The third independent bottler to be examined was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Founded in 1983 by Phillip “Pip” Hills’ group of friends who shared the cost of buying a cask of Glenfarclas (hence its being distillery number 1) in 1978, creating a growing syndicate of people sharing the cost of the casks. By 1983 membership was opened to the public, and the Vaults (named for its vaulted cellers) in Leith, Edinburgh was opened as a member’s lounge. A London location was added in 1996, and a second Edinburgh location, Queen Street added in 2004.
2004 marked another milestone, as the SMWS was bought by Glenmorangie. This is peculiar because it usually works the other way around. More and more independent bottlers are getting their own distilleries (Signatory ownes Edradour, Gordon and MacPhail own Benromach – once having bid for Strathisla and lost to Chivas Bros. – and Wemyss just opened Kingsbarns Distillery) whereas here we have a distillery buying an independent bottler. The SMWS’s operations have not really changed since the aquisition, nor does there seem a preference for Glenmorangie (about 70 casks bottled) or Ardbeg (about 130 casks bottled). There are currently 132 single malt distilleries that get bottled, 14 grains and three bourbons.
Like most malt geeks, Society bottlings are the holy grail of independent bottlings, simply by the sheer quality and number of casks. One thing is true about the SMWS, best put into words by my friend and Society member Richard Barr “You’ll never get a bad SMWS bottle. You might not like this expression or that, but it won’t be for lack of quality”.
SMWS 27.11 – Springbank 1967 (Bottled 1990) (50.4% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Amber, slow thin legs.
Nose: Perfume, sandalwood, spice stand in the market, freshness, red fruit, tobacco, dried fruit and a touch of smoke.
Palate: Very direct, peppery, dry citrus and sweetness. Water brings out a lot of fruit – baked pears in red wine and cloves.
Linger: Red fruit, pepper and dusty spice.
This expression is a real winner, which is, of course, the reason it was chosen. As opposed to most of the expressions tasted in this masterclass, there is at least one still available and it will only set you back £1,500…