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Scotch Malt Whisky Society

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@Tom92
Tom92 started a discussion

Do we have many SMWS members out there? Any favourite bottles of late?

8 months ago

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@Tom92
Tom92 replied

Mays festival bottlings are phenomenal! The 29 sherried all the way, so dark it looks like treacle

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

I have just joined the SMWS after they dropped their membership fee. Ordered a couple of bottles which I'm currently waiting for to be delivered.

One thing I'm impressed and a little intrigued by is the ABV of their bottlings which is high even for single cask stuff. A lot of their bottles seem to be around the 60% abv. One of the bottles I've ordered is an older whisky at 22 years and it's nearly 61% abv. Seems very high for a whisky at that age. I wonder how they achieve that? Very strict cask management?

The Angel's seem to be taking less of a share from the SMWS's casks!

8 months ago 2Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC replied

@Wierdo - Out of interest, where do the SMWS mature their casks? Do they have their own warehouses or do they stay at the distillery, or perhaps a bit of both?

8 months ago 2Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@RianC I have no idea? @Tom92 did you say you work at the SMWS? Can you shed any light?

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Tom92
Tom92 replied

@Wierdo @RianC SMWS to my knowledge all is matured at our own warehouse. I think I've had 25+yo grain Whisky sitting above 60%abv. The grains are truely outstanding and at their prices for their age total bargain

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Tom92
Tom92 replied

@Wierdo out of curiosity, what bottles have you gone for? Do you regularly drink CS Whisky or just getting into it?

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Nozinan
Nozinan replied

This is almost becoming an advertising thread for the SMWS.

And while in principle I would not support that, I do have a lot of regard for the SMWS's products, but living in Canada where it is hard to get them it just ads to my FOMO...

8 months ago 0

@paddockjudge
paddockjudge replied

@Wierdo, I would guess a heated warehouse (or storage technique that would align with your hypothesis of higher abv) if the abv is "higher", less humidity and more water leaving the barrels.

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@Tom92 I don't want to reveal the bottles I've gone for as when I get round to opening them I'll send samples to @RianC and I don't want him to have googled them beforehand. I'd rather just send him the samples with the reference number and name then he can have a bit of fun sampling the whisky trying to work out what it is before googling it.

I will say this and it's one of the things that is good about joining the SMWS or shopping at Cadenheads etc I went for 2 bottles from distilleries that have good reputations but their offical bottlings are a bit sub par.

In terms of what I didn't go for but was tempted by there was a Dalmore and a Longmorn that were tempting me (which I guess fall into the above paragraph) and a Balblair. Which doesn't but I really like Balblair so the chance to grab an IB is tempting.

From May's output. I am tempted by a few bottlings. An Aberlour, A Pulteney and another Balblair.

Finally regards cask strength whiskies I have been drinking them off and on since fairly early days in my whisky journey, all official bottlings. But in the last couple of years I have really started to enjoy them and would say hands down my favourite way for a whisky to be presented is cask strength, natural colour, unchillfiltered and no cask shenanigans, no finishing in casks that held M&Ms or whatever, just a good quality refill Bourbon or Sherry cask.

8 months ago 4Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

I've opened my first two bottles from the SMWS and have to say I'm disappointed so far. The first bottle (which I have reviewed on this site) was sub par imo.

The second bottle, which I've so far had a couple of drams from, is better. I'd say on a level with something you'd pick up from other Independents like Cadenheads or North Star. Which begs the question why pay an annual membership to buy whiskies as good as you can get elsewhere with no membership fee?

The answer is the membership fee gives you access to the SMWS's bars. But seeing as I don't live in London or Edinburgh the odds of me using these bars is slim.

I've got 10 months of membership left. I'll buy a couple more bottles at least and see how they shape up. I'll go for something familiar and see how they compare? But at this moment in time I doubt I'll be renewing next year.

7 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Tom92
Tom92 replied

@Wierdo what style of whisky do you normally drink? US SMWS membership?

6 months ago 0

@Victor
Victor replied

At SMWS prices I would want to try before I buy. I've liked almost all the SMWS bottles from which I have sampled, but at their prices I would have to like them very much for me to want to put down the coin to buy any of them. .

6 months ago 3Who liked this?

@BlueNote
BlueNote replied

I'm with you on that one @Victor. It's good to have a friend who is a member and who is generous with samples. Some of the ones I have tasted are spectacular, others have not performed up to their price point. I have had may outstanding bottles from independents such as Cadenheads, Old Malt Cask and A.D. Rattray, etc. all at near or full cask strength, for far less money. SMWS has great looking bottles though.

6 months ago 1Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

Sorry @Tom92 only just seen your post.

To answer your questions. I'm happy to drink pretty much all whiskies. Although lean more towards scotch as a rule. In terms of scotch my favourite distilleries (always subject to change) are Springbank, Lagavulin, Balblair, Glenfarclas. I generally prefer cask strength whisky and if not try to avoid much bottled below 46%.

I've just took delivery of my second 2 whiskies from the SMWS.

37.113 Biscuit Bisque

54.075 Refined, Refreshing and Redolent

@Victor I wonder if SMWS whiskies are much more expensive outside the UK? Inside the UK they're fairly competitively priced imo. A 10-11 year old bottle of cask strength, NCF whisky setting you back about £50. The 22 year old I brought was just over £100 which again I'd say was reasonably priced.

The issue would be the membership fee which is £65 a year. But that is offset a bit by the fact that in the UK you don't pay delivery.

Tom if I had another criticism of the SMWS other than the fact I was unimpressed with the 22 year old Glen Grant I had from them it would be the scarcity of bottles in the mid age range. Plenty of 8-9 year olds and 10-12 year olds and quite a few 20+. But in that mid age range 14-18 years very little on the SMWS. I see that age range as a sweet spot for a lot of whiskies in that you have a balance between spirit and cask both having an influence on the whisky and the price at that age doesn't get too prohibitive.

That annoys me a bit I'd like to see more choice of 15 year olds etc.

4 months ago 1Who liked this?

@Victor
Victor replied

@Wierdo my knowledge of SMWS US pricing is only approximate. From what I've seen in the past most bottles seem to be for sale in the $ 150 to $ 200 range. I want a lot for that money. @bwmccoy can give you much better up to date information about SMWS prices in the US.

I and many others agree with you that 14 to 18 years old is the sweet spot for Scottish malt whisky, especially as relates to quality in relation to value for money. Above 18 or so years old quality may or may not go up slightly with additional time in cask, but pricing starts to rise exponentially. It makes perfect sense that distilleries would NOT have as many of those 14 to 18 year old mature casks for sale to independent bottlers, because they would want to use them for their own releases. Idiosyncratic casks and casks maturing in less in-demand age ranges would make sense to be more relatively available for sale.

4 months ago 4Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@Victor I assumed that the SMWS would buy casks from producers when they come off the production line and then mature them themselves?

I'm sure I read somewhere that the issue with the SMWS is that it changed owners a few years back with the old owners Glenmorangie bottling a lot of the good casks before the sale. Meaning the new owners have a scarcity of decent stock which they're trying to build back up again. Hence the plethora of bottles in the 8-12 years range.

$150-200 a bottle is too expensive. I wouldn't pay that. Most bottles from the SMWS in the UK seem to be in the £50-70 range.

4 months ago 1Who liked this?

@bwmccoy
bwmccoy replied

@Wierdo - Full disclosure. I am not an employee of the Society, but I am a long-time member (12 years now). Additionally, a couple of years ago, I was asked if I would be willing to be a member ambassador for the Society in the Seattle area. In that role, I lead whisky tastings for the Society in the area. (I just want to be totally transparent.) Since I am not an employee, I don't know all of the inner workings of the company, but I am happy to share what I do know.

It is my understanding that casks are matured in Society owned warehouses. What I don't know is when the Society acquires the cask from the distillery. I would assume that it would depend on when the distillery makes the cask available for sale, which could be any time in the cask's life after it has been filled. The Society may chose to bottle at that time or continue to age it in their warehouses until it is deemed ready for bottling, but all of that is just my assumption based on what I have read and conversations that I've had with Society employees.

As for pricing, membership in the US is $99 to join, $70 per year to renew. There are often specials where new members receive a $50 gift card when they join. Bottle prices used to be strictly based on age. All 10 year old's were $XX, 15 years was $YY, 20 years was $ZZ, etc. That changed when the Society was sold a few years ago. Bottle pricing is now "dynamic" in that it is based on what the Society had to pay for the cask. Bottle prices start at $80 and go up from there. However, most bottles are in the $130 to $175 range.

I hope that helps. Again, I'm happy to share any knowledge or answer any questions that I can about the Society. If I don't know the answer, I will be glad to ask.

4 months ago 4Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

My membership of the SMWS is up for renewal in April and at this point in time I think I'll be cancelling my membership.

Each monthly release of bottles from the SMWS is called an 'outturn'. They flipping love nudge theory at the SMWS. So before each outturn they'll send you an email telling you it's coming up and what bottles will be released. If you click on the bottle it will tell you how many are available, how many people are interested in the bottle and a timer counting down 'this bottle will be available for purchase in 12 hours 47 minutes and 18 seconds...17 seconds...16 seconds' etc. Once a bottle goes below 10 left to purchase the number of bottles available turns red.

One of the frustrating things I've found is that the outturns tend to feature a lot of the same distilleries with similar aged releases of bourbon cask matured whiskies. When you do get a good one Bunnahabhain say or Old Pulteney they go very quickly. I missed out on an Old Pulteney that went on sale at 9am because I didn't log in until 930am.

This is a message I sent to the SMWS a few hours ahead of their Christmas outturn:

'Hi. I've been a member of the SMWS for coming up to a year now. Can you tell me where all the bottles go that are sold before they've even gone on sale?

For instance just looking at your latest outturn and 35.247 'in a tabernaco in Jerez' goes on sale in 12 hours time yet there are 0 bottles available of 597. So it's not going on sale at all because no one can buy it.

Another bottle 29.266 'Converting Vegetarians' is available to buy in 12 hours also but I'd have to be very quick as there are only 8 bottles left from a possible 249.

It's frustrating as a member to see bottles coming out you're interested in you have no chance or almost no chance of buying.'

So the first bottle (35.247) I wasn't even interested in. It's a Glen Moray. I just thought it was ridiculous that they were announcing it wasn't even on sale yet but had 0 bottles available. The second bottle was a Laphroaig and I was very much interested in a cask strength Laphroaig but with only 8 bottles available and 247 people registering an interest I had more chance of plaiting snot than getting one of those bottles.

The SMWS replied that the rest of these bottles had been allocated to packages. In the case of the Glen Moray it was available if you shelled out £200 and brought it with 2 other bottles you probably weren't interested in.

So that's most probably it for me with the SMWS. I've gained from the experience of being a member. If I hadn't have joined I'd have always wondered what their bottles were like. But to be honest IMO they're not selling anything of a quality that's not available from half a dozen independent bottlers in the UK who don't charge yearly fees. In fact I'd say my experience with Cadenhead bottlings has been better than with the SMWS.

They do have cool as f*** bottles though. I'll just have to do without my whisky bottles having a line from a Beatles song, or reference to the Wizard of Oz on the label going forwards. But I'll live.

I still have a few of their bottles left to open including a Balblair tomorrow night. If they smash it out of the park. I may change my mind before April.

10 days ago 2Who liked this?

@bwmccoy
bwmccoy replied

@Wierdo - I'm sorry that you are frustrated with your Society membership. I can't speak for how things are done in the UK. For instance, we don't have the level of information on the American chapter's website that you described. All we have available to us is how many bottles are left out of the allotment that was sent to the US. For example; a cask may yield 200 total bottles. Of that, the U.S. chapter may receive 75. On the website, I will see in real time, that there are 17 bottles left. If I purchase one, that increments down to 16.

I did want to try to answer one question you had. You asked how can bottles be sold before they go on sale on the website? Again, it may be different in the U.K., but that same situation does occur here in the states. The reason here is due to preview tastings. In the states, the Outturn is released on the first Tuesday of every month. In several cities across the U.S., a night or two before the Outturn is released, members can attend preview tastings where they have the opportunity to not only taste, but also to purchase the bottles that they tasted that night. Depending on how popular a particular bottle is, with tastings in multiple cities, there is the chance that a bottle may sell out before it is released on the website. In the U.S., it doesn't happen often, but it definitely limits the number of bottles available once they are released on the website.

It also speaks to how crazy popular whisky is right now (with no sign of letting up). Earlier this week, the U.S. chapter released a 12 year Ardbeg from a 2nd-fill Oloroso sherry butt. Of the 615 total bottles, the U.S chapter received 78 bottles. It was priced at $270 / bottle and members were limited to purchasing only one bottle each. All 78 bottles sold out in an hour and these weren't even part of a preview tasting. (If you were wondering, no, I didn't purchase one. I didn't even try. That price is a bit outside my whisky budget.)

Again, I'm sorry to hear about your frustrations, but I'm glad that you posted about them. I've been a member for a long time and there have been times when I have thought about not renewing. For me, however, I found that I truly enjoy the whisky that I get from the Society and I can't easily replicate single cask, cask strength whisky from numerous different distilleries. Part of that is due to the limitations / restrictions of the state that I live in. I see some of the amazing Independent bottles that people are able to purchase in other parts of the U.S. and the world, so I know they exist. We just don't get that same level of selection here, so the Society fills that void for me.

9 days ago 4Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@bwmccoy thanks for replying.

The response from the SMWS did mention preview bottles of the Laphroaig being sold. I wasn't entirely clear what they meant? Thanks for clarifying that for me. That kind of annoys me as well though. I pay a yearly membership fee to have a decent chance of getting access to these bottles. They shouldn't be effectively making a bottle unavailable to me just because I can't make it to their Edinburgh bar 400 miles away on a Tuesday night when I have work the next day.

If I were asked currently by someone from the UK if it was worth joining the SMWS I'd probably say in my opinion it wasn'. Particularly if they don't live within a bus journey of one of their bars. That's because in the UK the availability of independent bottlings of single cask whiskies has never been better. You can go on any online UK based spirits retailer and find single cask whiskies from dozens of different bottlers. If you go into a specialist whisky shop you'll see loads on the shelves. I've had whiskies from many of these bottlers and they're as good or better than what I've had from the SMWS.

I think outside the UK you aren't lucky enough to have our choice of independent bottlings and so in that case a membership of the SMWS might be more worthwhile as it gives people access to the sorts of whiskies theyd otherwise have no other option of trying.

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

@TracerBullet
TracerBullet replied

Well, damn! I was on the fence about joining but was talking myself into doing it. Now I am right back up there and leaning towards not joining. I like the idea of getting whisky that I could not experience without a membership but I do agree that the bottle prices are too high for my budget. (I could do a lot of damage at my local stores for $270!) I also got turned off when I saw advertisements for a special membership deal but then found out it only applied to UK membership. I inquired on the US side but never received a reply. Seems that they may be more focused on the UK membership? Not a bad thing but without some of the UK perks like free delivery, it makes a membership less attractive in the US. I also find it discouraging that you become a member so you can have access to these bottlings only to find out you can't get one. Looks like I will be mulling this over some more...

9 days ago 3Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

To be fair $270 for a 12 year old single cask Ardbeg is probably about par for the course.

Ardbeg rarely appears in independent bottlings and when it does it's always silly money. Same goes for IB Springbanks.

I've found in the UK the SMWS prices are comparable to other independents bottlers. But then I'd suppose they'd have to be with the competition here, otherwise no-one from the UK would join the SMWS.

They obviously charge a lot more in the US because they know there is less choice and so they can get away with it.

9 days ago 1Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

I opened a Balblair on Friday from the SMWS that seems decent. Having said that the January outturn was released Friday morning in the UK and that seems a similar story. A few bottles that were sort after: Bunnahabhain, Pulteney, Clynelish, Glen Scotia. Not many of these made available and them selling out very quickly. Some of them available if you want to buy a package of bottles.

7 days ago 0

@Tom92
Tom92 replied

With the preview tastings, at The Vaults anyway, if there are any bottles that are particularly low in numbers released, they generally aren’t offered at the preview tasting. Only bottles that there are plenty of are previewed to avoid the likelihood of selling out. Naturally the sort after whiskies/distillers will sell out very quickly, so you can only chance your luck at getting them really. 33’s, 24’s, 27’s will sell out straight away every time as everyone’s trying to get there hands on them, and hopefully for drinking purposes, and not resale as I personally feel that’s not what the society is about. My 2cents anyway. What 70 bottling was it that you just opened?

6 days ago 2Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@Tom92 you SMWS guys make me laugh. You're obviously told you're not allowed to mention distilleries by name. So there's all this number talk, which is a bit weird 'the society do some great 66s (Ardmore)'. Literally talking in code joy

The 70 (Balblair) I opened was 70.30 Goose Juice. Only had the one dram so far but enjoyed it.

5 days ago 0

Wierdo replied

In my trademark shy and retiring manner I sent a rather blunt message to the SMWS saying that I would most likely not be renewing my membership. I explained that for 2 months running I had identified 3 or 4 bottles I would like to buy and not been able to get any of them. That I was faced with a choice between not paying the yearly membership fee and missing out on the bottles I fancied from the SMWS or paying the yearly membership fee and missing out on the bottles I fancied from the SMWS.

They responded that their were limited bottles so they couldn't guarantee I would get any of the bottles I wanted in the future. They are revamping their shopping cart system which they hope will help (don't see how it will change things. Only 8 bottles available from 250 doesn't matter what system you are using ) but they hoped I didn't leave.

The essential problem here is very simple. They have continuously pushed to widen their membership. Opened bars all over the world and they just don't have even nearly enough casks of the bottles people really want to go around.

In other SMWS news. Their bottles have now started to attract flippers:

tyndrumwhisky.com/whisky-brands/…

5 days ago 6Who liked this?

@CanadianNinja

This unfortunately, doesn’t surprise me @Wierdo.

Typical of the day and age. Increase revenue/profits at costs regardless of the actual ability to service/please your customers/members.

From hearing about your experience I’m certain I wouldn’t be renewing my membership either if I were in your shoes.

5 days ago 2Who liked this?

@Tom92
Tom92 replied

@Wierdo sorry to call you out publicly but no we weren’t told to say that. That’s me say it how I think it should be. If I bought a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 at the shop I’d call it exactly that. If I bought a bottle of 14.?? from the Society, I’d call it exactly that. I believe in drinking the whisky for what’s in the bottle, not the distillery in which it came from, which was the original purpose(along with one or two other reasons) of having the number/code system. Just my personal opinion anyway, As long as whisky is being enjoyed, I’m happy

5 days ago 2Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC replied

@Tom92 @Wierdo - 000010000111100011110000010000000100000, got it?! grin

5 days ago 2Who liked this?

Wierdo replied

@Tom92 I don't see it as you calling me out. It's just something I've noticed occasionally when speaking with people from the SMWS. If it's not something you're encouraged to do. That's fine. It just seemed to me that might be a thing.

I thought it was a little odd that I said I'd just opened a Balblair from the SMWS and you asked me what was the 70 I'd opened? Apart from anything else other people reading the thread not that familiar with the SMWS codes might not know what you meant by 70?

The SMWS will continue to stick to their code thing but I'm pretty sure it doesn't serve it's original purpose any longer. When they started in the 80s it was about distilleries not wanting their name appearing on whisky not bottled by them. Now independent bottles are such an accepted thing there is only a handful of distilleries who still decline to let IBs put the distillery name on the bottle. Even that is a bit farcical. Highland Park are fooling no-one only letting the name 'Orkney' appear on independant bottles of Highland Park. There are only 2 distilleries on Orkney and Scapa is completely unpeated. So that bottle of 'Orkney' with a bit of peat to it, ain't Scapa.

With the SMWS a 10 second Google will reveal 20 different sites telling you which code relates to which distillery. Of course once you've been in the SMWS a while you know the codes of your favourite distilleries. I know without looking Glenfaclas is 1, Bunnahabhain is 10 (although I haven't yet been able to get a bottle of Bunnahabhain in 9 months as a member) Ardmore is 66 and Balblair 70.

I don't trust the flavour profiles of the SMWS so I go by the distillery. The first bottle I opened from them was a Glen Grant that was 22 year old from the 'old and dignified' category. That led me to think I'd be buying a whisky that tasted mature. But I found that description to be inaccurate. As I mentioned in my review it was 22 years going on 12. I don't think I've ever had a whisky that old that has had less cask interaction. The Aberlour I reviewed recently was from the 'spicy and sweet' category. I could go with that as a descriptor. But the Balblair I just opened is also from the Spicy and Sweet category. It is nothing at all like the Aberlour and defintely not Spicy and Sweet.

I do think that is something of a central conceit with the SMWS. They sell this idea that it's not about the name on the bottle. That is marketing. It is about what's in the bottle only. But then they sell the idea of joining an exclusive society with it's own codes that people outside the society wouldn't understand. With funky names on the bottles instead of Glenwhatever. For instance on a Clynelish forum I read 2 members of the SMWS saying they wanted to buy a bottle of Clynelish from the SMWS 26.134 just because of its name (which is admittedly great) 'I liked this distillery before it was cool'.

5 days ago 3Who liked this?

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