I look out of the window and see the sparkling orange lights of Big Ben slowly inching by, replaced as we descend by images of the Thames flickering with reflections. As Sinatra said: “London by night, is a wonderful sight.” And what could be better than watching it in all its lit-up glory from the glass pod of the London Eye? For me, only one thing: taking it all in with the addition of a glass of whisky in hand.
Don’t worry – I didn’t try to sneak a flask past security at the gates. Instead, I had the opportunity to experience this with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which was running an event with members and non-members on the vast structure on the South Bank. It does this special tasting two times per year (so keep an eye on the website for future ones). Sequestering off a pod specifically for the tasting, the Society brings with it four types of whisky to try during two rotations of the Eye. The session was led by the knowledgeable and friendly Chris (who you’ll often see behind the bar at Greville Street). And, other than having an odd feeling of vertigo while looking out onto the romantic scene after a couple of drams, it is certainly one of the coolest places I’ve ever tasted whisky.
So, what did we try and what did I like? The rundown is below, but one note first – the SMWS bottles only single cask, cask strength whiskies. To try them, you need to be a member (which costs £100 per year) or a guest of one. I have tried some amazing ones of late, a couple of which are below.
Bottle number: 35.59.
Society Name: Arabian Nights
Distillery: Glen Moray
Age: 39 years
Only 74 bottles of this were made available. It is an intriguing dram which I found to have hints of pineapple, musty mould and a slight smoke on the nose. There was dried banana and pineapple, along with raisins on the palate. Mid-sip, the whisky opened up beautifully along my mid-palate, producing a richer hint of sweet, cigar smoke. Most people in the pod preferred it with water, but I liked mine neat.
Bottle number: 97.21
Society Name: Laurel, Meadowsheet and Honeysuckle
Distillery: Little Mill
Age: 21 years – bottled in 1997
This dram was subtly delicate on the nose – just a whiff of whisky that shot of hints of honey, bitter orange peel and almond through the air. But when tasted, it suddenly burst on the palate. I got flavours of caramel, lemon, biscuits, almond and honeysuckle. A really interesting whisky neat but the agreement was it fell apart slightly with water.
Bottle number: 76.85
Society Name: The Antagonist
Age: 15 years
This sherried whisky was a nice middle-man for the palate. Melted butter, dates and sugary sweet elements (think: hot browning sugar, treacle, toffee) hit my nose on first sniff. I was surprised, therefore, when I found a load of spice rolling around the back of my palate when I tasted the dram. There was also a hint of soft smoke and treacle. I enjoyed this but found it a bit too sweet for my liking. A good post-meal dram to go with bitter chocolate.
Bottle number: 53.158
Society Name: Coal Tar Meets Pork Sausage
Distillery: Caol Ila
Age: 15 years
Any whisky with this name is going to raise some intrigue and some more eyebrows. Who, after all, would want to drink coal, tar and sausage? But, like any whisky – the flavour is in the palate of the beholder. I didn’t manage to resurrect any block notes of pork sausage, but I did get that sharp smoke and sweet flavour of tar, along with hints of the seaside and dusty coal. On the palate, meanwhile, there was the oddest trio of flavours: Deepheat, taragon and mint. Bizarre indeed! Not my favourite but one worth trying if you’re keen to see just how varied “smoky” whiskies can be.