Cleopatra’s bath time, Cerealism, Delicate masculinity, Drink me you swine!, Thatcher’s tea break, Umami heaven, Sassy lassie in a leather skirt… Like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s many bottles, we are all unique and different, but united by our interest in whisky. I paid a visit to the SMWS’s latest members-only venue in Glasgow to see what the world’s most colourful whisky club has to offer.
38 Bath Street
The SMWS venue on 38 Bath Street had literally just opened its doors to members when the lockdown began. It has been a slow start, but hopefully the rest of the year will be more fruitful for the new venue. The décor at 38 Bath Street is well executed and you are instantly made to feel at home.
We were greeted at the door by the venue manager, Calum, who also gave us a wee tour of the place before taking us to our reserved table. Calum introduced us to the latest outturn (the Society releases around 20 new whiskies each month) and explained a little about the Society, as my friends were new to this concept. As a member you can bring up to three friends with you to visit these member-only venues. That way they get to experience the benefits first-hand and to try some unique drams otherwise not available to non-members.
We either selected a dram from the outturn or went with the recommendations given by the extremely knowledgeable staff members. It always amazes me how well they can recommend whiskies based on your ideal flavour category. For example, I wanted something lightly peated and savoury, and based on that, I was offered a dram of Smoky harbour fish supper, which was a divine flavour bomb of smoked sardines, horseradish and sugar kelp! The staff also offer tips on how to taste whisky properly, which is very helpful for beginners. Personally, over the past few years, I have learned a lot about whisky with the help of the Society. Everyone working there is always encouraging and full of both general and random whisky knowledge.
In normal circumstances there would be bar menus on each table, which would feature the different price categories relative to their value, starting with price category ‘A’, being £5.50, and going to ‘K’, at £35. There’s also Malt of the Moment for £4.50. Usually, it is also possible to view the physical binder of all the SMWS whiskies available at each venue, aka the whisky bible, which features just under 500 bottles! You can also find this online.
38 Bath Street also offers a great selection of food, so whether you just want a snack to go with the dram (cheese board, anyone?) or a full dinner, I definitely recommend it. Starting from 11th September you can also get chef James Freeman’s famous Society fish and chips all day, every Friday, accompanied by a dram, beer or glass of wine for £15. Yes, the venue also serves drinks other than whisky. Choose from a wide range of spirits, beers, wines and cocktails.
Due to the current Covid regulations, it is important to book ahead to avoid disappointment. You can have a table for up to 2 hours and 45 minutes, although if you do wish to stay longer, just add a note at the time of booking.
Most of their whiskies are from Scotland, and the Society has purchased casks from pretty much every single distillery there, including some ‘silent’ distilleries that are no longer in operation.
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.
Each bottle is numbered based on the distillery and the cask number, but the identity of the distillery is often unknown to the sipper. You will, however, know the type of cask and age and have some tasting notes. The idea behind the numbers is to allow you to taste the whisky with an open mind, as often if we know the distillery, we tend to have expectations of the flavours.
It is also possible for members to buy these bottles directly at the venue. If you don’t wish to take your bottle home, you can hire a locker and store your whisky at the venue. Each time you visit, you can just sip your own whisky and share it with your guests.
So, what is actually included in this membership?
The SMWS annual membership includes:
- Member-only access to around 20 new whiskies and other spirits each month
- Access to exciting tasting events (incl. virtual tastings)
- Free subscription to an award-winning members’ magazine, Unfiltered
- Bring up to three guests to Members’ Rooms
- Discounts on drams at all SMWS partner bars across the UK and worldwide (see the list here)
- Free postage and packaging to most UK addresses, and across the EU if you spend over £99
- 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…
Have you ever tried SMWS whisky or been to one of their many venues?
This post has been created in collaboration with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. As always, all words and opinions are my own.