Liam Rudden: Have a dram good time at Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Scotch Whisky Society'Kaleidoscope
Scotch Whisky Society'Kaleidoscope
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IT’S been a long time since I visited the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and a lot has changed.

So, the invitation to pop along to see how things have evolved now the private members club has opened its doors to the public, seemed as good a reason as any to reacquaint myself with the SMWS and take my appreciation of the ‘water of life’ to another level.

Whisky, I’ll admit is a drink I’ve only started to enjoy of late, despite once appearing in a production of Whisky Galore, and as I quickly discovered, the Society’s rare malts bear little resemblance to the over-the-counter brands you’ll find in your local.

All exclusively distilled for the Society, labels are colour-coded with the age of the whisky in the bottle prominently displayed.

Pink, it’s a ‘Young & Spritely’ malt; lilac, ‘Sweet Fruity & Mellow’; purple, ‘Old & Dignified’; blue, ‘Oily & Coastal’; and green, ‘Heavily Peated’.

There’s a whole kaleidoscope of colours, hence the name of the new public bar at the Society’s premises at 28 Queen Street.

Jeremy, my Whisky Ambassador for the day, had three very special editions ready for me to sample. The first was called Masala Chai Black Tea, a 17-year-old malt that had spent 14 years in an old bourbon hogshead before spending another three in one that had held sweet wine. It was one of just 234 bottles.

The sugary aroma hinted at the rich flavour to come, but gave little away of the spiced tea that would be drawn out by the addition of a smidgen of water.

The second (my favourite), called Dare You Enter?, was 14-years-old, and one of only 558 bottles, the fact it had spent 13 years of its life in a sherry butt before being transferred into a Spanish oak Pedro Ximenez butt promised something special.

It didn’t disappoint.

Warm and fruity, a sip evaporated in the mouth, well it was 59.5% proof.

With the addition of a couple of drops of water, however, it transformed, becoming rich and creamy, oily even, with ever stronger caramel flavours the longer it stood.

The third (my least favourite), called Dance of Dove and Dram at De Librije (each name tells its own little story), came with the medicinal whiff of TCP.

17-years-old and one of only 216 bottles, it was produced exclusively for the Dutch market and boasted a smoky, peaty taste with a salty hint of the sea.

I’m sure there was a trace of seaweed in there too.

Incidently, the water added to each didn’t come from any old tap. Each was matched to the whisky; highland water for the first, a Highland Island dram, Speyside water for the second, and water from the Isle of Islay for the third.

A great way to while away a couple of hours in Kaleidoscope, tastings can be arranged for £29 per person, with whiskies chosen from the Society’s ever changing array. Call 0131-220 2044.

And then, why not pop upstairs to the Dining Room Restaurant for dinner, as I did... but that’s a whole other column.