Scotch Malt Whisky Society – An Introduction

Last Tuesday evening, I had the pleasure of nipping into the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) on Queen Street.  I’ve been in a couple of times before, but not as often as you might think, as the Society has previously been a members’ only affair.  And although I’ve been tempted by membership, my groaning shelves currently have plenty of whisky to keep my occupied.

However, last summer, the Queen Street venue (they’ve another down in Leith) flung its door open to all.  When I popped to have a preview of the Society’s April release, I was delighted to discover the venue was fuller than I’ve ever seen it, with a bustling yet relaxed atmosphere.

First established in 1983, the Society quickly started laying down roots all over the world, with bars as far afield as Australia, Canada and Taiwan.  The international club now has around 25,000 members, with each having access to all of the Society’s exclusive bottlings, as well as invites to member-only events.

SMWS is a whisky bottler first and foremost, bottling whiskies from Scotland, Wales, USA, France and Japan, along with some other spirits, including Cognac and Bourbon.  Each whisky is a single casks bottlings, which – in essence – makes each truly unique.

Each comes with the code, comprising four numbers.  The first two represent the distillery the whisky hails from.  The answers behind the codes were previously secret and had to be prized out of the Society’s bartenders at great expenses (usually by buying plenty of whisky).  In the digital age though, keeping this sort of information secret just isn’t possible, and the Society are more than happy to share the name of the origin distillery with drinkers.  However, they usually take the approach of revealing this at the end, so as not to skew drinker’s perceptions.  The second two numbers represent the number of bottles which has come from each cask.  Simple!

The bottles do provide a bit more information on top of this.  Each is given a name which is based on its flavours and characteristics.  This includes some outlandish names from Deep, Dark and Pleasantly Attractive and Ploughman’s on the Beach, to simpler names like Warming and Delightful and Fresh & Fluffy.  Each label also includes the whisky’s age and cask type, with some surprisingly old whiskies available at very reasonable prices.

To help both novices and members, the Society has created 12 flavour profiles, to help navigate the new monthly releases.  Last year, the Society bottled 358 different whiskies, which works out at between 15 and 20 a month, with output really ramped up around Christmas time.  As mentioned at the start, I popped by last Tuesday to have a preview of the Society’s bottlings for April.  And you’ll have to come back later this week, when I’ll be looking at a number of drams from the newest range.