SMWS 2023 Festival Rare Releases

In a slight change from last year, the society have released their festival rare releases ahead of the respective festivals. We were lucky enough to try these and have jotted our thoughts below. Spoilers: most of the bottles released were much better than last year’s release, and we imagine most people will be happy with whatever they have picked up.

As usual we’re giving every bottle a score. The score will be based on our initial impressions, and for full disclosure, we won’t be spending the time we usually would with a dram that we’d do a full review for, but we’re hoping you’ll find the scores useful.

For reference, our scale is...

  • 10 - Perfection. A whisky that we’ll remember forever.
  • 9 - Amazing. We’d pay through the nose for a bottle.
  • 8 - Great. Pick this up at RRP.
  • 7 - Good. Happy to have a dram or two but wouldn’t buy a bottle.
  • 6 - Passable. Would accept a dram, but wouldn’t seek it out.
  • 5 - Poor. Would drink if it was the only option.
  • 4 - Bad. Maybe it can be saved by ginger beer?
  • 3 - Awful. It can't be saved by ginger beer.
  • 2 - Pour it out
  • 1 - We’ve never tried a whisky rated this low and hopefully never will.
3 Rare Release - Bowmore Distillery

Name: The finesse of a fragrant furnace
Flavour Profile: Peated
Region: Islay
Cask Type: 2nd fill bourbon & oloroso hogsheads
ABV: 56.9%
Age: 18

Price: £155.00

There’s a nice mix of sherry and bourbon on the nose, but we’re finding a little less peat than we were expecting. We’re getting red cola, white pepper, tobacco, strawberry jam, caramel, candy floss and tar on the nose. On the palate there’s ginger, red fruits, pineapple, mango and a little ash. It’s got a good finish and alcohol integration. It’s nice but very pricey compared to recent society releases. Giving there’s sherry in the mix here we’re hoping for a sherry single cask release at some point this year and we’re holding out for that.

Score: 7/10

24 Rare Release - Macallan Distillery 

Name: Massive oak extraction
Flavour Profile: Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits
Region: Speyside
Cask Type: 1st fill & refill oloroso & PX butts & hogsheads
ABV: 63.0%
Age: 14

Price: £95.00

The nose is a little restrained and we’re surprised as the colour was suggesting it was going to pack more of a sherry punch. We’re getting dark chocolate, raisins, burnt caramel, sherry vinegar, and bourbon biscuits. Palate has chilli chocolate, crystallised ginger, burnt coffee, milk chocolate, raisins, and dates, it’s a swee sherry that some will enjoy more than us. Decent mouthfeel and better alcohol integration than most of the single cask 24s released last year. 

Score: 7/10

53 Rare Release - Caol Ila Distillery

Name: Honeysuckle Petrichor
Flavour Profile: Peated
Region: Islay
Cask Type: 1st fill & refill PX & bourbon hogsheads
ABV: 56.8%
Age: 14

Price: £98.00

It’s less intense than other society Caol Ila's we’ve had. There’s light smoke, tar and sweetness from vanilla ice cream. Going back there a touch of brine, kippers and shellfish. Palate has cherries, mackerel and bacon that have all been smoked. There’s also tar and reduced raisins. We’ve had smokier 53s but there’s a nice balance here. It’s a little pricey for us, but we’re willing to go for a 7.5/10

Score: 7.5/10

64 Rare Release - Mannochmore Distillery

Name: Viscous velvet
Flavour Profile: Old & Dignified
Region: Speyside
Cask Type: 1st fill & refill oloroso, PX & bourbon hogsheads
ABV: 53.1%
Age: 15

Price: £85.00

Polished oak, lychee, a little must, and caramel syrup. Giving the colour we’re surprised we’re not getting more sherry influence from this. Although the woodiness does make us think it’s older than 15, so we can understand the “old and dignified” tag. There more Sherry on the palate with moscatel, stewed prunes, treacle, diet cola and cherry notes shining thorough. There’s a hint of coffee on the decent length finish. Yes, we’re doing it again and giving it another 7/10

Score: 7/10

68 Rare Release - Blair Athol Distillery

Name: Bake-off
Flavour Profile: Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits
Region: Highlands
Cask Type: 1st fill & refill oloroso & bourbon hogsheads
ABV: 53.5%
Age: 14

Price: £92.00

We’re getting prune juice, brown sugar and orange marmalade. We’re finding the sherry is more noticeable on the nose than the 64. Palate has triple sec, chocolate orange, orange peel, and cinnamon spice. If you can’t guess we’re finding it very citrus forward, but we’re not really getting much other bourbon cask influence on the palate. It has nice alcohol integration and a decent length finish. One critique - it’s maybe a touch dry for us. We’ll go with a 7.5/10.

Score: 7.5/10

93 Rare Release - Glen Scotia Distillery

Name: Lock, stock and two smoking funnels
Flavour Profile: Lightly Peated
Region: Campbeltown
Cask Type: 1st fill bourbon barrels
ABV: 60.2%
Age: 8

Price: £64.00

On the nose we’re getting light peat smoke, kippers, and honey. Going back to it after air reveals a little menthol, seafood bisque, passion fruit, and brine. The palate has nice bourbon sweetness balanced by light peat smoke. We’re getting grapefruit, lime juice, and seafood as the stand out notes. It’s got a good length finish and decent mouthfeel. A solid dram, but not a patch on the other recent 93s. Feels like they’ve played this release a little safe.

Score: 7/10

G16 Rare Release - Glasgow Distillery

Name: Dark 'n' stormy crème brûlée
Flavour Profile: Spicy & Dry
Region: Lowlands
Cask Type: 1st fill #4 char & toasted heads
ABV: 50.0%
Age: 6

Price: £55.00

On the nose we’re getting a rye sweetness, mixed in with some gingerbread, rum, strawberry laces, candy floss, fresh mango, and creamy rice pudding. The palate opens with a hint of garam masala, more gingerbread and vanilla icing. Being honest there’s a little too much spice here. Going back to it and we’re noticing a slight medicinal note along with treacle, brown sugar, and tobacco. It's an interesting dram, but has some flavours here that we’re not massive fans of. The palate is also a touch thin for our liking. Our least favourite of the festival releases.

Score: 6.5/10

Thanks for reading. Let us know what you thought of the release in the comments below.

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