Right in the center of London’s “diamond district” and yes, it had all of the same characteristics of the Manhattan one, was a third story sign that called out for the “Scotch Malt Whisky Society”.
It looked like you needed a secret code to get in, with buzzers etc. but I just pushed open the door and went up. Not to mention I had just become a member of the USA chapter of the society the day before. This meaning I still had no member number yet. I showed up anyway and decided to walk up and show whoever I met first my “we are processing your payment email”.
I heard voices up a few flights of stairs and came to find people sampling a few different whiskies. They clearly all worked there and apparently this coming weekend there was an event to try whiskies from different casks. For example sherry casks, madeira casks etc. From what I was told a few of the members wanted to taste these variations side by side.
The second level of the club is the bar. It looks like a clean speakeasy with a nice brand new bar top and a glass side room with a beautiful collection of past bottling's. To be fair, I knew SMWS was one of the largest independent bottlers of whisky, but didn’t know to what scale. The bottles truly are just for members, hence why no branding is really needed. All of the bottles look exactly the same, with the same emblem and coloring. All that is different are the numbers and tasting note “story”. The numbers mean the following:
66 is the distillery number. So each distillery is given a number to remain anonymous.
83 is the cask number.
Obviously, to keep it a unique experience, SMWS wouldn’t want this shared online, but it looks as if someone has attempted to list each distilleries number. See this link to cheat... http://www.whiskyboys.com/2010/07/28/smws-do-you-know-the-number-system/
Now that we have spoken about aesthetics, let me explain how they actually choose the product that goes within the bottle. They buy casks from distilleries all over Scotland and put them into storage. They put them in their warehouse and someone continues to check them until they decide it is ready for release. This meaning that only about 75% of casks actually make it to bottling. Not all casks can be good and no blending is done whatsoever. What is unique about this is that you could be tasting whisky from a distillery that is very well branded and well known, for example Lagavulin, but never really know you are drinking it. The brands and distilleries are typically never released. This is so members can enjoy truly unique and rare experiences. Most bottling's never even go over 200 bottles depending on what kind of size cask it comes from of course.
According to Ian, who has worked there 3 months to build his resume within the whisky industry, the SMWS have quite the fun time developing the quirky tasting notes you find on the bottle. Each month they launch a new gamut of cask bottlings, all kept at cask stength, no water added or chill filtration going on. To decide on the story that will go on the label, they invite a handful of industry expert’s ranging from distillers, brand ambassadors and many others. They all do blind tastings and then compare their notes. Whatever made it for most people stays in the story script. Here was the one I got a dram of…
72.27- Bouquet of Flowers in a new car
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Sweet note at first, cherry juice, pineapple, sweet bread? Like banana bread?
Pallet: Leather, hits with fruit, dirt.
--Now I kept getting fruit, so obviously something was going on here, but I finally realized it wasn’t really fruit it was just really heavy perfume! Will never mix that up again.
SMWS Official name and Story of Tasting:
The nose is sweetly sophisticated—millionaire’s shortbread, millionaire’s new car, bouquets of flowers, also varnished wood and tinned lychees. The palate gives toffee and honey, light nutmeg and a leather hand bag containing floral perfume, toffees, mints and ganja weed.
Basically it smells like heavy old women perfume, honey and marijuana!
The London Scotch Malt Whisky Society Club was more than expected and I am so thankful to have met Ian to gain a better understanding of all the society has to offer. I plan to go to as many events as I can while in Edinburgh and traveling throughout Scotland. Hopefully I will get to have the next dram with other society members! I do have to keep in mind though, that each branch bottles their own whiskies. Meaning that online, as a US branch member, I am not able to get buy any of the Scottish bottling's. I guess this means I will have to buy some while I am here and somehow get them home!
Next stop--- Glasgow!