Brave new world

Matt Bailey, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s National Ambassador for Australia, celebrates our online evolution during the pandemic and looks ahead to the Society uniting members in 2021, whether on screen or in person

Matt back when he was allowed out in public...

A (belated) happy new year to you all! I’m not one to look back often. What happened, happened. What you tasted, experienced, saw, heard, is a moment in time and an experience to enrich the soul, but looking back doesn’t serve too useful a purpose, especially in the context of great single cask whisky, at least.

Pining over a particular whisky that was in an Outturn three or four years ago, or eagerly awaiting the next certain code to pop up, I find, is a really good way to miss some of the hits that pass you by.

I’ve talked about this in the past. Don’t be a code hunter; instead, focus on flavour. But the real lesson here is that I tend not to pine over particular codes or casks that were from years gone by: I just like to remember the place, the people, the conversation, the ‘gel’ of the day or evening where it was enjoyed. The sharing, the discussion, the learning, the people you meet. Isn’t that what being part of a real whisky club is all about, after all?

But getting back to looking forward. That’s what we’re especially focused on this month. What does all the above look like in 2021?

To call the last 12 months tumultuous would be an understatement, but if there’s anything positive to take from it, it’s the tremendous sense of community online that’s flourished even more so. It’s the little things, but also the big things, that have really shaped what the Society looks like lately.

A lapsed member rejoined the Society midway through last year and sent me a little message saying that their decision to rejoin after being out for a while was simply the amazing community and virtual tastings and livestreams and wealth of whisky education that we’re doing. Made my week.

This brave new world of whisky tastings is upon us, both in-person and virtually. Virtual whisky tastings existed before Covid of course, but they were the exception, not the rule, and they were often fairly non-reciprocal affairs.

A host would use a webinar format, it wasn’t broadcast, questions were trimmed and squeezed at the end, and when it ended, that was it.

In the past 12 months our virtual tastings have had live Q&As, special guest hosts, blind tastings, member catch-ups, live music acts, in-depth interviews, and after-parties! The game has changed, the experience is evolving, but the love of great whisky and community that the SMWS provides stays the same.

I very much fall into the camp of ‘both, and better’ when it comes to experience. Too many times now I’ve heard the familiar line of “will digital events replace the classic ambassador”? Hint: it won’t. Better yet, it will only enhance it. We need to take an approach of ‘both’, ignore any negativity centred around that change, and embrace how and who we’re talking to, regardless of the medium.

So for 2021, it’s a bit of the same, a bit different, a bit game changing. We’re evolving, we’re offering even more, we’re keeping virtual events, we’re adapting our in-person events, we’re keeping safe, and we’re planning some seriously exciting experiences for you to be a part of.

Raise a glass with me, share in the enjoyment of great spirits, and slainté!

Matt Bailey

National Ambassador, SMWS Australia

Matt with fellow ambassador Ian Burrell