Cask Custodians

Cask Custodians

Originally published in Unfiltered #91.
Words: Duncan Gorman


The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Whisky Team is the beating heart of our club, planning years ahead to make sure our members will always be able to enjoy an exceptional variety of outstanding whiskies. Duncan Gorman pulls back the curtain to find out more about how the team operates.

It’s no secret that The Scotch Malt Whisky Society prides itself in its exceptional variety of single malt whiskies, each one with its own character and representing a unique moment in time. But how does the Society produce such a diverse selection of Scotch every single month?

That comes down to our dedicated Whisky Team, where the Society has an exceptional roster of in-house expertise, specialising in spirit acquisition, cask selection, maturation, whisky creation and perhaps most importantly of all, quality control.

Whisky & supply chain director Kai Ivalo rounds it up nicely: “I and my team are responsible for sourcing whisky and spirits for Society members and for the maturation process that then takes place,” he says.

ABOVE: Kai surrounded by a gantry of ever-changing exceptional Society bottlings

“That includes the selection of casks that we’re maturing in, the occasional practice of transferring whisky from one cask to another in a process that we call additional maturation, and then the selection of whiskies, which we do through the Society’s Tasting Panel. Once the Tasting Panel approves the whiskies that are suitable for bottling, the final stage is bottling itself, when we arrange for the single casks to go into these green bottles the Society is famous for.”

The bottling of our whisky into these iconic green bottles has never been closer to home, with the Society opening its own bottling line and maturation warehouse last year at Masterton Bond near Uddingston in Scotland’s Central Belt. “Our stock of whiskies is larger and more varied than it’s ever been,” says cask warehouse operations planner Ed Furmston-Evans. “And by bringing it into Masterton Bond, our bottling facility with in-house warehousing, we’re able to be closely connected with it. Quality assurance and ensuring variety is a number one focus for us in the Whisky Team. Everything we do is about delivering a variety of excellent, flavourful whiskies.

Spirits manager Euan Campbell visits Ardmore Distillery.

A value at the core of the Society, and particularly the Whisky Team, is a sense of adventure and flavour exploration. Although our name ‘The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’ might lead you to believe otherwise, the Society bottles a range of whiskies not only from Scotland but from around the world, as well as some other single cask spirits such as armagnac or rum. The most important question the Whisky Team is faced with is ‘does this spirit meet our standards?’ No matter if it’s a rye, grain or bourbon whiskey, or if it’s from Scotland or Australia, if the Whisky Team and most importantly the Tasting Panel agree that it’s a spirit with exceptional flavour then we have no qualms about bottling it.

As Kai explains: “The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s whisky proposition is really based on two things: flavour and variety. We’re flavour led, which means that the most important thing to us is interesting tasting whiskies, great tasting whiskies. Our main focus is on single-cask, single-malt whisky of course, but we also create whiskies that have undergone a period of additional maturation, and have developed a series of experimental blends as well.

“I don’t think there’s anyone else who offers the same depth and range of whiskies.”

“But everything will always fit into that flavour-led philosophy. It also means that we consider other whiskies that we may not necessarily have looked at in the past. We’re open to looking at whiskies from different countries, different styles of whisky and then getting into selected other spirits as well, from time to time.”

“We go in very much with an objective mind towards whisky. We’re open-minded about where it comes from, what the reputation of the brand is or what the distillery is.

“In fact, more than anything we’ve celebrated the opportunity to try and experience whiskies that you might not otherwise get a chance to try, because either they’re from small distilleries that haven’t yet managed their distribution, or more historically because they come from distilleries that put the majority of their spirit into producing blended Scotch, which obviously represents the largest part of the Scotch whisky industry.”

The upshot is that the Whisky Team is getting ever-more inventive, members are getting ever-more choice – and there’s never been a better time to be a member of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Unfiltered Magazine is The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s premium whisky knowledge magazine delivering quality content exclusively to members in an immersive multimedia format monthly. To view Unfiltered #91 in its entirety (as well as all back issues), log in and access the members’ portal or join The SMWS today — 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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