SMWS


Sorry for a question that has, no doubt, been asked before. My news server doesn't keep many past posts online, so searching has been ineffective.
I have been advised to consider the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) as a source of very fine single malts. Reading their bottling list is incredibly tempting. Initiation fee is $179 (whew!) and bottles run from about $90 to $190 for some very old and rare bottles that are custom bottled. Does anyone have any experience with this group, positive or negative? It seems to be predominantly a U.K. based society with a U.S. branch for those of us on the "wrong" side of the creek.
Any comments or insights would be most appreciated.
Reply to
mdavis

I was not so much tempted by the member's rooms, as they are all a very long distance from where I live in the center of the U.S. As I mentioned, I have read the current bottle listing and the descriptions are extremely tempting. It would seem that most of the truly great bottlings are custom casks available only to members of these societies. Sometimes such claims are a bit over enthusiastic, and the costs are not minimal, so investment in a membership would serve me only as a source of rare SMS.
Thank you for the feedback!
Reply to
mdavis

I've been quite pleased with them over the years, but then I'm a Brit so the costs are lower and there are more facilities over this side of the pond. (I live near London and pop into the London rooms off Greville Street as often as I can.)
The whiskies are as varied as you could imagine and the tasting notes, while sometimes verging on the purple, often serve to give a surprisingly accurate impression of what you're buying.
Society whiskies are single cask, from casks purchased direct from the distillery by the society itself, and are bottled on behalf of the society in plain green bottles with distinctive society labels.
There is an amusing fiction which is entered into both by the society and its suppliers: the distillery name is never mentioned on society bottlings; instead bottlings are numbered, by distillery number then cask number. This apparently makes distillers happier to sell to the society: Ardbeg, say, will never see a bottle of Ardbeg from the society, but rather a bottle of 33., and if it means we get more whisky, well, we're happy to go along with the pretence. Of course, we all know which number is which distillery....
In 2004 the society sold itself to Glenmorangie, which was then promptly sold to the French 'luxury goods group Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy' so the society has moved from being a privately-run clib to being a tiny offshoot of a huge 'luxury goods' conglomerate in less than a year.
So far, this doesn't appear to have altered the Society's character all that much: interesting whiskys are still being offered at reasonable prices, although I'm slightly worried at the recent 'style over substance' series like their recent '26 Malts' which struck me as an attempt to sell 50cl of whisky for the price of 70cl. But so far, reasonable doubt still exists and I renewed my membership last month without too many qualms.
(It should be noted that they also offer occasional bottlings of spirits which -- *gasp!* -- aren't scotch! This sends some members into apoplexy, but provided it only happens occasionally then I'm all in favour of it - I have society-bottled Japanese and Irish whiskeys, and even some society-bottled Bourbon, in my whisk(e)y cupboard, and very good they are too.)
- Robin.
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Trout: Slightly fishy but never coarse. http://www.troutmag.org
Reply to
Robin Parkinson

Thank you, Robin. Very interesting insights into a potentially damaging corporate take-over. I guess the next, important question for any U.S. members is how much is the additional cost of import duties and shipping to the U.S. on top of the bottle prices quoted? Do U.S. offerings differ from the U.K.?
Reply to
mdavis

Well, as I said, I don't see too many signs of a terminal decline into corporate mediocrity yet, so I'm holding on.
I've just had a look at the US site, and it looks to me like the USA does get different bottlings to those available in the UK, at least for some whiskies. Certainly the exact bottle numbers quoted in the 'Father's Day List' on the US site weren't to be found on the UK site. However, a rough comparison, distillery to distillery, suggests that the prices offered by the US branch of the society are some 50% more than we pay over here.
How that compares to the cost of equivalent cask strength scotch from a regular retailer in the US I can't say, of course.
- Robin.
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Trout: Slightly fishy but never coarse. http://www.troutmag.org
Reply to
Robin Parkinson

I haven't seen many cask strength bottles over here. It would be difficult to compare "value" of a custom-bottled cask-strength with commercial bottlings.
I presume, then, that the U.S. prices have taken into account import costs. I'll certainly confirm that before considering any purchases.
Reply to
mdavis

On 2006-07-08 13:43:14 +0100, "mdavis" said:
I have been a member (based in the UK) for a number of years now but rarely buy bottles or visit the member's room. I rarely buy bottles as I now find the prices seem considerably harder to swallow than the whisky - I don't know if I am alone in that view though. Some years ago I would be happy to buy a bottle each quarter or so where I now find that I can get a couple of the more commercial good single malts for a similar price.
Similarly a night in the member's room can take a big dent out of one's bank balance so it is an occasional treat with whisky-drinking mates. The fact that I live about a mile from galactic HQ in Edinburgh should make this easier than it does in reality.
I still enjoy the fact that I am a member and enjoy the tasting notes and members' magazines etc. I will also buy a bottle as a treat for Christmas or for really high days.
I do feel the character of the membership publications is beginning to change. As an earlier poster has mentioned, the SMWS is now part of a luxury goods company and I do wonder if the recent change of style in the publications is a result of that change. It does feel less clubby.
Hope this isn't too negative.
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Cheers,

Steve
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Reply to
Steve Hodgson

Thank you, Steve, for the comments. Yes, good SMS is not cheap. I suspect you get it much cheaper in Europe than we are able to purchase it in the states with import fees, middleman profits, etc.
It has been recommended to me by a couple of U.S. members, so I'm still looking at the benefits of cost vs. scarcity. I live in a relatively remote area, far from large metropolitan spirit shops, so my choices from the shelf are limited to the 10's and 12's from larger volume SMS exporters. The SMWS is a tempting source of otherwise unavailable bottles, and I wondered how they compare to the "run of the mill" commercial offerings. The newsletter descriptions are fantastic, but so are the prices.
Reply to
mdavis

On 2006-07-11 00:41:55 +0100, "mdavis" said:
Don't get me wrong, in taste (and perhaps more importantly variety) they will generally leave commercial offerings far behind.
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Cheers,

Steve
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Reply to
Steve Hodgson

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