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.
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!
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
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
(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
Trout: Slightly fishy but never coarse. http://www.troutmag.org
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
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.
Trout: Slightly fishy but never coarse. http://www.troutmag.org
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
I presume, then, that the U.S. prices have taken into account import costs.
I'll certainly confirm that before considering any purchases.
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
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.
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.