I joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society last October after agonising over the decision, because it seemed like a lot of money up front (around £110 at the time) just for the privilege of buying their whisky. I did some online research and it wasn’t hard to find posts on forums etc complaining about value for money and saying “things are not as good as they used to be” and I even read some comments complaining about sulphur.
In the end, I asked some friends on twitter and they were kind enough to share their experiences and even a couple of drams and that reassured me.
I think one of the issues is that people are more likely to make the effort to write about their negative experiences than positive ones. So, in an effort to readdress the balance, I’m going to write the sort of review that I wished I had been able to read when I was deciding to join.
So let’s not beat around the bush and start with the core question: How could it be value for money to pay £110 initially then around £50 per year just for the privilege of buying SMWS whiskies?
Answer: Their whiskies are that good! Not only that but you are a member and you are made to feel like one. The magazine, which seems to come roughly quarterly, is the best whisky magazine I’ve read (and I get 3 regularly delivered to dramstats HQ). The member rooms in London and Edinburgh are excellent places to go and taste whisky with like minded people, and the ambassadors are always willing to help you out.
Most of those things are just frills. Superficial hundreds and thousands on top of the cake. The cake’s the thing, and what of it?
Well the cake (the society’s whiskies in this rather convoluted metaphor), is consistently some of the best stuff around. I’ve been to a few whisky festivals recently and the one thing I and many of my friends took away from those experiences was just how consistently excellent the SMWS drams were. The best stand in the room (in my opinion) has been the SMWS stand at every festival I’ve been to, and the reason is that each whisky can blow you away. I honestly havn’t tried a bad one yet.
I read forum posts about a sulphur problem and yet I’ve seen no evidence of it. I’ve had plenty of sherried SMWS drams and really really enjoyed them. A sherried Bowmore I tasted was perhaps the nicest Bowmore I’ve ever had. What’s more I have lots of friends who are also members, and they’ve never had a problem either. If you are extremely nervous about it, you can always stick to ex-bourbon drams or go to the member rooms and try before you buy! If you can’t make it there, the SMWS have a good presence at most whisky festivals and you can always ask the ambassadors who keep a presence on twitter. These guys treat you like members and I’ve always found them to be helpful.
OK, so the whisky is good. What about value? I bought a 27 year old cask strength Clynlish for £78 recently! There is currently a 28 year old Glenfarclas for £88 (£1 cheaper, 3 years older and ~20% stronger than the OB Glenfarclas 25)! There are lots of bargains and I’ve not been disappointed yet. If the older pricer drams are your thing, you’ll do well to find cheaper 30-40 year old cask strength single malt anywhere. You can expect to pay order £300 for 40 year old whisky. To put this into perspective, the 40 year old Glengoyne I saw in a glass cabinet at the distillery had a £9000 price tag.
You can expect to pay £60-£90 for most bottles and, I suppose, this might be expensive if you usually pay £40 for a bottle of single malt. All I can say is that the only time I have found price to be a problem is when I look at the outturn and realise I want to buy 3 bottles and can only afford 1. If you read my reviews regularly, you know that I’m the first to say when I think something is too expensive. I really don’t have a problem with the price here. In my opinion, the whisky is worth it.
Everyone has their own experiences with everything. Personally, I don’t have a bad thing to say about the society and consider my joining fee money well spent! Obviously I can’t comment on the sentiment “it’s not as good as it used to be”, because I only joined last October. However, it’s bloody good now and if you are considering joining, that’s all that matters.
I thought I’d add a review to this post of a whisky I bought from there recently. At the time of writing there are still of few bottles of this available.
- Distillery: Jura
- Age 24 years
- Price £70.70
Nose: Smoke and sea spray like a BBQ on a beach. Definite maritime notes. Griddled prawns and lemon juice. Burnt toast and peat (but not an Islay style peat, more beach BBQ). I’m also getting Marmite.
Palate: Salty sea spray and tropical fruit before something bitter barges in.
Finish: Bitter salty ozone and guava. A tropical umbongo fiesta that lasts and lasts with waves of tropical fruit. I love it!
Verdict: Well I tasted it at the society and I bought a bottle then and there. I can’t say better than that.