Monday, 21 October 2013

Pearl Dram - Single Malt Whisky Society 30th Anniversary

This summer saw the Single Malt Whisky Society celebrated their 30th anniversary. Very suitably, for their pearl anniversary they collaborated with oyster mixologist, The Mother Shuckers [] opened a 4 day pop-up whisky and oyster bar in Sevendials, London, calling the event Pearl Dram.

Not only did they come up with a witty name during their planning sessions, they cleverly planned the event to coincide with the start of the British oyster season.
The beautifully decorated pop-up shop on Monmouth Street, Seven Dials
A brief history of the society; it was created in 1983 by Phillip “Pip” Hills, after the syndicate that he started with a group of friends to buy their own single cask whiskies grew too big for the lobby in his house. Fuelled by his love of single malts, an entrepreneurial spirit, and from what I felt from reading a section of his book 'Scots on Scotch', the novelty of hosting drunken friends wore thin, the old wine merchant building in Leith known as The Vaults was purchased. This was to become the syndicate’s new central hub. At the time drinking single casks whiskies was bucking the trend, where the majority of whiskies being drunk were blends.

Today the society offers its members a wide selection from over 120 distilleries from cask they select and bottle themselves; keeping true to its roots. Members can enjoy the society’s unique drams in the private members bars worldwide and chat to knowledgeable staff that will be able to give advice on what to try, as the selection can be over whelming at times and hard to know where to start. 

We have been members since 2012, and one of our favourite places to stop by at the start or end of each journey into London is the member’s room that’s a short walk from Farringdon station. We often refer to this as our ‘waiting room’ as it’s on our train route home. 

Which dram to what pearl?
I sat down to sample the full works, titled ‘The Maiden Voyage’ which consisted of 6 whiskies paired with 6 different oysters. I tasted all of these whiskies with water on the recommendation that the diluted drams will help bring out more of the flavours in the oysters.
Getting ready for the start of my ‘Maiden Voyage’
Dram#1 SMWS 73.58 'Simple & Seductive'
paired with the Dunchy Native Oyster.

SMWS 73.58 is a Speyside. It’s a 21 year old an ex-refill bourbon hogshead, distilled on 9th of July 1991. Bottled at 57% abv, price at £69.10 for 70 cl. Showing on SMWS website as available.

So what did I think?
Nose: Very fresh and floral with creamy notes, aromatic vanilla pods, lemon blossoms, and some spices. 
Taste: The freshness comes through in the form of a brief minty mouthwash quality that quickly turns into a lemon drizzle cake, sweetness and creaminess from caramel and sweeten condensed milk, with spices dancing its way to the front towards the end. Spices are a mixed of cloves, cinnamon, and floral notes of coriander seeds. 
Finish: Sweet and spicy. 

Dunchy native has a chewy texture but with some creamy quality. Taste wise it’s about the same sweetness as saltiness, and a metallic kick at the end. This brought out more of the sweetness in the whisky, while the whisky cuts through the nutty salt flavours and balances out the metal notes. 

Dram#2 SMWS 30.77 'This Is Nuts'
paired with the Colchester Rock Oyster. 

SMWS 30.77 is another Speyside whisky. It’s a 16 year old refilled ex-sherry butt, distilled on 17th of April 1997. Bottled at 57.7 % abv and priced at £55.80 for 70 cl. Showing on SMWS as no longer available. 

So what did I think?
Nose: Big sherry hit with lots of dried fruits (figs, dates, raisins, sultanas), and waxed paper. 
Taste: This reflects the nose, bursting with the dried fruits (again figs, dates, raisins, sultanas) with an addition of some dark chocolate towards the end. 
Finish: Fruity with some lingering fresh Jalapeno chilli heat. 

Colchester rock is noticeably more briny than the Dunchy, fewer minerals with no metallic taste, and nice addition of a seaweed note with a creamy texture which tasted like white bread. This oyster brought out white pepper notes in the whisky, while the whisky brought out more of the mineral notes of the oyster. 

Dram#3 SMWS 77.32 'Salivating Sweetness; Savour Whisper'
paired with Lock Ryan Rock Oyster. 

SMWS 77.32 is a Highland whisky. It’s a 25 year old, refilled ex-bourbon hogshead, distilled on 13th of August 1987. Bottled at 58.2 % abv and priced at £82.90 for 70 cl. Showing on SMWS as no longer available.

So what did I think?
Nose: Noticeably dryer than the 30.77 with more woody notes, spicy sweet cinnamon, new buck leather, and the smell of sun cream. 
Taste: Begins with a satisfying woody oak note developing into sweet sticky dates, and spicy cinnamon.
Finish: Starts with sticky sweet dates which lingers, some of the woody oak notes returning, with cinnamon spice leading to the end. 

Loch Ryan rock oyster is very creamy, much more delicate than previous two, and sweeter with only hints of salt and minerals. This brings out more of the fruitier notes of the whisky, specifically more figs, and changes the finish to a stronger wood flavour. 

Dram#4 SMWS 4.179 'Compartments of Complexity'
paired with Dorset Rock Oyster. 

SMWS 4.179 is a 22 years old Highland whisky from a refilled ex-bourbon hogshead, distilled on 31st of May 1991. Bottled at 54.2 % abv and priced at £85 for 70 cl. Showing on SMWS as no longer available.

Four down and no pearls found yet
So what did I think?
Nose: Damp forest floors, earthy moss covered logs, little hints of Band-Aids plasters, and smoky peat notes comes through lasts. 
Taste: Begins with burst of sweetness and taste of lemon drizzle cake then heavy smoky peat notes follows, providing a half and half balance of these two flavours. Then right at the end a sprinkling of white pepper. 
Finish: Relatively short with lingering of lemon drizzle cake and, surprisingly, instead of the smoky notes, the earthy characters that I picked up in the nose returned. 

Dorset rock oyster is another oyster with heavy briny mineral flavours. Texture wise is a mix of creamy (this time more like ricotta in texture) and some meaty bits. This brings outs vanilla notes in the palate of this dram.

Dram#5 SMWS 3.186 'Mermaids At Play In Lochindaal'
paired with Jersey Rock Oyster. 

SMWS 3.186 is a 16 years old Islay whisky from refilled ex-bourbon hogshead, distilled in April 1995 (no specific date given). Bottled at 57.9 % abv and priced at £65.50 for 70 cl. Showing on SMWS as no longer available.

So what did I think?
Nose: First get sweet vanillas and spices, mainly of cinnamon sticks punching through, then a strong aroma of an old medicine cabinet hits you, and more peat can be picked up here than the previous dram. 
Taste: Started with a vegetable like quality that’s similar to pea shoots (was a lovely surprise and so delicate), a good bit of peat, and has a heavier and creamier mouth feel than the previous dram. 
Finish: The pea shoots flavour comes back which is replaced by a touch of wood charcoal, with some sweetness still lingering in the background. 

The Jersey Rock oyster has a clean fresh taste compared with all the others, similar to cucumber but with more brine. This brings out more stoned fruits and vanilla notes in the dram. Interestingly the peat note takes a step back, becoming less prominent. I'm glad it didn't take too many steps back as it complimented the other flavours so well still being part of the main line-up.

Dram#6 SMWS 53.190 'A Fishing Village Up Whisky Cove'
paired with Loch Ryan Native Oyster. 

SMWS 53.190 is a 17 year old Islay whisky from a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, distilled on 24th of August 1995. Bottled at 56.7 % abv and priced at £63.70 for 70 cl. Showing on SMWS website as no longer available.

So what did I think?
Nose: Heady peat aromas, the most peated out of all 6 drams. There’s also dried logs and a touch of liquorice sticks. Definitely a distinct woody and bark like element here. 
Taste: Very smoky and mirroring the nose, the woody element continues here. Black cardamoms in big volumes, some cinnamon and cloves, but instead of the whole spices, due to the smokiness these, they are more like powered spices to me with its dry dusty feel. However doesn’t leave the mouth feeling dry. 
Finish: Begins with the smoky black cardamoms then moving to black pepper which lingers for a good while. 

The Loch Ryan native oyster has an all over meatier texture with minimal creaminess. Found it to be balanced of the brine, metallic notes, and a mineral cucumber note. The whisky had brought out more mineral notes of the oyster, and gave it an earthy finish.
Out of all 6 pairings, my favourite combo was pairing No. 3, SWMS 77.32 with Loch Ryan rock oyster. I just felt the pairing brought out the most complimentary flavours in each other, and it has some of my favourite aromas and flavours. 

On a side note, by pure coincidence saw me celebrating a total of three 30th anniversaries, as two other friends were also celebrating their big birthdays on the same day I went to Pearl Dram. I did ponder the next day and as I write this, if it was an omen. So far there has been neither major heart ache nor major good fortunes. Still, can’t help but feel a little superstitious. 
For further information on the Single Malt Whisky Society please visit, and The Mother Shuckers can be found on
Lastly for more information on oysters, I came across this interesting info sheet online from the Shellfish Association of Great Britain which explains the different types of oysters available in the UK, and provide more detailed tasting notes for each of these oysters. This can be found here:

Slàinte! Kat

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