cover photo credit: Gabi Porter, 2016, at Fine & Rare, NYC
Scotch Malt Whisky Society – SMWS – Comes to America
By: Amber Creighton
It’s holiday time in New York City and holiday receptions abound. However, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s (SMWS) private tasting event held on December 1, 2016, announcing their expansion in the United States is certainly cause for more good cheer. Hosted by SMWS
US Communications Director and spirits expert, Amanda Victoria, in partnership with renowned spirits author, Heather Greene, at New York City’s soon-to-be-opened Fine and Rare Bar, SMWS announced the expansion of offerings for its members in the US. Fine and Rare owner-proprietor, Tommy Tardie also owns the Flat Iron – well regarded for its whisky and spirit collections.
Founded in 1983, SMWS first came to the US in 1993 and is in 19 countries worldwide today. SMWS has always provided quality tasting events for its members. In the US, they proudly offer a greater variety and range of whiskies for tasting, always limited editions and from a single cask, and unique bottling options are made available to its US members at a discount.
Education is a key element of SMWS and 12 flavor profiles are available to educate members on which whisky may suit them best. The whiskies for each tasting are carefully selected and carefully paired with food courses to enhance their flavor and experiences.
In the back of the private event room was a table overflowing with fresh lobster, oysters on the half shell, exotic cheeses, and artisanal bread.
As tastings 1, 2 and 3 were offered in an open bar format to the guests, special hors d’oeuvres were brought out to enhance the unique flavors of each whisky.
A tuna tartare with a rich creme fraiche caviar sauce was paired with tasting number 2 to complement its smoky flavor.
For tasting number 3, a decadent caramel nut brownie was served to enhance the heavily peated flavor of tasting number 3.
Heather Greene, author and media personality has written extensively about the SMWS and was a guest speaker at the event. Paul Skipworth, Chairman of SMWS was flown in from Edinburgh, Scotland (where the headquarters of the society is located) for the event. I asked Paul to describe the ideal member of the SMWS and he responded, “an unconventional fun spirit; a seeker of knowledge and experiences; an expert wishing to expand their collection or tasting skills; an amateur trying malt whisky for the first time; a bon vivant who wishes to share with friends; or someone at home enjoying their collection of single cask single malt. We welcome all lovers of cask single malt whisky – there is no one type.”
Paul Skipworth also provided an in-depth overview of the SMWS’ rich history. His own charming Scottish accent retells it best, “The origins of the society lie in Phillip “Pip” Hills’ travels around the Scottish Highlands in the late 1970s, during which he sampled several whiskies drawn straight from the cask. Hills was so affected by what he tasted that, in 1978, he persuaded several acquaintances to share in the cost of a cask from the Glenfarclas distillery. Over time, the group of friends expanded to become a small syndicate and more casks were purchased, bottled and distributed to subscribing members. Coinciding with the decision to open membership to the wider public in 1983, the society purchased its first property, The Vaults, in Leith; a building, whose vaulted wine cellars reputedly stretch back to the 12th century,” Skipworth said.
Skipworth continued, “2004 saw the society purchase a second venue in Edinburgh – a Georgian townhouse on Queen Street. In the same year, the society was acquired by Glenmorangie PLC. In 2015 the Society was sold back to private Scottish investors from Glenmorangie. The SMWS is an authority in the whisky industry with over 30 years of history started by enthusiasts, and is still run by enthusiasts today.”
According to Skipworth, “Each cask is tasted by a panel of experts before being approved for bottling. If it doesn’t meet the society’s high standard, it doesn’t get bottled.” Skipworth added, “I think that the SMWS has a fantastic future as its fundamentals are based on the themes of naturalness, uniqueness, exceptional product quality and content (education) that today’s consumer value more and more. It is and always will be run by enthusiasts with a passion for sharing joys of single cask whisky. The consumer landscape has evolved – from coffee to gin, so much choice, today’s consumers seeking authentic experiences and unique brands.”
So James Bond may insist that his martinis are “shaken – not stirred,” however, according to Skipworth, there is no wrong way to enjoy a quality glass of whisky. “A whisky is enjoyed as you want – there is no right or wrong regarding water, or ice, or indeed a mixer. Different countries around the world have their own favorites and they are all excellent,“ Skipworth said. Regarding food pairings, Skipworth says, “Whisky is such a wonderful smorgasbord of flavors that it gives chefs the artist’s license to experience with their skills and creativity.”
Neat or on the rocks, Here’s to you – Happy Holidays!
For more information regarding the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, please visit www.smwsa.com.