The Scotch Malt Whisky Society just took home Best Blended Malt Scotch, the prestigious Director’s Award of Excellence and Best in Show Whisky (that would be the best whisky in any category, not just scotch whisky) at the 2018 San Francisco Spirits Competition (along with another six Double Golds). But if you’re not a scotch drinker, or not typically one to shop spirits online, you may not have heard of the 35-year old local scotch drinking club turned award-winning global operation. Here’s everything you need to know.
All SMWS whisky is single cask, single malt, cask strength and unfiltered Scotch whisky (with some very rare blended exceptions). This means every bottle is filled with a product aged in just one cask, where others may blend the contents of various barrels or casks, and nothing is done to the whisky between distilling, aging and bottling. This provides each selection a degree of uniformity, but it also means each release is a limited, one-time run. The casks are not owned by the SMWS, either — rather, they purchase casks of varying year, age and type from more than 100 different Scottish whisky makers and bottle them. SMWS does not include the name of the distillery, as one of its goals is to promote trying new and different bottles from distilleries you might not otherwise.
The label of every bottle comes with a code that denotes the distillery and the number of bottles in the outturn (there are ways to decipher the code and figure out which distillery each bottle is coming from), a brief description of tasting notes, the age, cask type and, typically, a very funky name (the sold out We Arrived! took home Best in Show Whisky this year; other examples include Mojitos and Muscle Rub, and Joyful Rambling). Pricing is more premium than what you’d find in your local specialty shop, but finding a place to routinely purchase limited edition single cask scotches is its own roadblock. How can you buy a bottle? There’s one catch…
As the name implies, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a society, in the traditional sense. Buying its scotch whisky bottles is a members-only affair, and yearly membership runs about what you’d pay for a decent bottle in its own right. Once a member, you’re able to buy and have bottles shipped to your door (new bottles are released monthly), receive Unfiltered Magazine, attend SMWS tasting events and access a small group of private scotch bars (all in the UK).
Membership begins at $99 with a baseline package that grants you access to all the above, and ticks up with packages that include bottles or tasting kits with the membership.
Issue of Availability
Spoilers: not everyone living stateside can have spirits sent to their home. Check this site to see what the laws are like in your state, then decide whether to register for yourself, or gift a registration to a lucky friend living in a state with fewer shipping regulations.