The SMWS - A Home From Home
I'm going to state the obvious here and say "did you happen to notice that I really like the whisky from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society?" and I would expect many of you to say "yes" as i've posted plenty of reviews (you can see them all by clicking here) along with news articles and events from it over my time blogging in the last couple of years.
Interestingly i've only been a member for the same amount of time finally signing up in 2012, but what took me so long? well there were a few things that initially put me off joining:
I'd came across the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in the late 1990's hearing lots about it but my impression of it was always that it was a bit elitist and expensive and that you were only paying a membership fee to join a club that allowed you to buy whisky and that was just ridiculous.
The more i learned about it though and tasted some examples via friends the more I found that i was totally wrong about it; the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is none of these things. It's not elitist at all, in fact you might be in venue sitting next to someone wearing a 3 piece tweed suit whilst you're wearing jeans and a t-shirt but not even an eyelid will be batted in your direction. It really doesn't matter at all and everyone is treated the same both by the staff and by the other members, they're all there for the love of whisky.
Then it's paying for the honour of buying whiskies but lets be honest you're more paying for the tasting panel to check the quality of the whisky and price wise the bottles recently are fantastic value. A recent 18 Year Old Islay dram at full cask strength was £69 odds whilst the official bottling, watered down to 48%, is £75 or more depending on which retailer you chose to buy from.
So you're getting limited edition (well there is only one cask) single cask single malt whisky for prices around the same or even less than an official bottling, that really does make it much more worthwhile. Effectively
you're paying to join a "club" that gives you access to amazing quality cask strength whisky at prices which are comparible with, if not better, than the official bottlings from distilleries, along with access to distilleries which you can't normally find any other way than through Independent bottlings.
It also feels very homely in the venues, the guys and gals who work in the venues are more hosts than anything else, it almost feels like you're in their house and they're the host of the party, pouring drinks and talking enthusiastically about the whisky. The knowledge from these hosts is something you just don't get in 99.99% of other places you can buy whisky, it's worth the membership fee just to experience the venue and the feeling of being made so welcome; and then the whisky makes it even more worthwhile.
I've been encouraging a few others to join also and have 3 close friends who are now members and even persuaded another couple of blogger friends to join also and every single one of us loves being a member.
You don't have to take my word for it though, i asked a bundle of my blogging and tweeting friends who are members why they joined and here are their replies:-
Ben Cops (@ben_cops) from Bens Whisky Blog
"On paper, paying for the privilege of being allowed to buy whisky seems nonsensical. I remember thinking that there was so much other fantastic whisky in the world to be discovered that it made no sense.
"Then I found out that an SMWS membership is actually a pass to a panel of experts picking and buying the best casks in Scotland and selling them to you with no risk that they won't be excellent. Makes lots of sense to put like that. "
Jon Webb (@dvdbloke) from Scotch and Sci-fi
"Every month I have the excitement of new, enticing and unique Whisky opportunities. Why wouldn't I join?!"
Dave Alcock (@whiskyrepublic) from The Whisky Dramalista
"What prompted me to join, I've always been a lover of quirkiness and quality, in this case SMWS clearly had the courage of its convictions - imaginative & stylish design, a willingness to smile at itself, a commitment to quality, breadth of product, & affordability."
Adrian Barnett (@mynameisgone) from the Whisky Chronicle
"I Joined after trying a few of the Society bottles at shows and then getting the chance to visit the London venue at Greville St which made my mind up for me. The combination of the chance of buying a large range of single cask whiskies some of which are so unusual to a distilleries normal style with the added use of the London venue which makes a great spot as a central meet up point for a few of us also the added appeal of the chance to try before you buy with a proper measure in a proper glass."
Chris Miles (@chrismiles303) from Still Dramming
"The reason I joined was mainly because I enjoy most of my whisky as it comes out the cask. I like the variations and differences that come from bottle to bottle and being able to spent time dissecting the small or big differences from different stills, types of wood, or maturation environments. It is also great that the society has many other like minded people that you can chat away with online or at the venues."
Mally Graveson (@mallygraveson)
"Every time I walk into an SMWS venue, I feel part of something very special. I feel like I'm on an adventure. Who wouldn't want to be part of that?"
So that should give you a good indication of why people join but to summarise, the whisky is fantastic, the variety of whiskies is fantastic, the venues are fantastic, the staff are fantastic and much much more.
If you aren't sure whether it is for you or not I would certainly suggest you contact your local venue (Edinburgh or London) as the venues run occasional events and tastings which are also open to non-members and each venue would be able to advise you on what is available to you. It's also worth checking out some of the Partner Bars who have a selection of the brilliant whiskies available and occasionally run tasting sessions also.
Overall though i believe that it is a complete no-brainer so go on, join today at Scotch Malt Whisky Society. If you like whisky the only regret you will have is that you didn't join earlier. Keep an eye out on the various Scotch Malt Whisky Society twitter feeds (@SMWSUK @SMWSLondon @SMWSVaults @SMWSQueenStreet and Facebook) for more information about the Society, its venues and its whisky.