SMWS 48.70 – 13yo Balmenach

For this review we will be trying something a bit different from the norm, an independent bottling. There are many independent bottlers of Scotch malt whisky out there, there are pros and cons obviously but possibly the best thing about these bottlers is that you can get some very old rare whiskies for a fraction of what you would pay for the official releases. Probably my favourite and best known of the independent bottlers is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), and it is one of their bottlings that I will be reviewing today.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was started in the late 70’s when a group of friends secured a cask from a certain Speyside distillery; they enjoyed it so much that they went back for more, this time with more people wanting to join them. As time went by more and more people became interesting in sampling these unique single cask offerings and so the society was founded in 1983, from where it has grown into one of the largest independent bottlers on the market.

The SMWS are known for not providing the distillery name on their bottling; instead they assign the bottle a number which represents that distillery and a number for the number of casks bottled from that distillery. So for example the bottle we are tasting today is 48.70, a quick search online and you can find out that distillery 48 is Balmenach, and this is the 70th cask that they have bottled from that distillery. I will do a write up in the future further explaining all this but it is actually quite simple( which can now be found here – SMWS – Cracking the code).

So facts and figures before we get down to the tasting:

Cask No. 48.70 – Balmenach
Bottle Name Divas Do Disco   (a nice manly sounding dram!)
Age 13yo
Cask Type 1st Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrel
Alcoholic Strength 62.5% ABV.
Number of Bottles 198
Tasting Notes Sandalwood and heavy oak danced with tropical baked banana and carrot cake. Slick with saffron scented shaving cream and Ambre Solaire oil. Rum and raisin ice cream and white Russian. Creamy milkshake sprinkled with nutmeg and liqueur chocolates. Go tiger!


I did my tasting for this bottling blind so it will be interesting to see how my notes compare to those created by the SMWS panel, let’s get to it!


The first thing that I must say about this dram is that it is hard to believe that this is at 62.5% ABV. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very strong whisky, but it is very soft on the nose even still. For being matured solely in a former bourbon cask there are a lot of European oak noes coming through unusually, lots of spice and dried fruits. There is a big woodiness upfront with this whisky, surprisingly so for a 13yo whisky. Sweet spices with vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as a fiery ginger aroma that prickles on the nose, and a good dose of white pepper. Lots of fruits and nuts battle for attention; coconut, walnuts, sultanas, candied orange peel, honey dew melon and dried banana, all backed up with a slight menthol note. With time vanilla slice pastry and rum and raisin ice-cream comes through served with over brewed breakfast tea.


Wow, ok, there’s the alcohol punch! A big blasting of alcohol backed up with loads of fizzy sweetness and spice. A few drops of water takes the edge off hugely and make it a far more open and palatable dram. Fiery candied stem ginger, cinnamon and allspice, it’s like raiding the spice cabinet. Stewed apples and cereal notes combine with the spice suggesting a nice cinnamon and apple crumble, with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream on top. A cinder toffee/slightly burnt caramel sweetness lifts the palate through the development, detracting from the intense alcohol and spice.


Lots of drying woodiness comes through in the finish which is quite nice after the sweetness. It has a lovely long finish; it just keeps going, likely due to the strength. As well as the woodiness there is an almost tequila-like taste which – for someone who isn’t a big fan of tequila – is actually really quite nice. This tequila like taste caries through the finish with a slight amount of cask char and again more sweet spices.

Well, in comparison to the official notes I think I did not too bad. I must confess I have never had saffron scented shaving cream before and I have no idea what so ever as to what Ambre Solaire is, but I am sure that this whisky is simply rife with them! I must congratulate the SMWS on their ‘creative’ tasting notes; it’s always interesting reading them, and a pleasure enjoying their bottlings which are always of such a high standard. I will definitely being reviewing some more of their bottlings in the future.




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