A spirit shared

One of the best parts of working for the Society is meeting members who I’ve previously only interacted with online, says SMWS social media guru Mads Schmoll. Whether it’s answering questions about the Society on social media or hosting a Twitter tasting, it’s always a great moment when I get to put a face to a name and talk about whisky in person. Although I’ve not had the chance to meet as many members as I would have liked in 2020, I’ve been inspired by how you’ve all come together not only at our virtual tastings and pub nights, but outside of Society events too. I spoke to some members about how sharing whisky together online is pushing the boundaries of what we can do with technology by creating real world friendships

MEMBER PHOTOS: Courtesy of Alistair Mateer, Lars Wictorsson, Damian Irisarri, Simon Burgess

For member Fiona Shoop, it all started on social media. “I’ve made some great friends thanks to the Society,” she says. “It began on Twitter with people talking about the Outturns, then DMs when I was given a heads-up about what was coming on, especially those sherry cask bottles with incredible colours – or which dram had just made its way back to the website – then more Twitter DMs to let people know I’d seen a tweet about missing out on an elusive bottle of 1 or 93 and that they could buy one right now.”

These connections slowly branched out into getting to know the members behind the tweets, as she goes on to describe. “Then [came] Facebook, Zoom, WhatsApp, even Discord and virtual tastings, comparing notes, talking about what makes SMWS so great (well, that and the website issues...) and, one of my favourite aspects of the club, drample swaps. Miss out on a bottle? Friends will send you drams, you send others back. The bottles go further that way and, in an age of lockdown, we share drams remotely. That’s true friendship, and all thanks to SMWS.”

ABOVE: Mads has been bringing members together with her online Twitter tastings and virtual pub sessions

ABOVE: Member Paolo swapped samples with Alistair

The sharing also takes place across countries.

Member Paolo Sacco is based in Genoa in the north west of Italy, but has struck up a firm friendship with fellow member Alistair Mateer in England.

“Alistair was a recurring name in my Twitter timeline, often describing drams I was interested in and showing a taste profile very similar to mine,” says Paolo.

“In no time, I learnt to ‘give him a go’ when he highlighted something unusual to me – more than often, these were SMWS bottles. And, yes, he’s a good guide! I felt I owed him something of the same nature, so it came naturally to take a bottle he was interested in, pour a sample, bottle it, and send it to that beautiful Yorkshire town of Skipton.”

“Like many sample swaps we met through the Twitter whisky community,” says Alistair. “The community is special because it seems to effortlessly set itself high standards for behaviour and communication. A shared love brought us together, a community that normalises sharing is why we did this.”

Sharing drams together is something that’s united the larger whisky community as well – bringing together whisky club members from all over the UK – especially over the last year, and often creatively given the circumstances of 2020.

“When the first lockdown happened, a few of the London Whisky Club members were missing the monthly outturn tastings at the venues. A couple of the guys decided to create a virtual outturn tasting instead,” says Simon Burgess, an SMWS member from Coventry. “We all visit different venues normally, so it’s been great to chat with people from different parts of the UK and even get people involved who live too far away from a venue to attend normally”.

And in addition to creating friendships, this sharing spirit has created opportunities for championing newer areas of whisky and bringing together kindred spirits who might not have met otherwise. Damian Irisarri is an SMWS member based in Lancashire who regularly attended tastings in Manchester. After a Burns Night tasting last January, he created a WhatsApp group to keep other members up to date with Society goings-on. While the pandemic put a halt to in-person tastings, this developed into a chance to connect with other members virtually.

PICTURED: Member Damian has packaged up samples to swap with other members; Damian taking part in the festival tasting earlier this year with host, SMWS ambassador Olaf Meier

“I used that group to let people know about the Society virtual events,” he says.

“On two or three occasions we had a few people on a tasting and my friend Cat set up a Google Meet video where she broadcast the streamed tasting and at the end of which we all unmuted and could chat about our own experiences of the whiskies we were tasting.

“It wasn’t the same as being there in person but helped make it a bit more interactive between us.”

As he connected with his closer-to-home whisky club, Southport whisky club, and with the wider whisky community on Twitter, he came to realise that through the virtual there was an opportunity to try whiskies from other distilleries, societies and clubs that previously might have proven difficult to source. “Through this I first came across an English Whisky tasting for St George’s Day that led me to volunteer to support the organiser to hold an English Whisky Festival in October and the commencement of a club supporting English Whisky going forward.”

This sense of community and getting involved is also something that’s brought Simon the opportunity to meet fellow SMWS members in person after meeting online. “After the first lockdown ended, myself and a couple of other people I had met through the online whisky community decided it would be great to meet up in real life,” he says.

“After a quick chat, we soon realised we all had one thing in common, we were all SMWS members, but none of us had visited a venue!”

PICTURED: SMWS Sweden member Lars raises a glass with best friend and whisky brother Anders to celebrate World Whisky Day

The group decided to meet in London, and ended up in the city on the hottest day of the year. “We made our first trip to Greville Street, instantly being made to feel at home by [bar staff] Andrea and Valentino. We’re all looking forward to when we can finally visit again!”

While we might not yet be able to share drams at an in-person tasting or at a venue, there’s more ways that whisky brings us together than any of us could have imagined. With a little help from technology, and the occasional postal delivery, there’s always new friends to be had and new whiskies to share together.

PICTURED: Members Simon and Richard met in person at 19 Greville Street earlier this year