Category Archives: SMWS

SMWS 50.43 “Tart And Tasty” Review

SMWS 50.43 “Tart And Tasty”005

57.8% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Another l’il ‘distiller-that-could’ story for ya.  Bladnoch was at one time a Diageo holding.  In 1993, during the same downturn that saw the loss of Rosebank, Balmenach and Pittyvaich, the distillery was boarded up and had a handful of mothballs rolled into the stillroom.  Most equipment was peeled out and for all intents and purposes this seemed the end of the line.

Surprisingly, about a year later the distillery was snatched from the hands of oblivion by an Irish gent named Raymond Armstrong.  The arrangement between Diageo to Armstrong was a conditional one however.  The terms included the proviso that the distillery was no longer to be used for the production of whisky.  Fast forward a few years and much local petitioning to 2000, when the spirit began to flow at Bladnoch once more.  Three years (and a day) later, Armstrong was able to claim an end to the gestation period and release his first whisky composed of entirely post-distillery-reopening-stock.

The market currently sees a mix (albeit sparse)of young ‘Armstrong Bladnoch’ and older ‘Diageo Bladnoch’.  The interesting thing is that, unlike in most distillery handovers, the Bladnoch transition included no stores of slumbering barrels, effectively leaving the team with a blank slate and no old stocks to support revenue generation.  What this means is that new and young Bladnoch releases are courtesy of Armstrong, anything beyond those years (13 and older, I’d say), was produced under a different lord and outside the influence of the current management.

As hinted at above, this is just a wee operation.  Capacity of about a quarter million litres, and to be honest with you…I don’t even believe they are flowing that.  (Please correct me if I am wrong, as I know there are a couple of Bladnoch fans who visit here).

Anyway…we’re rooting for Bladnoch and hoping to see a bit more hit the shops ’round these parts, as we scarce find bottles on Canadian shores.

Hopefully this changes soon.

In the meantime…a lovely independent offering from the SMWS here to discuss.  A neat older one (aged 20 years) from the days before Raymond took over…

Nose:  Paint.  A healthy ghost of pipe tobacco and smokiness.  Herbal and grassy.  Peach, orange and lemon pith.  Pie crust.  Soft white fruits.  Cream Of Wheat porridge with sugar.  Sugar cookie dough…or maybe shortbread cookie dough.

Palate:  Pie…not sure what kind, but sorta tart and fruity.  Spice.  Syrupy with some apple.  Just a smidgeon of orange ju-jube.  Oak and grass as it narrows and fades.  Gorgeous palate, even better than the nose.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

SWMS ‘Taste of Islay’ with Georgie Bell

SMWS ‘Taste of Islay’ with Georgie Bell

The Brasserie in Kensington

January 23, 2013


I gotta get better at checking my home email account.  When you spend all day in the office responding to email, arguably the last the thing you wanna do in the evenings is log in and tether yourself to the real world.  The downside to this indulgent little bit of escapism is that I nearly missed out on this tasty little SMWS event down at The Brasserie Kensington.  Fortunately, that is where Kelly stepped in with a follow-up note on this opportunity to spend the evening with Georgie Bell, UK Ambassador for the SMWS, and a few of the usual suspects.


This evening’s event was called ‘Taste of Islay’, and you can bet your ass the peatheads came out in droves.  I arrived at the restaurant right around ‘showtime’ to find a room that was nearly full.  This sort of scenario makes for a fun night in spite of the presence of some less than savory characters.  For example…sitting within punching distance of the distinguished Maltmonster is never a good idea.  In fact, I don’t believe we’d even nosed the first whisky before hijinks ensued and I took a jab to the shoulder.  You have to forgive him though.  He’s Irish.  And from Edmonton.

All kidding aside, the crowd was warm, in great spirits (pun intended) and there to welcome Georgie with open arms and raised glasses.


So…let’s talk about Georgie for a moment.

No matter the situation, it’s always a pleasure to watch someone at work who not only is good at it, but also genuinely enjoys it.  Georgie is a rather tiny thing with a big personality and a relaxed, quick, clever sense of humor.  She’s knowledgable, very animated and is quite possibly the only person I’ve yet met who could give me run for my money in hand-talking.

Her charm is only enhanced by her absolutely genuine enthusiasm for what she does.

Georgie is also exemplary of the new school of whisky drinker, and I love it.  No longer reserved for the ‘old boys club’ (though the ol’ vanguard is still healthy and happy too), Scotch whisky has found new life in the younger generations, world markets and fairer sex.  This added dimension has helped make whisky what it is today, which, excepting pricing concerns, is a great thing.


But this evening wasn’t just about the drinks.  It was a full sensory dunking.

Just a block or two East of the Kensington Wine Market (where you’re bound to find our fearless leader, Andrew Ferguson) sits this brilliant little restaurant, owned and operated by chef extraordinaire, Cam Dobranski.  With an experience like this, my first time there certainly won’t be my last.

The evening’s edibles were artistic little amuse-bouches twinned with quirky SMWS releases from some of Islay’s greatest distilleries.  Chef Cam’s extra-curricular studying (he put these together simply by reading tasting notes?!) was obviously time well spent, as the pairings were not simply logical flavor matches, but instead were original and challenging treats.  Unassuming yet confident, and perfectly executed.  The gravlax and scallop, in particular, resonated, especially with their respective pairings.


And finally…we Canadians who’ve sold our souls to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Canada are fortunate enough to have a couple of incredibly excited and enthusiastic ambassadors in founders Rob and Kelly Carpenter.  Whisky is a phenomenon that practically encourages adoration and monogamous devotion, and the Carpenters have shown they whole-heartedly embrace this ethos.

Kelly made a poignant little speech at the end of the night when she spoke to the evening’s whisky selections.  Some, she informed us, were long sold out…others still available…others were sneak peeks of yet-to-come.  It drove home the underlying urgency of single cask bottlings.  We were able to see both the heartbreak of great old whiskies that we had missed out on, as well as having the bait dangled as to what was just over the horizon.

The bad news…you have to be a member to buy these whiskies.  The good news…anyone can be a member.

If you enjoy the exclusivity and opportunites to try off-the-beaten-path variants from the world’s great distilleries…there’s no better way to see behind the curtain.  And never…never…forget…with releases like these, demand nearly always outstrips supply.

On to the food and drink…


10.72 “A hawker market in Singapore”

Nose:  Ginger ale.  Sponge cake with heavy cream.  Burnt caramel and raisin notes.  Grain.  Candy corn.  Meaty with some hints of heavy cloying (in a good way) dark sauce.  Slightly sulphury.

Palate:  Slightly walnut-y.  Licorice and orange.  Salty and sweet.

Thoughts:  A whole wack of pleasant notes gang up on a rogue sulphur note and do their best to beat it into submission.

Food:  A lightly seared breast of Quebec duck that has fed on a diet of corn during a short but tasty life, with notes of fermented soy, freash winter cabbage and sprigs of carrots & pea tendrils.  Aroma of Turkish olives, grass, and a saltiness from Essex, Britain.

(Soy glazed roasted Brome Lake duck breast, red cabbage, marinated carrots & pea tendrils)


3.193 “A baby-faced arsonist”

Nose:  Hay.  Smoky kiln smells.  Red juicy fruit notes.  Sweet sherry collides with hefty peat.  Nori…salt…fish…tar…asphalt (in essence…Islay).  Creamy vanilla too.

Palate:  Espresso.  Big billowy coal smoke (you can smell this same smell rising from chimneys all over the island).  Anise.  Eucalyptus.

Thoughts:  Madonna and the whore in one.  Sweet and lovely…sexy and dirty.

Food:  Fish from cold waters of the west coast, with a zing of yellow sour citrus fruit, mingling with French fields a al Herb De Provence, toasted charcoal from bread and a shaved pungent rooted goodness which rhymes course.

(B.C Steelhead gravlax, lemon zest, lavender dust, olive oil, horseradish on a grilled crostini)


29.115 “Candy floss in a fairground”

Nose:  Wet smoking wood.  Juicy (from the sherry?), and closer to the profile of recent Ardbeg.  Slightly peppery.  Sharp field greens (typical of cask strength examples from this distillery).  Vanilla.  Seawash and saltwater.  Slight sulphur note. Fruity with pink gum notes.  Quite sweet.

Palate:  Smoke and licorice.  Sweet and fruity.  Charred meat and apple skin.

Thoughts:  Yes!  This is Islay!!  It’s nice to know that even when I’m not going there…it’s coming to me.

Food:  Scallopy sweet Fruit de Mer with a touch of sticky sweetness, iron & candy, crispy celery, segmented orange, sweet-smoky pepper that will get stuck in your teeth, hint of carbon, mouth coating and delicious.

(Atlantic scallop crudo, brunoise celery, clementine segments, marash pepper, olive oil)


53.146 “A saline gargle, with peanuts”

Nose:  Peanut sauce.  Dusty old books and wood.  Creamy and custard-y.  Salt…brine…smoke.  Oil and lemon.  Tarry.  Cinnamon stick and licorice root.  Sweet frutcake notes meet Asian peanut/sesame sauce.  Ever drink the smoky ‘wash’ at the distilleries on Islay?  Yeah…hints of that.  A very dry smoky nose.

Palate:  Wow…licorice.  Tar again.  Sharp citric tang and salt.  Thorny and green and more aggressive than 17 years would bely.  Salt at the back end again.

Thoughts:  There are likely more indie variants from this distillery than any other.  This is a fine example of one of the better single casks.

Food:  Silky rich tree nut pureed to smooth, grape jello, aged port, clumps of stinky veined blue cheese, salt & black peppercorn like a fancy high tea cheese sandwich.

(Pinenut butter, port wine jelly, St. Agur blue cheese, crostini)


33.113 “Sweet, peaceful dreams”

Nose:  Very much consistant with recent releases from this distillery.  Anise.  Seaside briny-ness.  Fruity candy.  Black Ju-jube.  Grains.  Lemon pepper.  Bread dough, spices and maraschino.  Smoke and asphalt.  Quite creamy.

Palate:  Grains and fishy notes.  Nice delivery.  Apple and plum.  Chewy fruit candy.  Braised meat.  Sssssssssmoke and peat.

Thoughts:  Young and aggressive.  Exactly as this distillery should be served up.  Unless you can find older examples.  Then THAT is how it should be served up.  What I’m saying is…drink this distillery’s drams.

Food:  Pineapple crossed with apple that looks like a pear, duck that was fattened & plucked, hints of cinnamon, almond, vanilla crisp, coffee, caramel & butter, memories of eating Werther’s Originals.

(Quince compote, foie gras parfait, almond-hazelnut-pistachio biscotti, Maldon sea salt)


Sincere thanks to all involved.  Cam, Georgie, Rob and Kelly…glasses high.  Here’s to ya!


** Interested in becoming a member?  Visit Andrew down at Kensington Wine Market for details.


– Words:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

SMWS Canada Pt 3 – Tasting The Drams

So…we’ve had a bit of a chinwag about the SMWS.  You know their dirty secrets and you’re aware of their dirty people.

Now let’s talk a little about how it all works.  First things first.  You want to buy the malts…you gotta be a member.  No exceptions.  If you want to taste the whiskies before committing, well…that’s another story.  Check out the schedule for the First Friday tastings through Kensington Wine Market.  Once a month members can taste all of the whiskies in the new Outturn for $35.  Non-members can attend for $45.  Decent dramming (all at cask strength, remember!) for a fair price.

Now you’re probably wondering what ‘Outturn’ means.  This refers to both the release of a small handful of new whiskies and the number of bottles of each expression released.  Example…”this months ‘Outturn’ features seven new malts” or “the ‘Outturn’ on this new 123.07 is 779 bottles”.  Clear as mud?  Good.

And the ‘123.07’…easy.  The ‘123’ refers to a certain distillery, while the ’07’ refers to the number of casks the SMWS has bought from said distillery.  In this case, this would be the 7th cask that the Society has purchased from Glensomethingorother.

As mentioned earlier on, I can’t tell you what these bottlings are.  Instead…have some fun with it.  Go to the SWMS site and read the notes for each expression.  Follow the clues provided therein.  Let there be a little mystery.


Alright already.  Enough chit chat, right?  You wanna know what the whiskies are like, right?  Let’s dive in.  I’m thirsty!


     A4 – “Soft, Spicy, Rich and Intense”

     Outturn:  434 Bottles    

     22 y.o.    

     47% abv

Nose:  Rum-like.  Old and mature.  Latex.  Orange Rind.  Prune.  Fennel.  Hints of bourbon.  Green apple.  Little bit of anise.  Steak rub or BBQ sauce.

Palate:  Spicy and hot.  Licorice and cherry eucalyptus.  Apple finish…though somewhat medicinal.

Thoughts & Impressions:  An Armagnac.  Something a little different.  Not quite my thing, but Deah Lawd, is this unique!


     17.32 – “Boiled Sweets and Grapefruit Peel”

     Outturn:  214 Bottles    

     9 y.o.    

     56.2% abv


Nose:  Honey.  Heather.  Vanilla.  Malts and a touch of feints.  Dusty cask.  Lemon.  Very light really.

Palate:  Barley.  Some tartness.  Lemon.  White wine notes…Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Young and just waiting to come into its own.  Don’t get me wrong…not bad now, but in a few years…would be great.


     123.07 – “Unusual and Highly Enjoyable”

     Outturn:  779 Bottles    

     10 y.o.    

     59.6% abv


Nose:  Malty.  Beef bouillion…OXO.  Thick veins of caramel.  Deep dark wine.  Brine.  Brown sugar.  Rye bread.

Palate:  Tannic wine notes and malt beef.  Fades to barleys.

Thoughts & Impressions:  First thoughts were this could only be one of two distilleries, but…nope…I was dead wrong.  Figured for sure a Mortlach or Springbank.


     37.50 – “Pizza in a Sweetie Shop”

     Outturn:  263 Bottles    

     12 y.o.    

     54.5% abv


Nose:  Sweet and floral.  Like a soapery (Ivory?).  Creamy and sugary.  Zesty.  Basil…oregano…Italian seasoning?  Very clean.

Palate:  Young, sharp and clean.  Zesty spices.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Now here we gots us sumpin’ alive and just…  Thought the name was a little quirky until getting nose deep.  It is pizza-ish!


     76.83 – “Cocktails After Rugby”

     Outturn:  605 Bottles    

     15 y.o.    

     57.1% abv 


Nose:  Feints and malt.  Mint.  Vanilla, cream and caramel.  Peanuts.  Ginger.

Palate:  Creamy.  Vanilla.  Caramel corn.  Kinda spicy.  Maybe a little orange.  Good balance for a flavor profile.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The nose…s’ok.  The palate…s’almost awesome.


     36.49 – “A Country Kitchen Garden”

     Outturn:  278 Bottles    

     21 y.o.    

     52.4% abv


Nose:  Fairly up-front and dusty grains.  Floral.  Mild spices.  Perhaps a hint of butter tart.  Lemon.  Light…very light.  Lowland-ish.

Palate:  Barleys and mild spiced bread.  Faint apple cinnamon.  Age is deceptive here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Light and lovely aperitif dram.  But having said that…pretty sure this would be more than alright at pretty much any time o’ day.


     35.61 – “Just So-ooh Nice”

     Outturn:  213 Bottles    

     21 y.o.    

     60.4% abv


Nose:  Sugar cookies.  Rich, thick and creamy.  Spiced baking and treacle.  Cherry jujube.  Syrupy.  Pepper bite.  Waxy cherry note (Did this come from an ex-Maker’s Mark cask?)

Palate:  Bourbon.  Dolce de Lecce.  Syrupy, candy, waxy notes carry through to palate.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Best o’ the bunch.  Highly possible I have a little bit of a crush on this l’il sweetie.  Seconds?  Yes, please.


     127.20 – “Invigorating, Eye-Watering, Breath-Catching”

     Outturn:  202 Bottles    

     8 y.o.    

     64.2% abv 


Nose:  Farmy.  Peat and iodine.  Burnt out fires.  Creamy and buttery.  Smells like a wine influence.  Young and aggressive.  Fruits?  Bahahaha, don’t be ridiculous.  Well…maybe citrus.  Any other  notes?  Who knows.

Palate:  Unmistakable.  Deep peat and iodine.  Dry ashy smoke.  Banana?  Maybe.  Odd…peated banana.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Holy mule kick!  Ya likes ‘em young?  Ya likes ‘em peaty?  Ya likes this one!  Hard to imagine any other distillery producing a malt like this.


-Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Images:  SMWS Canada