Reviewed by: Ted
In terms of independent whisky societies, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the tweed wearing, pipe smoking, large-moustache sporting (great?) uncle of the bunch. Thing is, he’s a pretty cool guy. He’s a seasoned raconteur with a house full of exotic artifacts from around the world and family rumour has it that he was a spy during the war. You know that a visit to Uncle SMWS is always going to be an interesting experience.
The SMWS started off as a group of mates chipping in to buy a barrel of Glenfarclas in the late 70s, before morphing into a full-blown membership society open to the public in 1983 with the purchase of their first property, the famous Vaults in Leith, Scotland.
The M.O. of the SMWS is the purchase of single casks from various distilleries in Scotland and around the world, which are then released to members when deemed ready by a tasting panel. The Society generally doesn’t reveal which distillery a particular release came from, instead using a somewhat arcane two-part numbering system on the bottles.
The first number refers to a particular distillery, while the second is the sequential barrel number from that distillery (eg. 5.12 would be distillery no. 5, barrel no. 12 purchased from there by the Society). If you manage to find out what the first number means, then you know what distillery you are drinking. Simple.
Another thing that the SMWS does is give the releases exotic names such as ‘A coal bucket of marshmallows’ or ‘An Orkney beekeeper’s dram’ along with some often rather whimsical tasting notes. Facing down a wall of green SMWS bottles (the sheer range of bottlings is dazzling) can be a daunting task, but the Society helps by adding a stripe of colour to the labels. Each particular colour relates to a certain flavour profile, such as ‘sweet, fruity & mellow’ or ‘light & delicate’, helping you narrow things down depending on your preferences.
I was checking out the range at the Grumpy Piper in Launceston the other night and entirely on a whim decided to go with a dram of ‘Waxing a hot woodsman’ . The bottle number was 1.209, which if you’ve been paying attention means that it’s from barrel 209 from Glenfarclas Distillery. According to the label it was a 7yo aged in ex-bourbon hogsheads and bottled at a zesty 64.9%, with the yellow stripe indicating it was a ‘spicey & dry’ style.
The spice was certainly front and centre on the nose, reeking of cinnamon, clove, corriander seed, spruce and resin, as well as a daub of beeswax and dark honey. Down lower was a slightly bitter herbal complex, with a few sprigs of oregano and thyme, before a fruity finish of unripe apples and pears.
If the nose claimed the cap for Team Spice, then the mouth was on the side of Team Dry. The start was hot and dry, with a sprinkle of that spice, before going bitter and metallically clean through the mid. The finish was a medley of sour, pithy citrus notes that would probably be too astringent for some people. The whole effect put me in mind of something a bit Japanese, maybe Hakshu?
Ok, so, despite what the label claims, this is not Waxing a Hot Woodsman at all. That’s a sticky, messy, painful and distinctly hair(e)raising experience. No, this comes afterwards when he’s supine and exhausted from the ordeal, his skin all smooth and raw. This is the aftershave lotion that you slap on his burning skin, a tonic to make him feel invigorated and alive and ready to handle some wood in a manly way.
The Hot Woodsman is yet another interesting insight into how single barrel, indpendent releases can mess around with the flavours you’ve become familiar with from a particular distillery. I wouldn’t say it’s to everyone’s taste, but that’s all part and parcel of a visit to Uncle SMWS’s place – there’s always something new and strange to discover.
You can sign up to the SMWS here, or if you’re in Australia like us, here.