For many, membership to the Society is as much about the memories made with kindred spirits as it is about the whisky. But what is a whisky journey if it doesn’t include adventure? From losing tasting notes (and recreating them) to friendships forged through our virtual tastings, Ann Bingham, a member living in Southampton, tells Mads Schmoll about how getting involved and trying different things can lead to unexpected whisky adventures
“I guess my whisky journey started with Johnnie Walker Black label,” says Ann. “That was my dad’s drink of choice and my first experience of whisky.” In her 20s, the journey began in earnest with a spirit of adventure that has been a continuing trend. “I started trying malts and I suppose that is where my journey really began,” she says. “I would share them with friends and although I am not sure I really appreciated the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences in the brands, we certainly had some fun evenings.”
“My husband bought my first Society membership for me in 2002, it was a graduation gift for passing my PhD. If he knew what that would eventually entail, I am not sure he would have done that!” she says. “I love exploring the wonderful world of whisky and love a spreadsheet, so I combined those to keep a record of my whisky adventures and spend a daft amount of time keeping that up-to-date.”
ABOVE: Ann prepares her notes
If you’re a regular Unfiltered reader, you may remember the story of how one day the computer with the spreadsheet stopped working – leaving Ann to recreate her own tasting notes. With the help of ambassadors and fellow members, she rebuilt her spreadsheet and found that memories from the tastings were as powerful as the original tasting notes the whisky evoked.
As for her favourite part of the Society – it’s hard to choose just one thing. “There is so much I love about being part of the Society. Meeting members, some of whom have become such good friends, visiting the venues, I love the fact that they are all so different, but the one thing they have in common is the friendliness. It doesn’t matter if I go alone or with friends, I know I’m going to get a warm welcome.”
And of course, there’s the whisky. “Obviously the ongoing adventure that is exploring whiskies, I try all the flavour profiles and always look for distilleries that are new to me.”
Although making an effort to explore new distilleries, Ann still has her favourite Society flavour profiles. “I have two, or three – or 12 – I love them all but the ones I reach for most often are Oily & Coastal, Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits, and Heavily Peated,” she adds.
“Oily & Coastal, especially from Distillery 93, is my go-to whisky. There is a characteristic charm to them, that reminds me of my childhood [in Wales], messing around on the riverbank – think big tidal rivers with mudflats, wet ropes, oilskins and damp, oily rags.
“There is a distinctive smell to all that and it just takes me back to simpler, more carefree times.”
It's not just whisky that inspires adventure for Ann. During lockdown, she started chatting to fellow members during the Society’s virtual tastings where she met Glenn and Lesley Harrison.
After lockdown, the conversation continued: “We had a lot of fun with the advent calendar, with a number of members from around the world joining the SMWS (unofficial members room) Facebook page each evening to chat about the dram of the day. Two lovely people who I chatted to at that time, Glenn and Lesley, said they were visiting the London venue later in the year.
ABOVE: Ann and Lesley
“So I travelled over to meet them, we met at Greville Street and have since visited The Vaults together and stayed in the flat above the venue. Great times and a lasting friendship. We still have more trips to plan – I haven’t managed to get them to Bath Street yet…but I’m working on that.”
And for those who are still at the beginning of their whisky journey, Ann’s most important piece of advice? “Enjoy your whisky your way! People will always have an opinion, I certainly have mine, but always remember that the way you drink your whisky doesn’t change the flavour of anyone else’s – just enjoy and keep exploring.”