I’ve been enjoying the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s releases for years now, but for some reason it took me quite some time before I managed to visit their Members’ Room and whisky bar in Leith. Finally, earlier this month I paid a visit to the historic venue and, let me tell you, it really is as welcoming as people say.
The Vaults has a long history which dates back to the 12th century, with the current building completed in 1787. At one time it was used as a wine merchant’s bonded warehouse, but since 1983 the venue has served as a cosy bar for the whisky-loving community. In fact, some of the ladies who used to work for the company that occupied the building before the Society now visit the venue to enjoy a dram with their previous co-workers.
The Vaults comprise a few smaller rooms used for tastings and special events, upstairs accommodation (available for members) and a huge, stunning room with a high ceiling that was completely wasted as the wine merchant’s office, but luckily today it is fully appreciated in all its glory. There are dining areas, cosy sofas where you can sit back and relax by the fires and, of course, the whisky bar.
The venue really differs from the other Members’ Rooms in Scotland. The Glasgow venue has a modern look to it (and apparently, the biggest selection of whiskies of all the venues), the Edinburgh rooms are classy yet smaller and on many levels, while the Vaults feels historic and cosy like a living room where you want to spend all those rainy winter days.
Get 10% off the SMWS membership with code OTS10. Valid in both the UK and the EU until 31st December 2022.
Upcoming events at the Vaults
Beer, Whisky & Curry – 22nd September 2022
Pair four SMWS drams with four beers from the Walkie Talkie Brewery. All accompanied by the chef’s famous curry to complete the holy trinity of beer, whisky and curry! Only £35pp.
Music and Malts – every Tuesday night at the Vaults
Join in every Tuesday night as the Society house band, the Sam Gillespie trio, does a live acoustic set while you enjoy your drams. Free entry, booking recommended.
Coos and Booze – 29th September 2022
Join in for an evening in the Vaults Courtyard (weather permitting), where you can enjoy a delicious steak supper, straight off the BBQ, with five of the finest single cask whiskies from the Society. £45pp.
Outturn Preview Tasting – 3rd October 2022
A regular tasting event which gives you the opportunity to try as many of the new outturn as you wish in small samples (and be the first to be able to buy bottlings!). £45pp.
Quiz Night – 6th October 2022
Your £25 ticket will include a dram on arrival and a Society supper.
Distillery Visit: Glenmorangie & Ardbeg – 10th October 2022
Monday Distillery Visit events are back! The first event welcomes Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. As always, in addition to the distillery’s own drams, you will also enjoy a Society whisky and a supper. £55pp.
Sherry Lovers Tasting – 13th October 2022
This five-dram tasting will feature three sherry-matured SMWS whiskies, two actual sherries, and a Spanish Society Supper. £40pp.
The Gathering Virtual Tasting – Friday 30th September 2022
Online tasting that’s available for both the UK and EU members. The pack includes five 25ml drams. Join through Facebook or YouTube.
For more events, see the SMWS website.
How does the Society work?
The SMWS is a whisky lover’s dream. Their whiskies are truly unique and exciting, and they come with bizarre names. Some of my recent favourites from the latest outturn included Dali-Esque Bodega Landscape (a magnificent sherry bomb) and Baldrick’s Aquatic Dress Turnip (cheesy, pickled and fishy but all in a crazy good way!). Their releases can be very surprising, a great way to challenge your tastebuds.
The Society releases around twenty new bottles every month, with all the whiskies bottled at cask strength without chill filtration, allowing you to enjoy the whisky in a raw, untouched way. They have bought casks from most distilleries in Scotland, and you can even find the odd cask from ‘silent’ distilleries no longer in operation as well as the occasional whisky from Ireland, Japan and the US. They even have a few Armagnacs, gins and rums available.
The Society has a very helpful categorisation system which splits the whiskies into twelve tasting groups, making it easier for you to navigate through all the releases.
Young & Spritely
Sweet, Fruity & Mellow
Spicy & Dry, Deep
Rich & Dried Fruits
Old & Dignified
Light & Delicate
Juicy, Oak & Vanilla
Oily & Coastal
Spicy & Sweet
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.
So, what is actually included in this membership?
The SMWS annual membership includes:
- Member-only access to around twenty new whiskies and other spirits each month
- Access to exciting tasting events and other whisky experiences (including virtual tastings)
- Exclusive access to Unfiltered magazine
- 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)
- Expert whisky advice and personal guidance from the Dram-cierge team
A great offering for £85 a year.
Which venues have you visited? Do you have a favourite?
Disclaimer: This post has been created in collaboration with The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and includes some affiliate links.