Some Ramblings From The Early Days Of The SMWS In Australia

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Some Ramblings From The Early Days Of The SMWS In Australia

October Outturn 2022 Article

Our SMWS journey started in December 1985 in the UK when Phil was posted to the Australian High Commission in London as the Assistant Naval Advisor. Whilst staying in our hotel next to Tower Bridge, Phil saw an advertisement for the SMWS in the Sunday Times which he bought to do the cryptic crosswords. Intrigued, he checked out the Society which was then officially only two years old and immediately joined.

We then went to live in East Croydon with our family. Every month we would order a bottle of the SMWS malt of the month which would then arrive through the post, enclosed in a wonderful piece of cardboard engineering. Only once did we get a very messy, wet and awful looking delivery from our postie, which he held up in great disdain saying “Sir, this is not very nice!” We laughed, put it in the bin and Phil phoned Edinburgh straight away. A replacement was immediately sent and we were very impressed.

When we got back to Australia in early 1989, Phil asked the Society if we could get delivery here and the answer was no because the whisky could not be legally exported. Drat!  A change in the law sometime later meant that the whisky could be sent to Australia, but only in a box of 12 bottles. Drat again! This wasn’t the time for a second mortgage. Phil declined but decided to remain a member of SMWS, having to remain content with their occasional emails and tasting notes, while hoping for a further change in the export laws.


The Australia branch begins

Just when Phil was thinking of leaving the Society because nothing seemed to be changing, we got a call from John Rourke asking if we would be interested in helping to launch the SMWS in Australia.  We jumped at the chance and started our monthly trips up and down to Sydney. We held our meetings at John’s house, together with Andre Tammes and Bill McAndrew. John, who was a fabulous cook, spoiled us with amazing food which matched the whiskies we were tasting. We have wonderful memories of lunches inside his house, or outside if the weather was nice.

In November 2002, the first Australian Branch started with a tasting at the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney using whiskies remaining
from an earlier promotional tour by Edinburgh staff in 1996. It was a HUGE success. On the 18th of February 2003 Phil hosted the first Canberra tasting at the Burns Club with some 70 attendees and it was very well received. The first regular tastings started in May that year. We participated in the first National Whisky Convention on 3 – 5 October 2003 in conjunction with the MWSOA at the Rydges Hotel in Forrest. John Rourke, Andrew Derbidge, Jim Murray (prolific whisky writer), Dr Bill Lumsden (Glenmorangie Distillery), Phil, myself and many other people who were interested in single malt whisky attended. Over the three days there were talks, workshops, tastings and a magnificent dinner to end the Convention.

The Canberra branch certainly got many new members from the Convention. Over the next few years, we really enjoyed our local tastings and talks. We are both very much into the Islay malts, especially Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin. We probably sold more peaty whiskies than other whiskies and we are generally known as ‘peat tragics’. To us this is a badge of honour! Under Drew’s guidance this might still be the case. We always looked forward to our tastings and enjoyed the contribution and loyalty of our members very much. When our time was up Drew took over the tastings and he and Shane (his son) have done a wonderful job promoting the SMWS in Canberra, and especially that we now have member bars, he has a very loyal support group.


20 years later…

A huge THANKS from us goes to some people we would particularly like to mention. First of all, to Andrew Derbidge who without doubt has done so very, very much for the Society in Australia.  Secondly to Suzy Tawse because when she joined the Society it went from strength to strength. There is not one person who has a bad word to say about her and we certainly thank her for all she has done to support us over these past years. Andrew Tammes has quietly guided the development of the Australian branch to the successful position that it enjoys today, and lastly all the State Managers who do a great job all the time.

We must also thank Matt, our SMWS Ambassador. We enjoy all your articles in Outturn and we hope there will be many more to come.

Congratulations to SMWS Australia on a wonderful job well done over the past 20 years. May there be many, many more in the years to come.

I feel enormously proud of what we achieved here in Canberra. The Canberra mob have a distinctive vibe; inclusive, diverse, fun-loving, community and experience focused. The new young crowd joining our ranks appreciate that spirit.


Thanks So Very Much,

Phil and Marjanneke McGuire

Canberra, ACT


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.


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