How would you like to try a range of whiskies that are adventurous and unique; a dram that is only available for a short period of time and is not tied to each distillery’s signature style? Whether you are a whisky connoisseur looking for something new or a complete novice wishing to connect with like-minded enthusiasts, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is perfect for you. The SMWS offers a wide range (nearly 200 unique bottlings) of whiskies from most Scottish distilleries and other parts of the world.
With names like ‘Sassy lassie in a leather skirt’, ‘Cosy in the cottage kitchen’ and ‘Rave at the garden centre’, you can tell this is neither a crusty nor a boring society. These are truly unique single malts that you simply will not find anywhere else in the world.
So how do they find these unique drams, then…?
Most of their whiskies are from Scotland, and they have purchased casks from pretty much every single distillery there, including some “silent” distilleries that are no longer in operation. In their most recent outturn they also released a few Irish whiskeys, and, in the past, have even had some from Japan.
Each cask is tasted by a special panel of whisky connoisseurs from different backgrounds. No information is given on age, origin or cask type to guarantee the best and most honest results. Each person will write down their notes without sharing their thoughts so they can’t influence the opinions of the other panellists. When these notes are completed, the group will discuss the dram in more detail and give it a final score. The whisky will be bottled only if the final score is high enough and the panel has found the dram sufficiently interesting and of top quality.
All SMWS’s whiskies are bottled at cask strength, and no chill filtration or other interference takes place, allowing you to enjoy the whisky in a raw, untouched way. These bottlings can be very surprising.
The final SMWS bottlings are numbered based on the distillery and the cask number, but the identity of the distillery is often not known to the sipper. You will, however, know the type of cask and age and have some tasting notes. I absolutely love how they name their bottles! The names are random and fun, as you probably noticed before. The relationship of the name to the liquid inside can be quite obtuse, but this adds to the fun of the tasting experience when you try to figure out how the name matches the spirit.
Some of these wonderful bottlings are available by the dram at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society bars for non-members, but with membership you can also buy these bottlings online or at the venue, and you get access to their members’ lounges, which offer even more exciting and unique bottles for members only.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society turns 35 this year!
The SMWS is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year and they were kind enough to invite us to explore their special drams and chat more about the society. We had a very interesting tasting at Kaleidoscope Whisky Bar in Edinburgh, where they have the world’s widest selection of exclusive single cask whiskies available. They had chosen three different styles of scotch for us to sample, An old wine cellar by candle light (first 28 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead, then the rest of the maturation in a first-fill charred red wine barrique), A real sherry monster (ex-Oloroso Sherry butt) and A Marooned Wordsmith (second-fill ex-Bourbon hogshead).
I have previously visited Islay and tasted some peaty options, but my palate has been more inclined towards the sweeter sherry-cask aged Speyside types. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that during our tasting my favourite was in fact the peaty Islay bottling! I guess that is a prime example of why these types of whisky bars are so interesting and educational; you get to chat with like-minded people and sample such a variety of whiskies you might just surprise yourself!
During my visit to their Edinburgh venue I learned just how much time and effort the SMWS puts into finding us the best and most exciting bottlings. Their membership costs only £65 a year, which is incredible considering you get to drink these rare single malts they have put so much effort into sourcing. And that’s not all the membership provides.
It’s not all about whisky…
The SMWS love a single cask whisky, but they are also a little curious about how other spirits do in single casks, therefore they now have a Single Cask Spirit Collection. This covers a range of rums, gins, bourbons, Armagnacs and cognacs, which are all as unique as their whisky selection. Similar to their single malts, these spirits have gone through the skilled tasting panel before being approved for bottling.
All the bottles are available for members to purchase from their website or sample at one of their bars. At Kaleidoscope Whisky Bar you can also enjoy whisky-based cocktails (or many other cocktails – we had an Armagnac Sidecar…), as well as a range of gins, wines and beers.
Upstairs of the bar you can find the Dining Room restaurant, which was awarded Scotland’s restaurant of the year in 2017!! After dining there, I definitely understand why! You have a choice of tasting menu with an option of wine pairing, a Menu Du Jour lunch menu (Tue–Sat) and an A la Carte for the evenings (three courses for only £45!). I am always quite sceptical about these “fancier” restaurants as the portions can be complicated and tiny, but at the Dining Room everything was delicious, and we had plenty to eat. They also offer a special vegetarian A la Carte menu.
I also loved that they have a whole page for cheeses; you could pick and mix your preferred selection! I will definitely go back there next time I am in Edinburgh.
So, what is actually included in this membership and how can I get one…?
The SMWS annual membership includes:
- Member-only access to around 20 new whiskies and other spirits each month
- Access to exciting tasting events
- Free subscription to an award-winning members’ magazine, Unfiltered
- Bring up to three guests to four Members’ Rooms in Edinburgh and London
- Discounts on drams at all SMWS partner bars around the UK and worldwide (see the list here)
- Free postage and packaging to most UK addresses
- Discounted bottles
All this for only £65 a year. It really is a great deal, as members-only clubs tend to cost you an arm and a leg…
The London venue is a beautiful Victorian building with a stylish design, and you can find a Members’ Room here as well. The first ever venue was The Vaults in Leith, which still remains the heart and soul of the SMWS. Expect leather sofas, friendly Scottish atmosphere and warming fireplaces.
All their partner bars have been selected very carefully so that all the members and non-members can have a great experience enjoying some single cask whiskies in a perfect ambiance.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has kindly offered a discount code to my lovely readers: you can get 10% off all the membership options with the code INKA10. If you are already a member you can also get 10% off orders over £29.99 (excludes Vaults collection bottles). But you should hurry, as the code will expire midnight 30th June 2018!
UPDATE: SMWS has given me a new code INKA10, which can be used for a 10% discount on all membership packages until 31st December 2020!
I hope you will take the opportunity to join and explore the world of whiskies. I highly recommend the SMWS. So far, my experiences have been excellent.
You can find more details of the membership packages (some options come with a tasting set or a bottle) from their website.
Have you ever been to any of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society venues? What was your greatest ever single malt experience and where were you?
This post have been created in collaboration with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As always, all words and opinions are my own.
I’m more of a beer than a whiskey guy…Whenever I try whiskey it all tastes like taste bud burning fire-water to me
Oh no! I recommend to add few drops of water into the whisky to open up the flavours, it will also take away the burning sensation. Some whiskies are bottled at cask strength so can be high on ABV.