October Outturn 2022 Article
I just finished reading through the words I wrote in 2019 to record the Society’s establishment in Australia in 2002. These follow, unabridged, and remain as valid today as they were at that time. However, some things have inevitably changed….
Strewth — that feels like a long time ago! So long that I struggle to remember my first contact with The Society. I know that it preceded the 1983 widening of the initial inner circle which our founder, Pip Hills, had gathered to appreciate the early casks he had brought from the Highlands to Edinburgh in his Lagonda. This circle was very small indeed compared to today’s Society membership — and the amount of whisky circulating was comparably small.
However, at some stage, I was fortunate enough to dine with a member of the group who shared a post-prandial Glenfarclas (the first distillery bottled by the Society). That dram remains my malt epiphany — although I had lived most of my adult life in Edinburgh, and therefore experienced a wide range of malts, this lifted my realisation to a higher realm and laid out what was to become a long-term educational agenda — one which I now realise will never be complete (oh joy…!!).
The first employee of the Society was another friend, Anne Dana, whose responsibilities were carried out in an impossibly small office in the newly acquired Vaults building in Leith, which had just been acquired as the headquarters for the formally launched Society as it opened its foundational private membership to all comers in 1983. Anne did it all — administering membership, organising bottle sales, arranging tastings and promoting the young Society in every conceivable way. By this time, having tasted several Society whiskies, I was a ready convert to paid up membership and duly became the 126th member (the earlier numbers were allocated to those who had been members of the very early ‘inner circle’).
So…a big jump forward, spanning so many years of immensely enjoyable and convivial times, both at the Vaults (some of those Burns Suppers live forever in my riotous memories file, never to be repeated…!) and at home over numerous bottles of the best whiskies on the planet — to 1995 when I was asked to join the Board of the Society. These were troubled times because the business was confronting the classic problems associated with the rapid development of a truly wonderful idea, underpinned by great enthusiasm and subject knowledge but insufficient business acumen.
By the time I resigned in late 1997, in order to relocate to Sydney, things had started to stabilise. Having arrived in Sydney in early 1998, I remained very preoccupied with my daytime job, establishing the Australian end of an architectural lighting consultancy group that I had formed in the UK in 1984. However, The Society, having run a successful tasting tour to the Australian state capitals in 1996, made the wise decision that Aussies did not deserve to be deprived of access to what were, and remain, some of the best malt whiskies to have ever been produced.
The then Managing Director, Richard Gordon, introduced me to a long-standing UK member, John Rourke, who was returning to his native Australia and wanted to keep the flame burning. As they say — the rest is history. I’ve since retired from the Society upon its re-amalgamation with the mother ship in the UK, but I’ve enjoyed every bit of the journey and will continue to raise a dram to the best whisky club on earth.
Co-Founder of SMWS Australia.
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.