Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tasting blind with the Scotch Malt Society

Original Article

"There are a handful of whiskey clubs out there, but few are as prolific and reputable as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The Society has been in operation since 1983 and has bottled over 3,500 casks worth of whisky for its members.

The SMWS, as it's handily abbreviated, doesn't just go get bottles off the shelf and send them to you each month, it picks individual casks and bottles its own single malt whiskys sourced from major (and minor) Scotland distilleries.

And it doesn't tell you what they are.

Bottled at cask strength, these are single cask whiskys, available in very limited quanities (typically under 100 bottles) at prices ranging from $85 and up. Ages can range from 8 to 29 years, and these whiskys come from all over Scotland. In other words: If you buy a whisky from the SMWS, you won’t find that exact same whisky from anyone else.

I’m a little torn on the “blind” identity system – if I’m drinking Macallan, I want to know it’s Macallan – which gives every bottle a code number and a cute name, but lacks the distillery’s ID. But considering the quality of these spirits, based on the two I reviewed below, I’m willing to let it slide. Subcultures exist devoted to figuring out what’s really inside, so dig around if you’re curious.

Membership is $229, which gets you access to exclusive events like the Whisky Extravaganza, four 100ml bottles of current offerings (pictured below), and a subscription to the society’s magazine – plus, of course, the right to buy whisky from them. Annual dues after the first year drop to $60.

Some thoughts on the whiskys I tasted recently (neither of which are still on the market):

Society Single Cask No. 1.152 - 12 years old. Very hot, at a whopping 113.4 proof. Water helps bring out some of the nuance, which includes sweet nougat character, tropical notes, and a little cocoa. Segues into orange, sherry, and marshmallow notes in the end.  The SMWS calls it "Jelly Belly Beans Galore," which is cute, but doesn't explain the very lightly peaty finish. Pleasant and curiously fun. A-

Society Single Cask No. 3.160 - 10 years old, Islay. Even hotter: 118.8 proof. Be generous with the water. A young whisky, but with charm. Lightly smoky, with burnt nuts and brown sugar notes. Touches of citrus on the finish. B+"

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