Just few days before I left Edinburgh, my friends Oxana and Galina took me to The Vaults, the members' rooms of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith, Edinburgh. I hadn't managed to go there during my seven years in town, but had been curious since I read Melissa's post on whisky tasting notes. Luckily, Oxana was a member and offered to take me there and sample some of the current society bottlings. During the few enjoyable and merry hours we spent in the grand surroundings, we tried quite a few whiskies, as you can see from the picture*. Four Scotch, one Japanese whisky.
Society bottlings, if you're interested, are single malt and cask strength (that means very strong!), and come with curious tasting notes. Here's how the Society describes them:
The Society exists to celebrate variations from the norm, so members can enjoy the individual characteristics each cask has to offer in terms of distillery, age, finish etc. Once the Society has bought single casks from the range of distilleries, the respected Tasting Panel is responsible for quality control and takes the decision as to which casks should be bottled and when. From there, the Panel writes the Society's lyrical and often humourous (even controversial) Tasting Notes.
Below are the 'official' tasting notes for the whiskies we tasted that night. We had real fun trying to smell and taste the 'fruity toffee', 'white wine vinegar, matches and glue', 'peat dragon', 'sultana loaf', 'carpentry shavings, barbecue sauce and bacon fat' etc in our chosen whiskies. I wish I could be a fly on the wall where the honourable Tasting Panel meets and comes up with those descriptions!
As I said, we tasted four Scottish and one Japanese whisky that night. Four of them were wonderful, all in their distinct ways. Only one I couldn't drink, however much I diluted the whisky. Some things, it seems, are best left to the original masters...
Strawberry bon-bons sprinkled with white pepper
Cask No. 22.22
"Being a ‘Classic’ we don’t see that much of ‘The Edinburgh Malt’, from Pencaitland; this example is surprisingly big and complex for a Lowland – a first-rate aperitif. Full gold in colour (from a refill hogshead) this has a fine mature nose, with vanilla and fruity toffee (strawberry bon-bons: toffee centre, fruity coating, powdered sugar dusting), traces of mint and very faint hessian. The unreduced flavour is hot and peppery, with toffee notes. These elements come through on the nose with water, but with bubble-gum and moss. Now the flavour is soft and full; sweet and fudge-like, but with chilli-pepper, and a medium to long finish."
Age: 18 Years % Alc: 53.5% Proof°: 93.6 Date Distilled: October 1987 Outturn: 178 bottles
Cigar boxes and flying saucers
Cask No. 9.38
"James Grant built this Rothes distillery in 1840 and today it is one of the best selling malts in the world. A golden syrup colour from a refill butt, the unreduced nose has strawberries, cigar boxes, wine gums and flying saucers (sherbet wrapped in edible polystyrene). The taste neat is thick and weighty with melted chocolate and creamy toffee. It lasts well with a dry, woody finish. With water the nose, though still sweet, has white wine vinegar, matches and glue, while the flavour is sweet and salty with some soap on a cereal background."
Age: 17 Years % Alc: 54.9% Proof°: 96 Date Distilled: April 1988 Outturn: 552 bottles
Cask No. 48.9
"Situated in the Haughs of Cromdale, this distillery takes its water from the Cromdale Burn. Unreduced, the nose has unusual notes of smoked sausage, paprika and pepper gradually becoming toffee, vanilla, malt, mint, grass and sherbet. The taste is chocolaty and sugary with sweet sherbet lemons and the sourness of cranberries. Reduced, the nose is dominated by nettle, followed by grass, hay, mulch and notes of wet leaves on a tree. This is a cooling, refreshing beginners’ whisky – ideal for lying in the garden with a slab of mint chocolate on a summer’s evening!"
Age: 18 Years % Alc: 50.1% Proof°: 87.6 Date Distilled: March 1988 Outturn: 298 bottles
Old but still bright
Cask No. 58.11
"This sample, from the oldest distillery in Speyside, is mahogany in colour from a sherry hogshead. The oak has left its mark – polished furniture, tea, spice – yet it remains bright! The neat nose has sweetness (honey, toffee, caramel, candy floss, brown sugar) balanced by fruit (orange, pears, prunes, raisins, dates and sultana loaf) with a sniff of smoke and some rum notes. The palate is dry, sweet and spicy with pepper, burnt sugar, marmalade and cola. With water, the nose finds a tingle of tar which eventually turns to buttery toffee, while the palate remains sweet and fruity. An outstanding dram."
Age: 33 Years % Alc: 51.4% Proof°: 89.9 Date Distilled: April 1973 Outturn: 352 bottles
From Madeira to the Caribbean
Cask No. 116.9
"This northern Japanese distillery continues to employ coal-fired stills. This sample is ginger gold from a refill hoggie. The nose, with its Muscovado sugar, treacle and rum, orange, plum and toffee in wax paper, evokes Caribbean trade winds and bronzed, oiled bodies basking in the sun. Diluted, it has vanilla, barley sugar, candied Angelica and papaya with exotic floral scents reminiscent of a Funchal market. The taste has both briny notes and peat smoke, which are beautifully balanced by a headier atmosphere of vanilla and orange peel. Water sweetens it and draws out the peat dragon at the same time. This is an outstanding whisky."
Age: 18 Years % Alc: 55.2% Proof°: 96.6 Date Distilled: April 1987 Outturn: 229 bottles
* Before you jump into conclusions about my drinking habits, then we ordered five different whiskies and split each of them between three glasses:)