Outturn Get ready: Friday 4 September Issue 09, 2020
CELEBRATING OUR SPIRIT OF UNITY
This month we entertain our global members with a feast of flavour and unique whisky experiences to celebrate the spirit of the Society.
PARTY ONLINE AT SMWS.COM.AU
CONTENTS Cellarmaster’s Note Andrew Derbidge.............................. 3 Society Quirks Things you never knew................ 4 The Gathering bottling Cask No 7.244 Witchcraft............................................. 7 The Gathering bottling/ Malt of the Month Cask No 26.147 So many colours in a rainbow...................... 8
Cask No. 26.147 (Malt of the Month) So many colours in a rainbow...........................................
Cask No. 112.50 Boozy fruits and tobacco leaf..............................................
Deciphering the hashtag Alex Moores......................................... 25 Ambassador’s Address Gather Around .................................. 29
Cask No. 128.9 Electrochemystery.....................................................................
SPICY & DRY
DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS Cask No. 7.244 Witchcraft........................................................................................
Cask No. 31.37 (The Vaults Collection) Flies’ cemeteries and old sea chests.................................
JUICY, OAK & VANILLA Cask No. G8.12 Amuse-sploosh! ...........................................................................
SPICY & SWEET
Nostalgia – It’s a thing of the past .................... 22
LIGHT & DELICATE
SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW
Cask No. 35.253 Eastern Mediterranean flair...............................................
Welcome Distillery 144 New world whisky ........................... 20
The Gathering Events Global & Virtual ................................ 30
Cask No. 6.39 A belter of a dram! ....................................................................
Vaults Collection Cask No 31.37 Flies’ cemeteries and old sea chests............................. 19
PEATED Cask No. 53.336 Fruitcake ‘Islay-style’...............................................................
Cask No. 53.330 Islay medley...................................................................................
Cask No. 144.1 Searingly sweet purple smoke............................................
CELLARMASTER’S NOTE Dear Members, How quickly a year flies by! I remember quite vividly the Gathering event we held in Sydney last year, and – such was the quality of the whiskies, the event, and the people present – it’s so strong and recent in my memory that I can’t believe it was a year ago. And yet it’s Gathering time again. In today’s modern world with tech and gadgetry ruling our very waking hour, we’re fast losing sight that, for millennia, many cultures had an oral tradition. History and legend were not written down, but passed from generation to generation by spoken word. And, by inference, listening ears. Just as there were great story tellers and orators who passed on wisdom, history, anad tales, there were attentive audiences who hung off every word and passed it on down the line. This, in fact, is the origin of a Gathering. In Gaelic culture, a gathering was known as a ceilidh. Today the word is associated with traditional Scottish folk dancing and folk music, but that’s a quite recent usurpation. Prior to the mid-20th century, a ceilidh was a social visit or a social get-together for the purposes of verbal entertainment. Alexander Carmichael, an antiquarian who spent 40 years from 1860 to 1900 researching, collecting and writing about social and cultural aspects of Scottish Highland life (and particularly out on the isolated Outer Hebrides), wrote in his book that “a ceilidh was a literary entertainment where stories and tales, poems and ballads, are rehearsed and recited, and songs are sung, conundrums are put, proverbs are quoted, and many other literary matters are related and discussed.” If I’m in want of an evening’s entertainment on a cold and remote island in Scotland, I’ll take that over the Masked Singer any day.
And so a gathering was a social get-together that revolved around story-telling. Throw in a dram or two and you have a whisky tasting! Indeed, the very first SMWS member tastings held in Sydney in 2003 (after the 2002 launch events) were riotous evenings that mixed great whisky with great stories by then-NSW State Manager, Bill McAndrew. And it’s that entertainment; that conviviality that we continue to strive for in delivering fun gatherings for our Australian members today. I appreciate that a social get-together isn’t possible for all of us this month, and the words COVID and Gathering certainly don’t gel well. To those stuck in isolation or lockdown, we gather with you in spirit, and there’s scope to gather with you online. In the mess of this pandemic, don’t forget that whisky brings people together – even if we’re not in the same room. Cheers,
Andrew Derbidge ~ Director, Cellarmaster & NSW Manager
A SPINAL TAP LIST OF SOCIETY QUIRKS YOU NEVER KNEW BY MATT BAILEY
At a recent team meeting at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we realised there are things we do, often behind the scenes, that are all in the quest to better the member experience for all. We’re often so busy building the next thing, the next Outturn, the next special releases, the next in-person and online events, that we forget to properly shout about these things from the rooftops for our members. So here’s our Spinal Tap list of things where you can take full advantage of your membership at the SMWS every day:
1. DEDICATED MEMBER SERVICE From booking into an event, joining the club, or asking for an Outturn recommendation, we’re here to help. We are the only whisky club in Australia with a dedicated contact phone number where Suzy & Donelle take your enquiries, questions, and help in any way they can. We also always have a multitude of other ways you can contact us, connect with us, ask us for a recommendation on a cask, or more. Our Whisky Concierge service via firstname.lastname@example.org can help find that perfect whisky for you, or you can email us at email@example.com to join up, ask for help, and more. Alternatively call the office on (02) 9974 3046, or your ambassador at firstname.lastname@example.org or on any of the social channels.
2. ACCESS TO DIVERSITY Something we perhaps don’t make enough of a song and dance about is just the sheer diversity of flavour and selection the SMWS offers above anything else available. The Society’s unique flavour profile system of twelve different categories helps guide your initial decision about which panel-approved bottling to select. But dig a bit deeper to discover the detailed tasting notes, a huge array of cask types, distillation dates, and other experimentation going on. Every Outturn has a multitude of tasty single casks and more to keep your ‘whisky epiphanies’ happening through shared experience. 4
3. MEMBERSHIP REBATE Our Cellarmaster once said that the SMWS is kind of like Qantas Club, but with whisky! Venues around the world where you can enjoy great whisky experiences. I’d agree with that assessment, but I’d go one step further and remark that our membership rebate benefit is better than you’d get out of any airline. Did you know that if you spend $1,000 or more in your membership year, you will receive a store credit for $120 once your membership is renewed the following year. You’re welcome to spend that on whatever you like on site, within 12 months.
4. COMBINE POSTAGE There’s no such thing as ‘free postage’. You either pay for it in the product, or at the checkout. We’d prefer not to artificially inflate the price of our bottlings to members, so instead we have a flat rate of $15 for all orders placed. That price remains the same whether you order one bottle to a Sydney address, or ten bottles to a Tasmanian address. One thing you may not have known is that we can hold orders to be shipped at a later date if you’re on holiday, and we can combine orders around an Outturn. So if you nab that bottle you’re really after, pay the postage, then come back around for the other releases on the same day, we’ll combine your order and refund the difference. Another way to save!
5. VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES AND LIVESTREAM Did you know we go live almost every single day? That’s countless hours of whisky chat, education, entertainment, and taking your questions live about the Society, about whisky, and more. You can interact with our daily livestreams on our Facebook group, or catch it live (or at your own leisure) on YouTube as well. Outside of that, we are doing at least one monthly virtual tasting each Outturn. This month, it’s the tremendous Gathering Virtual which we encourage all members to get involved in across the country. Want to catch up on our virtual tastings, livestreams, and more? Check it out on Facebook, or for those who don’t use Facebook, you can also check our YouTube channel – just search SMWS Australia.
6. LEARN MORE THROUGH WHISKYWISE Video isn’t your thing? Prefer to read more about whisky? There’s a wealth of articles on WhiskyWise, our online blog. You might also like to read Andrew’s detailed and award-winning musings on whisky in general over at Whisky & Wisdom. There’s positively so much to learn and discover about whisky and the sheer (responsible) enjoyment of such. Want to learn even more in this way? Ask us a question! You can always get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to expand on anything.
7. YOUR NEW UNFILTERED For many many years, members have enjoyed a quarterly issue of Unfiltered arriving in their mailboxes. In moving with the times, and building on an already incredible base of knowledge and articles, Unfiltered is undergoing some big changes. The first change is that Unfiltered is moving from a quarterly publication to a monthly one! You heard right: the wealth of knowledge we
usually publish quarterly is moving to monthly and building so much more into it for members to engage and be a part of. The second big news here is that instead of producing all that paper pulp, we’re moving it to a whole new digital interactive reading platform. In-depth articles, video, audio, long-reads, distillery write-ups, experiential engagement, and environmentally friendly too!
8. LEADING THE WAY ON FLAVOUR The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was founded in 1983 by Pip Hills and some friends who all shared an affinity for incredible single cask whisky. The Australian branch, which Andrew has remarked on in his column, was founded in 2002 with the first events kicking off shortly after. Since 2002, the Society has revelled in always breaking the mould. Always pushing the boundaries. Always honing, teaching, entertaining, collaborating, and literally changing the whisky landscape in Australia. The list of people we’ve collaborated with and created incredible flavour-led experiences is too long to list, but they all make up the tapestry of the Society and its membership. Tastings, previews, dinners, pairings, tours, blasphemies, brand collabs, and more. This is your Society. Come for a ride online, in person, and wherever you may be.
9. AN ONLINE COMMUNITY LIKE NO OTHER On the point above about the incredible experiences and the people you meet, in strange and uncertain times like now, there’s never been a better time to meet and mingle with our online community on our Facebook group. It’s a friendly place to show what’s just landed, what Society cask you’re opening next, what flavour pairing you’ve just discovered at home or out, and discuss all the amazing flavours of the club online. That might be something you didn’t know about, but now you do!
10. PRIVATE AND CORPORATE TASTINGS Something I’m asked often is if we do private tastings, and the answer is yes, we always have, but perhaps haven’t shouted it from the rooftops as much as we could. Looking for a bespoke tasting set you can enjoy virtually, hosted by one of our expert ambassadors? Or perhaps a tasting in person for a small group? Talk to us, we host them quite often, and are more than happy to arrange something special for you at a great member rate.
11. YOUR AMAZING PARTNER BARS A member recently remarked to me that one of the best things about Partner Bars of the SMWS is that sometimes you’ll find new releases, sometimes dearly departed goodies from years ago, but one thing is certain: you’ll always find a tremendously welcoming experience at each. Chat with the staff, ask for recommendations, and show your membership card to receive preferential Society Member prices or larger pours and make the most of your membership. 6
WELCOME TO THE GATHERING 2020! A global, virtual, and shared experience of celebrating all of what the Society does best. Bringing members together, to gather, to share experience, and discover flavour. Wherever you are, however you enjoy it, the Gathering is back for 2020 with two very special casks, a range of in-person and online events, and more. Read on...
WITCHCRAFT DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS CASK NO. 7.244
Limit of one bottle per Member
1st fill Pedro Ximenez butt
7 September 2004
With the heavenly aroma we found ourselves in an old fashioned dunnage warehouse in Scotland smelling a very rare old vintage (añada) Amontillado Sherry – celestial! On the palate dry and full-bodied, one panellist called it ‘massaging your tongue’, with walnut and toasted hazelnut husk and hints of butterscotch. Water brought out fresh oranges and bergamot oil before raisins and shaved toasted almonds took centre stage. To taste like a ‘rye witch’ cocktail using rye whiskey, Palo Cortado Sherry, orange bitters, demerara sugar and Italian Strega (meaning witch) herbal liqueur. At thirteen years of age we combined two 2nd fill bourbon barrels, originally filled on the same day, into a 1st fill PX butt. 7
MALT OF THE MONTH Waxy, fruity, and all the colours of the rainbow. Welcome cask 26.147! For the Gathering 2020 we were asked to pick one special cask to take on the whole allocation. Something from a renowned distillery oozing with character. Distillery 26’s waxy, fruity, and truly charismatic profile fits the bill perfectly to celebrate exactly the sharable nature of what Gathering is all about. Grab a bottle for our Malt of the Month special edition, crack it open, and share in all the flavours of the rainbow for Gathering 2020!
SO MANY COLOURS IN A RAINBOW
2nd fill bourbon barrel
SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW
19 September 2011
CASK NO. 26.147
REDUCED FROM $180
Limit of two bottles per Member until 11th September
We were all thinking in different colours; orange marmalade and mango juice, washed up lemons on a yellow sandy beach and finally ‘think pink’ – candyfloss and cherry blossom. On the palate we enjoyed a glass of squash made from sarsaparilla with those typical flavours of wintergreen, vanilla and liquorice mixed with carbonated water and red berries. When we added a drop of water we had to choose between a kirsch-heavy black forest gateau, a lemon meringue pie or coconut cream cookies, before we washed it all down with a tropical smoothie of oranges, bananas, melons, mangos, pineapples and coconut water – so tasty!
BOOZY FRUITS AND TOBACCO LEAF SWEET, FRUITY & MELLOW CASK NO. 112.50
SPE FIN CIAL ISH REF
New oak heavy char hogshead
19 December 2007
An interesting nose - glazed plum tart, apricot jam, and stewed apple with cinnamon - eventually marzipan, grape must and tobacco leaf. The palate stirs up memories of cherry liqueur and Negroni as well as Jammie Dodgers, fig marmalade, medjool dates, candied orange peel and wine-soaked oak. The reduced nose revisits the orange and the apricot (crumble this time) and seems sweeter - spun sugar, toffee and Amarena cherries in syrup. The palate now has brandy snaps, coffee and walnut cake, chocolate and cinder toffee with a drying finish of gentle spices and oak.
A BELTER OF A DRAM!
1st fill Pedro Ximenez butt
23 January 2012
SPICY & SWEET
CASK NO. 6.39
CIAL SPE NISH FI
A fantastic deep amber colour was followed by an aroma which transported some of us to Jerez eating a slice of jamón Serrano next to a bowl of black olives, while others were in the Caribbean sipping rum and eating dark chocolate. Strong, powerful and fierce like flamenco with the feisty rhythm of percussion and guitar – a belter of a dram! With water we could sense the stomping of the dancer on the floor while the tune on the palate now more like a rumba – elegant and breathtakingly beautiful. After five years in an ex-oloroso butt we transferred this whisky into a first-fill PX Sherry butt. 11
EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN FLAIR
1st fill bourbon barrel
20 January 2006
SPICY & DRY
CASK NO. 35.253
The initial smell was just like a Greek liqueur called Mastiha made using the resin from the mastic tree on the island of Chios with a pleasant sweet, slightly salty and highly fragrant pine and cedar-like aroma. On the palate it started deceivingly fresh and sweet with a hint of spice but wait for the second wave â€“ fiery, white pepper and chilli might just take your breath away! When we added water aromas of tropical ice cream pie with kiwi, starfruit and sweetened shredded coconut. The taste now less severe (however we liked the challenge neat!) with a hint of dry, yeasty and sweet flavours like in a brut Prosecco.
AMUSESPLOOSH! JUICY, OAK & VANILLA CASK NO. G8.12
Refill bourbon hogshead
18 June 1990
A surprisingly enticing and playful nose greeted us, full of green and white pepper, pickled onion crisps, lighter fluid, vegetable oils, banana liqueur, toasted coconut, gorse, cream soda and fruity muesli. A perfect aperitif to get conversational juices flowing! With water we noted rapeseed oil, mint tea, chicken gravy, lemon ring, cough mixtures, barley sugar and caramelising marshmallow. The palate was full of rosewater, tarragon, mentholated chewing gum, eucalyptus travel sweets, cough medicines, diluted ouzo and apples baked in brandy. Water brought forth sweet cereals, orange oils, camphor, hessian cloth, putty, retsina wine, chamois leather and a juicy, savoury finish.
VAULTS COLLECTION Just a five minute ferry ride from Islay’s Port Askaig lies a magical place that hosts more deer than humans as inhabitants, offers one of the most sought after birdwatching sites in the world and is even the location where George Orwell wrote the dystopian classic, 1984. The Isle of Jura is a magical place indeed and in the center of town lies distillery #31. It might be fair to mention that being so geographically close to Islay tends to invite an overshadowing effect… Islay’s eight operating distilleries versus Jura’s one and Islay’s powerful style versus Jura’s delicate expression. Why venture across the Sound of Islay at all? Because what awaits the whisky lover is a stunning example of extreme maritime elegance! The ultimate strength of distillery #31 lies in its ability to age so gracefully. And this is evidenced in today’s very special release – Cask 31.37 Flies’ cemeteries and old sea chests. Aged twenty-seven years in ex-bourbon wood followed by three years in a first-fill Sauternes barrique, this hauntingly complex malt is finally ready for Society members. Only our second release from this distillery in several years, behold the union of Sauternes confection and savoury coastal flavours in an utterly unique dram. This exceedingly rare release from the Highland Islands is a must-have if you are a curious connoisseur!
FLIES’ CEMETERIES AND OLD SEA CHESTS DEEP, RICH & DRIED FRUITS CASK NO. 31.37
Limit of one bottle per Member
1st fill Sauternes barrique
19 April 1989
AUS ALLOCATION 18 bottles
TH COL E VAULT LECT S ION IUM PREMTLING BOT
SPE FINI CIAL SH
A dram with high curiosity value: the nose combines syrupy sweetness, crystallised fruits, marrons glacés and Grand Marnier with herbal notes (sorrel, lemon balm), forest floors, dried seaweed and oily peat bogs. The palate discovers slivovitz, prune yoghurt, chocolate-coated raisins and a visceral after-taste of tobacco leaf, mushrooms and teriyaki. The reduced nose balances spun sugar, spotted dick and flies’ cemeteries with old sea chests, pipe smoke and hunting jackets. The palate incorporates damson jam, seaweed and tobacco tang and tasting burnt naan bread in the wine vaults. After 27 years in ex-bourbon wood we introduced this to a first-fill sauternes barrique. 15
ELECTROCHEMYSTERY LIGHT & DELICATE CASK NO. 128.9
2nd fill bourbon barrel
8 September 2010
The Panel found this one immediately sweet, fruity and herbal. Notes of geraniol sap wood, lemon verbena, grass, vanilla and fresh sandalwood were recorded. Also grapefruit, orange cordial and gorse flower with an undercurrent of rich gasoline. Reduction brought more citrus fruits, green leaves, thyme, sage, green tomato, marjoram, banana syrup and further cavalcades of assorted fruits. The palate displayed a more concentrated style. Lots of wine gums, white malt, malt vinegar, caramel, toffee chews, red apples, pineapple juice and petrolic richness. Water brought a slightly peppery and minty aspect but still this unusually dense, oily, fruity profile. Lots of unusual notes of aspirin, limoncello, brambles, strawberry and mango were noted.
FRUITCAKE ‘ISLAY-STYLE’ PEATED CASK NO. 53.336
1st fill STR barrique
7 March 2012
Initially – smoked Tabasco sauce and burnt salted caramel but with time we had cold smoked salmon on a piece of heavily toasted bread with a sweet and spicy horseradish dressing. On the palate – a barrage of dry smoke, hot and peppery but at the same time with the sweetness of a honey glaze – what an experience! Diluted; we used oily sweet and heavily smoked orange peel to make an Old Fashioned cocktail with a difference and on the palate now, succulent sweet peat smoke like dark fruits having been soaked in peaty whisky for months. After six years in an ex-bourbon hogshead we transferred this whisky into a first-fill shaved, toasted and re-charred barrique.
SEARINGLY SWEET PURPLE SMOKE
New oak charred barrel
5 September 2012
CASK NO. 144.1
Limit of one bottle per Member
ONE DOT ASK C
We felt like walking through fields of purple heather at sunset with the sky matching the ground in terms of colour (a lovely pastel hue), but then there was a smoking fire disturbing the tranquil scene. We took a sip from a hipflask – wow! Delicious, searingly sweet smoke was joined by venison carpaccio with caramelised walnuts. With a drop of water, we discovered additional fruity apple smokiness next to stuffed Greek vine leaves with currants and pistachio called dolmades. The palate now had plenty of sweet smoky fruit flavours like baked apples and red cherries balanced with a slightly menthol and herbal finish.
Refill bourbon hogshead
20 February 2009
CASK NO. 53.330
ISLAY MEDLEY $195.00
This one opens on farmyards drenched in medicine. The aromas are texturally fatty and thick. Raw seawater, kippers wrapped in sheep wool, black olive tapenade, fisherman’s boots, dirty brine and peat-flecked silage. Water brings a more heathery peat smoke. Also peat ashes, kiln air, hot smoky wort, lime juice, oyster sauce, cow sheds, wet dogs, battery acid and fermenting hay. The texture in the mouth is even fattier and denser. Lots of smoked game meats, engine oil, boiler smoke and wood ash. Salty fetta cheese, pine sap, germolene and gential eau de vie. With water there’s pink sea salt, pickled onions, fisherman’s friends, cod liver oil, salted white fish, acid drop sweeties, mexcal, disinfectant and briny beach pebbles. 19
WELCOME DISTILLERY 144! SWEDEN
BY MATT BAILEY
FINLAND Bjärtra NORWAY Stockholm
ESTONIA LATVIA LITHUANIA
When discussing where whisky comes from, it’s often easy to differentiate between ‘Scotch / Irish whisk(e)y’ and ‘new world whisky’. When you hear the phrase ‘new world whisky’ you think of places like India, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and others. One country you may not have considered is Sweden! Northern climate, and way out on the outskirts of the rest of the world, High Coast distillery is a Swedish distillery focused on accuracy, quality, and learning from the rest of the world to craft a spirit they are truly proud of. Taking inspiration from distilleries like Kilchoman in the shape and size of their stills, they also have a natural water source next door to the distillery from the Ångerman river. 20
In a move that’s not too dissimilar to many Japanese distilleries, they aim for a clear wort and high quality barley to give the distillate a fruity flavour. Then using a French yeast strain and a rather long ferment of 82.5 hours, they run a meticulous distillation with quite a narrow cut off the still for their peated runs, giving off notes of tobacco, liquorice, and smoke. Then the cask selection at High Coast is a mixture of Quercus Mongolia, Swedish oak, but predominantly virgin oak, freshly charred barrels. For the release of 144.1 Searingly sweet purple smoke, it’s had seven years full maturation in the latter. Seven years of maturation in Bjärtrå, Sweden, in the natural temperature set up warehouses at the distillery has given this cask an incredible amount of hot summers and blisteringly cold winters to mature fully. There’s a great write-up from Society expert tasting panelist Angus MacRaild on the dot ones throughout the Society’s history, and their importance on the landscape that you can read on our website.
And in the meantime, Cask 144.1 Searingly sweet purple smoke will be made available to members on Friday 4 September at midday and is limited to one per person.
SEARINGLY SWEET PURPLE SMOKE PEATED CASK NO.
ONE DOT ASK C 21
NOSTALGIA – IT’S A THING OF THE PAST BY ANDREW DERBIDGE
One of the great discussion topics that vexes many a whisky enthusiast and ignites many strong opinions is the notion of whether or not whisky used to be better “back in the day”. Even that statement by itself is contentious. For when was back in the day?
as it the 1960’s or 70’s, when blends still ruled the roost? Was it the spirit distilled in the 1980’s – ironically at a time when the industry was in one of its lowest valleys? Was it the 1990’s, by which time the current malt whisky boom was playing out its early moves. The 2000’s? Or was it just “back when you first got into Scotch”, regardless of the actual chronological time stamp? This last one is clearly not objective, but is obviously coconnected to issues such as nostalgia, romance, and – most probably – rose coloured glasses. Whether the proposal is true or not, there’s no doubt that the thought it could be true drives strong lust in all drinkers. Witness the fever and excitement at any whisky gathering when an old bottle suddenly gets brought out. It might be a Longmorn or Bowmore distilled in the 1960’s, or a Macallan bottled in the 1990’s – regardless, the gathered few will clamber over one another to try it, believing it to be 22
an unrepeatable elixir, the heights of which can never be attained today. We even see it in the Society, with – perhaps – undue focus and adoration now being heaped upon the old, archived white-labelled SMWS whiskies that were bottled from 1983 to 2009. Rightly or wrongly, there’s a perception that “old is good”. The other problem that exists in this space is how objective you can genuinely be when assessing old, archived bottlings – particularly if it was a whisky you drank and were familiar with back at the time of its original release. I’ve been at many a whisky gathering with long-time dramming buddies and we’ve brought out something from the past. Instantly, the whisky is on a hiding to nothing: It stands on the pedestal you built for it 20 years earlier, yet it has to perform in the context of your present-day tastebuds and current whisky narrative.
And, so, one of two things happen: The whisky is either everything you remember it to be (and usually more), OR it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. More often than not, it’s the latter. If it’s the latter, then you instantly begin to interrogate the whys and what fors. Is the whisky the victim of that enigmatic “Old Bottle Syndrome” (aka Old Bottle Effect)? Was the bottle poorly stored over the years and the whisky deteriorated due to extreme heat or exposure to light? Did it oxidise in the bottle due to a less-than-perfect cork seal? Or perhaps – just perhaps – maybe you let nostalgia get the better of you? Of course, some people try and test the theory objectively by pitting two so-called “identical” whiskies from different eras side by side. For example, you can acquire a 12yo Glenlivet (for the sake of this discussion) from the mid1990’s and put it up against a 12yo Glenlivet from 2020. One will certainly taste different to the other, and you can then decide which one you personally preferred or felt to be the better in quality. Ha! But here’s the catch – were you really comparing apples with apples? Whilst the two whiskies came from the same brand and production house, albeit 25 years apart, the reality is that, chemically, they are anything but identical. You first need to consider what was happening in the industry at the time. In our example here, the two Glenlivet 12yo’s bottled in 1995 and 2020
respectively, were distilled in 1983 and 2008. These are two very different eras with very different fortunes. In 1983, the Scotch whisky industry was in absolute depression. Many distilleries closed between 1983 and 1986; plenty more were mothballed; production levels nosedived; sales were low; and whisky was not flavour of the month. Budgets were tight and shortcuts were made to get by. The little spirit being produced was thrown into casks – some good, some bad – and despondently put into a warehouse in the hope of rosier times. Twenty five years later, by 2008, the single malt game was in boom times; production levels were high; and massive financial investment was occurring in distilleries and plant. Investment in quality wood and re-racking into fresher casks was also the norm. The industry’s dire economic fortunes in 1983 led to (or continued to foster) the so-called Whisky Loch. By 2008, the contrasting upturn led to both (i) amazing, aged whiskies being released onto the market at incredibly good value (compared to today’s relative prices) and (ii) the draining of the Whisky Loch. In short, you could buy sensational whiskies at unbelievably low prices in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Today, if those same sensational whiskies exist, they are priced at sums beyond what most of us can afford. In 2008, many drinkers could afford a Macallan 30yo for $300. In 2020, most drinkers cannot afford (or, perhaps more accurately, cannot see the value in) $10,000 for the same expression.
Is this the primary basis for why some old timers assert whisky was better in the past? Is it genuinely an issue of quality, or is it actually an issue of affordability?
Production methods also changed significantly in the 25 years between 1983 and 2008. The list is a long one, and it varies from distillery to distillery and producer to producer, but consider the overall impact and influence of the following factors:
CHANGES IN THE AVAILABILITY AND PREFERRED CHOICE OF BARLEY. Much was made of the merits of Golden Promise (particularly by one notable distillery) and this produced a different yield and flavour profile to the likes of Optic and Chariot that had become the norm by the mid-2000’s. ADVANCES IN THE SCIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING OF WOOD MATURATION. Truth be told, generally speaking, whisky today is being filled into much better quality wood than was the case twenty five years earlier. (Notwithstanding the use of sulphur candles, obviously!) IN 1983, 99% OF WHISKY WAS BEING MADE FOR BLENDS AND MANY DISTILLERIES DID NOT BOTTLE OR MARKET THEIR WHISKY AS A SINGLE MALT. For the whiskies that were being bottled as a single malt, the parcels
of casks being used would have been a very small percentage, and thus would have represented the top tier in quality. To paraphrase an oft-used observation, in 1983, the best casks plucked out for a single malt release would have been one in every hundred. By 2008, to meet demand, that figure might have been the top ten in every hundred. Today, for some distilleries, it might be the top 20, 30, or 40 casks in every hundred! It stands to reason, science, and statistics that as the number of casks being used for single malt release increases, the overall quality of the resulting bottled spirit must decline.
DISTILLERIES BECAME INCREASINGLY AUTOMATED IN THE PERIOD FROM 1983 ONWARDS. Processes became mechanised or computerised, thus reducing or removing the human touch; the number of workers required for production reduced; and processes became more consistent as a result. There is no doubt that the consistency of spirit produced within a distillery is far more uniform today than it was in decades past. STILL ON THE SUBJECT OF PRODUCTION, MANY DISTILLERIES CHANGED PROCESSES DURING THIS PERIOD.
Direct-fired stills were converted to being steam heated (although many distilleries had made this switch already prior to the 1980’s); mashtuns became larger and more efficient; wooden washbacks were replaced with stainless steel; condensers changed from wormtubs to shell-and-tube; onsite maltings closed down; peating levels changed; and so on.
LARGE CHANGES OCCURRED IN THE FORTUNES AND PRACTICES OF THE SHERRY INDUSTRY BETWEEN 1983 AND 2008. Sherry casks, particularly those of European oak, were far more plentiful and
affordable in 1983, leading to a higher percentage of sherry casks in the vatting of many single malt releases. In contrast, by 2008, many distilleries’ flagship single malt releases were “proudly” boasting 100% American oak or ex-bourbon cask maturation… selling it as a virtue, rather than an economic necessity! Today, even when you do purchase releases that feature sherry casks, most of it is American oak, rather than European oak. Whether that is better is, again, subjective, but there’s no denying the two are different.
I don’t mind looking back, and I certainly don’t mind tasting back from time to time. But the Society has never been a backwards-looking mob. Rather, it’s been on the frontier and continually faces forward. Was the Society release of 2.80 from 2012 better than 2.116 in 2020? Who cares? I’m more interested in what 2.117 will be like….
Andrew Derbidge ~ Director, Cellarmaster and NSW Manager
DECIPHERING THE HASHTAG BY ALEX MOORES
Although I technically qualify as a millennial, even I can get overwhelmed by the overuse of hashtags. They often get thrown around with wild abandon, and one would be forgiven for thinking they are unimportant and do not contribute to carefully crafted content. Many members may have seen these tags, or used them in passing, and not given much thought to the meaning that lies behind the hash. So below I have attempted to dissect that meaning, and encourage members to act on some of the messages we can draw from this seemingly simple social symbol. #betterwhenshared It is a wonderful feeling on Outturn Day (or First Friday as it is often referred to in the UK) to get a bottle of that particular cask youâ€™ve been eyeing, and know that there is 700mls of delicious single cask goodness heading your way. It arrives on your doorstep and you open it to pour yourself a dram. Upon nosing and tasting it is everything you had hoped, and you are very happy with your purchase, so what would most people instinctively want to do next: tell someone about it. The various social media platforms that have birthed the hashtag have also created a perfect outlet to share those thoughts, tasting notes, and comparisons with other releases from that distillery or in that cask type. This is definitely a nice component of sharing (#influencer). However, how much better is that experience when other people have also tried the same whisky and can engage with you, either by agreeing and celebrating the liquid or by disagreeing and fostering some excellent discussion about different flavours and preferences. 25
With Society bottlings, this is not always easy as some have very low allocation or sell very quickly. In this “adversity” (#firstworldproblems) is where the real generosity of so many members can be seen. A good friend of mine always says that the taste of whisky is (1) mood, (2) palate and (3) environment combined, and two of those can be enhanced no end by sharing a sample, doing a bottle split, buying a gift (either bottle or membership) or gathering with friends and family to live the experience together.
#openyourbottles A somewhat controversial handle, as those with a large horde of sealed bottles can interpret it as a personal attack. Members may also have seen it expressed as #sipnotflip, one of my personal favourites. However, there is a big difference between people who end up having more bottles in their cupboard than they can drink responsibly, and those that buy whisky with the intention of doing something other than enjoying it for the delicious amber liquid that it is. As my friend Phil Storry from the London branch once characterised it, accumulators and collectors respectively. I am constantly fascinated when I show someone a rare or special edition Society bottling, offering them a taste, and they say in a puzzled tone “wow, you opened it, why did you open it?”. No judgement (#actuallyjudging) but it shows a very different attitude and approach to whisky. For me, it’s not whisky until the drink is enjoyed, and until then the person has just spent their hard-earned money on a very attractive piece of decorative glassware. So while it is your whisky and you can do whatever you like with it (#idwiwwiw), if you are a collector rather than an accumulator, this hashtag serves as a signpost reminder that you probably have the wrong forum to talk about whisky as an investment or display piece, as the Society has always been all about the drinking experience.
#teamrefill It has fast become a bit of a battle cry among the whisky nerds, with talk of merchandise and a secret handshake. For those who haven’t deduced, the statement is one of support for the use of refill bourbon casks for maturation. On the face of it, the group may appear to be saying that refill bourbon is the best or only cask for whisky, when in fact it is more complex. 26
The movement (that’s right, I’m calling it a movement) is in response to a prevailing or at least very vocal view that refill bourbon is the least desirable form of cask. Being generally cheaper and more readily available has led to the perception in some corners of the whisky community that it is inferior. It is certainly true that Society sherry casks don’t stay on the shelf for long (#sherrybombs). This perception also shows the level of importance some people place on the details of the cask type, as opposed to the other variables such as spirit and integration. Now there is nothing wrong with having a palate preference, and there are pronounced differences between sherry, bourbon, port, wine and other wood types, but when you allow that to dominate your interest to the exclusion of all other options you will definitely miss out on some fantastic whisky (#whiskywithcharacter). In fact in many ways refill bourbon is one of the best cask types to bring out the quality of the spirit, as it is not being overpowered by the previous fortified occupant. The moral of this hashtag is simple and echoes my previous comments on code hunters (#dontbelievethehype), be open to flavour and not blinkered by a particular characteristic because it might be a very pleasant surprise.
#sundaysippers A casual and fun phrase which has been widely attributed to Melbourne member Steve Oates, it refers to the very simple pleasure of enjoying a boilermaker on a relaxing Sunday. Due to the ever-growing number of craft beers and the extensive variety of flavours and aromas in Society whiskies, the SMWS is a great place to try to find that perfect boilermaker combination (#haufanahauf). With members like Franz Scheurer, and the knowledgeable staff at our Partner Bars, pairing whisky with food and drinks has been a part of the Society in Australia for a long time. But as is the trend with these hashtags, there is a deeper meaning to be taken from this apparently superficial description of the act of having drinks on the weekend. It is an example that highlights the importance of member input. Coining these phrases and seeing how they spread through the membership is such an important part of being a whisky society, in the true sense of the word. For my part, I have tried to start the trend of #distillerydouble, encouraging members to share side-by-side bottings from the same distillery code as a showcase of the differences or similarities between drams. There are many others (#malternative) that have been started by members and create a real sense of community around the use of the tag. 27
#alltogetherunique The wonderfully clever oxymoronic expression of the fact that all the elements of the SMWS that are so different from any other society are what makes it so special and brings all the members together. The flavour-first attitude, commitment to member engagement, global reciprocal membership, and the most iconic whisky code system in the industry makes the Society #oneofakind. Members will experience and access the Society differently. Some who like to drink whisky alone may see it just as a bottle shop, others who love tastings and socialising may view it as an event organising service. Some who thrive on participating in online fora might see it as an interactive blog, and others may even view it as nightly talk show and news service for whisky public service announcements thanks to the ubiquitous Mr Bailey (#whereisbailey) and his live streams. Whichever element draws your focus, it is undeniable that the Society is greater than the sum of its parts, and there are always new facets for members to explore. Whether that is diving into a distillery code you havenâ€™t tried before or introducing yourself to another member at an event or online, the SMWS will always support every memberâ€™s personal whisky journey and celebrate the different ways people can enjoy a dram.
#thegathering Finally, it is very fitting that this is the month of The Gathering events. You will assuredly see this hashtag used regularly in connection with upcoming events and when you do, it will mean that likeminded whisky enthusiasts have gathered together to share a dram and talk all things SMWS. No hidden meaning or deciphering needed for this hashtag, but I hope that when you see it and the photos and comments that go with it you will get a warm feeling that Society members are enjoying great whisky in good company, and that you are one of us.
Alex Moores ~ VIC/TAS State Manager 28
GATHER AROUND Last year, the Society hosted an international gathering. A special opportunity for branches of the Society to all come together, share in the experience of being a member, and truly feel like you’re in a Gathering. A gathering of friends, whisky lovers, dram appreciators, and more. A coming together of like-minded flavour explorers navigating the amazing experiences we held around the country. For 2020, the Gathering returns, albeit predictably quite differently. This year we have a jam-packed roster of special micro-experiences, a massive virtual tasting, and a different sense of gathering. I was at the cusp of pulling my hair out when arranging this year’s Gathering. How would it look? What does the tradition of sharing and telling stories look like in the context of a pandemic? I think we’ve found a nice balance, and one that is safe, accessible, and exciting for members around the country.
really struck a chord with me was the real sense of gathering and truly remarkable ‘whisky epiphanies’ we had along the way. If there’s one thing about the Society that we truly love and don’t express enough, it’s the ‘pop’ moments you have along the way when, in the right company and nosing a glass, you realise there’s something truly special in your glass, surrounded by amazing people. This is part of what fuels my excitement for this year’s Gathering. I refuse to be ruled by the medium, so whether it’s virtual, in person, when or where you enjoy it, this year is geared up and ready to roll. See you there!
One thing about last year’s Gathering (yes, it’s been a full year, somehow) that
CONNECT WITH MATT E: email@example.com @smws_matt
Matt Bailey ~ SMWS National Ambassador
GATHERING WHISKY DINNER
In-person gathering specially for Canberra at one of the top restaurants in the state for a 5-course dinner and whisky tasting.
THURSDAY 24 SEPTEMBER, 7.00PM Courgette Restaurant, 54 Marcus Clarke St, Canberra Hosts: Matt Bailey & Drew McKinnie
HOBART GATHERING HOBART
Tassie, let’s gather! A full Society experience of single casks, flavour fun, and expertly hosted evening of food and drams!
FRIDAY 2 OCTOBER, 6:30PM
Following on from the success of last year’s Bruichladdich Gathering, this year we take a close look at Balblair distillery with some special bottlings in the mix.
FRIDAY 25 SEPTEMBER, 7.00PM Royal Automobile Club, 89 Macquarie St Sydney Hosts: Matt Bailey & Andrew Milne
BRISBANE GATHERING BRISBANE
Brisbane members rejoice as Scott takes us through a hosted Gathering to bring together flavours and more.
THURSDAY 24 SEPTEMBER, 7.00PM
Institute Polaire, 1/7 Murray St, Hobart Host: Tom Rofe from the SMWS Vaults!
Malt Dining, 28 Market St, Brisbane Host: Scott Mansfield, QLD State Manager
To book in for an event, please visit our website or contact our office:
PIRATE’S BREAKFAST JUICE PREVIEW PACK
Join us in a special collaboration virtually with Whisky & Alement, and our ambassador Matt Bailey, previewing the latest W+A exclusive cask. Tickets through Whisky & Alement.
WEDNESDAY 23 SEPT, 7:00PM, ONLINE Hosts: Matt Bailey & W+A team
*All event listings are considered final, however may change at short notice due to evolving restrictions. Please keep an eye on our website for further detail and updates.
JOIN US FOR OUR NATIONAL VIRTUAL TASTING ON SATURDAY 26 SEPTEMBER! A deluxe tasting set with 5 x single casks picked out for the Gathering around the world. Weâ€™ll have a chat, have a dram, raise a toast, and share in the Gathering for 2020! Hosted by Matt Bailey & Andrew Derbidge Saturday 26 September, 7pm virtual start. Watch it live on YouTube or Facebook and dram along with us!
GATHERING TASTING SET ONLY $99*
GRAB YOUR GATHERING SET AND JOIN IN THE FUN! SMWS.COM.AU
SAT 26 SEPTEMBER 7PM AEST
*Includes 5 x 25ml drams and tasting notes. 31
02 9974 3046 Mon-Fri 9.00am - 5.00pm AEST
Society bottlings are offered and sold through The Wine Empire Pty Ltd, Liquor Licence LIQP770010175.