20 Years Of Changing The Landscape

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20 Years Of Changing The Landscape

October Outturn 2022 Article

Rewind to November 2021 for a moment. The polishing touches on our 2022 calendar of events for members was starting to form, and there’s a little note on October that says “20th Anniversary of the Australian Branch of the SMWS”. My initial reaction was “wait a second, the 15th anniversary was just… oh… five years ago!”. Time flies when you’re having fun.

This month is all about celebrating the landscape of whisky appreciation and the community that has led that charge for the last twenty years in Australia, the SMWS. Twenty years of creating, shaping, educating, and entertaining through incredible whiskies and other spirits along the way. One thing that I’ve often remarked upon on at experiences I’m hosting has been how much the Society has changed, yet has stayed the same. Yes, you’ll see new codes, new events, redesigns, newcomers, and more always evolving. That’s called growing as a club. But some things don’t change, because they are at the heart and ethos of what we’re about. Those are things like the fastidious tasting panel process, or bottling only the best single cask, cask strength, full-flavoured, non-chill filtered, natural colour whisky on earth. At the core, that’s what we rely on, and will continue to do so.

Dinner with the whole team at Rockpool Bar & Grill, 2020. L-R: Andre Tammes, Suzy Tawse, John Rourke, Donelle Hampshire, Andrew Derbidge, Matt Bailey.


Enter The SMWS

I joined the SMWS as a member in early 2013 from memory. I’d recently moved to Sydney in 2011 and had been to a few tastings at the Oak Barrel hosted by Dave Withers the following year. It was a real eye-opening experience tasting some incredible whiskies and discovering flavour in a whole new way. It was from getting to know Dave and forming a tasting group with him and a few others that really paved the way for where I am today. Then one Sunday afternoon in the backroom at the Oak Barrel at a Highland Park tasting (with some 1950’s & ’60’s expressions on pour, no less) I sat next to a Mr Murray Hassan.

The “Muzz man”

Some of you may know Murray, or the “Muzz man” among Society circles. One of our original local Tasting Panel members, he’s regularly hosted Society events, been an integral part of Whisky Fair each year, and really championed what the Society is all about. It also helps that he’s the king of blazers and no one rocks a turquoise pinstripe quite like the Muzz. Murray got talking to me about the SMWS and asked if I wanted to check it out next week at the Royal Automobile Club. I’d never heard of it before and it honestly sounded like some secret clandestine whisky illuminati thing at the time. I had no idea what I was in for, but I’ve never had a more enlightening introduction into the wide world of whisky like it.

Andrew hosted a traditional whisky masterclass and it was a lightbulb moment for me on the spot. I’d previously tried hunting down some independent bottlings with varied success and quality, but all six drams at this tasting were phenomenal. The crowd was vibrant, talkative, and welcoming. The ‘talkative’ part was probably mostly Tony Chapman, another original local Australian tasting panel member who was the life of his table. The whole vibe was really ‘next level’ and opened my eyes to what the SMWS was. I’d tasted another world out there and the flavour adventure widened immediately. I had no idea whisky could taste like this, nor did I realise there was this burgeoning community of flavour-obsessed interesting people out there.


All about the flavour

I had already started forming an appreciation for whisky and had attended many other events, but this felt like a real leapfrog moment. It took all “brand” out of it and added full flavour into it. Nerdy codes, detailed tasting notes, incredible flavours. I was hooked. It was also the same night I picked up my first ever Society bottling: Cask 125.71 ‘Chocolate coke float’. Much like Andrew, I still have my first Society bottling and will as usual find the appropriate moment to share it around in due course.

It was shortly after then that I kickstarted my own whisky business, hosting events and tastings around the country, mostly Melbourne and Sydney. I’d been properly bitten by the bug. The funny thing is, I’m now just long-toothed enough that I now see this happening to the next generation on the scene. A good decade or more younger than I, just getting into it, hosting events, discovering their flavour, and introducing others into the magic of single malt whisky. I find this hugely exciting and encouraging as the category grows and develops over time. That’s something that both Andrew and I have written about a bit in the past: how the scene changes, evolves, and grows over time.


Evolution of the club

The two biggest changes over the last ten years I think I could pin down would be (a) the age and demographic of people getting into whisky, and (b) the overwhelming sense of positive community that’s evolved in recent years. On that first point, I would immediately recall my first Society tasting. I was the youngest person in the room by a good 15 years, and the room was about 95% blokes. Fast forward to now, and it’s not uncommon to see a new swathe of 18–25-year-old members and a much more even split of men and women at many events.

The other point I would remark on here is the overwhelming social and community aspect that the SMWS has pioneered in Australia in the last five years especially. The growth of our online community, our in-person community, and then seeing mini and micro sub-clubs spawn off the back of that with new friends sharing an amazing journey together. Those moments you see like when member Sally in Sydney gets her crew together for a festival casks tasting, or when Mark, John, Ally and Tom get 40+ people in a room in Hobart for their Society catchups, and many more examples around the whole country. What more could you ask? That, to me, is the raw essence of what a whisky club should be. The people, the members, the coming together and sharing great drams and creating incredible memories along the way. So where have we landed?


Celebrating 20 years…

Back in 2002, the endeavours of John Rourke and Andre Tammes started the Australian chapter of the SMWS, which you can read about elsewhere in this Outturn. Then in 2012, it was a momentous occasion celebrating the 10th anniversary of the branch with tastings and the whole cask of 33.119 ‘A gumtree bonfire barbecue on the beach’, a 10-year-old single cask from Islay. In 2017, we then celebrated the 15th anniversary of the branch with Cask 73.83 ‘Anzac biscuits and cricket bats’, a 15-year-old sherry butt from Speyside. You can spot the trend here.


Now in 2022, we’re celebrating our 20th anniversary with not one, not two, but THREE entire single casks to share around. One, of course, is a 20-year-old to celebrate 20 years of the branch, distilled the year we kicked off. The other two are both carefully selected, incredibly moreish drinkers from distillery codes and flavour profiles that are definitely member favourites. Our 20-year-old cask is Cask 11.42 ‘20(0) Not Out!’, a 20yo from the lesser-seen distillery 11, with an extra maturation in an absolutely stunning Pedro Ximénez cask. The flavours in this Old & Dignified milestone cask are that perfect balance of old tropical fruits, old lounge chairs, and dates soaked in kirsch. A delightful balance from the wine cask, and a true lounge dram with your closest friends on a cool evening.

Cask 26.185 ‘Solo ice cream spiders’ was a transportive dram full of those childhood candy corner shop memories of musk sticks, soda tap, pink waxy lollies and the sugary lemon from a can of Solo. Waxed jackets, vanilla bean ice cream, and pink lollies from another decade in your life.

Cask 10.225 ‘Servo Surf ‘N’ Turf is one of the lesser-seen variants of this fascinatingly versatile Islay spirit being a ‘Staoisha’ heavily peated spirit run which was then fully matured in a re-charred hogshead. This gave this remarkable spirit a layer of smoky lamb’s wool, mechanical rags, and sooty Islay goodness. Close your eyes and you’ll be eating a steak & Moreton Bay bugs near the beach with a diesel petrol pump not far away.

All three casks have had at least two years of planning, tasting, selecting, and ensuring we’d have the best of the best to celebrate two decades of shaping and growing the Australian whisky appreciation landscape.

To top it off, we have some incredible events being hosted around the country including this month’s 20th-anniversary virtual tasting kit, but the jewel in the crown this month is the extremely limited edition triple pack of all three 20th anniversary bottlings in a bespoke, locally made Tasmanian Huon pine sliding presentation box. Each box, much like our casks, is utterly unique, and never to be repeated.


This article features in the October 2022 Outturn — available to read Friday the 30th of  September midday AEST; bottles will be available to purchase on Friday the 7th of October midday AEDT exclusively to members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not a member? Click here to learn more about the world’s most colourful whisky club.


About the Author:

Adam Ioannidis is SMWS Australia's Marketing Coordinator and general appreciator of whisky, music and cinema.

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