic at first, then a nice mix unfolds – rum-raisins and vanilla ice cream, a touch of Marsala wine, chili and black pepper add to a slight woody spiciness, dry but not overwhelming Sherry-influence, buttered toast, apples and peaches. One can already smell that this dram needs water.

Palate: Surprisingly elegant with some water (necessary): Apples pave the way to a medium-sweet and creamy mouthfeel with maltiness and smoke.

Finish: Rum-Raisins with Marsala and Sherry are counterbalanced by nice warm oaky notes.

Score: 89

Comment: Much more complex than many other mono-dimensional raisin drams by Mortlach of that time.

Bowmore SMWS 3.175 ‚On the dunes – watching a puffer‘, 16 y.o., April 1994, refill Sherry Butt, 572 bottles, 56%

Nose: Like many great Bowmores, the nose is perfectly balanced between Islay roughness and the complexity this distillery brings to the table. The Sherry is well-integrated and fits the combo. Leafy ferns (typical for Bowmore once) and herbs, fresh sea spray and ozone, Chesterfield couch in mahogani room, remotely lemony and exotic fruitiness, sweet cherries as well,humidor and Asian spices.

Palate: Drinkable with or without water; stays high class all the way through, all notes above woven together. The Sherry adds such a wonderful  and discrete sweet dimension with many tertiary aromas.

Finish: Waving the Bowmore flag proudly. A noble dram with a nice hint of sulphur like from old fired children’s guns (red stripe) at carnival.

Score: 91

Comment: A must-have at a reasonable price!

Ardbeg SMWS 33.96 ‚Chocolate Caviar‘, August 1996, refill Sherry Butt, 668 bottles, 56,9%

Nose: A powerhouse of a nose: Clearly Ardbeg! The infernal trio of peat, sulphur and iodine is accompanied by burnt tires, a bit of resin, leather, white pepper, celp, lemon and orange zests, espresso, milk chocolate and chalk – plus the well integrated Sherry tones (plum cake) from the Refill Butt.

Palate: No water needed; The taste is the one of older Ardbeg before the takeover in 1997. Not as complex as the nose suggested

Finish:  A harmonic finish with iodine, chocolate, peat and sulphur.

Score: 90

Comment: Really good Ardbeg, but doesn’t fully live up to its nose.

Port Charlotte SMWS 127.7 ‚A sense of elemental freedom‘, 7 y.o., August 2003, refill Sherry Butt, 687 bottles, 66,6%

Nose: Another monster of a nose – deep rooty peat and herbal notes, beef jerky, Maggi, Sherry, pine branches in a beach fire with resinous smoke, oil and tar, black pepper, Sicilian-style- roasted coffee beans, touch of Jägermeister – all rather raw and untamed.

Palate: At 66.6% this is diabolic and becomes better with water, but one can sip it pure as well. Really smoky and dry with a slight herbal bitterness and the aromas of the nose.

Finish: Stays untamed and true to itself. An outdoor barbecue dram that takes no prisoners.

Score: 87

Comment: One has to like it raw, I would love to try this mustang in its older and more mature days…

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