The Scotch Malt Whisky Society
For our first issue of Connosr Distilled we travelled to Leith to visit the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). We make no secret of the fact that at Connosr we love the SMWS - they're kindred spirits dedicated to the appreciation of truly sensational whiskies.
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The philosophy of the single cask
Set up by a group of friends in the 1970s who had managed to convince Glenfarclas to sell them a cask of whisky – the society was born out of a desire to access and share the pleasures of unadulterated, single cask, single malt whisky bottled at cask strength.
Their philosophy is based on the belief that chill-filtering and strength reduction diminishes the texture and flavour of whisky. The whisky they bottle is coarse-filtered to remove particles but the lack of chill-filtering leaves the texture and mouth feel intact.
SMWS take the opposite approach and glorify the unusual characteristics of the single cask
Adding water to whisky releases flavours that have been accruing for years in the cask and they believe you should only do this just before you drink it. This is whisky as the whisky gods intended and the drinker is left to decide how, and at what strength, they wish to drink it.
Whisky from a single cask expresses the idiosyncrasies of that cask and so most producers combine the output of various casks to achieve consistency - to “smooth out the bumps”. SMWS take the opposite approach and glorify the unusual characteristics of the single cask - consequently the whisky may not taste the way you would expect the output from a particular distillery to – part of the reason the bottles don't have the name of the distiller on the label but have a numeric code instead.
What's in a number?
The numbering system started in the early days, when distillers were worried that these unusual whiskies would reflect badly on them. The SMWS agreed to bottle incognito and that continues to the present time. Of course you can decipher the code – each distillery has a number - but technically under this arrangement the distillers never actually put their names to the contents of the bottle.
The whiskies are carefully selected by a tasting panel made up of staff, experts, whisky writers and even food critics. The tasting panel is the heart and soul of the society and it is from this panel that the weird and wonderful names of the whiskies emerge. Anyone for a glass of “Punched in the face with happiness”?
The society bottles from 126 different distilleries world wide - mostly single malt Scotch whisky but also from distilleries in Japan, the US and elsewhere. This month's releases include whiskies from Glenlivet, Linkwood, Inchgower, Arran, Glenord and many more.
We taste five SWMS bottlings
For this issue the Connosr Tasting panel convened to sample five intriguing whiskies by SMWS. Be sure to check out our tasting notes.
A spiritual home
Connosr was fortunate enough to film at The Vaults in Leith and it is here that you understand what the society is all about. This historic building houses the societies' main members room, a huge wood panelled space with a bar and open fires – probably the best place to have a dram you could ever hope for. A kind of cathedral for the veneration of whisky.
The society has a quirky sense of humour - much in evidence in the members room - giving this potentially over-powering space an intimacy and informality that might surprise you. The society are serious about their whisky but they are a friendly bunch who want you to have fun.
In addition to two venues in Edinburgh the society has tasting rooms in London and a bar in the Hotel du Vin in Brighton. The SMWS has representatives in many other countries who can ship their whiskies to the far flung corners of the globe.
Join the party
Want to get access to these whiskies? Here is the low down. Once you've paid your membership fee - you are entitled to buy the societies bottlings, which are very attractively priced, the vast majority in the £50 - £75 region, for limited edition single cask, cask strength whisky.
New bottles are released every month so, funds permitting, you'll always have something new to try. We feel that in terms of interest, diversity and price, SMWS bottles are a real treat for whisky lovers.
Special offer for Connosr members
To celebrate being the first official Connosr Partner, SMWS have given Connosr members the chance to take advantage of an exclusive special offer. Buy an SMWS membership and get a FREE bottle of their single cask, single malt whisky worth £44.70. To take advantage of this offer visit www.smws.co.uk/freewhisky5
Follow SMWS on Connosr
SMWS are on Connosr, you can follow them via their quirky new profile at www.connosr.com/smws