NEW MEMBER FOCUS
Making the most of the Society in 2023
Welcome to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the world’s largest whisky club. Priding ourselves in being unconventional whisky experts, we focus on standing out by doing things differently. For 40 years, we’ve celebrated whisky in its purest form, with our expert Tasting Panel hand-picking exclusive whiskies from over 150 distilleries for our members. Recent recruit Duncan Gorman takes a look at how to make the most of your membership as we kick off a new year of whisky adventures with the Society
WHAT IS THE SOCIETY?
Good question – and there’s no-one better to answer it than the man who started it all off, Pip Hills. If you’re a new member like me, the first thing you should do is dive into the story about how Pip stumbled across the pleasure of unadulterated whisky, drawn straight from the cask. That was back in the 1970s on a farm in rural Aberdeenshire – where we returned with Pip recently to find out more about his whisky epiphany.
The consensus from the whisky establishment at the time was that there was no demand for such a quirky spirit. Despite the lack of interest in the spirit, in 1983 Pip – along with a handful of friends –went against the grain and created The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Some 40 years later, we’ve taken Pip’s epiphany around the world to share with more than 35,000 members who appreciate the very best things in life. You can even read Pip’s book about how the Society started out and his whisky adventures along the way, in The Founder’s Tale – a cracking read.
WHAT IS THAT LABEL ALL ABOUT?
At the Society we like to take a step back from the importance of individual distilleries and dive headfirst into a full flavour focus. As Euan Campbell, our head of whisky creation, would tell you, the countless parameters in the maturation process allow for an endless variety in different flavours and characteristics produced by the same new-make spirit.
Instead of labelling our bottling with the distillery name, we categorise each bottle into one of 12 flavour profiles, and assign bottles with their own numerical digits for organisation. Upon partnering with distilleries, we assign them with their own number, then for each cask of whisky we bottle, a decimal point is added to the digit on the label. We also like to bring our whisky to life, giving each bottle a unique and quirky name and tasting notes.
HOW CAN I GET THE BEST FROM MY SMWS MEMBERSHIP?
There's a lot for new members like myself to get their heads around when it comes to how much the Society has to offer. Here are a few points I think you should try and tick off to get the most out of your experience.
Go and do a tasting to find your favourite flavour profile
Discovering all that the Society has to offer of course starts and ends with whisky, which we believe is like no other. Work your way through our 12 flavour profiles to discover the intricacies of each style of whisky and uncover where your preferences lie. Our staff and ambassadors are always more than happy to walk you through each dram, as well as helping you understand what journey the spirit has gone through to produce each expression.
Visit a Members’ Room
The Society now hosts four Members’ Rooms across the UK, each offering a unique experience.
Be it where it all began 40 years ago at The Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh, or our most recent addition on Bath Street in Glasgow, there is something for everyone. Indulge in a quality meal and soak in the culture of the Society first hand through our unique whiskies. For members further afield there are also a variety of hand-picked partner bars worldwide for them to enjoy our whisky. With more than 130 partner bars across more than 20 countries, why not find your closest one here (https://smws.com/venues/international-partner-bars) and pay them a visit.
Go to a SMWS event
The Society offers a number of exciting events all over the world, giving members the perfect opportunity to meet like-minded whisky enthusiasts and expand your knowledge. The distillery visits at The Vaults in Leith, for example, offer a series of visits from industry experts who will walk you through a unique list of drams, accompanied with an in-depth chat about their extensive experience. Check out your local SMWS branch to see what events might be on near you. If you can’t make it along in person, check out the Society’s regular podcast, Whisky Talk, for interviews with some of the leading names in the whisky world. And look out for regular online tastings and events where you can join the conversation and share our drams from the comfort of your own home.
WHAT MAKES OUR WHISKIES SPECIAL?
All of our whiskies are 100 per cent exclusive to the Society and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. We like to focus on offering whisky in its purest form, which we believe is single cask and cask strength, meaning it is completely unchanged after being extracted from the cask. Because the majority of our whisky is single cask, there are very few bottles available for each release and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever – so the most important lesson is not to hang around.
There are no two whiskies from the Society that are the same! Lots of our new-make spirit also comes from distilleries that contribute the majority of their spirit into blends, allowing us to mature and sell exclusive single cask whisky that wouldn’t otherwise be available. Make sure to connect with the Society’s social media channels and sign up for email communications to keep up to date with our regular releases and all our other news.
Finally, check out the Society’s series of welcome videos, where you can find out everything from how the Tasting Panel operates to how to taste and appreciate SMWS whisky.