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I’ve covered the Scotch Malt Whisky Society enough now that little introduction should be required for regular readers but for anyone new to WhiskyReviews.net, the SMWS is a members club that specialises in bottling single cask whisky, predominantly, but not exclusively from Scotland. For the record, they also dabble in Armagnac, Cognac, Rum and even Gin.
The Society was founded back in the 1980’s, at a time few in the industry saw any potential in bottling whisky straight from the cask. Pip Hills and his associates were so blown away by the quality of such drams however that they decided to make it happen for their own enjoyment. Friends and associates clubbed in and with each new cask bought, the syndicate grew and soon, it had opened to the public, with new company headquarters acquired in the historic port of Leith, Edinburgh.
Since those early days, the SMWS has found members all over the world, and secured additional venues in Edinburgh and London whilst simultaneously striking up relationships with partner bars in various cities. I myself became a member back in 2018. I’d been aware of the Society and its excellent whisky for years – their annual stall at Glasgow’s Whisky Festival being a regular highlight of the event – but for one reason or another I held back until I was approached to become an affiliate, and since I didn’t want to advertise for a product I wouldn’t use myself, the time was finally right to become a paid-up member of the SMWS.
2020 promised much for the Glasgow-based Society member with the long overdue arrival of our very own Members Room, conveniently located, in wallet-destroying fashion, across the road from the Good Spirits Co. The launch party took place in March and it seemed it would be a great success and then… covid-19 happened. Glasgow’s members room was forced to close after just a few weeks in operation. We were granted a short respite in the summer and able to visit once more, so long as sessions were kept relatively short and social distancing was maintained but soon enough, we were back where we started and the city’s pubs were placed on lockdown for a second time. Now, after the first few months of 2021 played out in much the same fashion, we find ourselves with a glimmer of hope that pubs and whisky bars will become accessible to us again in May. Fingers crossed for no further setbacks.
Fortunately we have still been able to enjoy a dram at home and I’ve been trying really hard to preserve one little bottle in particular long enough to write a review. Not easy when it’s so tasty. Within each SMWS venue you’ll often find a small quarter cask perched somewhere on the bar. Visitors can buy a 35cl bottle for the reasonable sum of £35 and fill it with the liquid stored in the cask. On my last visit to Bath St, I picked up their own Cask No. 6.34 “Bathing in a pleasure garden”, a 12 year old malt distilled at Macduff distillery and drawn from an oloroso-seasoned quarter cask. As you’d expect, there’s been lots of contact between the sherry-soaked wood and the whisky, so we’re well and truly in sherry bomb territory here.
Bottled at 57.7% and retailing at £35 for a half bottle.
Smell: Unsurprisingly there’s lots of sherry. Raisins, sultana, fig, plum, rich caramel, clove, nutmeg, walnut and fresh tobacco leaves.
Taste: Highland toffee, prune, currants, sultanas, walnut, hazelnut, orange and caramel. Chocolate. Juicy raisins and oak on the finish.
Value for money: £35 certainly won’t break the bank, although obviously that will only get you a half bottle. Even scaling things up however, £70 for a 12 year old, cask strength, sherry bomb would seem fairly reasonable these days anyway.
It can be very easy to get hung up on what whisky should be, rather than just enjoying a dram for what it is. For example, I’ve often heard, read, and even repeated myself, that whisky is at its best when spirit and cask meet somewhere in the middle. Whilst I think there is an element of truth to that, there are also magnificent spirit-led drams and sometimes a whisky that’s been utterly swamped by an overactive cask can be delicious too. We’re certainly closer to the latter category here. The Macduff malt, or The Deveron (as it’s bottled), isn’t one I know well but even if it was I doubt I’d be able to pick it out of the mouthful of sherry each sip delivers. But that’s OK, because the bottle cost me £35 and it’s absolutely stonkingly delicious. Here’s to the future re-opening of members rooms, whisky bars and pubs everywhere.
If you would like to become a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society you can sign up here.
*Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make.