For those of you unfamiliar with the SMWS, you may glance at the names below and wonder, “How did these guys get involved in this business?” There is a whimsical nature to the presentation and culture of this famous whisky society which at first glance appears to belong to the bottles of another spirit. Absinthe perhaps? Why not whisky? As soon as you meet the personalities which work for the society, and meet the people that attend the events as part of the society, you realize that there is an evolution of whisky drinkers that goes beyond the smoker wearing a dinner jacket in a leather chair. Which kind of makes me a little uncomfortable, truth be told. I like the image that has been sold to us by Diageo et. all with their easy to understand branding and organized age statements and wood finishes. The SMW society’s membership package ships in what looks like an old leather bound book, with four little bottles inside promising 4 evenings of quiet reflection by the fire. Once you join, however, expect an atmosphere for extroverts, where whisky is part of the experiences of every day life, with friends, for fun. It’s not cheap to join the society or to buy the extravagant offerings they put forward on a regular basis, but they consistently deliver extraordinary tasting experiences that are in-line with the wacky names they give them. These are a few of my recent favourites, courtesy of Edgemont in Vancouver, Canada.
Honey & Flowers in a Knicker Drawer – Cask No. 48.31, 53.1%
This 23 year old sherry-aged speyside is seriously decadent and totally rewarding on the palate – It’s like stealing a mouthful of expensive chocolate covered toffees from your Grandma’s spice cabinbet. The buttery caramel and savoury baking spice meld with the earthy notes of old wood. You can find lots of compexity of subtle flowers and herbs here if you look for it, but you won’t need to because you’ll be going back to the rich sweet pillow of flavour that cushions every one of your taste buds. A guilty pleasure of a whisky.
Flapjacks & OJ’s Cereal - Cask NO. 4.167, 54.7%
This time we are tasting a 16 year, and you’ll know it’s an islander as soon as you sniff the glass, which will be filled with white flowers, heather and honey with a hint of smoke. It smells refined, balanced and well cared for. This comes across more aristocratic and serious than the decadence of 48.31; this time you will want to search every corner of the glass to get all of the flavours. Just like with well balanced food, the salt, mint and citrus notes are like seasonings that highlight what lies underneath. The minty sweet smoke notes linger in a long, savoury and satisfying finish.
Camphor Muscle Oil & Russian Caramel - Cask No. 3.187, 57.2%
A rich amber coloured islay whisky with a serious peat aroma. This distillery always provides some lemon notes which tend to compliment the smoke, and this is no different, but the smoke is so medicinal that the lemon is like the zest from an overipe lemon, or an oily lemon essence. The camphor describes how this smoke burns your nostrils – it will clean out any other stray smells in the room in a hurry. The flavours are made up of a wide array of dirty earth notes like black pepper and tar, but on a bed of dark cocoa butter that keeps things balanced. You chew this one a little, fight with it in your mouth. This kind of whisky, which will almost make you forget where you are while you unravel its snarly attitude, puts into perspective the great variety of experience that these demanding drams can put you through. Leaving the tasting I felt like I had read James Joyce for the first time, and I needed a simple dram to slowly unwind. Those that have SMWS bottles in their cupboards must often feel like they are phoning old girlfriends when they pop these corks, because there is inevitably emotional connections that are stirred with each bottle, and chances are you’ll never have another of the same one.