My Mouth Got Jammed: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

My mouth got jammed.

Jammed with ginger, that is!

A bottle of whisky from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society called Jammed With Ginger.

So, yep. It’s begun. For Christmas, I gifted Mr. C with a membership to the U.S. chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). Seriously, who am I kidding? It was a gift to myself disguised as a gift for him. Even he knows that haha.

Our first experience with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was back in 2014. Mr. C and I had rented an apartment in Pilrig House in Edinburgh for two weeks, and, as it happened, the rental came with a membership to the SMWS. It meant that while in Scotland, we could visit the members’ rooms as much as we wanted and even purchase bottles to take home. It was fab!

The bar at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith, Scotland.
A man holding a glass of whisky and smiling.
Mr. C enjoying a dram.

Currently, there are three SMWS Members’ Rooms. One is in London, and the other two are in Scotland, in Edinburgh and Leith. Mr. C and I visited the one called ‘The Vaults’ in Leith, the first of the Society locations. The historic building dates back to the 18th century and was originally used as a wine warehouse.

The gray stone building that houses the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith, Scotland.
The Vaults, Leith

I recently learned that a new venue is being established in Glasgow City Center at the end of this month. I have a feeling Mr. C and I will be stopping in for a bottle or two after arriving at the airport on our upcoming trip!

A sign that says Swords at the Door.

Although there is not an official Scotch Malt Whisky Society venue here in the States, there are various official members’ sponsored events in some of our larger cities, such as Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, and New York. Mr. C and I don’t happen to live near any of the cities where these events are held, but maybe one day we’ll have the chance to attend one.

So what is the big deal about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society? Let me explain. Most whiskies sold in stores are the product of the blending of multiple barrels of differing ages from a distillery warehouse. A precise formula is applied to every bottling, resulting in consistency from year to year. So, for example, if you were to compare a Glenlivet 12 year old bottled this year versus one that was bottled five years ago, they would taste the same.

What makes the SMWS unique is that every expression offered comes from a single barrel, bottled unfiltered, and at cask strength. The barrels are hand-selected by the SMWS tasting panel and purchased for bottling to be sold to society members. Each barrel produces a limited number of bottles, and, in fact, the longer a whisky has been in a barrel, the less it will yield (a phenomenon called the “angel’s share”). Whiskies offered by the SMWS are the ‘best of the best’; rare and exceptional in every way. I used to think premium whiskies bought retail were amazing. Friends, believe me, they aren’t even in the same league as a SMWS whisky. I’m not sure they are from the same planet!

SMWS History:

“The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was founded in 1983 by a gentleman named Pip Hills, an avid whisky fan living in Edinburgh. Just a few years prior in the late 1970โ€™s, Pip embarked on a trip to the Scottish Highlands where he visited a small, family-owned distillery. During his visit, he was given the opportunity to taste several whiskies in the back of a dark, damp warehouse. What happened next would change his life and the lives of many to come. The pure, undiluted and unfiltered whisky drawn from the cask was unlike anything Pip had ever experienced, far more thrilling and delicious than the standard whisky sold in his local shop.  

Excited by this epiphany moment, Pip decided to purchase the entire cask from the distillery. He strapped the cask to his car and hauled it back to his home in Edinburgh, where it was shared among his friends. After tasting the whisky straight from the cask, Pipโ€™s friends were equally enthused by just how remarkable the raw, unfiltered spirit was. It was from that moment that they decided to pool their funds together to acquire another cask, and another. This experience of acquiring different casks and exploring the varying flavours that Scotch whisky has to offer served as the foundation for what would soon become The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. ” –The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Another interesting thing to note is that the whiskies purchased by the Society are not labeled with the name of the distillery from which they came. Instead, each whisky is given a creative title and a code. (I am reminded of the first bottle we purchased in 2014, humorously called, “Tired Vampire Gets a Massage.” Yes, we kept the bottle.) The codes that are assigned to the bottles indicate from which distillery it came and from which barrel. So, for example, the bottle in the photo at the top, Jammed with ginger, has code 113.21. Number 113 is telling us that it came from Braes of Glenlivet, a Speyside distillery, and number 21 tells us that it is the 21st barrel that has been purchased from this distillery. Isn’t that neat?

I am so thrilled that Mr. C and I are now part of the nearly 30,000 international members of the SMWS. It is a blast to peruse the web site to see the monthly selections, and receiving that bottle in the mail is like Christmas all over again. It truly is the gift that is going to keep on giving the whole year through.

Cheers,

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