Review: The X-Mas Releases of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society I. (Highland Park, Clynelish, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Port Charlotte)

The new SMWS Christmas Releases

Tomorrow the German chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society will present their new releases for Christmas time. Our friend Ralf Dänzer and I don’t want you to find any bad drams underneath the X-mas tree – that’s why he sent me some samples via the reindeer express yesterday. Blitzen looked kind of hammered, maybe it tried from the Port Charlotte 😉 .


As the most-wanted-distillery bottlings sell out quickly, I tasted them right away to give you a notion. Good luck in filling your stockings with these releases. I couldn’t find a bad one yet.


Highland Park 26 y.o. SMWS 4.151, 1984, Refill Sherry Butt, 53%

Comment: Quite spicy in the nose at first, the Sherry is talking loud and clearly,  then it smoothens out with maritime freshness and gets much rounder. Soft smoke, honey, Turkish delight, apples and cider, peaches, Werthers Original toffee, café au lait, nice dark wood and a spicy backbone of white pepper and chili. Nice but incomparable to the amazing palate. It drinks beautifully and is a dream of balance that still has power, the Sherry is well-integrated, heavy and light at the same time. Water makes it creamier and more accessible. Long finish.

Score: 90


Clynelish 25 y.o. SMWS 26.71, 1984 – 2010, Refill Sherry Butt, 57,3%

Comment: Very typical Clynelish (apples, candlewax, tropical fruit, quince, maritime air with a hint of peat smoke and all that jazz) in the nose. A fine balance with the fruit as spearhead hits the palate, also vanilla now. A soft and fruity Clynelish with a medium finish. Water is not necessary but makes it a bit more spicy and interesting.

Score: 89


Laphroaig 20 y.o. SMWS 29.97, 10.1990 – 2011, Refill Sherry Butt, 608 btl., 59,1%

Comment: Tyrolian bacon and a red Passito, that’s what I would call it. Rooty peat, camphor, herbs, juniper, Stilton cheese, sulphur, dirty machine oil, and other unusual notes for a Laphroaig. The Sherry really changed the spirit to a great extent – into a profile not everybody likes (lost identity, lots of personality). The palate also is Sherry- and sulphur-dominated, gunpowder, roots, camphor, blue cheese again, not bad but different. It reminds me a bit of the 1974 Singatory Sherry bottling, but without the old Laphroaig characterstics. Really hard to judge…some will love this, some might call it flawed. I would have liked more Laphroaig in my glass but enjoyed the dram anyway.

Score 90+


Ardbeg 12 y.o. SMWS 33.97, 09.10.1997, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 55,5%

Comment: Recent Ardbegs from the Society were convincing and this is not an exception. It is a textbook example of an Ardbeg of that particular time, a really well-balanced one again. More old than new style in the nose but on the palate you discover, among typical Ardbeg characteristics, the newer notes of eucalypt, methol and cactus that came into the distillate after 1996 in general. Green Ardbeg so to speak – with a great finish.

Score: 90+


Caol Ila 10y.o. SMWS 53.147, 11.1999, Refill Bourbon Hogshead, 66,6%

Comment: Very intense and herbal, big Islay power, flints, but it needs some drops of water to be tamed. No offnotes, simply great Caol Ila with depth. I recommend this for anyone who loves young South Coasters that do their job well.

Score: 91-


Port Charlotte 7 y.o. SMWS 127.11, 8.2003 – 2011, Refill Sherry Butt, 67,1%

Comment: Smells a bit like one of those PCs out of a Sherry Bloodtub, broodingly intense on rooty peat, camphor, herbs, tar, ox tail soup and Sherry. Blue cheese, dried flowers, moss, toffee, pepper and coffee complete the bouquet. You might not believe this, but it is drinkable at 67,1% without needing water. Anyway, it can swim too. The power on the mid-palate and the endless finish are ridiculous. Another stunner PC – how excellent will these monsters be with more maturity?

Score: 91+

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