Stay curious

Swedish member Surya Bonta has gone from taking a hipflask sip of SMWS whisky to creating a collection of bottlings from across Scotland’s whisky regions and the Society’s 12 flavour profiles. Mads Schmoll caught up with him to find out more about his whisky journey and passion for the Society


A selection of Surya’s bottlings before the Society changed its label in 2017

When we last caught up with member Surya Bonta, he was looking to complete a collection of SMWS bottlings from each of Scotland’s whisky regions with a bottle from each Society flavour profile.

He finished the Highlands first and since we last spoke, he’s also finished his Islay collection, started and completed a separate Loch Lomond collection across all 12 flavour profiles and started and is close to completing all flavour profiles with an ex-sherry maturation.

There’s now just 12 bottlings standing between Surya and the completion of his original goal – one flavour profile from Speyside, two from Island, four from Campbeltown, and five from the Lowland region. We sat down with him to talk about his whisky collection, his passion for the Society and how it all began.

Although he already enjoyed blended whiskies and the odd highball, it was Surya’s experience of single malts that kickstarted his passion first for trying and then for collecting different expressions. He tried his first single malt in 2008 with a bottling of Laphroaig 10 year – a dram that has forever endeared him to the distillery.

“The journey started as enjoyment. It was never about appreciation of whisky before, but rather enjoyment,” he says. “It’s moved more into appreciation, where you find out and think about the whisky. It’s been a journey of 15 to 16 years, moving from pure enjoyment to pure appreciation.” After hearing about The Scotch Malt Whisky Society from a colleague who shared a Society dram from a hipflask, he joined in 2012.

He still has the last few drops from the first six bottlings he purchased. “They are pretty diverse,” he says. “Two malts from Speyside, one grain from Lowland, one malt from Island, one very interesting and amazing grain from Japan (the raw grain is malt but a Coffey still is used) and a peated Irish dram in the Spicy & Sweet flavour profile – that’s something perhaps only the Society does!”

As his flavour journey has evolved, it’s led him to seek out bottlings that are more unusual, for example Spicy & Dry flavour profiles with sherry maturation. “I enjoy exploring drams that are a bit different, getting out of my comfort zone. These have that element of surprise that I look forward to,” he says. “[It’s] that explosion of sweet, spicy, salty and smoky on the palate.”

Despite his already extensive collection, there are some standout regions and distilleries that Surya comes back to time and time again. “My favourite region is Islay, due to the variety of wood maturations and peated and unpeated varieties,” he says.

“Most of my Islay collection is from distillery 10. The variety there is mind-boggling. They make everything from Young & Spritely to Heavily Peated and that’s something I like.”

This variety is one of his favourite parts about being a Society member. It brings “exceptional spirits in terms of sheer quality and the wonderful diversity it offers in terms of whisky,” he says, as well as the opportunity of “meeting like-minded people who enjoy the whisky and the company and respect your choices in whisky”.

Post-2017 bottlings from across territories and flavour profiles

Surya surveys his growing collection of Society bottlings

For Surya, it’s all about the experience, something he advises new members to keep in the mind as they navigate offerings from the Society. “Take time to enjoy the spirit the Society bottles. Just follow your nose and your palate and look for what you like,” he says. “Don’t miss the tasting packs, as there are some real gems out there. And be open to trying out other spirits as well.” As to what’s next once he completes this collection?

“I will perhaps try and do something with the two flavour profiles I love from the Society – Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits and Old & Dignified, or something with the different cask finishes the Society keeps surprising us with.”