Just when I thought in 2018 that the Society couldn’t get any better, along came 2019…
What a fantastic year it has been. There is always a bit of a lull over the new year period, as people return from holidays and the weather encourages all to be outside rather than at the tasting table. I have never really agreed with the concept of “whisky weather” as on the cold and rainy days I reach for an Old & Dignified or a Deep, Rich & Dried Fruits whereas in the summer months it’s a Young & Spritely or a Juicy, Oak and Vanilla. For that matter, when I’m camping and fishing in any season it’s an Oily & Coastal or Peated every time. But once everyone gets back into full swing then the Society starts to flourish.
Full disclosure, I live in Melbourne, so the focus of my attention was there despite several other interstate and international adventures. The year started, quite appropriately, with a very refreshing tasting in the form of Society Highballs at the Melbourne Whisky Room. This was a particularly impressive and innovative event from SMWS National Ambassador, Matt Bailey, because most Society members are probably averse to mixing their whisky. We had some delicious drams, with the chance to try both in and out of soda, and both were wonderful ways to experience Society high-ABV liquid.
It wasn’t long before the much anticipated SMWS Single Cask Cruise sailed into view, and on a beautiful shining day on the Yarra river, a small but dedicated group of Society fans drifted and drammed under the capable eye of skipper Owen Smythe, our State Manager. The support was immense, and I have no doubt that this type of event will be run again in the future.
From the ocean to the sky, the next month I journeyed to Scotland to spend some time at the spiritual home of the Society, at the Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh. All members should be encouraged to do a trip to the UK at some point, even if they only make it as far as the wonderful Greville Street HQ in London. However, I had my sights set on the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and headed on my journey north to participate in many wonderful events run by the Society, including a May the Fourth Star Wars event at Distillery 35, a blind tasting challenge run by Charlie McLean and Dave Broom, and a boilermaker beer and whisky pairing run by Hans Offringa. Totally revitalising my passion for the Society, it was time to travel home all too soon.
This year was also the year of the virtual tasting, and no sooner was I back in Australia than I was tuning in at 4:00 am to see the ubiquitous Global Brand Ambassador, John McCheyne, and our very own Matt Bailey host the live tasting from the Campbeltown Malts Festival. This also heralded the launch of some pretty amazing festival bottlings with the best artwork I have ever seen on Society casks (which is as subjective as the whisky palate, I’m sure). This was not the last virtual tasting of the year either, and long may they continue along with the @smws_aus daily live stream. It was also the year of the Society’s podcast, “Whisky Talk”, curated by Richard Goslan and a must-listen for all members.
Finally, the Society went one step further into new territory with unprecedented The Gathering global tastings, bringing together members from every branch of the SMWS and united them under one banner (not just the banner of Distillery 33). It also sparked the re-involvement of Pip Hills with the Society following the release of his new book about the founding of the SMWS called, very aptly but with no points for originality, The Founder’s Tale. I went to both Melbourne and Sydney and was thrilled to see different line-ups, different food, different presentation and of course different wonderful members.