You might not be able to please all of the members, all of the time. But where would the fun be in that? That’s why The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s enduring mission has been to provide members with a constant variety of single cask whiskies, providing a never-ending range of flavours and frequently venturing off the beaten track into more unfamiliar terrain.
It’s intriguing to look back at some of the ‘firsts’ that came from the Society – not all of them welcomed at the time. In 2002, for example, we bottled our first ever Japanese whisky, Cask No. 116.1. That was enough to have some members ripping up their cards in protest.
The Society was ahead of the curve with the release of single cask, single malt from Japan. But not every experimental move has worked out quite so well. For example, we once tried finishing a whisky in a cask seasoned with Tabasco hot sauce, but the fiery spirit was judged to be too much even for the most adventurous members.
“We were expecting a ‘warm glow’, but after a month what we got would be best described as ‘pure heat’ – with what looked like vinegar settled on the top,” says experimenter-in-chief Richard Gordon, the Society’s managing director at the time of the Tabasco trial. It wasn’t a lost cause though – five years later, the executive chef of The Dining Room at 28 Queen Street, James Freeman, found a use for the fiery sauce on some of his dishes, and the wonderfully-named Hotscotch was born.
Then in 2003, the Society decided to blend the remains of hundreds of sample bottles and finish it in a port cask. It was named the Last Drop, proved fairly disastrous, and the experiment has never been repeated.
But when we did get around to creating a proper blended malt whisky – despite some trepidation about what members’ reaction might be – it proved a smash hit. Feedback from members on Exotic Cargo was fantastic, and Batch 1 went on to pick up a double gold medal for Best Blended Malt Scotch Whisky at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and a Master medal in the Scotch Whisky Masters.
Exotic Cargo Batch 2 was equally well received, and soon our Peat Faerie malted blend will prove that members are willing to stray from the path of single cask, single malts – if the quality of the whisky is able to speak for itself.
Of course, it’s not only with whisky that the Society has explored new worlds. Over the years we’ve released sporadic bottlings of single cask rum, cognac and armagnac, but in 2017 we launched our Single Cask Spirits collection to offer members more choice and on a more regular basis.
This month, the Society had another double first, with the release of its youngest ever whisky – the three-year-old Cask No. 136.1: Effervescence and enlightenment – and our first English whisky.
We trust that when we release a cask from distillery 136, 137 or many more Society experiments to come, members won’t be ripping up their membership cards, but hey, you can’t please all the members all the time!