Buy Your Dad a Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership for Father’s Day (you know you haven’t bought him anything yet).
And get one for yourself while you’re at it. This is not an ad, just sage advice. If you are a Scotch fiend, buy your SMWS membership immediately. I punted mine for years. Mistake! My proximity to the SMWS, attending their tastings and weaseling my way into the occasional sample dram from friends made me think I could snake around the $100 a year membership fee… until it was too late.
The 2019 SMWS outturn Barbecue Fishnets garnered rave reviews from minds I trust. The descriptors and the scores from blogs made me salivate. I searched high and low for a bottle, but they sold out fast. The people lucky enough to get them got them fast and got them all. It was that good. Barbecue Fishnets is on a short list of bottles I deeply regret not buying. Call it not-buyer’s remorse. I haven’t even been able to charm my way into a sample bottle or a paltry SIP. If you are sitting on one, please know I’d pay 5 times the membership fee for a bottle.
There are myriad ways to be thrifty while exploring your whisky passion, but there are times when you just have to pony up, and – if you love Scotch – an SMWS membership is crucial.
Previously, Malt Review has written some cantankerous, antagonistic reviews about the declining quality of SMSW (subjective point). I admit I don’t have the titanic span of the earlier outturns to compare its past to its present releases, but everyone remembers the good old days as better than they were. I don’t have any rubber left on my “Yesterday Was Better” brakes. Shift gears, man! The argument reminds me of losers in a coffee shop who can’t play a chord snarking “I prefer their earlier work, they’ve really sold out.”
I will say that in present day, the value of a SMWS membership probably benefits Americans way more than folks in the UK, where distilleries can ship nationwide, and people can pop into Cadenhead’s or Luvian’s or the Edradour distillery shop and find way more interesting bottles than what ends up on the shelves in the U.S. (objective point).
Fun fact! SMWS is exactly as old as I am. In 1983 the founder, Pip Hill, from Edinburgh, bought a cask from a tiny Highland distillery. He shared it with friends and, spurred on by their enthusiasm, he bought another. He collected funds and bought another cask. That cask led to another, and another, and another.
Pip soon found his market, despite being told there was none. Because the distillers did not select the casks they sold to Pip, they were adamant that they not use the distillery name on the bottles. They disguised distilleries with a number code, and identified categories of flavor profiles by color codes for guidance. (This numbers system is easily looked up on Ye Olde Internets). The fountainhead of one man’s tenacity became the SMWS that exists today; 30,000 members strong, with a quality fathoms above every other indie bottler, whisky subscription, club, big box, or buyer’s gift guide.
I was gifted my first SMWS bottle in a generous gesture by Ben Deidrich, the director of the Single Malt Whisky Society US. It was an engagement present (which is why you haven’t heard from me for a while, I’ve been busy gazing at my ring and daydreaming about The Big To Do). Ben sent me Society Cask No. 66.196. Its price? $250. Its title? “Portent of Deception” Would you like one? You’re too late! It’s out of stock.
I immediately cracked it open for a special occasion. My friend’s father was visiting from Indiana, and I was hosting them for dinner and drinks. My friend’s father, Bruce, is an elegant man. He is warm, friendly, intellectually thirsty and the perfect guest. He’d been to Scotland, visited distilleries, and was very excited to ask me whisky questions.
I was happy to have Portent of Deception on hand for him. It’s a VIP treat. The presentation reminds me of Ardbeg. The deep jade sea glass bottle conceals the color of the dram, making it mysterious. The titles are always clever, and like Ardbeg’s titles, always poetic. Charry Charry Bang Bang, Perverse Pineapple, The Dark Lord of Stromness, Sea Breeze and Lime Trees–swoon!Portent of Deception lived up to its name by being deceptive indeed, and nothing thrills me more than a tricky dram. A hard to pin down nose, a palate that surprises because of the nose, a finish that intrigues further. Portent of Deception is exactly that.
When I took out the bottle, Bruce marveled. He had never even heard of the SMWS. He put on his glasses and read every word on the label. He took out his phone and Googled SMWS. Bruce wanted to know where, how old, how much. I clocked his enthusiasm immediately. Dads love SMWS.
I bought my own dad the Father’s Day Special they have going on this week, which is a wee bit cheaper than normal. The special is a yearly membership, plus a tasting kit which contains 3 100L bottles, a set of crystal tasting glasses, and a crystal water jug. The deal is excellent: $245 with tax and shipping, and the packaging looks like you really splurged on Dad.
This is why I bought a SMWS membership for my father: It’s a society, but a bit of a secret. Dad’s love secret societies. Membership is global, members are given discount drams in various bars in 19 different countries. Whipping out a SMWS membership card in a bar in Amsterdam for a slightly cheaper pour will make my dad feel like James Bond. It fosters community. Dad’s love communities. Especially communities that don’t demand too much from them. They can participate as little or as much as they wish. SMSW emails are sporadic enough to always be interesting, and never an inbox nuisance. You know how overwhelmed dads get clearing out their email. It takes research to find out what you’re drinking. Old guys love figuring things out. The monthly outturns gives dads something to look forward to. They need this. The bottles have special codes. Dad’s love cracking codes – what else have they got to do? It’s a conversation starter. With every outturn they will learn more about Scotch regions, flavor profiles, and the maturation process. You can talk to them about their new SMWS bottle instead of your feelings, which they hate. Membership comes with a mailed learning guide, an orientation packet, if you will. It takes the thinking out of trying something different, but still ensures you’ll always be trying something you like. Dads need to branch out. SMWS is like the Dealer’s Choice of branching out.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Portent of Deception – Review
Society Cask No. 66.196, Outturn 1 of 253.
Color: It has a rose gold tint to it!
On the nose: This is a beautiful nose, but it’s soft. Lots of ginger, something pretty and sweetly floral–plumeria, subtle, subtle strawberry, but also something nautical, which made me think it might be an Islay, not fish or seaweed–but like a gentle ocean spray in the face. The grapefruit Method dish soap. Water brought out an even sweeter fragrance that reminded me of Framboise, the raspberry Lambic! I got an old, metallic and distinctly personal note of opening my old wooden jewelry box! The nose is the star of the show.
In the Mouth: Not as thrilling as the nose, but still a good palate. When I expected fruit-sweet, it gave me a bitterness. Carob. Cinnamon. Valerian root (if you’re not familiar, the herbal sleep aid supplement, it tastes a little like Fernet.) The very distinct taste of struggling to blow up a balloon, some astringent soda bread, pool water. With a little water I got lemon rinds, some smoke saturated pecans, and is there such a thing as lime cheesecake? Because I got lime and cheesecake. The finish is a spicy celeriac root, in fact–I notice a lot of root vegetables. Beet, and the aforementioned valerian. I get the grainy carbs in the finish instead of the nose, and bitter salad greens. The taste cadence is bitter /sweet/ bitter.
I would have guessed this was an Islay because of the subtle sea faring notes, but that’s my bad. I wanted there to be more peat, more brine, more salt, the stuff of my Islay dreams. It’s interesting that the palate isn’t more porty, I didn’t get any of the dark fruits I usually get from port casks. The switcheroo palate is good, but it’s a head fuck. Oh! So THAT’S why they named it Portent of Deception. I get it. Your dad can get it, too.