The Society began in Edinburgh in the mid-1970’s when a group of friends – who were also lovers of Scotch Malt Whisky - met to enjoy their favourite tipple. Usually, they drank commercially bottled Scotch but on this occasion had the privilege of sampling malt whisky from Glenfarclas Distillery drawn straight from the cask.
The difference between the cask and commercially bottled whiskies was a revelation. The whisky was certainly stronger, which enhanced the sensory perception, and its flavour was transformed as water was added before drinking. The overwhelming sensation was the intense aroma, flavour, complexity and mouth feel of the cask whisky, attributes which warmed the nose and tantalised the taste buds.
The whisky’s superior quality was attributed to the fact that, prior to bottling, most whisky undergoes ‘chill filtration’, i.e. its temperature is reduced to nearly freezing before it is forced through a thick bed of filters to extract fatty chains in the spirit which can go slightly hazy if the whisky is served chilled or with ice. It certainly makes for a brighter dram but can also reduce mouth feel and flavour. The cask whisky from Glenfarclas had been coarse filtered, thus retaining all the exciting qualities that were evident to the tasters on the eventful day that triggered the formation of the Society.
An even greater revelation was the difference between the contents of one cask and the next – even when they had been filled with the same whisky from the same still run. An old Scottish saying that "the wood makes the whisky" became immediately and abundantly clear. Each cask was individual, adding its own characteristics during maturation, imparting unique qualities to the whisky which would never be repeated in precisely the same way.
The group of friends grew into a syndicate and in 1983 resolved to open membership to the general public, formed a limited company to protect member’s interests and bought premises in Leith, Scotland. The original founders became the first shareholders of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society an organisation founded upon convivial company, stimulating conversation and, most of all, the enjoyment of uncommonly good single malt, single cask Scotch whisky, coarse filtered and bottled directly from the cask at around 60% alcohol by volume. This whisky is only available to members and not for sale in shops. It is selected by specialist panels who recommend bottling less than one in twelve of the casks they sample.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has been described by the leading UK magazine, Decanter, as "the leading independent authority on single malt whiskies" and "an ambassador for the quality of Scotland". There are now SMWS branches in several countries – America, France, Italy, Benelux, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Japan, Australia and now also Taiwan and South Africa. Membership brings a number of benefits in addition to a varied range of single cask whiskies including – regular tastings and dinners in Australia and around the world; a Whisky School, access to an information network, regular newsletters, historic tasting rooms throughout the UK and Society accommodation in Scotland. More details on the Society branches and events worldwide can be found at www.smws.com