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Road Test - Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Author: Matt Wooler - Friday, June 10, 2016


Hold onto your horses and grab a small tipple as we want to take a moment to road test a membership based independent bottler and this bottler goes by the name Scotch Malt Whisky Society or SMWS for short. Dramnation is proud to be featuring three SMWS bottles over this winters coming tasting sessions. This is a unique opportunity to taste some of these releases that you will never see them on a common store shelf. So let s take a moment to understand factors that define SMWS.

Established in 1983 and as the name suggests Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a social based community. The Society (as members fondly know it by, speaking it much like a secret handshake) is made up over over 30,000 members world wide and growing. Membership to this society is subscription based with branches currently in 19 countries. By becoming a member you gain access to purchase from a continuous outturn of independently bottled carefully matured whiskies. All casks used by SMWS are hand picked from distilleries around the world and then extra matured in their own warehouses. When the time is right casks are bottled as natural cask strength single cask expressions that are also non-chill filtered with no added water. Whisky at its purest for the purist. Often a cask will yield less than 250 bottles for world wide release which means extremely well priced drams that are so rare they will never be seen again.

Before proceeding we want to be clear about the name for any confusion it gives. The first part “Scotch Malt” these days is certainly a little deceiving and you won’t be criticised for assuming it is just about Scotch malt whisky. SMWS now selects casks from all countries and indeed also have limited outturns of Grain Whisky, Cognac, Bourbon, and Rum. It is no longer about just Scotch malts and the name simply defines the societies fine heritage.

Australian membership is paid annually or monthly at a cost of $120AU in total for the years subscription. These fees go into upkeep of the society as a whole, event management, bottle distribution, the local tasting panel and various associated print costs. This membership also entitles you to members rates for attending both public and private tastings as well as access to purchase SMWS bottling’s on release.

Membership also grants you access to some exclusive and public partner bars around the world including some here in Australia. If you want to know more about tasting SMWS releases there is a few Partner Bars across Australia where you can stop in and purchase a dram  as a member or public patron. A full list of Australian partner bars can be found on the SMWS site here.

Signup as a member is easy and can be done online via the SMWS Society website. This can be made either choosing the SMWS Annual Membership Subscription or SMWS Gift Membership for $240 which includes membership for one year and a gift pack. After signup each following year is a fee of $120 ongoing paid annually or monthly. Once membership is complete you are free to start buying bottles from the outturn. Costs of bottles varies starting at around $160 and up with all costs in a purchase including shipping across Australia.

Looking at the tall green bottles you will note a unique code and title such as 33.131 “The Made Scientist on the Dockside”. The Society does not put emphasis on the distiller but instead wants you to appreciate the contents on its own merit. The first two digits in the number are of historical significance defining the order in which a distillery was first ever appearing as a SMWS release. That distillery will forever be defined by that number. The second set of digits relates to the single cask number the has been bottled from that particular distillery. Instead of just giving a release a sterile number, each bottle is given a unique title that describes in as few words as possible what to expect. Below the title is a lengthy description delivered by the tasting panel for future details. As you peer closer you will find both the age of the whisky, when it was distilled and bottled, as well as the style of cask used. Over time you will become accustomed to numbering system and look favourably at how the title describes what to expect.

We at Dramnation love SMWS releases. They are quirky, odd, exciting and of course enjoyable. When the title describes it as “A Well Oiled Baseball Glove” expect just that, but rest assured it is balanced, refined, big and juicy. Profiles in SMWS release are expected to shock as much as woo the appreciator yet take each and every whisky above and beyond anything you can expect from an official distillery release

As I am also a member of SMWS, from a personal perspective my experience with the society has always been positive. Not only are the releases exciting and well priced for the scarcity of a bottle but the social events held are always enjoyable. Sometimes these events are sit down tastings to experience of a latest outturn of releases or at other times stand up events for a social gathering of members. I can certainly say you never feel out of place at a society event.

During this years winter period Dramnation will be featuring 3 different SMWS bottles at 3 connective events. The first of these events on the 25th June is A World Whisky Tour Session 2 at Pocket Bar Darlinghurst where you all be able to explore the virtues of an American Bourbon titled SMWS B3.2 “Ooey-gooey Cinnamon Bun”. Come July 23rd at Crooked Tailor we will be delving into the world of Wine Cask Whiskies featuring SMWS 72.47 “Burnt Spotted Dick”. August sees us back at Crooked Tailor for Smoke Stacks featuring the peated SMSW 3.212 “Anti-Aphrodisiac”. We will be delivering tasting notes on each of these bottles in out event wrap ups in case you miss a session.

These 3 consecutive events will give you an amazing chance to trial a SMWS release before becoming member so don’t miss out. We hope to see you at one or all of these sessions.

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