Time to look ahead

David Ridley at The Vaults, Edinburgh

SMWS managing director and chief member champion David Ridley welcomes the arrival of a new year, and the chance to get together to appreciate a Society dram – even if it’s in a virtual format for a little longer

Members have always been at the heart of the Society, and this time last year we reinforced our commitment to put you at the heart of everything we do as a club. We unveiled a new look for the Society, putting our monogram design on all of our bottles, and sent out a new badge for members to wear with pride.

Creating physical spaces for you to meet up is integral to what we do, and March saw the opening of a splendid new Members’ Room in Glasgow. Memories will live long of a lively launch party where members came together to celebrate having a fantastic new home in the heart of Scotland’s biggest city. Backs were patted, drams were shared, hugs and kisses were given, and everything seemed well in the world.

And then…

That evening in March now feels like a bygone era, as coronavirus swept across the planet and confined most of us to our homes. Our Members’ Rooms shut down, our staff stayed home, and we all wondered what was going to happen next.

What we did was to reorganise and restructure, not only to make sure that our whisky kept flowing and we could find a way to get it to your door, but to help you come together to enjoy it.

That meant starting up a series of virtual tastings and online pub sessions that saw us through the early months of lockdown, with Society ambassadors and staff joining forces to find various ways to engage and entertain our members.

If we couldn’t travel to our usual whisky festivals in Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay in May, we brought the festivals to you – and continued to build on our programme of virtual tastings and pub sessions through the course of the year.

Around the world our international branches all rose to the situation and brought their own members together in a range of virtual tastings, pub nights and interviews with industry insiders. And we invested in a new digital platform to bring you this new monthly digital Unfiltered magazine, instead of producing it every three months.

Despite the challenges to production, last year we bottled whiskies from more than 100 different distillery codes, including three new distilleries – expanding the international range of whiskies we offer. Our collaboration with Holyrood distillery also led to lucky member Laurence Wise winning his very own hogshead.

Meanwhile our spirits team has been working on more experimental single cask expressions and blends, and with more new distilleries in the pipeline 2021 looks like being another fantastic year of incredible whiskies.

The past year has been challenging in ways that none of us could have possibly imagined, but we are grateful to you all for staying with us through tough times and being involved in everything we’ve brought you through the course of the year.

Here’s to light at the end of this tunnel and much better times ahead in 2021. We look forward to seeing you either online or hopefully in person before too long. Slainte!

David Ridley, MD and Chief Member Champion