Edit: Since I’ve written this post, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has changed hands. It’s become a much less appealing operation, sacrificing what it was good at in chasing new custom wherever that lies. Nothing wrong with that, but when you sell young grain whisky expensively, or start doing gins, or blends, then this no longer has the interests of the single malt whisky drinker at heart. The whisky has also been of much poorer quality, but this is something much of the independent sector is suffering from. I have also heard hearsay that certain staff members have been recommending to any bloggers that they only talk about whiskies they like…
So, after many years of consideration, I finally caved in and joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Regular readers will know that I’ve managed to get my filthy paws on a few of their drams previously, and I’ve pretty much liked them all. But after trying one of their Aultmore releases in particular, however, it tipped me over the edge. So I joined up and two days later got this rather nice box in the post.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is owned by the Glenmorangie Company and has a presence in 17 countries around the world. It’s a members-only society in which you can purchase its own single-cask bottlings. If you’re not a member, you’re not able to buy the whiskies (except the few that make it to auction). The SMWS organise tasting events around the world. They even have their own swanky venues, which are private members’ clubs (the good kind, not the dodgy lap-dancing kind) in Leith, Edinburgh and London. Members can turn up and sample drams from a huge range of their single cask bottlings, as well as picking up a bite to eat while they’re there. Most of all you get the benefit of announcing to your friends: “If you need me, I’ll be at my club” – to steal a line from Frasier.
Membership is not cheap, though – in the UK it’s £122 for the first year, and then a bit less each year after that. But what do you get for your money?
This box turned up in the post almost immediately, and it’s rather lovely. It feels chunky, very well-made and clearly cost a bit to put together. When you open it there are all manner of treats inside. First is a quality discovery journal, which contains a whole bunch of information, such as which cask types (first-fill ex-bourbon, refill butt etc) will give certain kind of flavours. There’s also a potted history of the SMWS, tracing its roots to the 1970s and 80s, at a time where single malt whiskies were not all that common, let alone single cask whiskies. Can you imagine living in a whisky dark age like that? I really like this little book. It encourages people to think more broadly about what they drink, and does so with style and flair.
As well as the journal, you also see a little pin badge featuring the Scotch Malt Whisky Society logo – on my photo, this has actually fallen out… A membership card comes in a snazzy little red envelope, which is inset into a solid card overlay that features rather lovely illustrations. You also get a little £10-off voucher for your first purchase (which I neglected to use for my first purchase, since I was so keen to buy). Lift this out and you can hear the sound of angels singing. Three 10cl bottles of single cask whiskies are presented, each one from a different cask. In mine were the whiskies: 3.224 ‘Time for bed’, 9.77 ‘A distinguished gentleman’ and 35.89 ‘Spell-binding and breath-taking’. They’re pictured here, along with that little rascal of a pin-badge. Hopefully I’ll review these at a later date.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, their descriptions of whiskies are rather innovative. They don’t give you the distillery name, but instead the distillery is known by a number – the first one before the decimal being the distillery, and after the decimal is the number of the cask released by the SMWS, or the ‘cask identifier’. The taste notes themselves are rather amusing, too. This certainly isn’t what you get on an average bottle. I actually like this approach – whisky drinkers get connected to distilleries and become loyal supporters. Nothing wrong with that at all – I’m a huge Bruichladdich fan, for example, and always will be. But reducing a distillery to a number is genius, because it brings things back to taste. When you think about nothing but the taste, you begin to explore some really, really interesting whiskies, which otherwise you may never have tried. Now that’s what makes the whisky life interesting, surely?
So there you go; that’s what you get for your money. I reckon so far it’s certainly worth it. I’ve not even visited the members’ room in London yet, but I look forward to using it to impress all my friends.